Finding ways to cut

Here are tips on how to make your operations leaner.

December 7, 2011
Matt LaWell
Industry News

A couple of times every year, Eric Cross sends a newsletter to his clients spread across Northern New Jersey. The surprise is not that Cross sends the newsletters, but rather that he is so honest when writing them. He has been building his company, Duke’s Landscape Management, for nearly 30 years, and he has worked with some clients for nearly that whole stretch. He values the relationships. He wants them to last.

That was why, not long ago, he wrote a few paragraphs about the real cost of raising prices. The cost of fuel had increased, of course, but so had the cost of equipment and repair parts, of mulch and fertilizer, of just about everything he and his crews used every day. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “we cannot absorb these increases without passing some of them along to our customers.”

That was the bad news. The good news, addressed just two sentences later, was that he and the rest of the folks at the company were “being proactive” and “looking for ways to increase efficiencies and stretch dollars.” Though the advice might sound simple, here are a few ways Cross has helped keep costs low:

Do more.
Like most companies, Duke’s prefers to work with customers in as many ways as possible. There are standard lawn services, of course, but what about irrigation? And enhancements? And, starting around this time of year, snow removal? Heck, are there other properties nearby that you might be able to pick up to help cut travel time and costs? “Sometimes,” Cross said, “we have to look at an account and what they bring to the table.”

Spend first. With between 70 and 80 employees during the height of spring and summer, Duke’s is not a jumbo, but neither is it small. It has enough money to upgrade equipment often enough that the upgrade will help lead to added efficiencies. “We have ZTR mowers, we have enclosed trailers,” Cross said. “There are a lot of things that we do that cut down on our time, so we’re working much more efficiently today than we were back then. You have to.”

Ask for outside help. Cross has regular talks with a peer group of other companies across the country, which has provided inspiration. If you’re having trouble with costs – or anything else – find someone who can help you – and who you might be able to help, too.  “We compare org charts, budgets, we share a lot of great ideas,” he said. “There’s accountability there, too.”

This is one of three stories that ran in Lawn & Landscape’s A Cut Above e-newsletter, a new source of information for maintenance contractors. To continue reading about Duke’s Landscape Management:

Dancing days: These crucial steps got Duke’s Landscape Management moving in the right direction.

Tough test leads to big results: Eric Cross received LEED certification in order to build a company and headquarters based on the program’s principles.