Pape’s (pronounced Poppy) landscape design company, Papescapes, was working eight projects simultaneously due to the Spring’s historic rains. Normally, the crews tackle no more than four at the same time.
A beehive might have been calmer than the Papescapes’ office early in the morning. (It is also a hub for a second business, Burton Millworks, which produces a line of hand-made, rustic-modern wooden furniture.) People came and went. Employees. Delivery men. Division managers.
The caffeinated bustle is one side effect of the young company’s growth. It has also been named to the Aggie 100, a list of the fastest growing Aggie-owned businesses in the world, twice.
[pullquote width=”300″ float=”left”]The growth trajectory has been steep, earning Papescapes a spot on the Aggie 100 in 2011 for a 43 percent growth rate and again in 2014 for a 33 percent growth rate. To be nominated, companies must have been in operation for at least five years and have annual revenues of at least $250,000. To make the cut, a company has to be in the top 100 businesses of all nominees for growth percentage of that year.[/pullquote]
And then there is his personal life. Two weeks earlier Pape, his wife Megan and their three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Ava welcomed Emery Kate. The newest Pape arrived five weeks before she was expected necessitating a weeklong stay in an Austin neonatal intensive care unit. Now, Emery Kate is thriving at home, but as a preemie she was on a strict feeding regimen requiring a bottle every three hours round-the-clock. In addition, the family is still adapting to their new home from their move to Brenham in March. Sleep deprivation is a reality.
Despite the frenetic pace, Pape had a twinkle in his eye and an easy laugh. It’s obvious he’s exactly where he wants to be.
“I moved away, studied abroad and worked for other people,” Pape, who is a third-generation Washington County native, said. “It was time to come home. I knew this was exactly where I wanted to be.”
The Roots of Landscape Architecture
His paternal great-grandparents homesteaded near Prairie Hill. His maternal great- grandparents staked their claim in Burton. Here Pape grew up in a close-knit, extended family.
“Growing up, every Sunday at least 25 of us would gather at my grandparents’ house for lunch—a tradition my parents have continued today,” he said. “Family is important to me, and I want it to be important to my daughters. Our roots go deep here.”
Although Megan, who is an educational diagnostician for the Burton and Round Top-Carmine school districts, was reared in California, she was visiting family in Texas when her path crossed with Pape’s. They were married in 2010 at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Burton with a reception in Carmine.
“I’m a Texas Aggie and Megan is a UC-Davis Aggie,” Pape said. “It was just meant to be.”
Pape’s high school years were marked by the blur of extracurricular activities that are part and parcel of life in a small school. The Burton class of 1997 had 23 members. With a very small student body, everyone does almost anything to ensure there are enough participants to field sports teams. Pape played football and baseball and was active in all facets of FFA from showing hogs to the leadership competitions.
“I did it all,” he said. “I’ve always liked to be involved and be busy.”
In addition to school and church, Pape always found “a way to make money.” His maternal grandfather owned and operated the Brazos Valley Cotton Company in Brenham for 40 years. His dad is an area homebuilder. Both were self-starters who valued hard work.
“They were entrepreneurs and instilled that drive in me,” he said.
One of Pape’s most memorable high school summer jobs was hauling hay.
In those days, most people still used square bales. A three-man crew would descend on a hay patch where the bales, which generally weighed 50 – 75 pounds, waited in long rows. One would drive. One would pitch the bales onto the bed of the truck while the third stacked the hay. When the truck was full, they went to the barn and re-stacked the hay. For the record, hell may not be hotter than an enclosed hay barn during a Texas summer.
“We made 10 cents per bale. We had to handle 1,000 bales to earn $100,” he said. “Of course, in high school having $100 in your pocket made you a rich man. Plus, hauling hay got you in such good shape; you didn’t die during two-a-days (early August football practice).”
Although his family promoted hard work, they never ignored the value of an education.
“My parents raised my sisters and me so we saw college not as an option but a destination,” he said.
His father had always encouraged him to become an architect or an engineer. Landscape architecture, as Pape discovered, combined the creativity of architecture with the disciplined mathematical underpinnings of engineering. The fact Texas A&M University, his long-time school of choice, had the number two ranked landscape architecture program in the nation made his destination clear.
“I just never really considered going anywhere else,” Pape said.
Small-town Boy with a Worldview
Texas A&M’s landscape architecture program was a five-year degree plan. Pape enrolled in 1997 and graduated as part of the Class of 2002. During that time, he spent four months studying in Italy. The experience changed his life and his view of his chosen profession.
“When I landed in Italy, I was a wide-eyed Burton boy,” he said. His class stayed in a 16th Century monastery, touring the country and studying gardens that had been in place for hundreds of years.
“In America, landscaping is pigeonholed as planting flowers and mowing grass, so those ancient gardens were a revelation,” he said. “Obviously, plants die, but a well-designed hardscape—the bones of an outdoor space—can last forever leaving an imprint on the land and on people.”
From then on, he has designed with the future in mind.
“My designs are shaped by my desire to create something that is going to last,” he said. “When I approach a new project, I ask the client, ‘What are we going to build that your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren can enjoy?’”
While superlative stone work plays a prominent role in a Papescape design, Pape considers his signature feature high-quality work that reflects his clients’ needs and tastes.
“We create high-quality outdoor spaces that we’re proud to put our name on,” he said. “In the process, we build lasting relationships with satisfied customers.”
Building a Big Business in a Small Town
After an internship in Austin and three years at Glasco & Co. in Brenham, where he learned the ropes of running a successful landscaping business, Pape decided it was time to strike out on his own. In 2004, he founded Papescapes. All he had was a truck and a trailer. To save rent, he lived in his grandfather’s 800-square-foot camp house.
“When I started I would just hire whoever I could grab for the summer, but I always had a vision I was working toward,” Pape said.
By 2007, the company had grown enough to warrant a permanent location. Pape purchased 10 acres just off Highway 290 on the outskirts of Burton. Today, the site is home to a 3,000 square-foot office and a 70’ x 50’ shop. Papescapes has 15 full-time employees. The company has design, installation and maintenance divisions.
“To anyone wanting to start a small business, my advice is to work hard and to do it before you have a family,” Pape said. “I lived and breathed my business days, nights and weekends for 10 years.”
The growth trajectory has been steep, earning Papescapes a spot on the Aggie 100 in 2011 for a 43 percent growth rate and again in 2014 for a 33 percent growth rate. To be nominated, companies must have been in operation for at least five years and have annual revenues of at least $250,000. To make the cut, a company has to be in the top 100 businesses of all nominees for growth percentage of that year.
“We’re growing, but we’re not done,” Pape said. “My vision isn’t realized yet.” In the future, he would like to open a second location in Bastrop or another high-growth town near Austin and add turn-key swimming pool design and construction into the mix. He currently designs pools and sub-contracts the construction.
While many things contribute to Papescapes’ ongoing success, its location can’t be overlooked. Burton’s proximity to Houston provides access to urban clients who appreciate the aesthetic and economic value of superior landscape design, which are estimated to add 10– 15 percent to a property’s value.
“If I went to my grandfather and said, ‘I’m a landscape architect, and I want to install your flower beds,’ he would say, ‘No, your grandmother does that,’” Pape said laughing. “People from urban areas, who want to get away from the city and be outside, understand the importance of what we do.”
With that said, it was a Burton family who gave him his first opportunity to do a large-scale residential project, which is his favorite type of design work.
“They took a chance on me,” Pape said. “We proved we could deliver. Word gets around fast in a small town. ”
One satisfied customer led to another increasing the size, scope and diversity of the projects. Last year Pape traveled to California on a client’s private jet to select olive trees from the Heinz family’s private plantation. He handpicked 36 of the 100-year-old olive trees and oversaw their transport and transplantation from California to the client’s Roundtopolis estate.
“In this business, I get to travel and see a lot of neat things,” Pape said. “I have opportunities that I didn’t think I would have. Our projects are only limited by the imagination and the reality of an individual’s budget.”
These days, as sustainability moves to the forefront, rain collection systems and vegetable gardens are emerging trends. Pape’s raised beds encased in hand-constructed rock planters outfitted with redwood trellises for climbing plants would not be confused with my grandmother’s pea patch and her cistern. To conserve water, Pape’s planting palette consists of about 30 hardy, drought-tolerant native Texas plants that he uses in different combinations to create custom looks.
People trust Pape with high-dollar, high-profile projects because of the values instilled in him in Burton. Burton is important to his business because it is his home, a place where a person’s reputation still matters.
“In a small town, people know what you are and who you are,” Pape said. “You can’t survive in a small town if people don’t like you, don’t trust you or if you do shoddy work. There is no place to hide dishonesty or indifference.”
At 36 years old, Pape already recognizes his hometown has given him a lot. He makes it a point to give back by donating to local community organizations, serving on the board of the Burton Education Foundation and the Central Washington County Water District, and he has previously served on his church council at St. John’s UCC Burton.
“At Texas A&M, they spent a lot of time talking about legacy,” Pape said. “This work is my legacy. I want to leave something that makes a difference and lasts forever.”
by Lorie Woodward Cantu