Tips from the top: Chris Elmore

Tips from the top: Chris Elmore

Departments - Top 100

The president of The Grounds Guys discusses why seeking advice is important for success.

October 7, 2014
Chuck Bowen
Industry News Business/Finance


I have a friend, he’s passed away now. His name was Paul Strobel, and when I met Strobel I was a young manager.

Strobel was probably 70 at the time. He was an old, crusty guy, you know? Imagine Santa Claus in street clothes at about 5-foot-tall. He looked exactly like Burl Ives.

I didn’t know Strobel. I just knew he was a consultant and he was around. So I walk in the door and across the table from the door sat Strobel. He says, “Hello, Mr. Elmore, have a seat.”

Strobel leans over the table, and he says, “Mr. Elmore, two things: Number one, you need to go to charm school and you need to learn how to treat people. Number two, there’s a book you should read. It’s called the Bible.”

Then he starts walking around the table. He gets to the end of the table and he’s coming over to my side and he says, “Mr. Elmore, stand up. I’m gonna give you a hug.”

He hugs me and I’m just standing there with my arms down to the side and he goes, “Mr. Elmore, I didn’t tell you that stuff to emasculate you or embarrass you. I told it to you because someone needed to.” And he sat down and we had an hour-long conversation and then, from then on, he was my greatest mentor.

You should seek counsel and not advice because that’s what I got from Strobel. I got counsel from Strobel. That wasn’t advice he was giving me. That wasn’t take-it-or-leave-it. He was telling me, “If you don’t do these things, you will not succeed.” How did he know? Because he’s been there and done that.

Anyone and everyone can give you advice, and anyone and everyone will give you advice, but advice is basically an opinion. Counsel only comes from people who have been there and done that and those are the people I wanna listen to.

Most of our owner/operators are under $500,000. What we try to do is we try to take ‘em out of the mentality of “I own a green industry business.” We wanna create professional selling organizations with our franchisees.

You have to become a professional selling organization that does landscape management. You can’t be a landscape management company that sells.

When I learned to be an HVAC technician, one of the first things I learned was how to put a set of gauges on a system. That’s your accounting system – when it’s done by a qualified person, not your sister’s brother-in-law’s cousin who’s the payroll clerk at the chicken plant.

In an HVAC business, your most expensive piece is your labor. That’s a big deal because any service business, the margins are pretty thin unless you really manage your labor and materials, and then the other side of that is on the top line, which is sales.

The way businesses work together is really gonna be the big innovation in this industry over the next five years. There’re several franchises now, there’re several trade organizations, there’re several association-type organizations. Not consolidators, but consultants. That external help for the small business owner in the green industry is really where we’re gonna see a lot of impact.

Maybe someday they’re gonna develop a mower that does something really cool and really awesome that’s gonna revolutionize the industry but, typically, intellectually is where all the innovation happens and all the growth happens.

I’m an analyst and a problem-solver. I don’t have all the answers but one thing I am is very tenacious when it comes to finding things out. My wife hates it. We watch a movie and I know all the trivia about the movie before it’s over.

You never ask anybody to do anything you’re not willing to do. From a leadership standpoint I’ve proven that I’ll be in the trenches with people, and I’m willing to get dirty to get it done if that’s what it takes.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes. Most of my mistakes come from speaking before I think. That’s a problem that affects a lotta people. I’ll own up to it, though.