“There isn’t a wasted move or a second lost when he is in the seat,” says Krintz, owner of the Madison, Wisconsin-based firm, which focuses on creating outdoor living spaces and jobs like grading and excavation.
That said, Smith wasn’t necessarily planning on a career in landscaping. He literally ran into the opportunity in 2006. Krintz let a friend of Smith’s, who worked for Proscapes, drive his Ford Mustang. He gave the employee and Smith the keys and a gas card and said, “Go have some fun.”
After a mishap in the vehicle, Smith and his buddy had to work off the damage. That’s when Krintz began to notice how skilled Smith was at landscaping. Smith plowed snow during the winter, and by spring of 2007, Krintz tried to recruit Smith.
Smith wasn’t so sure after the car wreck, but Krintz didn’t care. He knew Smith was a fit for the company and he’d make a great team member. “He thought I would not want to speak to him again, but I knew immediately after meeting him that this was the guy I needed to propel this business to a multi-crew company that would become very profitable,” Krintz says.
Krintz says Smith started with a shovel. But he quickly recognized that Smith was a natural when he worked his way up to tasks like preparing properties for hardscaping projects.
Smith had grown up on a farm in the Lake Mills and Jefferson, Wis., area. “I like doing stuff with my hands,” he says. “I grew up spending all my time outside.”
By age 8, Smith was helping his dad plow fields, and over the years, he did some light landscaping at home and for friends. “I like seeing how projects look when they’re all done,” he says. “And it’s a great feeling when a client shares how much they love the results – when they say, ‘It’s beautiful, thank you.’”
Smith, a humble guy, isn’t the type who talks a whole lot about himself. “He has zero ego,” says Bob Wambach, sales and designer. “Lance has the perfect marriage of temperament, personality and knowledge, and having a farm background and the work ethic, he can fix just about anything.”
Krintz attributes Smith’s contribution to Proscapes for the company’s success. Since he joined 12 years ago, the company has grown into a multi-million dollar landscape design, installation and snow removal firm with projects scopes that are usually in the $30,000 to $100,000 range.
“Rarely does a company find a person that can not only meet the expectations of a basic foremen, but exceeds it to the point that I rarely make a decision without consulting him first,” Krintz says.
“Lance has taken a few other employees under his wing and turned them from office worker bees into experienced hardscape installers... That not only shows leadership, but the ability to teach people a trade and the value of a hard day’s work, all without ever raising his voice.” – Michael Krintz, owner, Proscapes
Leading by example.
“Lance really gets down in the dirt with new guys to show them how to do something,” says foreman Chad Zimmerman. “He is a fantastic leader – he shows crew members how to do something real quick, and then he’s like, ‘I showed you, now the next one you can do yourself.’’’
He lets go and gives team members a chance to try a new skill on their own, and whether they get it right or mess it up, he’s patient. “He does more directing and showing,” Zimmerman says.
Krintz adds, “Lance is someone the new guys want to train under.”
Now, Zimmerman didn’t necessarily think this was the case when he first joined Proscapes 10 years ago. A cousin of Krintz and a self-described “city boy,” Krintz says Zimmerman “didn’t have a callous on his hand before he came to work here.”
The first year, Zimmerman mostly trained under another cousin, but after a while, Zimmerman began working with Smith.
Zimmerman was under the impression that Smith wouldn’t want to be slowed down. He was a foreman known for productivity and making every job profitable. But Smith’s show-not-tell leadership set the tone for crew members and helped teach Zimmerman how to hardscape.
“Lance has taken a few other employees under his wing and turned them from office worker bees into experienced hardscape installers,” Krintz says. “That not only shows leadership, but the ability to teach people a trade and the value of a hard day’s work, all without ever raising his voice.”
Smith modestly explains his leadership style: “I’m here to answer questions and I try to let new guys do a little bit themselves and figure it out, and I help them if they are doing it wrong.”
The way he teaches others is how he developed hardscaping skills of his own. “I learn from watching people,” he says.
And, Smith shows crew members the value of working with your hands.
“If you stick to it and learn, you can have a good career,” Smith says.
Proscapes has become more than a career for Smith – it’s a family. Zimmerman has become a close friend, and the two often spend off-work hours together fixing cars or hanging out. “Our kids are going to grow up together,” Zimmerman says.
In the field, the two foremen joke and jab at each other like an old married couple, Wambach says. “It’s literally like watching two people together who are on their 50th year of marriage.”
Zimmerman says he’s learned more from Smith than he can say. Having come from years of working in retail, getting his hands dirty was a whole new world – and for Smith, the outdoor environment has always been his world.
“There have been times when, I will admit I have some cockiness, and he will have to put me in my place and show me, ‘This is how you do it, I’ve done it before,’” Zimmerman says.
Smith is a special part of Proscapes’ future, Krintz says. Smith is part of the reason Krintz started Lazy K transport, a small trucking company focused on local quad-axle dump truck hauling of dirt, sand and gravel. Lazy K supports Proscapes’ needs, and Krintz has always loved dump trucks.
But also, Lazy K is a succession plan and a way to continue giving Smith opportunity.
“Lance has made it clear that he never wants to be a salesman, designer or anything else to do with an office,” Krintz says. “So, when the time comes that his body doesn’t allow him to work out on the job, I’ll have a brand-new truck waiting for him so he can still help out and be a major part of the company he helped build.”
“(Proscapes) feels like a family,” Smith says, “I enjoy the people and joking around with everyone. You’re not just a number in a group here.”
If it’s not snow, it’s something else. The team at Pratt’s Lawn Care & Landscapes has to grapple with mother nature and a lack of employees as the busy season picks up. By Lauren Rathmell
Although the snow has cleared, the team at Pratt’s Lawn Care & Landscapes is facing another curveball from Mother Nature. The nearby town of Muskoka was devastated by flooding in early spring, leaving many of Pratt’s lakefront clients with severe property damage.
“I’d say 95 percent of our properties are lakefront properties,” Jennifer Davies says. “Maybe 75 percent of them have really been affected, so we’re getting in, getting a bit of work done, but we can’t finish projects.” Their plans to start the construction on the greenhouse site was also delayed.
There’s also been a surplus of phone calls coming in from people in the community hoping for some help getting their lawns back in shape. Davies says she and her husband, Bob Naylor, have had to prioritize current clients instead of taking on anyone new.
The influx of work requests coupled with the lack of a full labor force has left the owners of Pratt’s turning down a substantial amount of work.
“We’re really still focused on recruiting,” Davies says. “We can’t not be focused on that right now. We just can’t take a lot more work on so which is unfortunate, because our phone rings off the hook.”
With job fairs at local colleges proving to be unfruitful, Davies says they are in the early stages of looking overseas for more workers. She’s not quite sure how the process will work, but she knows other businesses have had luck with it.
And, with the added cost of renting a house for the summer for potential employees, the couple is eager to get the rooms filled. Yet, they remain empty and the owners are eating the $14,000 in total rent costs for the season.
The Harvesters are hoping to see the couple beef up their recruiting efforts by enhancing their referral program. In the past, they have offered a $100 bonus for recruits. Davies has been tasked with implementing the new tiered system, which will offer $100 after 30 days, $200 at 90 days and $300 at the end of the referral program.
“We’ve started (the new program) but haven’t seen much luck with it yet,” she says.
Davies and Naylor have both been focusing on staying in their own lanes when it comes to managing their team. They were worried that the start of the season would prove to be a struggle, and with the unexpected weather, Davies admits they have slipped here and there.
“Things have been pretty good with Bob and I,” she says. “But we’ve been able to recognize when we may have handled something wrong.” She says they’ve been able to reflect back on situations where they should have deferred the decision making to one another, and the employees have been understanding.
During the winter Jennifer and Bob did really well working on a number of initiatives, their recruitment program being the most important. They also worked on their roles as husband and wife within the company so they stay in their own lanes. They reexamined their vision, mission and core values and wrote an on boarding program. They did this in between plowing the more than 10 feet of snow that fell. Yikes! 10 feet really!
We talked in May and they were dealing with major flooding in the area. It was so bad that many areas had to be evacuated and the Canadian Government sent in the army to help. Bob has been spending his days putting sand bags around his client’s homes.
Because of this severe weather they haven’t done any landscaping yet and the construction of their new building had to wait until this month. New customers have been put on hold for this year while they concentrate on just taking care of their existing ones. If you can believe it, they already booked two landscape construction jobs for 2020!
As for recruiting, not so good. They have some potential workers from Dubai, Pakistan and possibly Mexico but have received absolutely no response from their local ads despite offering top dollar.
All in all, they have very positive attitudes and accept these “speed bumps” as part of everyday life where they live. Let’s hope the weather is more favorable and their hiring efforts pay off otherwise their growth efforts may be stalled for 2019.
Now or later
Maple Hill is pressing to find immediate help while tabling an acquisition discussion until next year. By Jimmy Miller
When it came time to start the season, Bobby and Lauren White just ran out of time.
They were in the process of acquiring a landscape maintenance company, which would’ve added somewhere between 100 and 200 more clients and a new account manager to Maple Hill Lawn & Garden’s staff. But ultimately, negotiations just stalled a little too long and both parties agreed to table the conversation until January. The last thing they wanted was a messy transition.
Instead, the Whites opted to focus on their own company and hire a new account manager they knew from years of working in the same industry. He has 20 years of experience and one day, after meeting over lunch with the Whites, decided he was open to jumping over to Maple Hill. He’s already proven helpful, though it’s not quite what the Whites had in mind: He’s jumped onto undermanned crews and served as quality control when needed.
“The plan was not to do too much labor-intensive stuff,” Bobby says. “The hardest part for me right now is that I want to get him out of the role he’s in right now, but I can’t tell you the benefits of having someone who’s versatile like that to be able to place him where he’s needed.”
The new guy’s been tasked with other responsibilities largely because Maple Hill lost some valuable employees before the season started for varying reasons, like finding a slightly higher-paying job or wanting to switch industries.
The Whites have also dealt with an unexpected rash of disciplinary issues they’ve never had like this before, like someone on their crews placing business cards – but not Maple Hill’s business cards – in clients’ mailboxes. Lauren also recalled an incident where Bobby pulled one of his employees randomly for a field job he jumped in on, but Bobby noticed the employee – who had been at Maple Hill for several months – simply didn’t know how to do their job.
In searching for new talent, the Whites agreed to pay more for less people, but those new hires will be held to a higher standard than before. In particular, they’re looking for two new drivers. Lauren admits the search isn’t going well yet, but the opportunity to start fresh and trust their crews with more responsibilities is exciting.
“We’re cleaning house, which is a good thing,” Lauren says. “Sometimes it’s good to get rid of old blood because they learn bad habits and tricks. To really get some really good crew leaders and drivers, pay them well but expect the world of them. He’s been able to rethink what we need out of those drivers.”
One thing the Harvesters have tasked Bobby with is devising a list of 200 possible clients they’d like to have someday. This campaign, which the Harvesters call “2@200,” involves an effort to become somebody’s second choice for their landscaping business.
“To me, it honestly makes sense. When your guy sucks, call us,” Lauren says. “It’s okay to be No. 2, but you’re the first person they think of when they’ve had it with their current person.”
Bobby says just about every landscaper thinks about their ideal clients. Maybe it’s a lot of retail stores or a cluster of apartments or homes they pass every day. Either way, marketing plans like the 2@200 promote taking a stab at clients who would be a good match for your landscaping company.
Bobby says he’ll reach out to these clients with branded, practical gifts like a notepad, as well as a bid packet and a list of the pain points Bobby identified on their properties that Maple Hill could help improve.
“We’re looking for some of the game-changers, as Ed calls it, some of the locations that you’d think would be outside of your realm and still go after them,” Bobby says. “You’d be surprised at how many people follow up. It’s to be on the mindset of those decision-makers so that when bid time comes around, they remember that stack of sticky notes on their desk that has the company logo on it.”
Bobby and Lauren continue to make great progress.
Some further items in their Harvest Playbook they were trying to accomplish was to re-organize their chart of accounts by department so they can get accurate gross margins for each, every month. This has been accomplished. They also put in place the Harvest Mini Budget, they updated hourly rates by department, reviewed production rates so they have more accurate estimates, they’ve hired their first account manager. We helped them ‘seal the deal’ with our Harvest Account Manager Incentive Plan.
Regarding the possible acquisition they were negotiating, it fell through because the owner decided at the last minute not to sell. The deal is not dead but for now it’s on hold.
Maple Hill continues to get plenty of new work this spring but like most they’re beginning to feel the labor pinch the rest of the country is experiencing. We worked with them on many suggestions in how to attract, hire and keep employees so only time will tell regarding their efforts.
All in all, Maple Hill is shaping up to significantly increase their sales and their profits as well. It goes to show when smart driven people have a plan, have direction they can accomplish amazing things.
Let them swim
Circumstances are forcing Gary Hardy to trust his team. So far, it’s working. By Brian Horn
There have been a couple of major developments for Brunner’s Lawn & Services. But before getting to those, one issue the company was figuring out earlier in the year was pricing. CEO Gary Hardy was skeptical of the gross profit margin percentage the Harvesters wanted him to bid into commercial maintenance jobs.
Turns out that he’s not necessarily sold that Brunner’s can get those high of margins (50 percent) on the contracts, but can on selling enhancement work to existing customers.
“It’s really customer-dictating,” he says. “We have a client right now that (accepts) pretty much every proposal that we give to them because they care about our quality. I think we may have to, on new contracts for like total maintenance, suffer at a little less of a margin than what the Harvesters want, knowing that we’ll get the higher margin on all the enhancement stuff.”
Two key changes.
While it may not sound like a major change, the addition of a part-time receptionist has made a noticeable, positive impact on the company.
The position was filled by a friend of COO Josh Brunner’s mother, and she will be working 20 hours a week during the peak times – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.
The addition of a receptionist has come just in time because of another change. Hardy has been experiencing post traumatic stress from his time in the military, and will need to briefly step away.
“She’s made it to where I’ve been able to take time off to try to get my head straight without there actually being any real gap in the business,” Hardy says. “The business has actually been running with me working about 20 hours a week over the last month.”
Hardy will be spending a week at Save A Warrior, a program that specializes in connecting active duty military, returning veterans, and first responders experiencing psychological trauma.
“She’s going to work full time to make sure that the office is running and I don’t miss phone calls. And if an important call comes in, she can direct it and let them know that I will be calling them back as soon as I get back because our clients are pretty much going to think I’m on vacation,” he says.
Brunner doesn’t see his role changing much while Hardy is gone.
“I think we’ve got stuff set in place to where it’s just kind of turnkey right now,” he says. “It’s a lot of the things right now are just automatic. The only thing my fear is that, you know, I have a couple guys not show up next week.”
The PTSD combined with the hectic nature of the season has essentially forced Gary to delegate and trust his staff – and he’s found out it’s working.
“I’ve pretty much stopped micromanaging Josh, and Josh is able to just run with stuff and get stuff done. I’ve stopped dealing with the day-to-day employee stuff and that’s something that the Harvesters have worked with me on – just letting them sink or swim,” Hardy says. “My leaders right now, they’re swimming pretty well. They’re doing a pretty good job.”
Gary and Josh accomplished many of their key Playbook goals over the winter. For example, they updated their customer proposals, began getting testimonials from clients and began working on their Harvest Mini Budget.
As with most companies their employee handbook was weak, so they engaged the services of another Harvest Group member, Steve Cesare, to update it. It’s important to have a bullet proof handbook to reduce the owner’s liability. This has been completed.
They also finished renovating their office and it has made quite a difference. Once that was completed, they hired an office assistant to help handle oncoming calls and do the daily paperwork.
From a client standpoint, they dropped a number of low margin clients and picked up new larger ones. They exceeded their snow budget and are now working hard to make sure they meet or exceed their landscape goals.
As with most all landscape companies, their biggest problem is finding quality workers.
They have had some success with second-chance employees but still need more crew members to fill the ranks because their sales efforts are working. They are following our advice, “always be recruiting” but despite all their efforts, more workers are still needed.
The season looks bright for this hard-working duo and we are seeing them moving toward their best year ever. From our standpoint, this is what it’s all about.
Since her career in the green industry began roughly 15 years ago, Angela Howes was taught from the get-go that just because you haven’t done it and don’t know how, doesn’t mean you can’t.
Howes has been with Ruppert Landscape for the duration of her career in the industry, and for someone who began with no experience, she’s nearly done it all. What started out as a job as an assistant has turned into an impactful career and the turnaround of a struggling branch.
Meant for more.
To start off her career with Ruppert, Howes was hired as an assistant to Bob Jones, president of the landscape construction division. She came from a sporting goods store, and Jones says she immediately fit right into the culture at Ruppert, based in Frederick, Maryland.
“Our culture is kind of tell like it is, very direct. And maybe she was overly direct at points, but she was not afraid,” he says. Jones quickly realized being an assistant wasn’t a fit for Howes. She needed more of challenge. Jones says he has a reputation of being a bit intimidating, but it was never an obstacle for Howes. “She was never too concerned with that or scared of me,” he says. “And she put me in my place. I knew right away, she’s smart.”
Fast forward six months later and Howes was Ruppert’s newest purchaser. “I had no idea about anything in this industry,” she says. “I didn’t know plants, I can’t speak Latin. Like, I knew nothing.” But Jones wasn’t worried about any of that. He knew she would be able to perform well in the position. He told her that he was confident that she would figure things out quickly, and she did.
“In short order, she was probably one of the best purchasers we’ve ever had,” Jones says.
After eight years of purchasing, Howes was able to train a new purchaser and transitioned to division purchasing coordinator. Like before, Jones knew Howes needed another challenge. An opportunity opened up at a Virginia branch for a business developer and Jones encouraged Howes to apply for the job.
“I said, ‘Bob I’ve never sold anything before,’ I didn’t know a thing about sales,” she says. Again, Jones told her how confident he was that she would be able to do it. “I said ‘Angela, just be you and you’ll be fine,” he says.
Howes excelled as a salesperson and sold plenty of work for the company. She says somewhere in there she did take some time off for maternity leave, but it wasn’t long after that she was on to her next position – operations manager.
At Ruppert, the operations manager position is a huge stepping stone for those who are hoping to move up in the ranks.
While Howes was excelling as an operations manager, one of the branches in North Carolina had an opening for a branch manager.
When Jones got word that Howes hadn’t applied for the position, he let her know she needed to at least put her name in the hat.
“A branch manager, that’s the position in our company,” he says.
Howes initially wasn’t interested in uprooting her husband and their son to move to Raleigh, North Carolina, from Frederick, Maryland, and she was again adamant that she had no field experience. But her track record of overcoming her initial worries leaned in favor of the move.
After the same pep talk and convincing from Jones, she applied. Her husband told her it would be good for her career, at least just to interview, but Howes knew how this worked. If she interviewed, they were moving.
“I know how Bob Jones operates,” she says with a laugh. I’ve been working with them for 15 years. I know what’s going to happen. I told my husband, ‘if you’re not ready to relocate, I won’t do it.’”
Howes made the move and was faced with a branch that wasn’t up to par with the rest of the company.
The branch was struggling to make a profit, employee morale was sub-par, and things just weren’t being done the “Ruppert way.”
“The branch was struggling,” says Patrick Luzier, regional vice president. “Their operations were not operating on all cylinders and clients weren’t happy.”
Luzier says Howes came into a pretty hostile situation from a business perspective, but in a matter of months, she was putting out fires, meeting with clients and starting to lead the employees to a better way of operating.
Right away, Howes noticed the branch had been lacking the culture and vision prevalent at other branches.
“I was trying to figure out how I was going to thread the culture I’ve grown in amongst 40 people,” she says. “They didn’t have anybody teaching it. So just little by little we chipped away, went through what our values are and what our policies are and what our procedures are and sort of what a well-oiled branch looks like.”
Luzier says Howes explained to the team that this would be the new way of doing things. “(She explained,) ‘Here’s what we’re going to do going forward and now we’re going to work hard and we’re going to do the right thing,” he says.
“We’re going to under promise and over-deliver and make sure that we’re all working together as a team and taking care of one another.”
Howes did face some push back as she began to take over the branch. Employees stuck in their ways weren’t on board with the new policies and the new, more direct style of leadership Howes brought to the table.
Howes says the dedication she has for the company comes naturally. She’s seen it from her leaders and mentors in the business.
“I’ve spent the majority of my adult life working for Ruppert,” she says. “They’ve been my family this entire time.” She’s seen from the higher ups how far it goes to get to know your employees, and it’s something she continues to work on as she leads the Raleigh branch.
Even though she may seem tough to her employees at times, she says it’s always because she expects more from them and wants to see them reach whatever their next level might be.
“I’ve always been pushed very hard. That’s one of the reasons why I am where I am. I keep getting pushed,” she says. “My people were pushed very hard and some of them don’t appreciate it and some of them do understand why.”
While it once struggled to turn a profit, the branch is seeing profit percentages in the double digits. Howes was recently awarded the highest honor from the company. Ruppert’s Clyde Vadner Merit award is reserved for employees that have demonstrated exceptional contributions to the company.
The award ceremony gave Howes a chance to see her Ruppert family and her own family come together in celebration.
“My family has always been like, ‘Why? Why do you work so hard? Why do you work so much harder?’” she says.
“My mom got to see firsthand why. I don’t ever get those ‘whys’ anymore. Now they understand why I care so much and I have so much passion and why I give so much to this company.”
“Typically, our hardscape is all-natural stone,” says Darren Bishop, owner of Darren Bishop Landscape & Design, based in Nashville, Tennessee. The company offers plant installation, irrigation, lighting, patios, retaining walls and other outdoor living features. “Very rarely do we use pavers. I just don’t like them,” Bishop says. “I think they’re just a cheaper-looking product and they date themselves. So mainly, it’s stone on concrete foundations, usually a flagstone and mortar.”Travis Friesen, owner of Friesen Landscaping in Lincoln, Nebraska, says his paths and walkways begin with the installation of four inches of crushed limestone, to provide stability. Then, just like Bishop, he typically uses flagstone.
“We typically like to use large slabs of flagstone. They don’t wobble where they take three or four guys to muscle them in place,” says Friesen.
The company offers softscaping, grounds maintenance, landscape design and hardscaping. Friesen Landscaping’s clients are 95 percent residential.
When installing a pathway, they typically leave about a 3-inch gap between stones and use a product to dust around the flagstone, preventing cracks and breaks.
Tips for design.
Bishop and Friesen typically install these types of hardscapes in backyards, but they each approach design differently.
“I try to fit the area and fit the style of the house,” Bishop says. “If it’s a modern house, I’ll try to do a modern look in design. I’m also a pretty linear person, so I like squares and rectangles. I don’t like a lot of curves.”
He says curves are easy to overdo. “Squares and rectangles, in my mind, are more simple and less intrusive sometimes,” he says.
“When I meet with people, I ask them... ‘Where do you spend your time at?’ And they all say, ‘Backyard,’” Friesen says. “(In a) front yard, you make it nice for neighbors and friends. Spend the money in the backyard, because that’s where you’re going to be.”
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For installation, contractors can rely on small hand-held equipment or machinery that is more heavy-duty.
“A lot of times, when you’re using equipment, you do more damage,” Bishop says. “I try to do as little of damage as possible to yards. And the same with installation. We use a lot of ball carts because when you bring in equipment, it weighs several thousand pounds.”
Bishop and his team dig by hand with a shovel. When laying gravel, they enlist the help of a plate compactor to pack the soil underneath. Friesen starts out using a sod cutter to strip sod off the area to be hardscaped.
Bishop says leveling is an important element to walkway installation. Contractors should ensure the design isn’t sloping back toward a house or slanting in one direction.
Another consideration is to install sleeving underneath the path or walkway so that an access point is available for irrigation, drainage or lighting.
Scoping out the lay of the land prior to digging is vital, Friesen says.
“The biggest thing is call and find out where utilities are,” Friesen says. “Number two is sprinklers. Sprinkler lines and sprinklers – make sure they’re marked prior because running a machine over it a couple times would be fine, but running a machine over it 50 times could break it.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.