It takes real focus to manage homeowners’ association accounts. They’re often the worst of both worlds – the laser-like focus of residential consumers with the downward price pressure of commercial clients. That means you must have painstaking attention to detail, rigorous communication, diligent follow-up and constant visibility. And that kind of attention requires solid systems. The reward for the effort put forth to sell, maintain and retain HOA clients is the sheer volume of work in a very contained area.
This month, Lawn & Landscape spoke to three companies in the HOA realm about how they succeed in this line of work.
All systems go
At New Way Landscape & Tree Services, the intricate communication and work order process inherent with HOA accounts is thoughtfully implemented via a proprietary software program designed by the company’s president, Kathryn DeJong. It’s called SRS: Service Request System, and it involves a password-protected website that can be accessed by the property managers and other community stakeholders, along with account managers and key personnel at New Way.
The work order system was developed and implemented company-wide, and it has proven especially effective with the firm’s HOA client base. For one, it cuts down on back-and-forth phone calls and emails.
“Work orders are called, emailed or faxed into a dedicated customer service person who uploads those to the site,” says Randy Newhard, CEO of the San Diego, Calif., firm. At any time, account users can log on and check the status of the work order.
“We promise a one-week turnaround, unless it is an emergency,” Newhard says. Aside from benefiting the client by providing real-time access to work order status, the system provides an accountability checkpoint for the company.
“It can take six phone calls to get one thing done (without a system),” Newhard says. This system collects work orders in one central place and provides complete transparency. And it allows New Way account managers to print out monthly reports to insert into board packets that are kept up to date with all project information.
In the San Diego market, HOAs have provided a significant landscape opportunity for many years. New Way began working in planned communities in 1985, shortly after the company was founded. Newhard first began getting involved in the HOA sector by networking with property managers at the Community Association Institute.
“HOA is a different market, and it’s not for everyone because you have so many eyes on a project or a site, and depending on the size of the HOA, you could be interacting with the property manger daily,” Newhard says.
Through the years, strong communication and a reputation for quality work has helped the firm secure more business. The work is no more profitable than other services, Newhard says, but makes up a third of the company’s revenue.
The company takes time estimating properties, involving an account manager, a branch manager and “sometimes three or four eyes” reviewing a potential project before a bid is generated. “Having experienced estimators out there really helps,” he says.
Newhard says capturing HOA business continues to be all about showing the value – and in southern California, that also means showing the water savings. Newhard encourages HOAs to consider water-saving landscape alternatives that also reduce maintenance expenses, therefore producing budgets that please the board. “The key is to help them reduce their costs through efficient water management,” he says.
Equipped to communicate
Steven Jomides remembers the first HOA account that Lawns by Yorkshire serviced back in the late 1990s. It won this 45-unit development that was about a $20,000 value. It was a good sale at the time.
“We serviced it like a big house back then,” says Jomides, CEO of the Westwood, N.J., firm. “We didn’t know any better – it was our first – and we realized fast that there is a lot more involved in servicing an HOA. At the end of the day, you could have 50 to 300 different bosses or voices.”
Over the years, Lawns by Yorkshire has adopted a system for selling, managing and retaining HOA business. The firm has account managers that act as a single point of contact from Yorkshire. “All of the day-to-day information flows from the account manager to the liaison on the property,” he says.
These account managers are equipped with tools to ensure that they are nurturing those customer relationships. A public file on the computer system with shared access allows all of the people involved at the company to see files pertaining to each account. “Administration can see operations and sales, and they can all save the same information to service that client as best as possible,” Jomides says. Account managers use smartphones to snap photos of issues on properties so they can quickly communicate concerns to their community liaison and get work orders produced and carried out in a timely manner. Work orders are created with a code for each account. That code is passed to the account manager, and then dispatched to a crew leader who can look at the situation and make a report. That report is then sent to the property manager for approval before the job is executed.
“Ninety-five percent of this is done via email – we can’t go back and reference a phone call,” Jomides says of the importance of paper trails.
That transparency is more important to property managers today than ever before, Jomides says.
Meanwhile, the company continues to focus on growth in this market. “I believe in a recurring revenue model, and I personally believe that HOAs are fairly recession proof,” Jomides says.
You never know which resident milling around the homeowners’ association complex will be the next board member. The young man who takes an interest in the way the shrubs are pruned, or the retired woman who cares as much about the property as she does her heirloom roses could be the next landscape chairperson. Every person on that property is a stakeholder, and that makes HOA accounts a complex job.
Ultimately, you’re not just selling services to the board. You’re selling to the future members, too, says Austin Wiesner, account manager for Landscape East & West in Portland, Ore. “You want to give people as much information as you can to get your foot in the door – what you specialize in and how you can help them,” he says.
Visibility is the key to winning HOA accounts, he says. “We spend a lot of time networking with community associations and community managers, and going to organizational events – that’s a good way to get your foot in the door with community managers, who ultimately bring you into the HOAs,” Wiesner says.
A lot of the work Landscape East & West does lately is rehab and updates to older communities with “deferred maintenance” issues.
“They have rhododendrons, azaleas and other plant material that is overgrown or diseased, or they’re just not looking great because it’s at the end of its timeline,” he says. The company will create a plan to phase out that material and bring in new plants.
Most of the work is maintenance, though both services are connected. “Establishing those maintenance relationships with HOAs allows us to help plan these renovations that require design/build services,” Wiesner says.
The biggest challenge with HOA work is getting the right information in front of the right people. “There are many people involved,” Wiesner says.
Landscape East & West assembles customized packets for its HOA accounts, and the company services about 30 communities now. The packets include detailed information about all of the maintenance and renovation activity that will take place on the property, including starting irrigation systems, fertilizing lawns, mowing and structural pruning.
“This packet also helps outline ideas that we have, or that the community has, for proposed projects, so if they do want to phase out some plant material or upgrade the irrigation system, we can begin to plan up to five years out for that,” he says.
Planning is the name of the game. “Getting information in front of the board and making sure everyone is on the page has really helped us succeed in this market,” Wiesner says.