Lessons learned

The managing partners at LandArt share advice from nearly seven combined decades in the business.

January 14, 2011
Matt LaWell

Brothers Tom (left) and Paul Jones have been running and successfully growing LandArt Cos. for 37 years.

Tom Jones has worked at LandArt Cos. since he purchased the business 37 years ago. His brother Paul has worked there for 32 years. They have learned plenty of lessons about landscape and design – and plenty more just about business – during their nearly seven combined decades in the industry. Here are some of them.

Paul: First, you have to put yourself in a position to succeed. Then, you have to accept the percentages and fine-tune them. We’re constantly using extraordinary measures to build relationships, to build more intellectual approaches to problem-solving. We know the only thing we get paid for in this business – in any business – is solving problems. We know problem-solving. We’re so confident, we tell customers how long it will take to solve the problem, what’s involved in the solution and what the cost is – not just what they want to hear. That’s how we’ve done this.

Tom: Keeping good records is important. Every year, we would write down jobs that we did and develop a bidding system by always looking back. According to Chuck Vanderkoy – he’s a great speaker – everything we’ve ever done has been wrong. But we’ve developed a bidding plan where we could have four people look at it and probably bid within 2 percent of each other.

Paul: Where is your waste? Once you’ve eliminated your waste and your processes are running and are constantly being refined, you get your profit margin in there and you don’t sell anything for less. That is a difficult thing. If you commoditize yourself, you’re dead, because some fool will always do the work cheaper even though they’re losing money. That is a very important thing.

Tom: Equip your people with as good a set of equipment as you can afford. We have good enough equipment now that nobody breaks their backs like I used to when we first started.  We used wheelbarrows, shovels and picks. Our first truck was a 1954, one-ton state truck, and we had to travel everywhere with a trailer that we had to hand-shovel everything on and hand-shovel everything off. I don’t miss that at all. But then you go through the years, an old Ford 9N, then an Allis-Chalmers tractor with a trip bucket, then one year you have a hydraulic bucket and you think you’re really big shots. We don’t even have tractors anymore. Things evolve, and equipment evolves along with it.

Paul: We have a rule in place that we tell our people and coach them on constantly: First, you sell yourself. Then, you sell the company. Then, you sell the project. Then, you justify the price. If you miss one or get them out of order, you die.

Tom: Like with any business partners, especially brothers, there are good times and there are some trying times. But we actually think a lot differently. We have really balanced each other out pretty well over the years.

Paul: Every time a customer calls with a problem, it’s an opportunity to solve it and improve a relationship. Every opportunity you have to get face to face with a customer, you take it and make the best of it. Even if you lose, you lose gracefully and you build from it.

Tom: You live and learn and don’t regret it.

Paul: Success is all about the people you meet and the books you read. It is. It’s that simple.