Marty’s 5 mistakes

Columns - Industry Voices

October 4, 2013
Marty Grunder
Marty Grunder

Marty Grunder

Since I started my landscaping company in 1984 as a way to make money for college, I have learned a lot about what it takes to make my business work. This month, I wanted to share with you five things I have learned that can and will help you make more money by not repeating some of the mistakes I have made … and I have made a lot of them.

In fact, they only give me a column here to talk about my successes. If I were to write every month about what I’ve done wrong, I’d need the whole magazine to do that. OK, here are five things I would avoid if I were you. 

1. Bidding work without truly knowing your costs. I see it all the time. I go to an industry meeting and everyone is asking each other what they charge for their services. I know, we’re all curious, but what someone else has to charge to make a profit may or may not be what you need to charge. Your overhead is different; your team’s abilities are different.

Learn your numbers; know what things cost you. If there’s one thing I learned early, I needed to charge clients more than what the job was going to cost me. Basic stuff? You bet, but it’s something a lot of contractors miss. If you can’t figure out your costs, get an accountant or an industry expert in the area to help you.  

2. Hiring fast and firing slow. Hiring is arguably the most important thing you do for your business. Unfortunately, too many of us landscapers don’t handle hiring right and pay a big price in the process. Write out on a piece of paper what your ideal team member would look like, and then go look for them. At least with this perspective, you’ll be more inclined to turn away candidates that don’t fit this mold. Hire slow and fire fast. Or, as my colleague Matt Caruso says, “Hire slow, fire less.”

3. Allowing your crews to stop for food. When I started in the business, we would close up our job and drive all over the place for lunch. Now, I know the companies I see in restaurants are wasting time and money. The other day I saw one of my competitors and their crews at a Taco Bell. I asked one of the crew leaders I recognized if they all ate lunch together every day and he said, “Yeah, most of the time we pick a place and we all go there.” Maybe that was their way of meeting and catching up on jobs, but I really don’t think so. I cringed at the amount of money that lunch was costing them and they didn’t even realize it. You lose momentum on the job when you shut it down and you open yourself up to a large time waster over the course of a season. Buy your crews lunch boxes with your logos on them and change your policy to make your teams eat on the job. This small adjustment can save you thousands over the course of a year.

4. Not having a handbook. When I travel around the country and work with and study other landscapers, I see that most landscapers don’t have a handbook. You have to have a baseline from which everyone can follow. A handbook sets the tone for the behavior that is expected and supported and it communicates what behaviors, if demonstrated, will mean you can’t work at your company any more. PLANET, our industry association, can help you with this. Contact them at

5. Not having a clear mission statement. If no one in your company can recite the mission statement, then they are just words on a piece of paper. You have to embrace a mission statement. A mission statement tells everyone what they must do on a daily basis to achieve success. A mission statement that is embraced by its leadership motivates their teams to work like they are on a mission! 

My first mission statement was about 10 words long; no one could remember it and it was hard to follow. Through the years, our mission statement has evolved; here it is now: “To enhance the beauty and value of every client’s property while exceeding their expectations every step of the way.” If you saw my team work, you would see, and I think agree, that we live by this mission and it makes a big difference in our present and future success.


Marty Grunder is a speaker, consultant and author; he owns Grunder Landscaping Co. See; mail