Three companies won a year’s worth of consulting with Bill Arman and Ed Laflamme from the Harvest Group. For more Turnaround Tour coverage, bit.ly/lawntour.
Toughing it out
By Kim Lux
Frank Leloia and the crew at Custom Landscaping and Lawn Care are pulling themselves out of the trenches.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit the New Jersey-based business hard, with multiple employees contracting the virus.
“It’s been really challenging,” Leloia says. “We have had 19 cases of the virus. Of those 19 people, only five had symptoms.”
Leloia says that so many workers got sick despite the company adhering to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines.
“We are making sure trucks, machines and equipment is sanitized on a daily basis. We staggered start times, we are wearing masks and gloves,” he says. “We started implementing taking temperatures; however, out of our 19 cases, nobody has had a fever.”
Leloia estimates that around 75% of the company has been tested for COVID-19.
Leloia says having so many employees out has made it difficult to keep up with the workload.
“It presented a lot of challenges, but we were able to work through them,” he says. “We’ve been working seven days a week, and 80 hours weeks.”
Even through it all, Leloia says Custom Landscaping and Lawn Care hasn’t had an increase in cancellations, but not a lot of new work either.
“Maintenance is still thriving,” he says. “We’re not seeing the bigger, more expensive jobs coming through the way that we’d expect them to, but we’ve been managing to keep up.”
Leloia and the Harvesters were also working to improve human resources.
“All of our focus HR-wise has been tracking the virus, what to do if somebody doesn’t feel good, how long to keep them out and those type of things,” he says.
Leloia says he hopes things will continue to improve.
“We’re trying to figure it out as we go, like everybody else,” he says. “We’ve got to make sure the work is done and it’s as safe as possible for employees as well as our customers. I’d like to think, optimistically, that the worst is over.”
As you can imagine (the COVID-19 cases) threw his operation into a tailspin. Not only did he lose the 12 crew members but those that worked with them. At one point, 40% of his operations were shut down. The result: All in his company rallied. They worked 12-hour shifts and seven days a week to care for their customers. In early May, those infected employees are returning to work. None were hospitalized and they are all well.
Sales are up over last year. Larger enhancement sales are down, but all in all, financially they are having a good year.
Frank reported that they received their PPP money but is leery if he will in fact be able to keep it.
As for the future, the next 90 days look better and better every day. So far, there doesn’t seem to be any long-term effects going into the fall.
Looks like customer lawn care is doing well despite their setbacks. As a matter of fact, they are looking for a business developer that can help grow their commercial department going forward.
Sell, sell, sell
By Brian Horn
The team at Lawn & Pest Solutions in Mississippi has been busy. Owner Paul Welborn and company beat its production goal for April by 17% and new sales are about 5% ahead of 2019 levels. However, Welborn says they budgeted for a substantial increase in new sales but that hasn’t materialized yet.
If the COVID-19 restrictions on social distancing relax without increased health concerns, he expects to see at least a portion of the increased budget come through.
A company sales challenge to add termite services has been going great because technicians have embraced the upsell opportunities.
The company normally pays technicians $30 for each referral that leads to a sale, but have expanded it for the sales challenge. For the sales, Lawn & Pest Solutions is tracking referrals whether they lead to a sale or not and offering prizes for the technicians that get the most referrals each month and then a larger prize at the end for the overall leader.
“One of the pest techs told me the other day, ‘I'm not going to let the other guys beat me,’ which tells me he's having fun with the challenge we laid out for them,” he says. “Our techs are already good at talking with customers, so we educated the techs on the big talking points about termites so they could increase awareness. We increased termite sales 100% over last April.”
Two new hires have been able to get started on the newly implemented career ladder, but it has somewhat been impeded due to COVID-19.
“A major component of the career ladder for the more experienced employees involves tests within some software,” he says. “With the social distancing and our isolation policies, we have not implemented that portion as well. So, we are a little off track from where I had planned to be year-to-date.”
Welborn is also monitoring the numbers more closely while rolling out a new budgeting system and chart of accounts to better watch gross margins and cost of goods sold. Welborn meets with his operations manager and office manager each Wednesday to look at year to date and month to date numbers.
“(We’ve) discussed worst case scenarios if sales do not materialize as we had budgeted,” he says. “Bill (Arman) stressed importance of watching sales week to week and me stepping in as owner to assist closing big sales.”
Paul’s company is fortunate because they have not experienced any COVID-19 cases. He did, however, close his office as recommended by the state of Mississippi and followed all of the CDC guidelines with their crews and equipment. His managers and office people have been for the most part working from their homes.
Regarding sales, so far inbound leads have sustained them but not at the growth rate they expected. They are 5% higher than last year at this same time but that is not enough to support their budgeted growth. They have gotten some new jobs, one of which was particularly good in renovating a sports field. One thing they also tried was having a sales contest among their technicians. This was very successful and they loved the competition.
In order to accomplish the higher budgeted sales, they brought on a business developer but he has been struggling. This particular sales professional is excellent at person-to-person sales, but we all know what happened there. Paul is still optimistic that during the late summer and fall he will again be able to meet people and make the sales they need.
All in all, their financials are okay with gross margins running between 50-60% as budgeted. They also got their PPP money and are tracking it carefully with the hopes of having the loan forgiven. Paul is watching the numbers very closely as we requested and hopes the economy bounces back.
A different spring rush
By Jimmy Miller
David Hawkins Jr., says the annual frenzy of new jobs is slower this year, but his company, Hawkins Landscaping, is managing the COVID-19 crisis as best they can.
First, it’s certainly true that they don’t have as many lawns to maintain at this time, but Hawkins says that it’s easier to deal with the usual stressors that accompany every spring. They have more time to spend at each site and have a better work-life balance for the 26 employees at the company. Plus, Hawkins says he can use everyone staying at home to his advantage. He pitches his services as creating a “staycation” environment and tells them it’s something they’ll always have. Plus, for customers looking to buy into a design/build project, Hawkins reminds them that the interest paid on certain home improvements are a tax write-off.
“It’s made (our work) more in their face. They’re there every day now,” Hawkins says. “In a way, it’s just like anything else – one door closes, another one opens.”
Of course, Hawkins Landscaping is not immune to the pressures of COVID-19. Among other things, some of Hawkins’ primary goals once he was selected for the Turnaround Tour have taken a backseat to putting out daily fires he didn’t anticipate would happen this year. Hawkins and his son, David Hawkins III, have had preliminary conversations with their insurance company as they discuss a transition plan so Hawkins Jr. can retire, and Hawkins III can lead the company.
Hawkins’ employees are still doing physical appointments and keep their distance. Hawkins recalled one weekend where he went on a jobsite and explained their services to a potential client in person because nothing beats face-to-face communication, he says. He jokingly calls email electronic volleyball, and apparently, his client agreed. Despite having lower bids, the client liked that Hawkins came out to educate them and signed on for his business. He recommends other companies simply be smart about how to handle everyone’s perspectives on COVID-19.
“When we go there, if they have their mask on, I put my mask on. A lot of people are really appreciative of that,” he says. “Like everything else, you have to be an opportunist. You have to have a little nerve and take a chance on it.”
Hawkins is also reexamining his pricing with the Harvesters. For example, they offer clients a 10% discount if they offer their whole hardscaping job to Hawkins, but the Harvesters pointed out that there’s a good chunk of possible money being left on the table as a result. “But sometimes, you’ve got to keep the guys busy,” Hawkins says. “So, we’re working through that now.”
Overall, the Hawkins team is doing good. Sales are up over last year at this time and net profit is up $50,000. The only sales that were down were from a slow snow season. They are still close to meet their sales goals for 2020 at $2.2 million in sales.
They have had little effect from the virus issue and have received their PPP money. Their focus remains on the residential market with installs and maintenance.
Their install backlog is at four weeks and pricing seems to be pretty competitive. They have also been getting some new sales from posting completed jobs on Facebook.
Moving forward over the next several months, they are focusing on four areas:
- Get testimonials from existing satisfied customers: The Harvesters have coached them up on these and given them a step-by-step method to get great testimonials.
- Marketing and advertising: Harvester Ed is assisting here by using Facebook, testimonials and “safe distancing” six feet face-to-face meetings with customers.
- Cost tracking: Production manager Carol Hawkins will track labor and material costs and will be adding this to the mini budget program.
- Getting more efficient: We want to get really close to the installation process and see where we can get more efficient, especially if they are giving 10% discounts!
Orlando Chavez says he doesn’t need much, and his numerous charity endeavors are a way to pay it forward for what he does have.
During the day, Chavez is the grounds maintenance manager at Executive Property Maintenance in Plymouth, Michigan.
He holds several certifications and designations from the National Association of Landscape Professionals and the Michigan Green Industry Association. In his spare time, he can be found giving back to those in need.
“I like to help people,” he says. “I come from Mexico, and I saw that people needed help. Over there I did not have the opportunities I have here. I live a little better here. I can pay it back for all the things God gives me.”
In Mexico, Chavez said he was working long hours for very little money. Chavez moved to the U.S. in 2007 and has been in the green industry ever since.
“When I moved to this country (landscaping) was my first job,” he says. “I worked for another company for eight years and then I moved to this company and they gave me more opportunities to grow.”
Chavez says he enjoys a lot about the industry, but his favorite element is improving a home’s overall aesthetic.
“I don’t feel like it’s ever hard for me,” he says. “When you go to a house, the first impression is the landscaping. That’s why I like it, because we make the homeowners smile with our work.”
Upon his arrival in the U.S., Chavez taught himself how to speak English.
“When I moved to this country, my primary language was Spanish,” he says. “It’s funny but the way I learned a little bit of English was by listening to the radio. When you learn English, you feel like so many doors open for you.”
With being bilingual, Chavez is now able to train all kinds of employees at Executive.
“I have workers who don’t speak English, so with being bilingual, I can explain to those guys what they have to do and the way they have to do the job.” he says. “I completely understand how they feel because I was in that position a couple years ago. You have no idea what the customers told you or what your boss is telling you.”
Chavez says the language barrier also inspires some of his charity work.
“The Latino community needs a lot of help,” he says. “The problem is not too many people speak English or have the opportunity to learn a new language. I know people who’ve been here for 20 years and still don’t know English. This is why I like to help.”
William “Bill” Moore, president of Executive Property Maintenance, says Chavez is a prime example of what hard work can lead to.
“I’m so proud of him,” he says. “I use him as an example all the time. He proves you can be anything you want to be. If you work hard, and treat people the right way, it’ll come back on you and you’ll be successful.”
Taking on tough tasks.
Moore says Chavez is the first employee in the office and the last to leave every day. He adds that it’s the little things Chavez does without being asked that makes him a standout employee.
One of those things is managing the company’s Facebook page.
“When I moved to this company, I asked them, ‘Do you guys have a Facebook page?’ They told me yes, but no one takes care of it,” Chavez says.
“I started taking pictures, posting them and then people started making more phone calls and we started getting more business. I’m proud of my team, and I like to show everyone the great job we do.”
From early on, Moore says he challenged Chavez and he shined with each opportunity.
“I’m a believer in everybody needs an opportunity,” Moore says. “I like the fact that he’s constantly looking out for the company and the customer.”
Chavez said his typical days starts with organizing the crews and routes.
Moore says Chavez is also the one to order fuel and materials while still finding the time to recruit new employees.
“If we need additional labor or employees, he puts the word out,” Moore says. “He’s out there grinding away. The guys see that. He’s not just pointing fingers from a truck. He’s out there getting it done.”
Moore says he hopes Chavez’s attitude inspires others within the company.
“(Orlando is) out there grinding away. The guys see that. He’s not just pointing fingers from a truck. He’s out there getting it done.” Bill Moore, president, Executive Property Maintenance
A family affair.
Chavez says that by treating his crews like family, he gets the best out of them.
“Every job we do, we do as a team,” he says. “We have to work together. I tell them if you have a problem, let me know and I will help you. I treat everyone like family; like they are my brothers. If you treat your workers like a family, they’ll feel comfortable and feel like it’s not just a job.”
Moore says the company’s culture promotes this closeness among its employees.
“We rarely have turnover of staff,” he says. “My guys are family-oriented. They all lean on each other. They’re a work family during the day, but if anyone ever needs anything, we’ve got 40 guys who have your back 24/7.”
To prove that he is all in for his co-workers, Chavez did something drastic when someone from the team had a medical issue.
“Last year, one of my co-workers had cancer,” he says. “He’s still receiving treatment. I went to him and he told me he felt depressed because he loves his hair.
“I was with Bill and I told him what happened and said, ‘I want to show Eddie he’s not alone in this.’ Bill asked what I wanted to do, and I told him I wanted to shave my hair. I shaved it and sent a picture to my co-worker. He called and said, ‘You made me smile and showed me I’m not alone in this battle.’”
Chavez’s goodwill didn’t end with shaving his head. He is actively involved with several nonprofit organizations in his community.
One of his endeavors includes dressing up like a superhero once a year.
“I knew a lady who had a son with autism,” he says. “She was celebrating his birthday with a party. I asked her if she needed help and she asked me to come over and play with the kids. I told her I had an Iron Man costume and would show up dressed as Iron Man. That was six years ago. Now, I’m part of a team and every year we celebrate Autism Awareness Month on April 2. Every year we make it bigger and bigger.”
Unfortunately, this year’s event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Chavez says he’s eager to get back to it soon.
Moore says that during this trying time, Chavez’s charity has been even more remarkable.
“During this COVID-19 crisis, he was willing to have some lady put makeup on him to raise money to feed families in need,” he says.
Chavez says the money raised from the project will go to buying groceries for families who’ve lost jobs because of the coronavirus.
Another annual volunteer opportunity for Chavez is Day of Service, which is organized by the Michigan Green Industry Association.
“We do it every year,” Chavez says. “Bill doesn’t have to ask me if I’m going to do it. He already knows.”
In 2019, Executive Property and other local landscapers visited Methodist Children’s Home Society in Redford, Michigan. Moore says Chavez was using an excavator to plant trees for the kids and then let them check out the machines and honk the horns.
Chavez says the experience had a major impact on him.
“We went there and planted fruit trees for the kids and it was so sad,” he says. “Kids have to have their parents, and they don’t. I’m so lucky to have grown up with a family, but those kids don’t have that opportunity.”
A bright future.
Moore says that while Chavez has dozens of redeeming qualities, there are a few he hopes that others notice most.
“The biggest takeaways are be proactive, lead, have some compassion and a good attitude,” he says. “Orlando is an outstanding citizen, an outstanding employee and honestly he just cares. His heart is always in the right place.”
Moore says that as his business grows, he hopes to keep challenging Chavez to reach his full potential.
“What I see for him is taking this company to another level,” Moore says. “We’ve got a lot of great people, structure and policies and procedures. I’d like to take on another venture in another state. I see him taking on some of my roles in that venture.”
Chavez has the same vision for the future.
“I want to try and help Bill build this company a little bigger,” he says. “I also want to keep making things easy for everyone. This is not just a job – it’s a career.”
Lawn & Landscape surveyed approximately 200 landscape contractors about technology in the green industry. Below are the results of the survey.
Mowing lawns might not be their end-goal, but for the students at Lawn Academy, it’s what is giving them a jump start into their futures.
Founded by Eric Miller, Lawn Academy aims to provide Detroit’s youth with purposeful work and a strong connection to the community, all while providing a free service to the community’s elderly, disabled and veterans.
“It lets us provide an avenue for youth to gain self-reliance and positively contribute to their communities,” Miller says.
A safe bet.
He moved to the Detroit area at the height of the city’s bankruptcy and saw countless homes and neighborhoods being left behind. Even after being relocated for his job eight times prior to his move to Detroit, Miller realized one thing never changed.
“No matter where you go, the urban landscape looks about the same. A lot of youth just need direction, so no matter where you go, it's the same story,” he says. “I was kind of pressed about 10 years ago to do something that would give back to the community. I thought to myself, ‘what did I do when I was younger?’ I mowed lawns.”
So, 10 years ago on the corner of 7 Mile Road and Evergreen, Lawn Academy started with three mowers, Miller, his son and a volunteer. Now, the program has seen well over 200 students pass through.
Miller works with an age group (students ages 11-14) that often gets taken advantage of in the city. The children and teens are easy targets for criminals and gangs. “In Detroit, the youth are not hurting, they’re dying,” he says.
Working in the neighborhoods drew attention to Miller and his small team. Soon enough, neighborhood kids would join Miller. Parents would send their children down the street to help out, and word of Miller’s efforts spread from there. Once more neighborhood kids started helping out, Miller realized he could do more for them. Several years ago, he decided to offer a stipend to the students for spending their summer days working on the lawns alongside him.
“I want them to understand the relationship between doing something that's good for someone else and receiving a positive reward,” he says. “I wanted them to know how the exchange happens and that it doesn't come by robbing people and things like that. You go out there, you work hard, you do something good for someone else and you're going to get taken care of in some way.”
Making it official.
Three years ago, Miller once again felt he could be doing more. And, frankly, with all the funds for equipment and stipends coming out of the pockets of him and his wife, he was maxed out. At a town hall meeting with the mayor of Detroit, Miller shared what he had been doing for the community. The mayor was impressed with the service and added Lawn Academy to Detroit’s summer jobs initiative which pays children who work during the summer.
As Miller got to know the students working through Lawn Academy, he heard a statistic that stopped him in his tracks.
“In Detroit, 36% of African American male’s graduate…(that’s saying) one out of every three have even graduated from high school,” he says. “So that conversation of college probably isn’t even happening.”
He focused the Lawn Academy around the 6 C’s of child development after he realized those were the areas that the Detroit youth was really lacking: Competency, confidence, connection, character, compassion and contribution.
“I look at it as not being just a lawn that you look at, I look at it as a canvas to teach a lesson. When I look at that lawn, it's an opportunity for us to increase their character or develop their character,” Miller says. “To say, you know what, the person that I'm taking care of does not have the capacity to even come out to do anything to this lawn…they are 100% dependent upon me to do this.”
Miller teaches the Lawn Academy students that even though these homeowners might not even be able to come outside to check on their work, it’s imperative they complete everything need to do.
“It’s not about how the yard looks from the street, it’s about how the yard looks behind the bushes,” he says.
The students also offer snow services, which Miller says they really enjoy doing. The group recently ‘adopted’ a senior citizen home called Friendship Meadows. The students, their families, and 18 master gardeners teamed up to plant 203 rose bushes – one for every citizen at the home – along with gardens for other plants and vegetables.
Interest in the program is growing, Miller says. And, he anticipates about 140 students coming through the program just this summer which will help keep up with the demand for work. “There’s more and more people calling me that are 80 years or older,” he says. “So we need about four more mobile units to get more teams in action to keep up.”
Beyond the lawn.
Lawn Academy also partners with Wayne County Community College to get students into a college setting as early as 11 years old. “It gives a positive experience being on a college campus, taking the class so that they can say ‘you know what? I can do this.’ Then it encourages a conversation at home,” Miller says.
At WCCC, Lawn Academy students sit through courses designed to prepare them as professionals rather than catering to particular career field.
Two new computer labs were opened and designed by students at the Lawn Academy headquarters as well.
Miller also helped initiate an after-school program partnering with AmeriCorps for tutoring and homework help. Lawn Academy students have also joined with the University of Iowa for a mentorship program. The students read the same books throughout the year and will meet for the first time this month for a museum field trip.
Miller says a quote from his mother inscribed on the walls of the computer lab perfectly sums up Lawn Academy’s mission: “Every youth has the capacity to learn. We all learn via different methods.”