Andrew Leavy had plenty of time to think during the two lockdowns of 2020. A foreman supervisor for a local landscaping firm, he was unable to go to work.
He and wife Raquel Resendes-Leavy put their heads together and fine-tuned a plan for him to start his own business, using the landscaping expertise he’d acquired over the past 14 years in Bermuda and the civil engineering degree he’d gained in his home country of Canada.
The couple’s efforts led to the launch of SolTerra Landscape & Design in October that year—a company that has since gone from strength to strength, despite starting during a pandemic. The fledgling firm picked up the Best of Bermuda award for landscaping service in 2021 and recently won plaudits for its involvement in an award-winning residential development on Harrington Sound led by CTX Design Group. “I’m a civil engineer by trade and I basically got into landscaping by chance,” explains Andrew, who came to Bermuda in 2006 after meeting his spouse when she was studying in Canada.
Civil engineering jobs here were scarce and instead he was hired by Kevin Horsfield of Horsfield Landscape & Design, staying with the company—”starting at the bottom and working my way up to the top”—until he was ready to go it alone. He says he learnt much over the years from his boss, who was “very supportive” of his decision to branch out with his own business. “We are still good friends to this day.” Andrew bought a landscaping company which was up for sale, John Silviera & Sons, acquiring its three trucks, two trailers, sole employee and about 40 maintenance clients. “We saw a potential there to make the company grow and utilise the equipment that we were buying,” says Andrew. “It was a good start up. It had some income already, and that was one of the things we were most worried about in making this work, to get things rolling.”
The first year was tough. His expertise was in hardscaping, such as driveways and walls, and the company he was taking over had never done that kind of work. But gradually he picked up small hardscaping jobs—both from those who’d previously seen his skills in action and from the clients he inherited— and the business grew. “Social media has been huge for us,” he adds. “We don’t really advertise much…it was more word of mouth and social media that got us off the ground.”
Andrew handles SolTerra’s Instagram and Facebook accounts himself with help from Raquel, recognising that “people want to see the before and after.” He says: “It’s one thing to show a finished product but how did we get there? That tells a story in itself. That’s been huge for us.
“We get a lot of work mainly through our Instagram page.”
SolTerra now has eight full-time employees — four Bermudians, two spouses of Bermudians and two Portuguese work-permit holders.
Andrew’s wife is Portuguese, and he has learnt the language which has proved useful for work too. The company now has three divisions—a maintenance section with about 80 clients, a soft landscaping team, and a hardscaping crew of three who tackle masonry projects, such as driveways, walls, steps and tiling. SolTerra has partnered with Ciaran Keaveny of CK Landscape Architecture for some projects and is becoming well known for its hardscaping expertise. “We are pretty competitive,” says Andrew. “There are not too many people on island doing that.”
Choosing the right team has been key to SolTerra’s success. “It was something that I really thought about a lot,” Andrew says. “I take a lot of pride in picking guys that are as passionate about it as I am.
“We’ve got a really good squad. We try to get together every three to four months, barbecues and things like that.
“I always like to make sure the guys know that they are appreciated.”
Aside from Raquel, encouragement at home comes from their eight-year-old son Mason, who loves getting involved in gar- den projects, and behind the scenes from Andrew’s Bermudian business partners Ian and Jennifer Hind.
“I’m out of the house from 7 am to 5 pm during the day and once my kid goes to bed, it’s late nights as well,” says Andrew. “It’s stressful…but I don’t mind the long hours. It’s your own and it’s a good stress.”