Starting a company sometimes takes the vision of one person.
Saving a company takes a collective leap of dedicated associates.
Turf Care Supply Corp., the fertilizer and combination product supplier was created from the manufacturing and distribution assets of LESCO Inc., after an acquisition in 2005 by Beverly Hills based private equity firm, Platinum Equity.
Turf Care emerged from this acquisition with really one major customer covering a little more than 90 percent of the company’s business. When that customer ended its contract at the end of 2012, the outlook for the company’s future appeared questionable.
“We were faced with the loss of a customer that represented a very, very significant part of our business model,” says Bill Milowitz, CEO. “We had to come up with a strategy to literally – survive.”
Without that core customer as a foundation, the management team debated how best to talk to the TCS associates about a plan to move forward.
“It was a Sunday night in February if I remember correctly, when we said ‘uncle’ internally and turned our back to the past,” says Mark Mangan, Executive VP of Operations.
“I remember asking Bill on the phone that night, ‘What are you going to tell these people when one of them asks what the plan is?’ He hesitated for a second and then said, ‘I’ll tell them that looking backwards and hoping that the soon to end business model will ever exist again is foolish and painful. I’ll tell them that whatever plan we come up with – and I don’t know what that plan is tonight - if it’s forward facing – it’s better than the plan we’ve had.’
But he stressed to me that at that moment all he had was a plan not to rely on the old plan. It was kind of frightening in a way.”
The company gathered the next day to talk about the future, starting with an announcement from the management team that they wouldn’t be pursuing the past contract any longer. Then they opened the floor.
Rather than splintering into self-preservation, the group started planning. The ideas came from all throughout the company, from sales to I.T. to Customer Service to manufacturing.
Funding was critical - and a large foundation customer was the top priority, so they looked to a large partner to form an alliance with. Then they took a hard look at what the company was really good at. They could make the product as well or better than anyone - but selling it to a diverse group of customers after so many years dedicated to one very large one - was another matter. Finding a sales leader to build a business development team was of huge importance.
The business model had to change to allow for a greater number of smaller partner/customers as well and a much wider range of geographic and sector markets to reach to diversify the company. Turf Care began educating its potential customers on product differences across the market, particularly related to Turf Care’s recognized very high quality - and set up internal metrics to monitor its new business activity in a way that it hadn’t been monitored before - to insure that the company would stay on plan.
As part of the expansion to get the word out about the product to end users, the company kicked off a program this summer for landscapers to try the high quality TCS product with a $500 per truckload rebate for full truckload deliveries.
“It wasn’t the executive team that came up with all the ideas,” says Mangan. “If we hadn’t opened it up to the group, to me, some of the best suggestions never would’ve come up. They never would’ve happened. None of us are as smart as all of us. ”
But regardless of what the company faces while moving back toward regrowth, Turf Care will face it together, as a team – “ the way they did from that first meeting,” says Mangan.
“People came out of that meeting energized,” he says. “People came out wanting to survive and prove the industry wrong. It got out there that our contract was up and everybody looked at us like we were done. But the challenge built energy and a passion and camaraderie inside the company that shouted ‘no, we’re not going to fail.’…the kind of energy that only comes when smart people get together to collectively overcome an obstacle.”
“That energy has carried us forward. This wasn’t the end at all – rather it was the end of the beginning” - for Turf Care.