Last month, I was talking to a friend of mine about the level of e-mail and other messages we get every day at work and at home. He said that he gets lots of phone calls from cable TV companies who want him to switch from his current provider to their service. Their pitch is that they could charge him much less than what he’s paying now.
Small businesses eligible for health insurance tax credit
WASHINGTON – Small businesses can now apply for tax credits on money spent this year on health insurance for their employees.
The credit is one of the first health care reform provisions to go into effect. The credit, which takes effect this year, is designed to encourage small employers to offer health insurance coverage for the first time or maintain coverage they already have.
“We want to make sure small employers across the nation realize that – effective this tax year – they may be eligible for a valuable new tax credit,” says IRS Commissioner Doug Shulman. “We urge every small employer to take advantage of this credit if they qualify.”
In general, the credit is available to small employers who pay at least half the cost of single coverage for their employees in 2010. It’s specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that primarily employ low- and moderate-income workers.
For tax years 2010 to 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent of premiums paid by eligible small business employers and 25 percent of premiums paid by eligible employers that are tax-exempt organizations. The maximum credit goes to smaller employers – those with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent (FTE) employees – paying annual average wages of $25,000 or less. Because the eligibility rules are based in part on the number of FTEs, not the number of employees, businesses that use part-time help may qualify even if they employ more than 25 individuals. The credit is completely phased out for employers with 25 FTEs or more or pay average wages of $50,000 per year or more.
Eligible businesses can claim the credit as part of the general business credit starting with the 2010 income tax return they file in 2011.
For more information, visit www.irs.gov.
ANLA launches new online job service
WASHINGTON – The American Nursery & Landscape Association has launched an interactive job board. With its focus on green industry companies, the ANLA Job Board offers its members, and the green industry at large, an easy-to-use resource for online employment connections.
“We’re very excited about the ANLA Job Board because we know how critical it is for employers in the green industry to attract first-rate talent with a minimum expenditure of time and resources,” says ANLA President Tom Courtright. “This job board also allows future industry leaders to find career opportunities with premier green industry firms.”
While ANLA members receive preferred pricing, both members and non-members can use the board to reach qualified candidates. Employers can post jobs online, search for qualified candidates based on specific job criteria and create an online resume agent to e-mail qualified candidates daily. They also benefit from online reporting that provides job activity statistics.
For job seekers, the board is a free service that provides access to employers and jobs in the green industry. In addition to posting their resumes, job seekers can browse and view available jobs based on their criteria and save those jobs for later review if they choose. Job seekers can also create a search agent to provide e-mail notifications of jobs that match their criteria.
For additional information, contact ANLA Director of Member Services Amanda Flynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.
New ant guide available
CLEVELAND – Lawn & Landscape’s sister magazine has released the third edition of the “PCT Field Guide for the Management of Structure-Infesting Ants.”
Completely revised and updated, the guide is an essential educational resource for anyone managing ant infestations.
“To be without this field guide is akin to doing pest management without a flashlight,” said industry consultant Austin Frishman, AMF Pest Management Services, Boca Raton, Fla.
Unique behavioral characteristics, rapidly changing dietary needs and dozens of structure-infesting species all make control difficult. The guide was written to provide lawn care technicians with a handy resource they can access from their service vehicles for practical, up-to-date information on these challenging pests. Topics covered include:
- Basic Ant Biology
- Inspection Tips
- Successful Treatment Strategies
- Instant Ant Identification Guide
- Taxonomic Keys
- Full-Color Photo ID Section
- Emerging Ant Species
Author Stoy Hedges, manager of technical service, Terminix International, provides a thorough, updated review of the biology and behavior of ants, and has included new case studies from his extensive field experiences.
Perhaps the most significant revision is the inclusion of high-quality, four-color photos taken by Joe MacGown from the Mississippi Entomological Museum. MacGown used a digital microscope for the photos, which provide incredible detail of each ant species.
“The biggest challenge for our service professionals is the identification of the pests involved and this guide was written with the service professional in the field in mind, so that they can solve the problem as quickly as possible,” Hedges says.
This 325-page handy field guide is prices at $9.95 per copy; quantity discounts are available.
For more information or to order visit www.lawnandlandscape.com/store or call 800-456-0707.
Stihl sees positive first-quarter sales increase
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Stihl’s first-quarter sales exceeded those of the previous year despite the softened handheld outdoor power equipment market.
“We are sensing that in a challenging economy, consumers want to buy reliable, long-lasting products to make their dollars go further,” says Stihl president Fred Whyte. “We are experiencing renewed optimism from our customers for continued economic recovery, and these results are certainly encouraging.”
Handheld sales were up 5 percent compared to the first quarter of 2009, which the company credits to its distribution channels and the release of new products.
STIHL employs more than 2,000 people in its manufacturing facility and branch offices in the U.S.
PBI/Gordon introduces Q4 Plus
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – PBI/Gordon Corp. introduces new Q4 Plus, an improved formulation of its grassy and broadleaf herbicide containing quinclorac. Previously sold as Q4 Turf Herbicide with 0.5 lbs./acre of quinclorac, the product has been reformulated with 0.75 lbs./acre and will be sold as Q4 Plus Turf Herbicide. The other ingredients – sulfentrazone + 2,4-D + dicamba – remain the same.
With the disappearance of MSMA from use on residential and commercial turf, new Q4 Plus offers the professional turf manager control of grassy weeds, says Doug Obermann, product manager for Gordon’s Professional Products.
The fast action of Q4 Plus gives visual results within 24 to 48 hours, the company says. Q4 Plus is formulated for use on bluegrasses, perennial and annual ryegrass, fescues and, now, bermudagrass.
The EPA approved the new label in December 2009 and state registrations are complete with the exception of California, which is pending.
Valent launches EAB project
WALNUT CREEK, Calif. – In an effort to help combat emerald ash borer (EAB) and other invasive tree pests, Valent Professional Products has launched the Legacy Tree Project.
A multicity, multiyear project due to begin this spring in the Chicago area, the project aims to preserve the natural history and beauty of America’s native trees by providing solutions to control EAB populations.
Valent is soliciting applications for the Legacy Tree Project and will choose four Chicago-area cities suffering from EAB infestation as partners in the program.
Valent will then team with a local tree service company to treat a number of municipal ash trees and cover all treatment costs of the program for five years.
Since it was first discovered in the Detroit area in 2002, the invasive Asian pest has killed tens of millions of ash trees in at least 13 states across the Midwestern and Eastern United States.
IA partnership testing rainfall shutoff devices
FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Rainfall shutoff devices are now eligible for Smart Water Application Technologies (SWAT) testing, offered in conjunction with the University of Florida under the direction of Michael Dukes, associate professor and irrigation specialist.
An initiative of the Irrigation Association, SWAT is a partnership of water purveyors and irrigation industry representatives created to promote efficient landscape irrigation technologies through product performance testing.
Testing is expected to begin in early May. Initial draft protocols will be available for public review this summer; developers expect second drafts to be completed by the end of 2010.
To review protocols or for more information, visit www.swatirrigation.org .
Rain sensors join “smart” controllers (climate- and sensor-based) as the first two types of products available for testing.
Additionally, two new testing protocols are currently in development.
Register for ASLA annual meeting and expo
WASHINGTON – Registration is open for the ASLA 2010 Annual Meeting and EXPO, Sept. 10-13, in Washington, D.C. Plan now to join more than 6,000 landscape architecture professionals from around the world to network, to earn up to 21 Professional Development Hours and to reconnect with the fundamental elements of design. Register by July 1 and save $100.
For registration, travel and lodging details, visit www.asla.org. The theme for the meeting is “Earth Air Water Fire DESIGN.”
People in the News
Steve Morton of Cape Coral, Fla., and Beau Mastrine of Wooster, Ohio, have become the 127th and 128th grounds management professionals to successfully earn the Certified Grounds Manager (CGM) designation from the Professional Grounds Management Society. Morton is the landscape manager at Shell Point Retirement Community, Fort Myers, Fla. Mastrine currently serves as director of grounds at The College of Wooster (Ohio).
Ruppert Landscape is pleased to announce the promotion of Jason Kilmore to branch manager for the Frederick landscape management branch.
John Johnson has joined Valent Professional Products as national sales manager for its turf, LCO, ornamental and aquatics business.
Gehl Company has named Daniel L. Miller president. He will succeed Malcolm “Mac” F. Moore.
Ariens announced the following personnel changes to its executive team: Jeff Hebbard will assume the new role of president of Ariens Company Wholegoods Business. Bob Bradford is senior vice president of operations. John Horn is vice president of sales – Ariens Wholegoods. Bill Engler was named director of sales – LSC, distributor and Industrial.
Stihl has appointed Casey McGrath as branch manager for Pacific Stihl, the Visalia, Calif., based branch of the company.
A panel discussion at CENTS in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this year revealed how three contractors have grown their companies – what systems they’ve put in place, what consultants they use and how they bid and price their jobs to ensure a profitable year. Steve Rak, Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio; Dave Thorn, DTR Associates, Aurora, Ohio; and Joe Chiera, Impact Grounds Maintenance and Design, Norton, Ohio; brought together perspectives on high-end residential, commercial maintenance and full-service work for the audience.
– Chuck Bowen
What forms of advertising and marketing techniques have been most successful for growing your business?
Dave Thorn: Customer referrals have been No. 1. No. 2 is home and flower shows. Currently, through shows, we’ve made connections with garden writers and editors. They’ll do stories on us. Those have been key to our marketing – which is free. People love a story.
Steve Rak: We don’t do a lot. We develop a lot of relationships with [property] management companies. A lot of it is word of mouth. I also enjoy writing, and I write for a magazine called “Properties” in the Cleveland area.
Joe Chiera: On the design/build side, we’ve done a lot of direct mail. We send it in the spring and follow up in the summer and fall. Also word of mouth – if you do a good job on a project, you should get two or three leads. On the maintenance side, all our trucks are the same colors with our logos. We used closed trailers. The more trucks you have out there, the more it does for all your marketing.
What are your internal procedures from the time a client calls the office to the first day of the job?
SR: We bid in October of the year before. To help get your foot in the door, it’s a numbers game. When they don’t know you, ask if there are any projects you want us do enhancements on. If we do a good job, they get some face time with us, and we get some face time with them.
JC: Our office manager takes all the calls. He has a sheet of questions to prequalify the lead. On design/build, it’s me or another salesman who takes the call. We follow up within 24 hours of the call and meet with the customer. On maintenance, an account manager handles everything. They supervise the job, sell enhancements. They own the property.
DT: Our approach is pretty basic. We tell a story when the client calls. We’re screening them as they’re screening us. If it’s a good fit, we set up a client meeting, where we’ll have a lengthy conversation. I try to be a good listener and keep telling the DTR story. We send a formal design proposal and create a final plan. We use that exercise to showcase our work. Then, we have an on-site project meeting, where I introduce the client to the head foreman. We give door hangers to the client, so they can leave notes for our crews if we’re not there at the same time.
At what point did you decide to hire a full-time office manager?
JC: Our office manager has been key to our growth. I was pulling my hair out doing payroll and answering phones. My answering machine was always jammed full with messages. We have two office managers, one answers the phone, one runs bookkeeping. They do our HR and are shopping for our health insurance. They’ve really helped out a lot.
SR: It wasn’t soon enough. When you start a business, you’re motivated to grow, but this whole paperwork thing gets out of control. We hired one three years ago, and I couldn’t live without her. She’d be the last person I’d get rid of. Can we afford to pay someone full-time? Definitely, yes. I’m principally a salesperson. I am spending more time on customer sales and customer relationships.
DT: Ours is sort of a business manager; she answers phones and does clerical work. But we divide and conquer on this and try to run very tight. It’s not beneath me to answer the phone or plant a tree. We also have internships with local schools, and have students come in to do CAD or clerical work.
What tools do you use to show your value over your competition?
SR: For us, it’s a simple message: Our core focus is on commercial maintenance. We don’t do design/build. Every bit of our resources goes into cultivating that culture of commercial maintenance. We don’t have to pull a guy off a design/build job. You’re going to get A players on your property every day. This is our meat and potatoes.
JC: Our main selling point is communication, and making the customer feel like part of our extended family. We try to have our account managers contact clients twice a month, get to know the property managers outside of their work. When you build that relationship with the customer, it goes beyond money, because they’ll continue to refer you.
DT: It’s selling the story. When I meet with clients, I ask, ‘What can we do? How can we better help you live? We’re here to be a property manager for you.’ We’ll clean gutters, sweep the garage, wash windows. I tend to become very close to my clients. Once you make that connection … they couldn’t think of using anyone else because of the connection we have.
As your company grew, how did you motivate your staff to accept the changes that were necessary to move forward?
SR: Just don’t keep it a secret. If you want to grow, your people need to be in on it. Give them a stake in it – maybe something they’re doing can help, like more snowplowing, etc. This is their company, too. But sometimes people don’t want to do that. Sometimes you have to let them go. That’s not a bad thing.
JC: We started with a core of four guys, all basic laborers. We brought in some consultants to help with our growth and challenges. We took a lot of their ideas, and most of those four guys are account managers now. You never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse.
How have you used consultants to help grow you company?
JC: I can’t say enough. We use Rod Bailey in Oregon. He taught us the basic principles of business. I never knew what a P&L was. After a two-day talk with him, we were quoting things accurately. That got us on the path to growth. We also use Ed LaFlamme. He helped us from an operations standpoint – what a company looks like and how to set up quality control for the whole job.
SR: We’ve been using them for ages. Frank Ross, a financial consultant, set us up to track costs. Steve Pattie, from the Pattie Group, and I meet once every other month. He knows my employees.We’re not competitors, so we don’t compete for commercial maintenance market. Just do your homework. Consultants aren’t cheap, but if you get the right one in your business, they can really halp you grow it.
DT: We’ve hired Tom Koobee in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. I did the Dale Carnegie public speaking courses. Frank Ross comes in every year for us. He’s been instrumental in guiding our ship. He’s helped me understand finances and P&L statements. I always want to have a good year because I want to show Frank we did a good job.
Subcontractors are vital to a successful business. In a down economy, how do you stay committed to those relationships while protecting your business?
JC: The only sub we have is snow removal. I treat everyone the same way I treat our employees. I don’t try to beat them down on price, as long as they’re giving us good service that’s worth the money.
SR: Pay them on time. Everyone who runs a business knows what it’s like to wait for your money. It’s irritating. Get these people paid. If we can’t, we need to work at our business. Nothing irritates me more than chasing clients. Treat them as part of your family. My subs do quality work. It might cost more, but I can call them any time and they’re out there.
DT: We have two irrigation subs, two tree removal, two electricians. I will get estimates from two people to make sure I don’t miss an opportunity.
How do you structure your bids? Do you price per square foot, or use a material-plus-labor approach?
SR: We do both ways. With production rates for mowers and plows, there are so many variables there – lakes, trees, hills, I don’t think you can look at it from a square-foot perspective.
JC: We don’t price anything on the design/build side on square feet. We do everything materials plus labor. The gross margin is key for my financial success.
DT: Our jobs are polar opposites from one to another. We spend a lot of energy and time working with labor hours, machine costs and overhead mark-up on top of everything. We start with profits and work backward from that.
|David Snodgrass, president of Dennis’ 7 Dees, brings his design/build skills to a chain of garden centers in Portland, Ore. All photos: Mark Gamba Photographs
After a four-year hiatus, David Snodgrass along with his partners, brothers Dean and Drew, decided it was time to get back into retail.
To diversify the company, Snodgrass, president of Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping & Garden Centers in Portland, Ore., went back to the foundation his grandparents built more than 80 years ago and bought back a group of garden centers his brother Dennis had sold off. And by adding a hybrid DIY design service for homeowners, they’ve been able to leverage those storefronts into a lead-generating machine for their landscape division.
Getting Back in the Game
Snodgrass, who’s president-elect of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), and his siblings moved back into garden centers due to their love of plants and their history. Their maternal grandparents started the business in the 1920s – Bernard Esch running a lawn maintenance operation and his wife, Florence, growing rhododendrons in Portland. Then their father, Robert Snodgrass took over the business and expanded into retail in the 1950s, naming the new company after his 7 children, Daryle Lynn, Dennis, Drake, Dan, David, Drew and Dean.
“I, and I think my brothers share this, love every aspect of the green industry. One more piece of that industry is a good thing,” Snodgrass says.
And the company’s five garden centers are a boost for business. Besides better discounts for bulk purchases from suppliers and savings on administrative overhead, they act as a great source of leads – and sales – for its landscaping division.
Homeowners will order a big installation, and the company’s landscaping division can handle it, but those clients aren’t ordering a new project every other month – maybe every few years, if the economy’s good to them, or if they buy a new house. During the in-between times, Snodgrass’ retail arm can maintain contact with them – flats of annuals for the front beds or tomato plants for their vegetable garden – instead of losing them to another garden center.
“We lost them, I guess, and allowed them to go to competing garden centers, and sometimes those competing garden centers offer landscaping services,” Snodgrass says. “This way, we’re able to service our customer regardless of where they are in their buying cycle. We’re able to keep their attention and keep them as an ongoing customer throughout that process.”
And the sales process works in the opposite direction, too. The landscaping division has a presence at each of the five garden centers, and all the sales associates are trained to guide customers to the right level of project – from DIY to do-it-for-me.
“A lot of times we can turn that customer into either a bigger landscape plant sale and still have them do the work themselves, or give them a proposal do to the work. It’s been a real good source of leads,” Snodgrass says.
And, the garden center purchases helped stabilize the 200-plus employee company’s balance sheet: 24 percent of its $18.5 million in revenue last year came from residential design/build; 28 percent from commercial bid/build; 18 from landscape maintenance and 29 percent from retail.
“It bucks the economy trend,” Snodgrass says of his retail division’s performance this year – up when other areas are stable or down. “That goes back to the diversification – the green industry is never hitting on all cylinders in all areas. Sometimes there are pockets of strength and pockets of weakness. Being diversified allows us to leverage the pockets of strength into the pockets of weakness.”
Snodgrass stresses that, for now, retail is a pocket of strength. At least for this year. Last year, not so much. For example, Snodgrass’ five garden centers pulled in $35,000 total during a recent spring weekend. That same weekend last year, they made $113,000 – more than triple this year’s revenue.
“You just have to suck it up, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. This year, sales for the garden centers are up 60 percent (overall). We had an early spring, maybe there’s some pent-up demand showing. There’s a huge interest in vegetable gardening. There are just a lot of things that bode well for being in the garden center business this year.”
Profits From Planscaping
One of those things is Snodgrass’ Planscaper program. About a year and a half after getting back into the retail arena, Snodgrass introduced the hybrid DIY offering. Homeowners interested in installing plants themselves, but who want a professional plan to work from, can sit down with one of Snodgrass’ designers and get a professional design, provided they purchase enough plant material from Dennis’ 7 Dees garden centers.
The idea is that the company can include things like creating outdoor living spaces, complimenting structures, privacy screening and overall curb appeal – important aspects of landscape design that homeowners rarely think about.
“We’re trained landscape design/build contractors. That’s our grounding,” he says. “We have brought that skill and talent into the retail garden center arena, so we have a level of professional design that’s you won’t find with a garden center that expands into landscaping or one that offers some type of DIY landscape design service.”
“People don’t know what it is – they can walk into a garden center and they say, ‘Man this is really a great place. They don’t pinpoint that the rows are perfectly straight, or that merchandise is stacked from low to high. They don’t understand what went in to giving them that feeling. It all adds up to a wow. It just works. You don’t need to know the details about it.”
The author is managing editor of Lawn & Landscape.
Want to get into garden centers?
Nearly a third of Dennis’ 7 Dees’ $18.5 million in revenue comes from its five garden centers. Here, president David Snodgrass shares his tips for landscape companies entering the retail sector. – as told to Chuck Bowen
A garden center is a whole different animal. You need specialists who know retail garden centers as managers. There’s an education in retail plant quality versus a landscape. The customer is going to pick up every single plant and look at it 360 degrees before they buy it. You can’t just think of it as more of the same.
If you don’t have some proven manager who knows the retail side of things, and you’re trying to open a garden center with your skill set and mindset of a landscaper, you’re in for a rude awakening.
It’s a big, huge challenge to get people to your doorstep. That’s all we want to do – we want to bring customers to our doorstep. Once they’re there, the rest of the program and what they see is going to keep them there and bring them back.
In the spring on good-weather Saturdays, every garden center is busy. If the weather is bad, it just adds up to a great season or a poor season. If you have a wet spring, it’s going to make it impossible to have a great season.
I would not buy a company that was not already successful. To think you’re going to turn it around is a pipe dream.
The trend is for multiple locations in order to average down your costs. It takes a lot of marketing to get customers to come to your door. If you have to cover that with sales from one location, that’s difficult to do. The trend is roll ups, and there is still a place for mom-and-pop independents, but that’s really hands on.
You have to love plants to be in retail. If you really are an enthusiast about the industry, and have passion and energy, it can be a lot of fun for the right person. For the wrong person, it can be just the opposite.
It’s really seasonal; you’ve got to weather the cold. You’ve got to make sure you can keep your staff around – that creates a good foundation to build on.
If you could open your doors for four months and close them, you’d be highly profitable. Spring and fall are profitable. Summer and winter can be long. Those are tough months. You’ve still got to pay the bills.
© Shineart | Dreamstime.comBlame it on the economy or the competition. Point your finger at the weather, a late spring, a difficult winter. If pre-season sales were sluggish and spring has sprung but your schedule is sparse, it’s time to get off the phone and stoke sales. (Yes, you heard that right.)
“If you didn’t make sales this spring, there’s really only one way to do it, and that’s to get out there and talk to people,” says Marty Grunder, president, Grunder Landscaping Co., Miamisburg, Ohio. Offer property tours and look for enhancement sales. Talk to long-time clients about what services they like and focus on selling those to prospects.
For a minute, think about when you launched your business. “You probably approached every day with a sense of unbridled enthusiasm and went after business like crazy,” Grunder says. “When you met someone, you gave them a card. If you saw an office building going up, you found out how you could help on the job.
“I think as we grow our organizations we tend to lose a little zest, and that’s what will grow your business,” he says.
When production picks up, and even while summer work is full-steam ahead, don’t forget job No. 1: sales. “The prettiest Ferrarri won’t run without gas,” Grunder says. “Companies are the same way. You have to understand that sales is No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on your to-do list. It has to be. On a daily basis, you’ve got to spend the majority of your time selling.”
This month, Lawn & Landscape spoke to three firms to learn how they sell year-round, balance selling and doing the work, and continue to drive business in the door even when times are tough.
The face-first approach
By running separate selling and producing engines, Coastal Greenery constatnly fills its pipeline with prospects.
Principal: Jeffrey Johns, president
Production at Coastal Greenery is the “factory,” and it operates separately from the sales force, which consists of president Jeffrey Johns, an account manager and a part-time salesperson focused on relationship-building. By running separate selling and producing engines, Johns constantly fills the company’s pipeline with prospects.
“My job as a sales force is to keep the clients out of the factory,” Johns says. “Because a client waiting around in the factory messes up efficiency and you don’t want that.”
Production is charged with producing income and profit – delivering on the promises the sales team makes to clients. Sales is responsible for keeping production busy with ongoing maintenance work (contracts automatically renew) and enhancements. “The way I set it up is almost like a competition between the two departments,” Johns says. Both divisions rely on one another for success – but a company won’t survive without a “kick-tail sales force.”
To that end, Johns executes specific sales processes to upsell existing clients and attract new customers. Beginning with the company’s book of business, Johns and his associate set enhancement sales goals. For example, Johns aimed to sell $50,000 in enhancements in March, and $600,000 in enhancements overall for 2010.
“The old days of sitting at a phone and having someone answer it and take orders is over, I don’t care how the economy comes back,” he says. In-person meetings with clients is the only way to suggest enhancements and get the client’s OK.
“When you can paint a picture for them while standing in their yard, they’ll say, ‘That sounds good, how much will it cost?’” Johns says. “Most of them say, ‘Sign me up.’” The closing rate on enhancements is an average 52 percent, a 5-percent increase since two years ago when Johns began on-site walkthroughs with commercial and residential clients.
“During that walkthrough I’m looking for extras,” Johns says, always keeping his sales goals in mind.
Clients appreciate the regular attention and have an opportunity to voice concerns in person. Meanwhile, Coastal Greenery has a conversation starter to suggest enhancements and a has better chance of selling them because of the face-to-face contact. “This is a way for us to deliver exceptional customer service and stay on top of those clients,” Johns says, noting that residential walkthroughs occur quarterly.
All the while, Coastal Greenery recognizes that new account sales are critical for reaching the firm’s 2010 goal of $2.8 million. So this year, Johns is trying something new. He hired a part-time salesperson to nurture relationships with property managers. She works two, 10-hour days a week, and her sole goal is to provoke property managers to ask for a bid. From there, she turns the account over to Johns. The legwork for this invitation involves TLC and intuition. For instance: bringing fresh-baked muffins to a morning crew meeting after learning about the gathering during a conversation with the property manager. The gesture is unexpected – and refreshing. The relationship-sales associate might drop by with coffee mugs and brochures or take the property manager out to lunch. All the while, she is filling Coastal Greenery’s “bucket of contacts.”
“She’s a great communicator and she knows many people in the community – she’s generating those leads for us,” Johns relates. Those leads are filtered into a software system so they can be tracked. All the while, she sends out e-mail blasts and newsletters to these prospects so Coastal Greenery is top of mind.
The board-room approach
Matt Caruso relies on rock-solid relationships to grow his business.
Principal: Matt Caruso, president/founder
There are expanses of paver surface on big-box lots that need to be laid in basic running-bond pattern. There are contractors that play beat-this-price with hardscape bids. Don’t expect to find Decra-Scape vying for them.
“Many guys chase anything and everything that has the word ‘brick’ on it, and they end up with a whole bunch of nothing,” says Matt Caruso, president and founder. “We look, specifically, for intricate applications.”
Caruso references a rooftop patio project that involved craning materials and equipment; and a site that required 100,000 square-feet of brick in multi-weave patterns. “That’s the work I spend my time looking for, and you can’t get that through direct mail,” he says.
The sales strategy at his specialty firm is tailored to win the work that suits the company’s focus. Decra-Scape aligns with engineers, manufacturers, landscape architects and contractors who share a vision for the end product: a “wow” look that’s executed with advanced equipment (Decra-Scape is the only company in Michigan with a mechanical layer), Caruso says.
“My sales model is, you get me in the board room and it’s all but over,” Caruso says. “But you have to know how to get into the board room.”
Often, Caruso enters the bidding process through the back door by relationship selling. One outlet for developing these relationships is a local chamber of commerce group that meets weekly to share contacts, Caruso says.
But perhaps more importantly, Decra-Scape is recognized as an authorized contractor of a manufacturer’s products. “Basically, they believe in us enough that they’ll stand behind us if our work fails,” Caruso says. “And they aren’t going to do that for just anyone. You have to meet certain requirements.”
Manufacturers often send representatives to canvass the specifier community, Caruso explains. “They are out there trying to get their product on different jobs,” he says, adding that his company name is sometimes listed in specifications for a job so a general contractor will have to get a bid from Decra-Scape. “They may not use us, but they have to entertain a number from us,” he says.
That doesn’t mean Caruso can wait for work to fly in. He must emphasize his niche expertise to those he aligns with, letting them know he aims for specialty projects because of their size, scope or expertise requirements.
“I have to get out there and sell that,” Caruso says. “So if I meet with a landscape architect or engineer, I’m talking about sustainable work like permeable pavers and how we can be utilized as an information resource if they need help building those projects. And I tell them, ‘By the way, we bring this mechanical layer to the table with a capability to put down 8,000 to 10,000 square feet of pavers a day.’” That pitch turns heads.
Caruso also attends trade shows, meeting with tradesmen who might need his services and constantly returning to his book of business to keep in close contact with existing customers.
For residential work, Decra-Scape’s location on a main road encourages passers-by to stop in. And whenever the company is installing hardscape in a neighborhood, door-hangers are distributed and employees engage in “friendly communication” with anyone walking by the project site.
While sales were slower in 2009 than in years past – Decra-Scape usually brings in annual revenue of closer to $3 million – maintaining relationships and constantly reminding those contacts of their niche helps ensure that Decra-Scape gets a spot at that board table.
And as for the price wars that can occur there: “If you’re confident in what you do, confident in your pricing and your ability, that takes the dollar concern off the table,” Caruso says.
The calender-year approach
For Joe Kucik, the mantra is 'always be selling.'
Principal: Joe Kucik, franchise owner
A written plan with a detailed, 12-month sales process steers business development efforts at Joe Kucik’s Scotts LawnService franchise. “You have to put it on paper,” says the longtime lawn care player, who has bought and sold several businesses and also operates green industry software firm Real Green Systems.
Create a budget, jot down goals and expectations, map out what services you’ll sell when, and don’t leave out a single month of the year, he says.
“Your plan should have you selling something every day of the year – you’re not selling the same thing, necessarily, but you’re still selling every day,” Kucik says. For instance, Kucik’s sales team will focus on aeration in April, then grub control.
His selling year kicks off in late December with a 10,000-piece mailing to “cancels and rejects.” That primes this population for the phone campaign beginning immediately after New Year’s.
“A lot of people think you can’t get started selling until the snow is gone or the weather gets better,” Kucik says. “Sure, there are easier times of the year to sell lawn care, but you need to get a quick start on marketing and sales to build momentum. If you don’t get started until the middle or end of February, you aren’t going to build that good momentum until too late.”
A dedicated sales staff spends all of January following up on that initial mailing with phone calls, with a goal to sign 100 customers per week. In February, a direct mail campaign targets the company’s marketing universe, which includes about 210,000 homes of which Kucik knows the price and property size.
Every week during February and March, 5,000 to 10,000 direct mail pieces are sent to these prospects. With follow-up calls, Kucik expects a 1.5 to 3 percent sell-through rate and sales goals continue at 100 customers per month. He sets this goal knowing that he wants to spend less than $100 to acquire a single customer.
“A lot of people implement marketing plans and have no idea at the end of the day what each new customer ended up costing them,” Kucik says. “How will they know where to put their marketing dollars next year?”
While the 3 percent or less sale rate of direct mail with a follow-up call seems low, Kucik says that without the phone call, the direct mail will result in just a half-percent sell-through rate.
Meanwhile, by April, he ups the customer sales goal to 200 before the season is in full-swing.
Come summer, he divides the sales team into groups. Five people man the phone every day. Three associates focus on outside sales. A team carries out door-to-door sales efforts. About 30 to 35 people work for Kucik during high season, most of them servicing properties.
Regardless of job title, all employees are encouraged to sell, and an incentive shows them Kucik is serious about bringing in sales year-round. A technician who refers a client can earn an 8-percent commission on one year’s service. “They get paid as services are rendered throughout the year,” Kucik explains, pointing out the other side of this enticement: quality service ensures that customers continue the service, and that the technician continues to pick up the bonus on every service visit.
“If you don’t offer an incentive, some technicians will simply tell people who are interested in the service to call the office,” Kucik says.
This combination of strategies keeps sales rolling in year-round, but it will only work, Kucik says, when a plan is put on paper. Accountability and measuring results against goals is a critical component of a successful sales system.