There’s a first time for everything – the first sale, the first expansion, the first mistake and maybe even the first award. To help gain insight into the successes and lessons learned by successful business owners, every month Lawn & Landscape will talk to companies who have surpassed those milestones and have become some of the newest members of our Top 100 list.
When you started out on your own, did you plan to grow your company this big?
No way. When I was younger, I thought if I could make $100,000 and retire on that at ten percent and make $10,000 a year, I would be a happy boy. Now it takes more than that a month.
Can you think of any milestones in your company’s growth?
We picked up very large contracts with Lincoln Military Housing. They have a long-term contract with the government to take care of navy and marine homes and they helped us grow quite a bit.
We were around $4 million then, and helped us grow about 50 percent about eight years ago now. We used to do a lot of municipal work in 1990, about 15 different cities in San Diego County, which helped propel us forward. Now we don’t do anything except the Port of Long Beach.
What has changed most about your company as it has grown? What has stayed the same?
Our attitude has always been about the customers. It’s all about taking care of the customers and finding the right employees who grasp that.
How people view us has changed. We’re not a mom- and- pop company anymore. We are competing against the top companies in the country. I think our quality of work has escalated in the last 15 years, and building strong relationships with our clients is the number one driver in the business. It’s all about communication and relationships.
We were one of the first landscape companies in town that offered an online tracking system for work orders. People could call, fax, or email it to us and it got uploaded to our website the next day so people could view it and monitor the progress – was the sprinkler fixed? Was the tree stake straightened? Was the storm debris picked up? Clients could get a monthly report of everything that happened on their site.
We could also send it out to property managers to share to their board members or landscape chairs or higher ups, we give them a password login and look over the work orders and when they got completed.
So I think we were the first to do anything like that. Katherine DeJong, our president, actually wrote the program for that for our company. It saves phone calls.
What mistake have you learned most from in your career?
Everyone needs accountability. We don’t micromanage, but over the years we’ve learned that you can’t just leave people alone and assume they are going to do everything 100 percent. It’s human nature that if nobody’s looking, things fall through the cracks.
What advice would you give to other leaders who want to grow their companies?
Define who your client is, who you want to be your client. Then get involved in the organizations that they are involved with. Build a relationship with them.
You can always get jobs by being the lowest price, but once you find out what associations they belong to, get involved in those organizations and that way they can see you care about their organizations and hopefully you can get some business opportunities through them.
I had a chairman that has a house over in Arizona and I found a gardener over there who followed along these same lines. I told him to join these organizations and now he’s up to 40 clients and sends me an email about every quarter telling me how well he’s doing and thanking me for giving him that information.