Steve King met Barb Olson on a blind date while the two were students at Iowa State University. They didn’t hit it off at first, but a year later they met again, went to a football game, and the rest was history. They married before her graduation.
Barb found a job testing recipes for cookbooks in the Twin Cities, and Steve found a job as a landscape architect specializing in park planning for a consulting firm.
"Steve and Barb are iconic figures in our industry and represent such a great American success story."
Take a Chance On Steve
In 1969, Steve was assigned to a playground design project for the City of Minneapolis. He wanted to try something new, an experimental concept called “continuous play” that he’d developed as part of his final thesis at Iowa State. The city project manager was skeptical of the approach, but decided to take a chance.
The structure was built and the neighbors loved it. People from other neighborhoods called the City wanting their own playground just like it. The success of this first structure got Steve and Barb thinking that maybe they should go into business for themselves.
We Might Have Something Here
Steve quit his job and started his own site-planning firm, King Associates, that same year. Most of the work was not playground related, but one of their clients was building a townhouse project and Steve suggested a playstructure for the kids. They liked the idea and the first playstructure under Steve’s name utilizing the continuous play concept was born. Word spread and so did demand.
In early 1971, the city told Steve and Barb they’d have to move their business out of their garage. The Kings found a warehouse space and soon incorporated Landscape Structures to build play structures, a name that would more accurately reflect their business focus. Steve focused his energies on product development, while Barb focused on running the company-wide operations.
There were only a handful of major players in the play equipment business in the early ‘70s, and one of them began to offer similar structures to what Landscape Structures pioneered. The Kings knew they were on to something.
Steve and Barb were living hand-to-mouth, holding yard sales, selling furniture, and borrowing from friends and family. They had more business than they knew what to do with, but everything they made went into funding the next project. And because they had no credit built, it was difficult to access loans. These were lean times, but they couldn’t bring themselves to abandon this dream for “real” jobs.
The breakthrough came when they found some investors who liked these kids enough to make a significant investment, and in 1976, Landscape Structures had its first profitable year.
No Turning Back
From that day forward, Landscape Structures has grown into one of the most respected providers of play equipment in the world, leading the industry in innovation, customer service and employee culture. Steve and Barb’s marriage and partnership formed the backbone of a company that felt more like a family than a business, something we still pride ourselves on today.