Over the past 15 years, Chris Kozol has grown Forest Green Lawn and Landscaping in Omaha, Neb., into a full-service maintenance, design and installation company. During that time, he has also nurtured his customer base, added new, loyal clients and built a roster of 28 full-time and seasonal employees. Now, as he retraces his path to success, he can point to a core strategy that’s kept Forest Green growing.
“Above all, we really believe in taking care of our foundation first,” says the entrepreneur. “If we can’t take care of the customers we already have, how can we take care of somebody new? Over time, we’ve grown our services based on that.”
Kozol’s strategy of layering new services atop a solid foundation of content customers may sound simple enough. Yet when he decided to add landscape design and installation to his list of services five years ago, the transition was complex.
“There have definitely been ups and downs,” he says. “I already knew the mowing, maintenance and fertilization business, yet there was a learning curve for landscape design and installation. A lot more things need to go correctly to be successful.”
Although the initial investments of time and money to add these new services was quite substantial, Kozol says that it’s paid off and allowed Forest Green to enjoy another growth spurt. “We had a good client base to build off of, and they already trust us,” he says. “So we let them know we’d added these services, and we grew from there.”
Now that he has integrated landscape design and installation services, he has a better handle on avoiding pitfalls and ensuring success. “If you’re a little bit off on your bidding or the time it’s going to take to finish a project, it can really impact your margins,” he says. “Yet now we know what can go wrong, and we can look at previous jobs. I truly enjoy the challenge, and keep working hard to make things better.”
From the ground up
Kozol’s career in the lawn and landscape industry began innocuously enough. Like many landscapers, he started mowing lawns to earn extra money for college. He soon found that he truly enjoyed the work; however, over time, he saved up enough money to buy his own truck and mower. “From there, the rest is history,” he says with a laugh.
At first, growing Forest Green was not that difficult. As Kozol quips, “There was only one way to go, and that was up.” Adding key staff and salespeople helped him to keep existing clients happy and to grow his business simultaneously. Nonetheless, Kozol was never quite content to stick with the status quo and hope it kept working.
“We were always looking for something new and creative to do each year to keep that edge,” he says. “We wanted to keep growing, keep improving and be more efficient.”
Adding landscape design and installation services was a smart, logical move, he says. “We got a ton of requests for landscaping, and I referred them to a lot of other people,” Kozol says. “Yet it really goes hand in hand with our business. So we decided to add that as another service. I hired someone to help me run it, because I can’t do it all.”
Even as he added these new services, Kozol continued to enhance his lawn care business. He added new salesmen, purchased newer equipment, developed better routing and improved customer service. “Every day we try to work on it, and our maintenance business has definitely improved,” he says. “That business hasn’t grown as much as landscaping, but it’s still growing at a nice rate.”
Perhaps most importantly, Kozol added key field staff at Forest Green, allowing him to step back from nitty-gritty operations and focus on strategic aspects with his resources. “That allowed me to work on my business more instead of just in it,” he says.
Although Kozol regularly sends out mass mailings to clients and prospects, he says the most important part of his marketing plan is simply keeping customers happy and nurturing their referrals. “Customers will keep you in mind if they like you,” he says. “They’re your biggest form of advertising, and everything we do encourages that.”
Customer service is also a critical component of Forest Green’s ongoing success. “When someone calls, we can easily get down to the problem and take care of it,” he says. “I enjoy contacting people at different points of the year to make sure everything’s OK.”
To be successful, business owners must always pay close attention to details, says Kozol. Something as simple as having staff answering the phones during business hours can affect customer service. “The little things pay big dividends,” he says.
This is one of three stories that appeared in Lawn & Landscape’s Growing Green e-newsletter. To continue reading about Forest Green Lawn and Landscaping:
Virtual reach: Chris Kozol uses video blogs to education and communicate with customers.
Great expectations: A commitment to excellence is important in meeting customer demands.