Automated Outdoor Solutions shows how autonomous mowers can propel profitability for landscapers
Ambitious. Optimistic. High achiever. Forward-thinking. These are a few traits that can be used to describe Joe Langton, a visionary entrepreneur and landscaping expert who is well-known for embracing out-of-the-box solutions to accomplish important goals and solve challenges for customers and colleagues alike.
Joe’s advocacy of autonomous lawn mowers, in particular, is one way he is looking to advance the landscaping industry. About five years ago, he discovered this productivity- enhancing equipment was the key to growing and scaling business at Langton Group, a full-service landscape and snow removal company that he co-owns with his younger brother, John.
After thoroughly testing and verifying the incredible performance of automated mowers, the Langton brothers launched Automated Outdoor Solutions (AOS) to simplify lawn care service for homeowners, municipalities, landscapers, property managers and builders.
“Automated Outdoor Solutions is a one-stop shop that distributes and installs various types of autonomous outdoor power equipment, primarily robotic lawn mowers,” says Joe, who serves as CEO and President of the company based in Woodstock, Illinois. “We also offer innovative systems such as GPS-powered field-striping machines for sports venues and automatic ball-retrieval systems for golf courses.” AOS is an authorized dealer for Husqvarna—an industry pioneer that launched the world’s first solar-powered robotic lawn mower—and other cutting-edge brands such as Ambrogio, SWOZI and ECHO Robotics.
Unparalleled Advantages of Automated Mowers
The mission of AOS is simple: to bridge the gap between manufacturers and end users by being a voice of expertise that educates and guides consumers toward the product solutions best-suited to meet their needs. Joe adds, “I’m very passionate about uniting the landscaping industry by opening people’s minds so they realize that automation is our friend, not our enemy.”
The autonomous mowers offered by AOS are dependable, efficient and easy to operate. In a nutshell, these self-guided units rely on intelligent sensors and either perimeter wires or satellite navigation to trim lawns daily—even in the rain—to keep properties both large and small looking immaculate. After the work is completed, the battery-powered machines automatically return to their docking stations to recharge.
The environmental advantages of electric lawn mowers are a major selling point, Joe explains. Gas-powered equipment, in contrast, can emit eight times more nitrogen oxides, 3,300 times more hydrocarbons, 5,000 times more carbon monoxide and more than twice the CO2 per hour of operation, according to widely circulated findings by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Furthermore, the EPA estimates that over 17 million gallons of fuel are spilled each year while refueling lawn and garden equipment. That’s more than all the oil spilled in the catastrophic Exxon Valdez tanker incident in the Gulf of Alaska in 1989.
Additionally, autonomous mowers operate very quietly, which reduces noise pollution and allows for peaceful outdoor experiences. The professional-grade systems are engineered to handle steep slopes and tight angles with ease, and mow in a random pattern to avoid unsightly lines and grass clumps. Many models also have state-of-the-art tracking systems and audio alarms to deter equipment theft. Husqvarna Automowers, for instance, come with GPS tracking so users can see where the equipment is at all times via a mobile app.
Unlike some of its competitors, AOS adds a “human element” to automated mowing by offering value- added benefits, such as professional installation services for local and regional customers, winter service and storage options, extended warranties, and loaner units during servicing or warranty work to minimize interruptions in lawn care.
Revolutionary Landscaping Solutions
AOS sells many of its high-tech lawn care products to clients nationwide. However, customers in the northern Illinois and southern Wisconsin regions usually prefer to enter into multiyear service agreements because the company’s expert technicians provide in-depth product training and continual equipment support, preventive maintenance and speedy repairs when needed.
Landscaping businesses, in particular, can follow Langton Group’s example and leverage equipment from AOS to increase their efficiency and profitability and overcome the perpetual labor shortages facing the industry.
“I just couldn’t find enough people to hire, and I saw robotics as a way to solve my labor problems,” Joe explained in a recent New York Times article examining the various ways in which rapid advances in technology are transforming society.
He adds that incorporating autonomous mowers into Langton Group’s business model does not eliminate jobs, but instead creates the opportunity for more appealing positions such as robotic mowing technicians and installers, and opens up more time for other essential landscaping tasks.
“For us, one way forward with automation is to promote existing employees who felt like they were stuck cutting grass for the rest of their lives. They already fit the culture, so we shift them to more engaging and intrinsically rewarding positions. This approach has also helped us attract vibrant, talented youth to our industry,” Joe adds. According to Joe, Langton Group was the proving grounds to help other contractors realize that autonomous outdoor power equipment is worth investing in. “Outdoor automation allows us to scale our dream in ways we never envisioned and grow our market share,” he says. Today, with 200 units in its portfolio, Langton Group likely owns the largest fleet of robotic lawn mowers in the country, he adds.
Budding Opportunities in a Flourishing Industry
In 2020, the global market for robotic lawn mowers—which have been around for decades—was estimated to exceed $665 million, and is projected to reach $1.5 billion by 2027, according to a recent report published on www.researchandmarkets.com. Joe notes this burgeoning industry is virtually untapped in the United States right now; however, automated mowers are becoming more widely used because technological advances are making the equipment more practical and affordable.
“I believe our sophisticated solutions are primed to revolutionize the entire landscaping industry, and will bring the level of professionalism in our field up a notch,” he affirms.
Educating people—particularly design professionals—about the value of planning green spaces that support robotic mowing solutions is one initiative that would literally change the landscape of grounds maintenance programs, Joe says. For instance, properties can be designed to include power outlets in convenient locations for charging stations, or have lawns with continuous paths to and from charging docks.
With this in mind, he has been actively working with the American Green Zone Alliance (AGZA), an organization that seeks to help cities, schools, golf courses and commercial properties implement electric-powered lawn care systems. Last year, Langton Group achieved a major milestone by becoming the first company in Illinois to have one of its customer’s properties receive AGZA’s Green Zone Certification, a designation verifying the location’s emission-free status.
The 29-acre green zone in Woodstock comprises a large pharmaceutical campus as well as an 11-acre group of townhouses. Under a service agreement with sister company AOS, Langton Group has a fleet of 18 Husqvarna Automowers operating at this location.
Certain units charge conventionally through electrical outlets, and others with solar arrays custom- designed by Joe, whose professional background includes studying small circuitry in college and working as a union electrician. The 550-watt solar systems can charge two mowers simultaneously, and have the capacity to store enough energy to power the mowers for several days when cloudy weather prevents the solar panels from recharging.
“We have some other properties that will be seeking Green Zone Certification, one with a landscape partner in Lake Bluff, and another in Lake Forest maintained by Langton Group,” Joe says. “We are proud to be reducing our carbon footprint while also providing customers with a better product—a beautiful, well-maintained lawn.”
“I just couldn’t find enough people to hire, and I saw robotics as a way to solve my labor problems.” Joe Langton, CEO/President, Automated Outdoor Solutions
A Team-Oriented Culture
When customers, manufacturers and other industry partners choose to work with AOS or Langton Group, Joe says they can expect to receive leading-edge landscaping solutions as well as outstanding customer service.
Why? Because these family-owned companies employ skilled, team-oriented individuals who are also highly motivated to be top performers, says Joe. He never asks employees to do something he isn’t willing to do himself, be it operating a street sweeper, digging ditches, plowing snow or performing any other grueling task. “A great leader leads by example,” he emphasizes.
What’s more, Joe and other company leaders demonstrate trust in employees by staying out of their way and giving them the freedom to do their jobs, instead of micromanaging them. Of course, when necessary, mentorship and additional training are provided to ensure team members have the foundational skills and knowledge necessary to meet the leadership’s high expectations.
Joe adds, “I think that anyone who’s an industry leader only gets there because they assemble a great team of people. I’m grateful for anybody who’s ever been here and followed my leadership.”
Dare to Dream Big
As someone who has taken a rather circuitous path to reach this pinnacle in his career, Joe says he values every experience and decision that led him to where he is today.
He attributes many of his life’s successes to the encouragement and guidance of his supportive parents. He especially appreciates how they raised him to understand responsibility at an early age and instilled strong moral values such as integrity, honesty and loyalty.
He explains that he was introduced to construction when he was just 12 years old. He learned the ropes from his hardworking father, who started out as a laborer in the field, rose through the ranks over the years, and eventually opened his own general contracting business.
Joe did not immediately follow in his father’s footsteps. Instead, he went from being an all-star high school athlete on track to play college football, to taking a job at Best Buy right after high school, where he started as a car stereo and alarm installation specialist and moved up the ranks to a management position. During this time, he furthered his education by studying small circuits and analysis in community college, then spent the next 11 years working with an electrical union. However, he felt stifled in this profession, likening the experience to being in a “mental straitjacket” because he knew he had even greater potential. So, he left the union and turned his side job of snowplowing into a full-scale business venture that eventually evolved into Langton Group.
As a business owner today, Joe continually seeks ways to share his strategies for success with others, to help them maximize their potential and to never lose hope in chasing their own dreams. He also strives to embrace different perspectives to cultivate greater collaboration, synergy and innovation in the workplace.
“I am passionate about ending the idea that business is a man’s world,” he adds. “My company thrives with people like my daughter, Julia, who serves as COO of Automated Outdoor Solutions. She absolutely loves what we do and is really blazing a trail for young women in this industry.”
Julia clearly admires her father’s professional ambitions, noting that she would gladly follow in his footsteps. “It is exciting to work with him and know of all the success we have ahead of us. I am already imitating some of his strategies and I believe that is why I will be a great leader one day. Only being 20, I feel that I am much ahead of the game because he has taught me so much,” she says.
Joe, now 42, feels like the universe has placed him in all the right places in his past, and has put the people he needs by his side today to achieve his goals in the landscaping industry. However, this entrepreneur’s top priority isn’t making a buck—it’s putting family first. “My greatest blessing in life is my family,” he states. “I am so fortunate to be able to work with my daughter, and also my two stepsons, Ray and Kevin Robinett, who are Automatic Mower Specialists on our team.”
He continues, “I also feel very fortunate to run our family operation with my brother, John, who has been my business partner since he was 18 years old. Today, he takes the lead in running our other companies so I can focus my time on growing Automated Outdoor Solutions. Now, it feels like history is repeating itself with my daughter, who’s as excited as I am to build a great future for our business.”