Written by Chris Jehs with Maria Jehs – March 1st 2020
Born on a dairy farm in Minnesota and spending countless summers on my grandparent’s property in Montana has given me a unique connection to the outdoors.
One of my greatest memories is listening to Alabama’s greatest hits on the cassette player in my grandfather’s old truck as we set out on our next hunting adventure. During my teens, my family moved to Tracy, CA, where I would soon meet my future wife, Maria. If you ask her where it all started, she will say “Lane 6,” referring to the lane in the swimming pool where we first met while swimming on a competitive summer team. After we both finished high school and were in college, I decided it was time to pop the question. I purposely picked my birthday to carry out the task, since it was the only day of the year when she wouldn’t expect it. After carrying that ring around all day waiting for the perfect moment, we decided to watch the sunset on the beach of South Lake Tahoe. Canadian geese happened to be walking out of the water as I was bending down, causing Maria to look towards the lake, not realizing what I was doing. At that moment, I discovered the ring was not in my pocket, just an empty box. As I am trying to keep my cool, while searching the sand for the ring, I located it and lifted it up at the exact moment Maria turned back around. She immediately said, “Did you just find that?” This story is something she laughs about now; I just shake my head. The important part is, I asked her to marry me and she said yes. We married a year later and started focusing on the life we wanted to have.
While many companies in my industry started generations ago, AJ’s Landscaping didn’t. Both of us spent the early part of our adulthood climbing the corporate ladder; me in the hospitality industry and my wife in the home building industry. The hospitality business was not family-friendly and with the impending birth of our first child, I knew this was the time to make the change. During this time, my company was unhappy with the outside aesthetics of its Bay Area locations. I had already taken interest in the surroundings of my location, so naturally I provided my vision for the rest. This led to me being awarded the contract for all the locations, to maintain and freshen up the outdoor landscapes of all eight sites. This contract was the catalyst needed for me to obtain the necessary business licensing and insurance to launch a new business. In 2008, during the same month as my first child was born, AJ’s Landscaping also came to be. AJ’s stands for Aiden Jehs, our son and the reason for beginning a new career that was “family-friendly.”
“It makes me feel good knowing I am teaching my kids a good work ethic at their young ages. Aubry even reads to the goats.”
This newly formed company was never intended to be a long-term career choice, just a segue out of the restaurant business. I went back to school to finish my bachelor’s degree, with the intention of becoming an accountant. This still makes me laugh, since I can’t see myself in that type of career today. A few months after AJ’s opened, my neighbor who ran a property management company, offered me a maintenance contract on multiple homes. When I shared this exciting news with my wife, she said “Are we doing this? Are we all-in or what?” “All-in” meant our total commitment to growing AJ’s into what it is today, a full-time landscape design and build company. My wife was confident that together we could create a prosperous, thriving company that would serve the Brentwood area well. With my experience managing people, and knowledge gained in running a financially successful restaurant, combined with my wife’s forward-thinking and support, I completely left the hospitality industry. I took the plunge into becoming a full-time small business owner and got my Landscape Contractor’s License. My goal became providing for my family’s future, while proving that a business built on integrity and quality will always thrive.
When our second child Aubry came along, we decided it was time for my wife to make a change. She left her full-time job, allowing more of her time to be dedicated to both our family and towards helping our business grow. If you ask my wife what she appreciates most about having our own business she would say; being there for the kids when they need us, if they are sick, or if there is an activity at school, and currently being a taxi to all their different activities. Neither of us realized our children’s social calendars would be our own social calendars. Now, after 12 years in business, my wife will get emotional reflecting on having this flexibility, since she was able to spend that extra time with her grandfather prior to his death in 2015.
Caring for her grandpa in his old age was always in the cards for us, so when the day came we really embraced it, especially for our kids. What child these days gets to meet, let along spend time with their great-grandparent? It was an adjustment for our family and at times he was like having another kid around, not because of his age, but because of his playful and stubborn personality. In 2013, we even braved Disneyland with an 81-year-old and two kids under age six. It was an adventure, one that we haven’t attempted since. The best memory about that trip was Grandpa on It’s a Small World as he teared up thinking about the last time he was on that ride; with his late wife and his late daughter, Maria’s grandmother and mother. These are the types of memories that remind me I have chosen the right path.
For a good three to four years, I endured long days and late nights while building a business. The hours were more satisfying as we were working for ourselves, building our dreams. We didn’t know it all and have never been afraid to gain the knowledge we need to continue moving forward. We have made personal and professional growth a part of our normal life and have sought out and worked with several business coaches throughout the last six years. It’s been a pivotal part of helping us to create boundaries and accountability while working together. It’s almost like having a marriage counselor, especially when we are two passionate people. Coaching has been geared toward acknowledging each other’s roles and respecting them. Personally, this has made our marriage stronger and helped us grow together, which has always been an aspiration, because we became a couple when we were very young.
My role at AJ’s is to bring my customers wants and needs to life, creating their vision of a perfect landscape. We have a code of honor, made up of 11 commitments that myself, my wife, and our staff follow. In addition to this, AJ’s foundation is based on trust. I don’t expect my customers to work with me if they do not trust me, and I do not work with vendors or have employees that I can’t endorse. For me, trust includes being honest and doing the right thing. This is a big deal to me. I want to ensure that if I am promising something, it’s going to be delivered as expected regarding outcome and timing. I pride myself on being a great listener and when you listen well enough, people are going to tell you exactly what they want. I am willing to be unique and create something totally out of the box and one of a kind.
Although letting a customer know the pros and cons of each job is important, I want to be versatile enough to accommodate anything. If I do my job right, I am giving my client an extension of their home; bringing the inside out. With the right layout, any size backyard can be functional and cater to the client’s wants. A person’s lifestyle and hobbies need to be accommodated and the space outside made livable with children or pets worked into the equation. Adding a new dimension to the scope of design, is a new 3D virtual reality software that I am utilizing. During a consult, I can walk around a space and show concepts to a client on my tablet. They don’t need to guess or even use their imagination; they can see what their yard will look like. When there is a blank slate to work with, that’s when my design skills really shine.
I can personally appreciate the struggle to not be able to envision what could be, because I am working with my very own blank slate. We achieved our pursuit of having a large plot of land to call home with our move to Knightsen last year. When we found our current home, we called our local realtor and she brought us out to look around. I didn’t realize how much I missed those days in Montana on my grandparent’s ranch until I walked into the horse barn, took a deep breath, and told my wife how much I missed that smell. My wife turned to our realtor and said, “Well that’s that, looks like we are doing this.” The house is on eight acres of property and was originally built in 1941. Shortly after our offer was accepted, we brought our kids out to see it, and they were in instant awe of this place being ours. Turns out my kids are just like me; both love the outdoors and are adventurous.
Upon settling in, we introduced our three dogs, cat, and bunny and quickly added chickens and four Nigerian dwarf goats to our ranch. Lots of plumbing and roofing work awaited us. Each time a challenge crops up, Maria and I look at each other and laugh saying “We signed up for this!” It’s a thrill to watch our kids help with the animals and carry out their chores. It makes me feel good knowing I am teaching my kids a good work ethic at their young ages. Aubry even reads to the goats. It’s an ideal lifestyle for us and I would not have been able to do any of it had it not been for launching AJ’s Landscaping.
When I reflect on our lives today and how we are living the lifestyle my wife and I have worked towards for our family, we have such a great love and appreciation for the blessing we have – our business, our family, and our realization of a dream laid out long ago. AJ’s isn’t just a business to us. AJ’s has paved the way for this country boy to give my family the life I had growing up, to show my children hard work does pay off, and to continue to provide my clients the outdoor living spaces created for them. I am excited about what the future holds, although I don’t know how it could get any better than this. This year, my family will be celebrating both our son’s 12th birthday, our daughter’s 10th, and 16 years of an awesome marriage. Our wish is that the two AJ’s of AJ’s Landscaping will continue its legacy and take over cultivating properties for generations to come.
? Photos By Casey Quist