As Custom Landscaping and Lawn Care services a growing base of clients, the firm keeps a close watch on operations and taps into the latest technology
Custom Landscaping and Lawn Care doesn’t only offer design/build services. Maintenance services are also available.
The phone at Custom Landscaping and Lawn Care rings at 10:58 p.m. A real person picks up the phone and is taking care of business. Not an answering service. An employee. It’s early summer and the New Jersey firm has an advertising campaign that’s hot. They aren’t going to miss a call – and the office is open for another hour.
“We don’t want to lose leads that might be coming in, no matter what time of day,” says Frank Leloia Jr., president of the firm his father started in 1982 with a push mower and three accounts.
When Leloia took over after graduating college in 2005, the business was still home-based and bringing in just over a quarter-million in revenues. Today, the operation has increased eight-fold with 25 full-time employees, servicing 1,000 homes each week.
And to add another layer of complexity to the story, Leloia and his wife welcomed triplets last year. Business and life are busy – overflowing, actually. And that’s a good thing in every respect.
Frank Leloia, left, started the company in 1982, but Frank Jr., right, took control after graduating college in 2005.
Expanding with experts.
Steady growth during the last 30 years has brought the company from a small-time startup to a diversified landscape firm providing maintenance, design-build, fertilization and irrigation services.
Leloia describes his father, Frank, as an “old-school, very hard worker” who started the firm in the family’s basement. The company trucks were parked in the driveway for nearly 20 years. Frank Jr., now running the business, began working on the crews when he was about 12 years old. “I literally grew up in the business, learning every aspect of it,” he says. “So, it’s funny, when people ask, ‘How much experience did you really have taking over the business as a 30-year-old?’ The truth is, I’ve worked there almost every day alongside my dad since I can remember.”
So when Leloia joined the business in 2005, he had ideas of what the company could become and how to take it to the next level. Growth was always the plan. “We thought we would multiply what we were doing and that the profits would remain the same, but we realized that is not the way business works,” Leloia says.
Leloia focused on gradual growth, expanding into new services by bringing on experts to manage those new departments. The first big step was in 2008 when the company hired its first full-time salesperson. “It was a learning curve,” Leloia says. “I had to teach him our way of doing things – the way we price jobs and the way we operate. Sometimes it’s hard to tell someone who comes over from another firm, ‘I know you’re used to doing this for 10 years, but this is the way we do it here.’”
Leloia Jr. began focusing on the design/build portion of the business in 2005.
Finding key people to run divisions at the firm has been a key to its success, Leloia says. He began focusing on the design/build portion of the business in 2005. Eventually, he hired a fertilization technician and, later, an irrigation manager. This year, the company brought on a full-time service manager that oversees the lawn care business at-large.
In the last seven years, the company has grown by adding services and expanding its existing offering – digging deeper to reach more clients and its “sweet spot” customers. Those are people who want to invest in their lawns, and who want to deal with a single service provider for all of their landscaping needs.
By taking care of a client’s range of landscaping needs – from lawn cutting to fertilization to irrigation and enhancements – Leloia and team knows that the property is not getting short-changed in one area or another.
For example, Custom can cut the lawn perfectly each week, but if it is not properly watered, the yard will not thrive (and who’s to blame?). Or, if the lawn care program is sub-par, despite Custom’s cutting, irrigation and landscape installation efforts, the property will not look its absolute best. And Leloia wants to deliver nothing less.
“We tell customers this all the time: If you don’t have a plan moving forward, it’s almost like we are guessing at (what to do for your property),” he says.
Custom sets up the plan: what to do year-round so the property shines. “The results are not an overnight thing – it takes time, but we set those expectations at our first meeting with clients,” Leloia says.
An eye on operations.
Leloia reminds his team that they have 200 days to recoup the company’s overhead expenses. That’s it. “Some people argue with me and say, ‘There are 365 days in a year, why only 200 days?’”
“Well, because we are a seasonal business,” Leloia tells them. “And we still have customers in the wintertime, but we can’t recoup our costs with the weather we have in New Jersey.”
That said, Custom Landscaping and Lawn Care builds each bid around the firm’s overhead costs. The company has since moved out of the family house and into a headquarters with an ample yard for storing materials. But the overhead is always in check because Leloia keeps a close eye on those numbers.
“It’s critical to know your true costs and really know and manage your overhead expenses,” he emphasizes, adding that the majority of companies in the industry ignore those budget line items.
Another issue Custom watches carefully: routing. Crew leaders are equipped with mobile devices that run a program so they have their routes in hand. When they arrive at an account, they hit “arrive” and essentially clock in. When they are finished at that house, they hit “depart.”
The mobile phone software boosts efficiency in the field because crews are held accountable for their time on each job.
Meanwhile, Leloia says he wants to continue improving an already robust website (it has a voice-over intro telling the story of the firm).
“I want to add more videos to educate our customers, because the more our customers know, ultimately the more satisfied they are with our work,” he says.
They understand how the services fit together as an entire landscaping and lawn care plan. And they buy in. This comprehensive approach has served the company well, and Leloia sees room to continue expanding in the areas of business that Custom currently offers.
“We have our systems in place,” Leloia says. “Outside of the weather – our biggest challenge with all the rain around here this season – our employees are great, and we have the right people in the right positions in the company.”
Of course, Leloia is definitely juggling – life with three newborns at home makes business in the high season seem calm. Reflecting on the “growth” at home, Leloia puts business-life in perspective: “That’s the best thing that ever happened,” he says. L&L
Give us credit
If customers want to hire Custom Landscaping and Lawn Care, they’ll have to pay with plastic.
Credit only. That’s the policy at Custom Landscaping and Lawn Care in New Jersey. “The only way we will do business with you is if you leave a credit card with us on file,” says Frank Leloia, president.
There are no exceptions. “We are willing to walk away from a lead that is already committed to us if they will not comply with the way we do business,” Leloia says.
Why the hardline approach? “It helps our cash flow tremendously,” Leloia says. And, it frees up administrative time because office staff is not chasing down late payers.
Leloia was a bit concerned that customers would not want to comply with the new policy, but he determined it was necessary. That means no cash, no checks, no invoices sent at the end of the month and collected 30 days later. Jobs are performed and cards are charged the day after the time of service.
Customers receive an email confirming that Custom was on their property and performed the work. The next day, the card on file is charged and an email notification is sent.
The credit-only system keeps cash flowing so the company can pay its vendors on time and manage its overhead expenses. “The cash flow is where it needs to be,” Leloia says.
Photos courtesy of custom landscaping and lawn care