Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Brooke N. Bates

The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland


Balancing act


Arendt’s Outdoor Services grows by establishing expertise, but also knowing when to back off.

February 10, 2015

Arendt’s Outdoor Services started more than 20 years ago by offering basic lawn mowing. As satisfied customers kept asking for additional services, the company naturally expanded into full-service maintenance, design/build and snow management. “As time moved forward, the company grew,” says account manager Dan Bantell.

“We’re on these properties already, mowing the lawn, and they’re always asking us to trim their shrubs. Naturally, you open up a can of worms when you start saying, ‘Yeah,’ because you find yourself saying, ‘Yeah,’ to a bunch of things.” The secret to Arendt’s growth doesn’t mean saying yes to everything – but rather, focusing selectively on what the company does best.

“It’s not about saying yes to those requests. It’s about saying yes to those requests that fit who we are currently and where we want to go,” Bantell says. “You can’t be everything to everyone, so you’ve got to know what you’re good at. But knowing what you’re good at doesn’t mean you’re only good at one service. We’re really good at maintenance and within maintenance, there are a bunch of services.”

Specifically, Arendt’s Outdoor Services caters to commercial and high-end residential markets around Clarks Summit, Pa.

Although the company does a great deal of landscape design/build, maintenance work has been growing at a clip lately, so Arendt’s is developing a niche in full-service lawn and landscape maintenance.

The ideal customer, in Bantell’s eyes, relies on Arendt’s all year long for weekly mowing along with other services.

By building loyal relationships with customers who fit this focus, Arendt’s Outdoor Services drives sustainable growth that secures the company long-term.

Establishing credibility.

The first step to building long-term customer relationships is establishing credibility. Account representatives must be able to understand and deliver on customer needs, which requires a combination of listening and looking. The ability to diagnose lawn care needs gives the first impression of a capable provider.

“When you do that initial property walk-through, it’s listening to what the property manager has to say, but also keeping in mind: here’s what we offer,” Bantell says.

“Sometimes what you’re hearing from the customer – they’re only telling you what they’ve always experienced. So you’re standing there talking to them on a 15,000-square foot paver patio at an office complex, and they may not realize that needs to be maintained, so they’re not talking about it.”

That’s where you need to say, “Hey, the grout in this is really washed out; you have some moss back here,” allowing you to add that right into the service. While recommending relevant services, mentioning successful previous projects can help establish credibility.

Bantell might take the opportunity to say something like, ‘You have a huge drainage issue here and it reminds me of a similar job we did. It was a homerun; the client is thrilled because we completely eliminated that issue.”

The goal is not to name-drop clients or boast how much you know about landscaping. The goal is to assure customers that you have the knowledge and credentials to solve any of their landscape issues.

Building customer relationships requires enough technical experience to recognize issues and opportunities in a lawn, paired with excellent people skills. One of the biggest challenges Bantell faces on a daily basis is balancing the two, or, in his words, “learning what somebody’s expectations are and making sure that the service you present them with makes sense.” For example, if a customer requests a “perfect-looking property” within a limited budget, Bantell is responsible for mediating their desires with realistic deliverables.

Once a balance is struck, documenting the agreed expectations is key to maintaining the relationship – especially as the company grows and more employees get involved. Arendt’s relies on software to efficiently communicate customer preferences to crews, while Bantell stays in constant contact with the production manager to make sure execution meets expectations.

Cross-selling services.

Although Arendt’s focus lately has been maintenance, the company isn’t neglecting design/build. Bantell, who works mainly with maintenance customers, see the two sides of the business as complementary. With that mindset, he focuses on cross-selling maintenance services to landscape installation customers, and vice versa.

“It’s easy to work on a property from a maintenance standpoint and just do nothing but maintain it,” he says. “But the reality of it is: landscapes get outdated, shrubs die, so my eyes are always open for that. My job is to get out there and say, ‘Hey, I was walking your property and I noticed this or that. By the way, your mulch is looking pretty thin. We offer that service. We’re on your property anyway. What would it take for you to accept a proposal?’”

Similarly, whenever Arendt’s completes a landscape job, the account rep makes sure customers know that the company can also maintain the landscape it just built. He or she will notify Bantell to follow up with landscape customers to recommend a maintenance program.

Existing customers are warm leads for upsells and cross-sells because they already know and trust Arendt’s Outdoor Services. By tapping into these opportunities – not as a company trying to make more money, but as a long-term partner proactively looking out for customers’ landscape needs – Arendt’s continues to grow. “If you already have an existing relationship with someone, they naturally take your advice, suggestions and recommendations a heck of a lot easier than someone that doesn’t know you,” Bantell says. “Being proactive from the account management point of view helps create loyalty, because it shows that you care about their property.”


To each his own

For a company to focus on what it does best, individual employees should be able to focus on what each one does best. At Arendt’s Outdoor Services for example, estimators focus only on estimating, administrative staff focus on administrative tasks, mowing crews focus on mowing, applicators focus on fertilization, and so on. Typically, production crews specialize in certain services, although maintenance employees might cross over to assist on large installation jobs.

“You always hear you’ve got to have the right people on the bus, but you also have to have them in the right seat,” says Dan Bantell, account manager. “If you’re going to have a dedicated portion of the company that does nothing but design-build-install, you need somebody at the head who knows design.”

Since Arendt’s in-house landscape designer retired, the service has taken a backseat to maintenance – although several employees with CAD experience collaborate to continue offering design. Meanwhile, with the focus on maintenance, the company hired Bantell in January 2013 specifically to grow the maintenance business.

In a company the size of Arendt’s, which peaks at about 30 employees during the busy season, key employees can practically make or break certain services.

“You could have a great hardscape crew in place, and then a super loyal, committed hard worker gives his two-weeks notice,” Bantell says. “That’s hard to take. Do I want to go through that training process again? Or do I want to make do with what we have, slowly dissolve it and start referring that work elsewhere?”

The company “dissolved” prior services like irrigation and landscape lighting installation, which required significant specialized training. Now, as the company grows toward maintenance, having a strong team in place will determine success.

“In order to grow in a certain direction,” Bantell says, “you need the right person in the right seat.”


Brooke N. Bates Archive

Features - Cover Story

Features - Profile

Features - Snow and Ice

Features - Strategies