When you have the right people on board, there is nothing more rewarding than operating a small business in your local community.
Years after selling my company, that's what I remember most – the people, and how we worked together well, regardless of the challenges. In fact, how everyone responded in those challenging times always affirmed who was right for our company, and where some changes needed to be made.
While I'm sure there are many ways to recruit and hire, what worked best for me was creating a company that others wanted to join – and hiring less on talent, and more on a desire to help build a business that we could all be proud of at the end of the day.
The community. Our landscape company seldom had difficulty attracting good people because we were active in our community. Being an active member in your Chamber of Commerce, organizations such as Rotary, and staying in touch with former professors all help to bring the best to your door.
Of course, you now have social media to better stay in touch with friends and share stories about the good work your company is doing. This is not only vital for attracting good people – it will bring in new business too.
The work environment. Those that choose to work in the green industry often do so because they enjoy working in a natural environment – with as little time in the office as possible. So, it stands to reason that working conditions are key recruiting tool.
We placed a great deal of emphasis on having a nice office environment that was clean, comfortable and informal. Many of our office staff told us this was a deciding factor for them joining our company.
They also appreciated that we used and invested in technology. The same was true for our production workers. Well-maintained and safe equipment and working conditions are essential in every position.
The right fit. Our experience was that hiring for desire and attitude works nearly every time. My biggest mistake early on was hiring for talent. We lost business due to talented employees that did not fit our customer-centric culture.
Of course, desire fades if the company does not have systems in place for ensuring success. This is why we placed a great deal of emphasis on showing candidates that we had processes that were clear and understood.
In fact, we walked candidates through the same materials we used for presentations to new prospects, and for the same reasons – to give them confidence and differentiate our company.
Finally, when you hire on intuition as we did, it is helpful to have metrics that validate your judgment. In the late '90s, we discovered the Kolbe A Index – a 20-minute questionnaire that is taken online. It proved to be invaluable, so we never hired without checking the Kolbe score against our subjective assessment.
When you have found a good person, the Kolbe helps you to be sure you are placing them in a position where they can succeed. You can learn more about the Kolbe Index at Kolbe.com.
These three profit-and-loss charts of accounts forms are customized for maintenance, lawn care and design/build operations. If your company provides a mix of these services, you'll need to adjust your budget accordingly.
Some key differences to note:
- Advertising costs tend to be higher in the lawn care business.
- Subcontracting and equipment rental costs may increase in the design/build sector.
- Cost of materials is higher for lawn care than for maintenance, but demand for labor is lower for lawn care and net profit margin is significantly higher (on average).
- Most indirect overhead costs are the same across these segments.
As you develop your budget (or budgets) for 2012, keep more flexible direct costs like labor and materials in mind. And remember that adjusting certain indirect, overhead costs – like insurance, rent, and licenses and bonds – is more difficult.
To view the charts, click here.
Bobby Jenkins and ABC Home & Commercial Services know a few things about add-ons. The company has been treating pest control issues since 1949, and has since added lawn care, landscaping, irrigation, tree care, electrical, plumbing – the list of services continues.
"The analysis always needs to be: What's my customer base, what's my relationship with my customer base and what additional services does my customer base need or would they enjoy having from a provider like me?" says Jenkins, president of the Texas and Florida company's Austin, San Antonio and College Station offices.
Jenkins, who has an understanding of both the lawn and structural pest control side of the business, says the two services are a great fit for a company in a region with pest pressures. "Homeowners and even commercial clients, whenever they have a brand that they trust, their life is simpler by having fewer vendors that they have to call to come out and provide services," he says. – Carolyn LaWell
- Is structural pest control a service your current customer base needs and will buy? The best way to find out is to ask them. Talk to customers while servicing their lawns and conduct a survey that asks what new services interest them. "The strength of adding additional services is your customer base," Jenkins says.
- Understand the market. There wasn't a local company with an established reputation when ABC decided to add lawn care services. "Sure there's the Terminix and the Orkin brand but, more importantly, is there a local pest control brand that is particularly strong and dominate?" Jenkins says. If the answer is no, there's probably room in the market for your pest control service.
- The most critical step in offering a new service is having an expert on hand, Jenkins says. Companies should look for someone with business, sales and technical experience to basically run the division. "I would go out and hire somebody to bring to me that knowledge and expertise," Jenkins says.
- Add-ons still need to provide high caliber service, which starts with employees. "We learned that we had to have separate service staff to provide those different services," Jenkins says of lawn care and structural pest control. "The company can bridge them, but the individual person providing the service needed to be a specialist in that type of work."
- The low-hanging fruit of adding services is a company's current customer base. When ABC adds a service, it lets customers know through brochures, email marketing and statement stuffers. To reach the broader marketplace, Jenkins says develop specific ads that speak to the company's expertise in the new line of service.
Illustration by Ron Wilson
I met Burt Sperber in person exactly two times. The first was in 2010, when he was the marquee event at PLANET's Executive Forum and Leadership meetings in Las Vegas. He and Bill Hildebolt, then association president, held a Q&A as part of the meeting's agenda. He told the assembled crowd that he preferred the title of "head gardener" to founder, chairman or CEO.
"Anybody who looks down on it doesn't understand it – if you're not proud of the industry, go be a photographer, a banker, a lawyer," he said in his trademark matter-of-fact way.
But my favorite part of the event was the tour he and his staff gave at the ValleyCrest Las Vegas facility. He'd pulled out all the stops – even had a crane on hand with a giant boxed tree to demonstrate how his crews could move anything. Richard, his son and ValleyCrest CEO, was there, too, and they both spent hours talking with anyone who cared to stop and chat.
As we were gearing up for a session on the new Aria hotel – where ValleyCrest had just completed another massive landscaping project – we ran out of seats. So Burt headed out the door and started bringing in dozens of chairs himself.
The second was just this summer. I'd flown out to San Diego for a story and drove up to Los Angeles to see Burt. The ValleyCrest headquarters are beautiful, but nothing you wouldn't expect for a company so grounded in landscape design principles. He and I and Richard talked in a plush sitting room between their offices on the third floor.
We talked about ValleyCrest – recent acquisitions, plans for the company and plans for him. He had no intention of slowing down anytime soon.
Burt and I only sat down together twice, but we talked often. He was always ready with advice and insight when I had questions, and always gave it to you straight. Whenever I spoke with Burt, I knew I was talking with someone who was made for what he did. He loved landscaping, yes, but he also loved people – his thousands of employees, his customers and strangers who stopped by to chat.
Burt wasn't a big presence at industry trade shows or conferences. He preferred to spend his time working. But his humble, modest and hard-working approach was the only way anyone could ever hope to build such an enduring legacy, or set the bar so high.
The industry is darker without Burt Sperber in it, but what he built, and the example he set, will endure. And we're all better for it.
See my video blog at www.lawnandlandscape.com.– Chuck Bowen
RISE honors Armbruster with leadership award
SARASOTA, Fla. – During its 21st annual meeting RISE honored one of its long-time volunteers for his exemplary leadership to the specialty pesticide and fertilizer industry.
Jim Armbruster, PBI/Gordon Corp., was honored as the third recipient of the E. Allen James Leadership Award that annually recognizes the outstanding contributions of a RISE volunteer leader.
The award is named after RISE's former president of 20 years, Allen James, who retired in 2010. RISE's annual meeting keynote speaker Michael Durant, a master pilot and inspiration for the movie "Blackhawk Down," presented the award to Armbruster during the opening session attended by approximately 100 RISE members.
Armbruster has volunteered on RISE committees since 1998, most recently serving as chairman of the RISE Science & Technology Committee. He's invested time and expertise on numerous issue management teams, most recently those working in the Northeast.
"RISE volunteer leaders are the backbone of our association and play a vital role in the work we do," said RISE President Aaron Hobbs. "Jim Armbruster is a thoughtful, knowledgeable expert who's made many outstanding contributions to science and advocacy that are at the heart of the RISE mission. He is much deserving of this year's award."
As PBI/Gordon's vice president of research and development and regulatory and technical services, Armbruster will retire this year after working with the company since 1988. Besides his volunteer efforts with RISE, Armbruster's expertise in the areas of pesticide chemistry, weed science and patent law was also invaluable to The Industry Task Force II on 2,4-D Research Data, Chemical Producers and Distributors Association and the American Society of Agronomy, among others.
Jacobsen names new president
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – David Withers has been named president of Jacobsen, after serving as managing director of the Ransomes division since 2005.
In his most recent position, located in the United Kingdom, Withers oversaw international operations for all Jacobsen brands as well as the E-Z-GO brand in Europe.
"I'm very excited about this opportunity. Having worked in the golf and turf maintenance industry for over 25 years, 19 of those with the Jacobsen team, this appointment is what I have always aspired to," said Withers. "I look forward to working with the team, growing our market share around the world and continuing Jacobsen's leadership in turf maintenance products."
Withers joined parent company Textron in 1992 as a regional sales manager for Jacobsen in the United Kingdom. In 2002, he was promoted to sales and marketing director before his appointment in 2005 as managing director of Ransomes Jacobsen.
"With his broad international experience – which spans over 45 countries – and his strong track record in business development and operational excellence, I am confident that he is the right person to maximize the growth opportunities that lie ahead for Jacobsen," said Scott Donnelly, Textron CEO.
Withers will succeed Dan Wilkinson, who is retiring from the company after 14 years of service to Textron.
Spring-Green raises funds for cancer center at national conference
PLAINFIELD, Ill. – Spring-Green Lawn Care welcomed more than 225 franchise owners, managers, employees and spouses to its National Training Conference at Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes Resort. Themed "Building for Profit," the focus of this year's event leveraged the collective knowledge of the organization and its strategic vendors as they worked to continue growing local businesses and market leadership in these challenging economic times.
"Spring-Green franchise owners had an excellent year in an economy that has not stabilized," said Ted Hofer, Spring-Green Lawn Care's CEO.
Spring-Green's revenue was $34.2 million in 2010, an increase of 5 percent over 2009, according to Lawn & Landscape's Top 100. The company, which has 75 franchisees, expected a 6 percent increase in revenue for 2011.
The speakers at the conference included Thom Winninger, who spoke about market leadership, and Susan Black-Beth who spoke on the realities of running a family business. "Along with knowledge gained from other owners, our franchise owners went home armed with dozens of practical solutions to grow their business," Hofer said. "To be successful in these times, you must execute."
Spring-Green also raised $20,000 through a silent auction in the name of 4-year-old Jack Geibel for the Aflac Cancer Center of Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.
Jack was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) in November 2010 and is being treated at the Aflac Cancer Center. Lenny Geibel, Jack's father, has owned Spring-Green Lawn Care in Lawrenceville, Ga., for four years. In addition to Jack, Geibel and his wife, Paula, have two boys: Lenny, 10, and Max, 2.
Geibel chose the Aflac Children's Cancer Center as the recipient of Spring-Green's donation. "Our family feels very blessed that Spring-Green offered to so generously support a cause that has directly touched our family," Geibel said. "We are thrilled that $20,000 will go to help the cancer center where Jack is being treated."
Syngenta invests $8 million in R&D Center
GILROY, Calif. – Syngenta Flowers, a breeder and producer of hybrid flower seed and vegetative cuttings for pot and bedding plants, is investing $8.25 million in its Gilroy, Calif., research and development campus to build an R&D Center of Excellence for ornamental horticulture. The center will provide Syngenta with new capabilities in plant protection, media and genetics to develop new solutions for customers in the ornamental horticulture industry.
"Our new Center of Excellence in Gilroy will better enable Syngenta to develop and deliver plants and solutions that provide superior performance in the professional greenhouse, at retail, in professionally landscaped environments and in the home garden," said Tim Kroenke, head, Syngenta Lawn & Garden, North America. "To continue to earn our customers' business in today's marketplace, Syngenta is committed to delivering unsurpassed plant solutions throughout North America and the world. This new center will provide us with the facilities needed to carry out this ambitious mission."
The majority of investment dollars will be used to replace existing greenhouse structures with three state-of-the-art greenhouse facilities. Additionally, hoop houses and a pot-filling operation will be constructed.
The greenhouses, which are expected to be completed by the fall of 2012, will house breeding programs for pansy, viola, geranium, chrysanthemums and other flower crops. A third R&D greenhouse structure will provide environmental testing capabilities furthering the study of individual plant performance.
"The new greenhouses will also provide us with the research capabilities and technology we need to extend plant shelf-life at retail, reduce plant losses during transportation and better understand methods for managing water stress," said Keelan Pulliam, president of Syngenta Flowers in North America. "Our R&D teams will also continue to focus on the creation of new innovative varieties that could be attractive to growers and consumers."
ValleyCrest helps Jelly Belly reduce water use
PETALUMA, Calif. – HydroPoint Data Systems and ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance announced a partnership with Jelly Belly Candy Co. to implement water management solutions across the 35-acre campus, which includes corporate headquarters, manufacturing, warehousing and a public tour center in Fairfield, Calif. Using the new water saving technologies, Jelly Belly Candy Co. will reduce outdoor water use by 29 percent.
These new technologies help preserve both natural water resources and a landscaped campus that consists of 5 1⁄2 acres of green space with turf, trees and shrubs, which was designed to enhance the experience of more than half a million visitors who tour Jelly Belly's facility each year. Jelly Belly Candy executives partnered with ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance to replace out-dated irrigation clocks with smart irrigation controllers in hopes of receiving significant cost savings.
"We actively look for ways to improve cost efficiencies in our manufacturing and site expenses," said Jeff Brown, vice president operations and distribution for Jelly Belly Candy. "An irrigation solution with minimal capital investment and disruption that would yield significant water savings in our landscaped areas was intriguing."
HydroPoint's smart controller solutions provide grounds crews with 24/7 visibility and remote control access to irrigation schedules and water use. Daily evapotranspiratio data is transmitted to the controllers, updating the automated watering schedules as local weather conditions change. Plants receive precise amounts of water only when they need it.
The technology helps eliminate over-watering, water run-off, hardscape repairs and liabilities. It also automates irrigation to run after business hours, so Mr. Jelly Belly and the 30-foot inflatable Jelly Belly mascots can greet visitors without interference from overspray or excess water.
"We commend Jelly Belly Candy Co. for their commitment to making outdoor water efficiency a priority," said Richard Restuccia, director of water management solutions for ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance.
TCIA receives safety training grant
LONDONDERRY, N.H. – The Tree Care Industry Association has been awarded a $165,000 grant from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to provide electrical hazard training.
The grant was awarded through the Susan Harwood Training Grant Program, which provides funding for nonprofit organizations to conduct in-person, hands-on training and educational programs for employers and workers on the recognition, avoidance and prevention of safety and health hazards in their workplaces.
"With the help of this grant, we can work toward keeping workers safe," said Mark Gavin, TCIA president. "It is an important component toward achieving our industry's goal of reducing injuries and fatalities with respect to electrical hazards in tree care work."
With the grant, TCIA will develop approximately 25 free workshops and train 750 employers and employees of tree care companies in safe ways to handle electrical hazards associated with trees. These selected workshops, financed 100 percent through the federal funds, will be offered to small businesses and limited-English, low-literacy and hard-to-reach workers throughout 19 states.
"The grants awarded by the federal government today will provide tools for workers and employers in some of the most dangerous industries to identify and eliminate hazards," said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis in announcing the grant. "This education and training will help ensure that every worker returns home safely at the end of his or her shift."
TCIA's Electrical Hazards Awareness Program has trained thousands of arborists involved in line clearance and those working near energized lines.
Looking for more?
For more information on the courses, contact Amy Tetreault at the Susan Harwood Training Grant at 603-314-5380 or email@example.com.
DuPont offers new Imprelis guidelines
WILMINGTON, Del. – DuPont Professional Products has issued a set of guidelines for planting trees on properties where its new herbicide Imprelis was used. The guidelines come after DuPont and the Environmental Protection Agency banned the sale of Imprelis because of trees, mainly Norway spruce and white pines, showing injury when the product was used in the vicinity.
The guidelines tell contractors how to remove and replace trees on their own.
The instructions include addressing potential effects of Imprelis remaining in the soil and recommends adding activated charcoal to the backfill soil. It also advises disposing tree and excavated soil materials at a solid waste landfill and clearing all tree debris from the removal site.
Multiple lawsuits have been filed against DuPont, charging it was negligent or reckless in putting Imprelis on the market. Injured trees have been reported largely in the Midwest and Northeast regions of the country.
In releasing the new guidelines, DuPont Professional Products Global Business Leader Michael McDermott said, "We regret the problems caused by Imprelis, and remain committed to your satisfaction and the proper stewardship of our products. Thank you for your patience and support."
For the full list of guidelines, visit www.lawnandlandscape.com and search “DuPont.”
Ambius takes home 11 PIA awards
BUFFALO GROVE, Ill. – Ambius received 11 awards, including the Judges Award for Best in Show, at the 19th annual PIA Interior Plantscape Hall of Fame and Awards Banquet.
Ambius received the Judge's Award for the most outstanding overall project in 2011 for the Living Wall at Longwood Gardens, located in Kennett Square, Pa.
The wall features a terraced lawn, lush new plantings and the largest indoor green wall in North America, spanning more than 4,000 square feet of 25 species of tropical plants and ferns.
"I am extraordinarily proud of our talented team of designers who are unfailingly innovative and engaged with exceeding our clients' expectations," said Jeff Mariola, president, Ambius.