Gil Grattan is used to dealing in grass and weeds. Now his company has a new sort of green fueling its growth.
Virginia Green, the lawncare business Grattan founded locally 20 years ago, signed a deal last month with California-based private equity firm Golden Gate Capital to take on its first ever round of outside capital in a bid to expand both within and outside of its namesake state.
Grattan would not disclose the amount of funding Virginia Green received in the deal but said it’s enough to allow his Henrico-based company to continue an acquisition streak that’s led to nine deals in the past three years.
“I tell our associates we have a checkbook backing us now to expand our brand and expand our growth,” Grattan said in an interview this week.
While the deal involves Grattan selling an undisclosed ownership stake to Golden Gate, he said he remains a co-owner and CEO to continue to steer Virginia Green’s 360 employees and 10 branches statewide as usual.
“I’m still in charge,” he said. “They (Golden Gate) want us to continue to run our business like we run it. At the end of the day, the business is no different other than we just have more behind us to help drive our growth.”
After growing up in Williamsburg and graduating with an agronomy degree from Clemson University, Grattan, 56, started his career in the golf course world, working at Richmond-area clubs, including as superintendent at Country Club of Virginia.
He then spent about 10 years selling fertilizer around the Southeast. It was along that path that he crafted the business plan for what became Virginia Green.
He launched the company in Richmond in 2004, before expanding initially into Williamsburg, then Charlottesville and Fredericksburg and on to Northern Virginia. Last year Virginia Green landed in Roanoke and Hampton and closed out 2023 with the opening of a branch in Harrisonburg.
Virginia Green now provides fertilizer, weedkiller, seeding, aeration and other lawn services to 75,000 customers around the state, 95 percent of which are residential accounts.
Grattan would not comment on how much revenue the firm brings in annually.
The bulk of the company’s expansion has come via acquisitions of other lawncare companies, many of which were smaller operations Grattan calls “tuck-ins.”
“These are owners with less than five trucks, small operators,” who are ready to retire or want out of running the business side, he said.
Grattan financed those first nine acquisitions with capital from within Virginia Green but realized he needed more firepower to continue to strike deals in what he said is a fertile M&A market.
“As we’ve grown the need for capital behind us has become more apparent,” he said.
He sought out local investment banking firm Harris Williams & Co. to begin shopping Virginia Green around to investors and hired Williams Mullen to handle the legal work.
“That is not my world,” Grattan said of the private equity realm. “I know how to kill weeds and grow grass.”
Grattan said lawncare is a sought-after market for private equity money at the moment. Illustrating that, he said Virginia Green received interest from 24 suitors.
“Pest control and lawncare are the hot ticket right now for private equity,” Grattan said.
The deal with Golden Gate closed in late December and Virginia Green’s newfound war chest is already being deployed.
Grattan said the company will close next month on its first out-of-state acquisition, though he couldn’t yet disclose details, including the location.
It’ll be the company’s 11th branch and Grattan expects more deals will follow in Virginia and elsewhere. He said the company is targeting states contiguous to the commonwealth, including North Carolina and Maryland.
“We consider ourselves a potential regional player over the next few years,” Grattan said.
In addition to acquisitions, the capital from Golden Gate also will help finance internal growth, such as adding new services to Virginia Green’s offerings. Grattan said flea and tick treatment, soil sampling and soil analysis are all in the works.
Despite the growth outside of its hometown, Grattan said Richmond remains the company’s largest market and two-thirds of its employees are based here. The company keeps its headquarters at 2701 Emerywood Parkway in Henrico.
Golden Gate declined to comment on the deal beyond a news release distributed earlier this month.
In it, Mike Montgomery, managing director at Golden Gate, said, “Virginia Green is one of the largest and fastest growing lawn care companies in the country. We are thrilled to support the company as it continues to extend its reach.”
Golden Gate was represented in the deal by financial adviser TD Cowen and legal advisers Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, and Ropes & Gray.