More often than not, when asked to identify the company’s goals, a landscaper simply replies, “Make more money.” While that goal is noble, common and important, it does not fully address the company’s entire business scope. Singular focus on making more money is insufficient due to the fact that today’s landscape industry is characterized by multiple intangible features (e.g., competitor intrusion, antiquated business processes, employee safety) that can hinder a company’s long-term viability.
Rather than focusing solely on a financial metric, it is advantageous for landscapers to adopt a more broad-based perspective of organizational goals. To that end, the Balanced Scorecard represents a mature, comprehensive and clairvoyant approach to company goal setting. The Balanced Scorecard posits that for a company to maximize the likelihood of its long-term success, four concurrent goals must be identified, measured and tracked: financial, people, business processes and customer.
During their annual business planning meeting, landscapers should consider their company’s size, scope and aspiration, and then select some of the abovementioned goals from each of the four quadrants. Once those goals have been chosen, the landscapers must then develop an action plan with specific initiatives to attain the goals and identify targeted metrics to track their progress.
In his 32 years in commercial real estate, Joe Markling has never seen a market quite like this one.
Economic turmoil. Political uncertainty. Monumental seasonal weather swings. That, plus with other regional market quirks, create extremely challenging conditions for property managers.
So how does a contractor best navigate those waters? And better yet, what can give him an edge over his competition?
“It really comes down to communication,” says Markling, the 2012-13 CEO of the Building Owners and Managers Association.
Markling, who also serves as the managing director for strategic accounts for CBRE, offers landscape contractors his insight into the mindset of property owners and managers, and how you can better serve their needs and strengthen business relationships heading into 2013.
What’s the state of the industry right now for property owners and managers?
From a big-picture standpoint, it’s stagnant. We talked amongst ourselves in 2011 that if we could just get through 2011 and 2012 then things would be better. Now we’re saying if 2012 ends up being better, then we’d consider that a success. But, at best, the market is just flat. Rents are not growing. Occupancies are not growing.
So revenues are not growing, and therefore there’s more of a squeeze on owners and managers to control their costs. Add to that the economy of many of our cities that are near bankrupt … and it leaves all of us standing around waiting for the other shoe to drop. We are used to having a short-term crystal ball, but that crystal ball isn’t even cloudy. It’s simply just not there. That’s the biggest frustration, the combination of the government either not doing anything, or getting overly involved in areas where it shouldn’t be involved in. Real estate is an employment-based industry. Office buildings only stay full when unemployment is under five percent. Retail only makes money when people are spending, which keeps the warehouses and distribution centers busy.
What do your members wish landscape contractors knew about how they provide their services?
Here’s an example. I’m from California and the big issue here is water … and you can’t control how much water you have access to. I have a lot of concerns that landscape contractors need to be much more aggressive with their clients – us – to say ‘If you want this area to stay green, then it’s going to cost you this much in water. We need to put together a plan that overtime will move you toward a drought-tolerant planting (strategy).’
Now, no owner wants to hear about a $10 million landscape project that will only begin paying back after nine years, so the landscape contractor needs to come in with a plan that address certain areas at a time. If it’s a utility issue … it’s a sustainability issue ... it’s a water issue, and today’s tenants are much more tolerant of not having the lush green landscape surroundings. In fact, in some cases, it can be a turnoff because of how much it costs – not only in dollars, but in water – to maintain. Landscape contractors need to have a frank ongoing discussion about how we can have a plan, over a period of years, to slowly integrate these changes and is easily budgeted.
How important is it to BOMA members to come to the table as a year-round, multiple-service maintenance company?
I personally don’t believe trying to be everything to everyone is the way to go because I have to defend my choice of every vendor of every service as the top in their field and competitively priced, as well as being able to do the job. However, I do believe that there’s good linkage between landscape and snow. I’ve seen that work very well because of how closely those to service disciplines need to know their areas of the property and how each season impacts the other. But as I said, unless you intend to be a market leader in a particular service, you’re not a benefit to me. I want the market leaders – the trusted people who know that work cold. Just saying you can do everything – from janitorial to security to landscaping – may not be a real help to me. It’s just too difficult for one company to ensure full accountability across those service areas. As a real estate manager it’s all about defending your decisions, and that means contracting with the most qualified people.
What is important to an owner or property manager when it comes to buying local vs. going with a regional or national company?
As a property manager, we in our heart of hearts would love to go back to the old days of the local relationship. But when you’re dealing with A-level players it’s all about the contract, and most local providers don’t have the ability to meet the needs of these contracts – they don’t have the equipment or they can’t manage the risk. Now some of them could come to margins and figure it out, but at the end of the day the procurement rules of the A-level property managers and owners will automatically preclude a lot of locals. I hate that it’s come to that, but it has. When you have a major (property management) company that has a prearranged contract, it’s just easier for the local manager to pick up the preferred-vendors list – and those are regional and national companies – and make the decision. You have some great local service vendors – and we’d love to do more business with them – but that’s the situation today.
On the landscape side, where is the balance for the property owner or manager when it comes to their landscaped surroundings?
It certainly is a balance, but it comes back to the relationship between the owner/manager and the landscape contractor. You’re not just a service vendor … you’re also an adviser.
A vendor is some who comes in when it’s broken and fixes it. An adviser offers thoughts and ideas. The best thing to do for a property manager is to help him do his job. Show him what other retail or property managers are doing in the market and around the country. Here’s how they’re making the shift … and this is the problem it will correct or this is what it’ll save you.
Help them do their homework because, as a property manager, you have to defend your choices and say to the owner this is why we’re doing this.
The landscape contractor can arm the manager with everything he needs to justify those decisions. That’s the adviser side of the service vendor relationship … contractors need to adopt the adviser mind-set and create a trust where there’s a benefit to these decisions and that you’re not just trying to sell them more services or more plants.
What do you recommend to BOMA members when they have to choose between multiple contractors?
It troubles me to say this, but it’s absolutely true. In the good-old days my members would just sign whatever contract a vendor supplied to them. Those days are over.
Most property owners have their own service agreements which are pretty tough agreements. The one thing a real estate manager doesn’t have time to do is negotiate those agreements with vendors. The easiest way to do business with our people is to find a way to accept the client’s terms and the service agreement with minimal changes.
That’s really hard to hear, but basically we say if a vendor can’t accept those terms than you can not hire them.
Contracting is really important, but it’s also an instantaneous way for a vendor to get excluded from anything.
When you send out the RFP, say here’s the agreement and don’t send in a bid and waste our time if you can’t abide by this agreement.
Snow removal is one of the few CAM (common area maintenance) charges that is variable. After the last two winters, you have a lot of unhappy clients because it either snowed too much, or not enough. How does this impact a property owner or manager when they’re negotiating with a snow removal contractor heading into a winter season?
Snow removal is one of those things where the property manager is never going to win. If you take a full-service seasonal contract and it doesn’t snow, then you look like a fool. But you take another year and you pay per push, suddenly you’re overwhelmed with snow.
It’s like pulling a handle on a slot machine – you put money in and you never know what you’re going to get. From our perspective, we have to figure out how we want to play this. Do we want to go aggressive and pay per push and take on the risk of having a big snow year, or pay for a fixed amount and know that the service will get done but that the money is gone in the event a flake doesn’t fall.
We rely on the property manager to devise a risk strategy with the snow contractor. Some owners and managers are very risk adverse and will pay whatever it takes not to have to worry about snow. Others are willing to take the risk because they need to keep their expenses down.
Slip-and-fall claims are huge burden for snow contractors. What’s the attitude with property managers and owners regarding slip-and-fall claims?
It’s all about the transfer of risk, to be brutally honest. I teach some classes and talk about this topic a lot and everyone is trying to transfer risk to someone else. Snow contractors are the expert on snow and ice and it’s your job is to perform your service and to do it the way we asked you to do it. If you don’t do that, then you have to accept the primary risk for a slip and fall.
So when you talk to your asset manager, and you decide to pay per push and you know you’re not at the top of the priority list, then you know that risk transfer is not going to happen until the snow contractor gets (on site) and does something wrong. Not plowing until later in the morning (during a snow event) is not their fault normally.
With the litigious nature of society, life is all about risk transfer. All of our people know it and all of your people live it and know it. It’s a question of what you’re paying for. Are you paying for peace of mind, or are you accepting some of the risk?
The author is editor of Snow Magazine.
|Monique Rivarde, Joe Jenkins and Monique’s daughter Fashionee plant a Japanese maple in a graden memorial for Monique’s son, Bobby.|
When Monique Rivarde called Joe Jenkins, owner of Manicure Touch Lawn Care, about replacing some plants and pine straw in a memorial garden for her son, Jenkins knew it was a project he wanted do free of charge. Rivarde’s son, Bobby Tillman, was beaten to death by a group of teens at a party in November 2010 near Atlanta. According to news reports, Tillman did not provoke the group and was sucker-punched by one of the men before the group of four beat to the death the 5-foot-6, 125-pound Tillman. You can read more about the incident at bit.ly/LLtillman.
To honor his memory, his family built a garden outside of Chapel Hill High School where Tillman had just graduated from months earlier. But the garden needed more maintenance than anticipated and the plants began to die. That’s where Jenkins and the Manicure team stepped in and helped.
“We wanted a low maintenance garden, so we used a combination of ground cover and perennial plants with seasonal color just for some pop,” Jenkins said. “The plants are hardy and can withstand Georgia’s hot, dry summers.”
Jenkins also has plans for a second phase of the project.“We are planning on building a brick or stacked stone wall around the garden,” he says. “We are looking for sponsors for this project.” Until then, Jenkins can focus on the good work in the first phase.“Knowing that I was involved in a project that will last for years to come is someting special. It gives people a place to stop and think about today and remember that the garden is a place of peace.
|Left: Jenkins presents Rivarde with the label from the Japanese maple they planted in memory of her son. Right: White stones were handmade by friends of Bobby Tillman in his memory.|
Good Works is an occasional feature that highlights charitable projects our readers are working on. If you’d like to see your company’s recent good work profiled, send an email to Associate Editor Brian Horn at email@example.com.
The green industry is no stranger to high employee turnover. Online forums are alive with discussion surrounding the issue of hiring great employees while debates rage over health benefits, pay range, experience levels and even criminal backgrounds. Finding and hiring the very best people remains one of the most difficult challenges facing business owners in the hardscape industry.
The goal is to make your company attract great talent and reduce the time you have to spend hunting it down. The best way to approach this challenge is first to remove the fear of it and embrace the opportunity to make your company a great place to work. Ask yourself if you would like to work for your company? Why or why not?
Be proactive. Most people tend to start the search for employees long after they actually need them. The idea then becomes to shift your attitude from a company that hires reactively, to a company that hires proactively. A reactive company ramps up capacity then panics when they don’t have enough people to do the work.
They franticly take the first person to walk in the door and tell them they can start tomorrow. More often than not, the new employee doesn’t even get a chance to fill out an application before they quit or are fired. At this point owners will then place another job ad, and the process repeats itself.
On the other hand, a proactive company is always searching for new talent. They are sending the message through their employees, website, vendors, clients and peer groups that they are seeking qualified talent. Knowing that the search can be long and slow, they can afford to take their time and really get to know potential candidates. The core culture of your company embraces the need of each employee to be valued, have security and a career path.
This type of culture is contagious and it doesn’t take long for the word to spread. Great candidates will begin to seek you out and at that point, you’ve created a proactive hiring culture.
Establish order. Beginning with pen and paper or even PowerPoint software, create a hierarchy chart defining the current roles in the company along with future opportunities. This will become a great tool to forecast labor needs and offers current employees a clear vision for their personal growth. Each position should have a clearly written job description and a documented pay range.
Then, before you ever place a single help wanted ad, clearly document your company culture and identify your core values. You’re doing this because as soon as the first candidate arrives, you’ll need to explain this to them. For example, the career path at a typical hardscape company may look something like this:
- Laborer I
- Laborer II
- Crew Leader
- Operations Manager
Give them a trial run. Promotions from one level to the next are almost always offered to existing employees first. Rarely would someone be hired in above a Laborer II position. Don’t get me wrong, everyone will tell you they are qualified to be a crew leader but new employees should spend 60-90 days in a probationary period where their skills can be evaluated according to the related job description. Most people bypass this type of entry level evaluation altogether.
Heck, in 60 or 90 days, the season could be half over. That thought process unfortunately is exactly what leads to headaches, low morale and poor performance. Company growth cannot be sustained unless you are willing to document and implement a well-defined probationary and training schedule for a new hire.
Do your homework. Candidates should be carefully evaluated before being hired. You should always take the time to check at least three work references. This is often overlooked because so many of us pride ourselves on being able to somehow see into the person’s soul during an interview. Yet we’re the first ones to sidestep blame when they quit or get fired. A few minutes on the phone with a past employer can be very helpful in supporting your decision to hire a new employee. Past performance is the best predictor for future behavior so exercise caution in hiring candidates with a history of legal or personal problems.
Don’t be tempted to hang your hat on a candidate that claims to be able to do anything you ask. Prior performance and work history should be carefully verified for accuracy.
When hiring for labor positions, I personally gravitate toward candidates with a long work history for one or two employers.
My experience has been that people who have a new job every 12-24 months represent a risk for repeating this same pattern at your company. You should create a list of “qualifiers” and “disqualifiers” that will help screen new candidates more effectively. Hiring should be a deliberate, objective process supported by very detailed documentation about the position.
Show them the ropes. Newly hired employees should have a formal orientation where they receive and sign your company policies. Simply letting new hires walk onto a job site without properly introducing safety and policies exposes you to unnecessary risks and potential problems. Additionally, taking the time to explain these to a new hire makes them feel important and valued.
Starting a new job can be a nervous time for you and the employee. Help ease their nerves and make them feel like part of the team from the very first moment they arrive.
Teach. The next order of business is to begin the new hire on a training path that will expose them to the skills they’ll need to be a future leader at your company. Mentoring is a skill set that all crew leaders should be tasked with. New employees should work under the guidance of an assigned senior crew member. You should have a checklist identifying all of the skills the employee should have in order to be considered for promotion.
Check out the box on pg.124 to find out what we do at Sarros Landscaping. Using a job description, an employee’s performance, progress, pay scale and eligibility for promotion can be objectively measured.
Employees should keep this list with them so they know what skills they should be working on. Notice that full safety compliance and zero accidents is also listed as a basic skill set on our list.
This document is reviewed with the employee every 30 days for the first three months of their employment, which typically coincides with a new hire’s probationary period.
The author is the owner of Sarros Landscaping.
Check out our cover story package on hiring by visiting: bit.ly/LLhiring
Territory sales manager, midwest Arysta LifeScience
From a disease standpoint, the pressure’s been easier this year. Having to control diseases is a good thing because you have grass.
Without irrigation, there hasn’t been a lot of disease due to the drought. The grass has gone dormant, there’s been very little as far as treatment goes on un-irrigated turf. If it’s irrigated, we’ve seen brown patch, pythiums; summer patch has started to show symptoms in the Upper Midwest. The normal suspects have been present in irrigated turf. Non-irrigated turf has just struggled to stay alive.
In my region this fall, as they get into the time when they’re going to be doing renovations and overseeding, if the temps hang on, the patch diseases and dollar spots will continue to be prevalent, especially with the soil temps as warm as they are, and the water and the fertilizer that’s going to be required to establish these areas to reestablish the turf that has gone dormant over the summer. Preventative treatments for brown patch, pythium and dollar spot are still going to be required.
We do see some fungicide use through the summer in the mountain states and up into the northwest for necrotic ring spot. That’s still persisted. It’s dry there, too, but hasn’t been as prevalent as is probably normal.
Everything’s been so dry and warm, it’s really thrown the disease cycle for a loop this summer. You just haven’t had that overnight humidity to hold that disease gradient in check in the Midwest. The plants dry off so fast, the dew doesn’t set and hold. I think the take-home message is Mother Nature has been the best fungicide of the year. Ninety-five degrees and no humidity is one of the best fungicides you can have.
Fungicide product manager, Bayer CropScience
The biggest thing this year early on as the season progressed, it seemed like we were getting hit with a lot of dollar spot along the East Coast, then the heat came on, and we had some periods where brown patch was really heavy.
Now it depends on your situation with water. In the Midwest and those areas that are critically dry, so you’ve got a lot of brown lawns, you’ve still got a lot of areas that are seeing some brown patch pressure, and they’re getting other stress areas on bluegrass –seeing some summer patch.
It’s been a challenging year, depending on the area that you’re in. There can be cases where they gave up worrying about disease and are looking at the fall as an opportunity for fall seeding. That’s going to be one of the major focuses for the fall is renovation.
The biggest things, and again it all depends on the weather, if we go into the fall warm and we’ve got moisture, I think they might want to be concerned with protecting their seedlings from pythium and phytopera during germination. The biggest thing should be, after that, as we cool off and get some moisture, some areas might experience some dollar spot. The biggest things if they are renovating that they protect those seedlings and get a good stand established.
Senior technical specialist, BASF turf and ornamental products
In a nutshell, a few diseases have been most prevalent this year. In the spring, red thread was a real, real problem. For a lot of people they never got rid of it. Usually a little fertilizer will help turf grow out of it. We’ve also seen a fair amount of dollar spot, and that’s usually a golf course problem, but there’s been a lot in home lawns and commercial lawns.
Brown patch and pythium, the warm weather diseases, hit recently. For a while, those 100-degree temperatures were almost too hot for brown patch. It was hot and dry and we weren’t really seeing it. Pythium is a hot weather disease. It can hit one day and a day or two it can wipe out turfgrass.
Residential properties, they tell you after the fact. The way to have controlled it was to have prevented it. It’s educating consumers about when diseases occur. A lot of people think it’s the heat or drought that’s killing their grass, but it’s brown patch that’s causing the turf to wither away.
The only way you’re going to maintain a healthy lawn in this part of the country is to have treated before. Here’s the deal: Pay me now or pay me later. If you’re going to let your turf die, you’re going to need to have it reseeded in the fall. You can pay me whenever you want.
We do run into higher-end customers who have irrigation. Irrigation is moisture, and moisture is what diseases need to really grow.
I have a feeling we have a lot of dead, dead grass. This fall LCOs are going to be doing a lot of reseeding and overseeding lawns. The damage is done to the turf already. Unless we get some good soil moisture back, some of it will recover, but a lot of it may not.
Extension specialist and professor of turfgrass pathology, Rutgers University
Overall the major landscape diseases this year included red thread in the spring. It came in very early, in early April, and persisted into late June. Dollar spot pressure was very high in June in the New Jersey area. I also saw a surprisingly high level of rust on Kentucky bluegrass this summer. It started in June and did not decline in severity until early July.
In general, we are suggesting getting back to basics (proper fertility, irrigation) to improve plant vigor for all three of these stress-related diseases. Also, scouting landscapes for outbreaks and applying fungicides on high value areas, especially those with a prior history of disease, with fungicides known to be effective for the disease in question.
You can only go so far in suppressing diseases with cultural controls, so on high-value areas, fungicides are sometimes required. In those cases, the key is not to let the disease get out of control or the turf will lose a lot of density and open the area up to weeds and other problems.
Summer patch has also been a big problem due to the very hot summer, particularly in poorly drained, compacted sites with high soil pH. Also brown patch was very prevalent during hot, humid weather on landscapes that received a lot of rain from localized thunder storms.
With the warm winter and hot summer in 2012, I think you can exact a lot of rust again this fall as well as dollar spot.
Technical manager for the southeastern U.S. / Syngenta
This year got off to a good start for a couple reasons. Temps were high in the spring, warm season grasses got off to a good start. That helped us to avoid problems with large patch, which is very common on warm season grasses like zoysiagrass, St. Augustine and centipede grass, and which hits in spring and fall when the turf is growing slowly.
Cool season grasses – tall fescues, Kentucky bluegrass – had a pretty good year as well, until we got the humidity and rain in some areas that lead to brown patch and pythiums.
Diseases are very simple organisms – they’re just sitting there in the thatch and when temperature and moisture conditions become ripe, they can develop very quickly and cause a problem seemingly overnight. The pathogens are always there; there’s nothing we can do to eradicate them. There are things from a management standpoint to make the turf more resistant – basic stuff like proper fertilization, mowing at the proper height, not overwatering.
The fall all depends on what Mother Nature decides to bring. It’s almost impossible to predict really. If we have a cool and wet fall, we’ll get large patch. If it stays warm and relatively dry, we’ll have fewer problems.
The key for LCOs is the selection of a good grass. There are new varieties of tall fescue that has good quality. Check with your local extension services to make sure you’ve got the best variety for your climate.