When I installed irrigation systems, we would keep track of everything by hand. The passenger seat, wheel wells and glove box of every repair van were littered with crumpled and torn job sheets of chicken scratch.
And every week Lynne, our long-suffering office manager, would harangue us about our poor penmanship and inability to keep anything clean.
At any successful landscape company, the books, trucks, supplies and people are tracked and allocated by computer, little invisible ones and zeros keeping tabs on everything from spray rigs to lunch breaks.
But when it comes to choosing a program, many landscapers are stuck. It’s one of the questions I get from readers most often. “What should I use? What works best?”
Unfortunately, there’s no good answer. It all depends on your management style, company size and how you organize things.
But whatever type or brand of software an owner chooses, the end result is the same. If you can’t keep tabs on how many hours your crews work, or where they drive once they leave the yard, or who has paid their bills this month, how can you ever hope to get out from under it all to plan for higher-level projects or markets?
Having tools in place to track – and then manage – the key parts of your business is one of the most basic ways to grow. This strategy of the small stuff – what Seth Godin calls “the thankless work of lower-leverage detail” – is so important for small companies, but it’s something the big guys have to do, too.
On page 50, in an exclusive interview with L&L, the new CEO of TruGreen LandCare, explained a similar focus for his firm for this year. “Our 2012 focus is resetting the foundation, getting back to the basics, making sure we do them right every day,” says Vidu Kulkarni. “Ours is a relatively straightforward business. We’re not building rocketships. Longer term, our focus is on profitable growth, not being the biggest dog on the block. I want to be the best dog on the block.”
When it comes to those small things, Godin writes: “An organization with feet on the street and alert and regular attention to detail can build more trust and develop better relationships than one that hits and runs.”
So this month, sit down and take a look at how you and your team handle the small things in your day-to-day work – everything from your time sheets to your job tickets to your order forms. Every company has a Lynne, and she has a point.
– Chuck Bowen
Q. We are no longer using a subcontractor for our lawn treatments but instead doing it in-house. I am looking for a custom lawn care report sheet that my lawn tech can leave behind with our clients. It should have the basic info: our logo, client name, address, account number, date, what chemicals were put down (weed control, grub control, broadleaf weed control) with check boxes, and even wind speed and direction. I’ve seen these used by companies like Scotts LawnService and TruGreen, and one copy goes back to the office, and the carbon copy stays with the client.
A. You submitted a question about ideas for a lawn care application sheet that can be left with a client when you make an application to the lawn. What I think you are looking for is an invoice. Creating this can be time consuming and can be expensive if you have it printed locally. There are numerous service company software programs that can help with this part of running your business.
If you are using one of the current lawn care software programs, such as Real Green Systems Service Assistant, these types of forms come with the software package and through their printing division. You can contact them through PLANET or call (800) 422-7478. You may also want to call Focal Point Communications. They have a website, growpro.com that may be helpful for you.
Harold Enger, Landscape Industry Certified Manager & Technician, Spring-Green
Q. We are a full-service landscape company. I run the landscape maintenance division and I am curious about scheduling/billing programs used by other maintenance contractors. We currently are using QXpress combined with Qbooks and are not completely satisfied.
A. We use Asset by Include Software and have used it for more than 10 years.
Pros – It is a fully integrated program, meaning it will handle everything a landscape firm needs, including accounting, estimating, proposals, sales management, inventory, payroll, scheduling, billing, job costing, etc. Everything is integrated, so you do not need to enter data more than once. Include is very involved in PLANET and knows our industry very well.
Cons – This is not an inexpensive product and it requires some dedicated staff time to learn and run it properly.
Kurt Kluznik, Landscape Industry Certified Manager, President, Yardmaster
We use Include Software.
Pros – It’s an all-inclusive software and has production and payroll tied together. You can use handheld devices to track the crews in real time, eliminating the use of paper entry.
Cons – It’s very detailed, and the learning curve will take some time (they are currently trying to simplify the system).
Miles Kuperus Jr., Landscape Industry Certified Manager, President, Farmside Landscape & Design
We discussed using Outlook for her operation because of the size of her company. We use a variety of tools, including Google Calendar, Dynascape and Clip. Unfortunately, we have not found one tool that will do everything we want it to do.
Bruce Allentuck, President, Allentuck Landscaping Co.
We work with Clip and now Q Clip. I don’t know of any one software program that can meet all the needs of any one company no matter the cost.
Chris James, president, Chris James Landscaping
Have a question for the experts? Send it to email@example.com.
Having worked in the corporate wing at Scotts LawnService, John Moehn, president of J M Systems, learned a lot about what made franchisees successful. Now, as an owner of nine Scotts in Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan, Tennessee and South Carolina, he is able to apply those lessons learned to his franchises.
“They minimized their distractions as far as other business ventures,” he says. “I’ve seen franchisees that have the entrepreneurial spirit to be a franchisee, and a lot of those people want to be involved in a lot of different things. We’ve really stayed focused on what we do in our franchise and I don’t have three other businesses that I’m trying to run at the same time.”
Lawn & Landscape spoke with Moehn about what he learned working in the corporate world, as well as what it’s like transition from being part of the day-by-day operations to handling more big picture strategies.
What did the franchisees who failed do wrong?
A lot of them weren’t involved day to day and didn’t hire the right people to run the franchise. They got into the franchise system and they applied their principles and their business things that they knew and they learned to a model that was different than what they were possibly doing before.
They didn’t take the advice of how the system should work and implement the different procedures and marketing efforts. They were always trying to do things their own way and put their own spin on it versus listening and buying into a system that you a paying for – hopefully a brand that is successful and is proven already. You should be taking that advice and understanding that they’ve done something right and that they’ve found ways to minimize the potential risk and failures.
What is the challenge in getting a branded franchise off the ground?
Hiring successful people and training them to consistently give the message that you want to give, and produce the quality work you want done. If you want to be large you can’t do this alone and you’ll have to have employees out their representing your company. If you go into it undercapitalized, you are going to have a lot of issues and you can’t spend the money to let people know you’re there. There are a lot of strong successful brands out there in markets that people don’t even know that you’re there because you don’t spend the money.
Just because it’s a brand that people know, they have to know you are there, if they’re going to come to you. You still have to spend the money on the marketing and advertising. Otherwise you’ll just be spinning your wheels hoping that referrals and a good name get you by. Those things are important, but they’re not what grow your business.
What is a best practice to hiring people?
Don’t get in a hurry and hire someone for the wrong reasons. Understand that hiring somebody and training them to do the right things is going to take several weeks if not months to get them to do what you want them to do. If you make the wrong decision you are starting over again, so don’t get in a hurry and train these people. And make sure you do train them when you hire them.
Otherwise, if you don’t give people the right tools to be successful, then they are going to have a hard time being successful. People in general don’t like not having the right experience or the right training to do a job correctly. If you don’t train them, they’re not going to feel that they’re successful and they’re eventually going to leave you because they’re not getting out of their job what they want. It’s not always about being paid for things. People do want to have a feeling of success and self worth.
What was it like when you opened your first franchise?
You don’t have the luxury of having different managerial levels when you start things up. You are everything. When I started Louisville up, there were a lot of 14-hour days that went into that business. You walk into a business and turn on the phones and hope they start ringing.
When you invest a lot of money into something, you’ve got this nervous thing in your belly that you’ve got to make it work and you’re going to put your heart into it. I had guys that were doing a lot of selling the first year, but I probably serviced half the customers myself in the field. Now I’ve been blessed with employees that work hard and I can look at bigger picture things and help us grow.
What was the challenge in transitioning from working on the day-to-day operations to bigger picture strategies?
The biggest challenge to me was delegating the things that you like to do that you shouldn’t be doing. There are certain things that everybody inherently feels they are particularly good at and like to do but they are not key to making your biz successful. You have to give those up things up and let people make decisions. Sometimes, they are going to make the decision that you wouldn’t have made, but you have to know some of those things aren’t going to make or break the business.
They’ve got to make it their own too in some ways. You have to realize that there are people out there that do just a fine job and they might not do it exactly the way you did, but there is nothing wrong with the way they do it.
Teach your children well
Colin Vincent, branch manager at Southern Spray Lawn Care in Nashville, shares this photo of our youngest reader to date – his son, Ethan, enthralled with our March issue.
Colin explains: "He can’t go to school in the morning without a copy of Lawn & Landscape. Ethan is 2 and a half and absolutely loves lawn equipment. Southern Spray concentrates on turf and ornamental applications, so he knows a spray truck when he sees one, but he prefers big zero-turn mowers. He also can spot a “weedeat-eater” and even an aerator in the ads. He spends his morning ride to preschool with Lawn & Landscape. No DVD player in this truck!"
Bigger isn’t always better
In your June 2012 issue, I read the letter to the editor “On staying small and local,” and I would like to say how much I appreciate you recognizing these companies. Many companies choose to maintain this mindset despite their number of clients or their revenue. Actually, the article and idea of a very small business starting, growing and maintaining the ma and pa shop feel completely mimic my company’s story and mission.
After being a full-time mother to my two children and working a few part-time positions at local retailers, I decided I wanted a change. I wanted to start my own business. After baffling countless ideas of what to do, I decided I was going to start a lawn care company by myself. No one would have ever known that this idea of trying to find something to do to pass time and generate a little spending cash would quickly transform into my dream and passion.
My husband knew of a general contractor who had recently moved to a new home and was looking for someone to maintain his lawn. There was my chance and I ran with it.
Starting off with one customer, a self-propelled push mower, a hand-me-down blower, my SUV, a homemade trailer and both of my kids in the back seat, my company was born and I began my first day at my new job. Despite critics and speculation of me, a female, developing a successful business in a predominantly male industry, I have proved quite the contrary.
Through maintaining a focus on relationships, consistency and personalized service with every client, my business has grown year over year since that day in the mid 90s when I started with one customer. Over time, I have transitioned from a maintenance only company to offering full landscape services including design and installation, construction of hardscapes and outdoor living spaces, and beginning in 2013 will even launch our new fertilization and lawn treatment segment. In 2011, our revenue exceeded $350,000 – a first for us.
We never deviate from the idea of being a small, local business in our daily activities. Keeping the small business feel is our culture and how we will remain as an organization with both our clients and our employees. We continuously look for ways to demonstrate our culture to the community.
Over the past few years, we have had the opportunity to sponsor sports teams of client’s children, charity events and fundraisers held in local neighborhoods and private clubs in which we work - all to continue to build on that small, local business mentality.
Thank you for your contribution and information into our industry and especially recognizing the little guys (or girls) out there and I look forward to my next issue of Lawn & Landscape.
K.G. Bates, Inc.
Doing business the right way
My name is Scott Beauregard and I have been in the landscaping business for over twenty years.
I have always run my business according to state and local laws. I am insured, pay sales tax to the state and make sure any employees working for me are documented and legal to work in the United States. I realize that with the economy the way it is that people are doing whatever it takes to make ends meet.
However, I take offense to people that throw a little trailer on the back of their vehicle load up with equipment and call themselves landscapers. More and more of theses companies pop up every day. I work very hard to make a living and do things the right way to keep my business going.
In the past, I would take down license plate numbers or phone numbers off of these companies and turn them into the New Jersey Catch program for businesses that are tax cheats and usually would see some of them gone within a few weeks. However, there seems to be an infestation of companies lately.
I know that it is illegal to operate a commercial business in New Jersey without commercial plates and signage on your vehicle, but local law enforcement does nothing about it.
I have contacted Gov. Chris Christie’s office in regards to this matter several times but have never received any answers as to why the state does not go after the millions of dollars in lost sales tax revenue.
I have called the senators office and also received no response. Even after reaching out to the media about a local business trying to stay afloat in such tough times with all this illegal competition, but once again no response.
People don’t realize that this is a serious industry. Homeowners need to understand that having one of these companies work on their property is an accident waiting to happen.
God forbid someone gets injured on your property and they are uninsured, then they can sue you as the home owner. Even worse if one of the employees gets hurt. What if they hurt someone like a neighbor or someone’s child.
Every other business that is open has to go through proper procedures in order to open the doors, except our field. If you can offer me any suggestions on how to help clean up this industry please let me know.
I am tired of spending countless hours bidding jobs, then seeing someone else do the work and pocket every penny.
Owner, Hidden Hills Landscaping
All about Utah
I enjoyed Jim Huston’s article in the May issue of Lawn & Landscape. I appreciate the fact that you highlighted the Utah market and a local contractor.
I lived in Utah up until about a year ago and had been there on and off for about 10 years as a BYU student, LCO and part of the green industry workforce.
It’s got to be one of the weirdest landscape markets around, but I think you nailed it with your summary of market conditions.
Client Relations Manager Eastern Land Management
A quick note to say thanks for your publication, Lawn & Landscape. Every month, my boss’s wife gives me a stack of fresh trade magazines. Today was one of those days, and I got frustrated with a lot of the other magazines, so they found a new home with the trash can (too many ads, weak stories, disorder). Though I don’t benefit from everything in your magazine, I like the order, the depth of the stories and the variety. Thanks for continuing to deliver value.
Account Manager, ValleyScapes
St. Mary’s, Kan.
Think before you irrigate
In far too many industry articles in various publications over the past several years, the theme has been about what services to add. Irrigation services which is 65-70 percent of my business is one area being promoted.
In my area, we are already saturated with irrigation providers. Irrigation in N.J., it is a licensed activity. Despite the huge amount of systems in our area, a big irrigation company may only have six trucks, and they are few and far between.
There are no irrigation firms with 10-20 trucks and dominate players, like some parts of the country. Irrigation is a technical, specialized service, requiring extensive knowledge to even replace a head properly. To service the client right, one must have knowledge and comprehension of best installation practices, operating pressures and precipitation rates.
My company maintains a huge inventory of pipe fittings, nozzles, valve parts, valves, heads, electrical and plumbing supplies to name some items. We have personnel with strong irrigation skills and a decades long background in the business. For a person mowing 50-150 lawns, or a landscape design/build contractor to add irrigation maintenance or installation to their list of services, doesn’t make sense.
Any service requiring special skills, a large variety of special product and performed in low volume, will be a silent money loser despite the perceived revenue enhancement. The time spent to set up a service call, analyze the issue, acquire materials for the service and warranty what is done in low volume, not only negates the revenue but can silently steal more money from your pocket.
When adding a new service in our time of economic uncertainty, it must be one that your customers are asking you about in a volume, where one special person or a crew can be dedicated 3 or more days per week, and remaining days can be productively filled with what are the business’s current mainstay.
Owner, Town Pride Lawn Service
The drought across the country has reached record proportions.
In its monthly drought report, the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., announced that 55% of the country was in a moderate to extreme drought at the end of June.
The percentage of affected land is the largest since the 1950s. In December of 1956, 58% of the country was covered by drought. The conditions expanded last month in the West, the Great Plains and the Midwest, driven by the 14th warmest and 10th driest June on record, the report said.
With summer’s arrival, banks have jumped head-first back in the small business lending. The Biz2Credit Small Business Lending Index, a monthly analysis of 1,000 loan applications on Biz2credit.com, found that approvals in June by big banks ($10 billion in assets) jumped a half percentage point to 11.1% from 10.6% in May 2012. The figure was well above the paltry 8.9% approval rate a year ago in June 2011.
Additionally, small bank lending jumped to 47.5% in June 2012, up two percentage points from 45.5% in May 2012 and up a full five percentage points higher than the 42.5.% approval rate in May 2011.
More businesses feel confident about how to use social media to support business goals and create brand identity, according to the 2012 FedEx/Ketchum Social Media Benchmarking Study. The research shows that, through social media, these companies believe they are particularly effective at strengthening relationships among customers (51%), the general public (52%) and partners and suppliers (40%). In addition, 85% of the companies who use social media to engage employees reported that employee participation in their organization’s social business efforts increased over the past 12 months. These companies believe they are effectively using these strategies with employees in the social space to:
To learn more about social media and how green industry pros are using it, read our June cover package at bit.ly/LLsocial.
Consumers got relief at the pump in June, but not in many other places.
According to CNN, The Consumer Price Index, the key measure of retail prices, was up 1.7% compared to a year earlier, even though gasoline prices fell 4.3% over the same period.
Food prices rose 2.7% over the course of the last 12 months, with a one-month jump of 0.2% in June. The average price of a gallon of regular gas was $3.33 at the end of June, according to AAA, down from $3.62 at the end of May. The CPI report showed a 2% drop in gas prices in June alone.