Lawn & Landscape interviewed Brian Labrie, of B.H. Labrie Landscaping nearly a decade ago. When we looked in the archives, we found much of what Labrie said then is still good business advice today. Here is an excerpt on how Labrie found new business:
B.H. Labrie Landscaping offered mostly residential services until (1999) when Labrie decided he should think about commercial work.
“I started to get nervous about a recession,” he said. “We’re near the Massachusetts border and many folks who live here drive there for work. I saw them cutting back on spending a little bit, so I wanted to gear up for losing some residential clients.”
Luckily, adding commercial work was easy because he had contacts from his family’s Labrie Construction business, which built many schools and commercial sites in New Hampshire.
And being nearly 50 percent commercial and 50 percent residential paid off in the last six months, Labrie said. “Some major companies in Massachusetts, like Sun Microsystems, laid off people, so they cut back their landscape work or people were transferred or moved because of a new job in a different state. Of my 150 residential accounts, I lost about 20 for layoffs.”
During this time, Labrie said simply returning a phone call within a 24-hour period helped him retain some residential clients or gain additional ones. “I would return all phone calls within one day and make appointments with everyone or try and prequalify them over the phone the best I could,” he said. “Then getting estimates turned around within 24 to 48 hours helped – before they changed their mind.”
To finish this work quickly, he started opening up a three-hour gap between 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. daily – he refused to schedule meetings or other work during this time and left it open for calls and client appointments and estimates. “In that three-hour block, I could get in four estimates and return a bunch of calls,” Labrie said. “The key was not to let the work build up on my desk. By making the time each day, it didn’t get a chance to pile up.”
Basically, it’s the “do what you say, say what you do” motto that pushes Labrie daily. “I’ve had more people complement me for returning a phone call than anything else – probably five out of 10,” he enthused. “The competition here gets so busy that they don’t call clients back and don’t show up on time, so clients are impressed when I put in the extra effort to do this.”
Uniformed workers and clean, painted trucks also exhibit professionalism and help bring in clients, Labrie said. “My competitors all have different-colored trucks and no one recognizes them,” he pointed out. “So all of my 10 trucks are green with yellow and orange, and the uniforms match.”
And while drawing in new clients, simplifying the renewal process helped hold on to clients. Labrie sent out a work order sheet March 1 with boxes where clients could check off the services they wanted. A signature at the bottom authorized the deal based on 2002 prices.
After Labrie gets the clients, showing up to do the work in a professional and proper manner retains them. Labrie uses a two-man crew – one foreman and one laborer – for an average maintenance job. “If I stick a third guy on, I notice that guy doesn’t have enough responsibility,” he explained. “With two guys, they each have enough responsibility. This way, I’m paying for two and getting the work of two. When I use three- or four-man crews, I still feel like I’m getting the work of two, so I stick to two. Plus, with two, each of them has enough responsibility and they feel more in control, and there’s no one to blame if the job doesn’t get done right.”
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