A big win, additional dollars and labor woes

Features - 2019 Turnaround Tour

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Bobby & Lauren White, owners, Maple Hill Lawn & Garden

Just ‘rock and roll’

Business is booming for Maple Hill Lawn and Garden, which just landed a prized commercial account and some new employees who have already become major contributors.

Last time we checked in with Bobby and Lauren White, they were working on a 2@200 campaign. This process, per the suggestion of the Harvesters, required Bobby to formulate a list of 200 ideal commercial clients who aren’t theirs yet but one day could be. The idea is to be front-of-mind next time they’re unhappy with their current landscaping provider or their contract is up for renewal.

While Bobby has still worked on this initiative, it’s actually worked out that some ideal clients are reaching out to him instead. One client in particular just signed on for 2019 winter services and 2020 grounds maintenance and will pay enough that Bobby says it’s a “game-changer.”

“It’s going to be pushing the $200,000 mark for (maintenance),” Bobby says. “When I asked the management office what made them reach out to us, they simply said they saw us in passing.”

Of course, much of that has to do with the company’s branding. During their first visit, the Harvesters praised their prominent and crisp logo design on the Maple Hill trucks and signage. That has evidently proven to be a success, one that Lauren says they’ll continue to build upon. During the winter, she plans on revisiting the company’s website to make sure it’s attractive to the clients they’re starting to target. They stumbled into their last game-changer by happenstance, but they want to be able to really sell to more of those similar commercial clients in the future.

Both Bobby and Lauren praised their new batch of employees, who they’re rewarding frequently. Bobby boosted the recruiting bonuses for his current employees to $350, and he has shown commitment to his longest-standing employees with Visa gift cards.

One incredible employee has essentially turned into four more great employees because he was trying to make some extra cash.

Granted, Bobby wishes they could’ve started in April rather than August, but he knows that beggars can’t be choosers. He says they seem like long-term employees, which is partially what he told the Harvesters he wanted out of employees in their first conference call before the Turnaround Tour experience began.

“I said honestly, I put zero weight in experience,” Bobby says. “I really want to know what’s between the guy’s two ears. We can teach this work to anyone – it’s labor-intensive, but it’s not that hard to learn. If you’ve got the integrity and the burning desire to be proud of your own work, anybody who’s got it can do (landscaping).”

Lauren plans to spend the rest of the season cleaning up some of the books and reorganizing the company’s financials. She wants a clean slate for the start of next year in terms of budgeting clearly, so the Harvesters tasked her with completing a mini budget.

“In the past, it’s just been, ‘You pay your bills, you pay your people, you pay yourselves,’ and then you just figure it out and hope for the best,” Lauren says. “This year has really been focused on putting dollars where they need to go and focusing on what areas are actually making money.”

Harvesters’ Take.

It looks like Bobby and Lauren at Maple Hill Lawn & Garden will meet and perhaps exceed the financial goals we agreed on this past winter. Their gross margins and net profit are well above our forecast.

We feel this is happening as a result of some large jobs they have been able to subcontract and by visiting all of their accounts with the goal of producing at least one proposal per client. These additional enhancement sales are driving up their gross margins as we predicted and this explains their growing net profits.

Like most companies their biggest problem is with people. Harvester Bill gave them his, “Keep the Keepers” program and offered some constructive advice to foster a more loyal workforce.

All in all, they are doing awesome and they are very optimistic about the future of their company.

Invigorated by enhancements

When we last checked in with Brunner’s Lawn & Services before the season started, CEO Gary Hardy was leaving for a retreat to help him with his post traumatic stress disorder from serving in the military. He has since returned refreshed, but was hit with some disappointing news recently when a key employee resigned.

The employee moved out of state with his fiancée, and now Hardy, and president Josh Brunner, have to adjust. They promoted an up-and-coming employee into that role and are training him now while Hardy is in the middle of interviews to fill a couple of other open spots.

Gary Hardy & Josh Brunner, CEO/COO, Brunner’s Lawn & Services

While the resignation has caused for some stress, Hardy is overall happy where the company stands at this point of the year.

“I’m feeling really good about how the year’s gone,” he says. “I’m not cashflow strapped right now. We bought a newer truck and I’m in position to buy another newer truck. Businesswise we’re about 15 percent higher sales than we were this time last year.”

That increase occurred with no extra labor, which had helped the bottom line, but is obviously a lot more work for everyone. Brunner is now back in the field mowing, but Hardy says it’s still better than last year.

“I would say out of a month, Josh is in the field full time, maybe a week and a half,” Hardy says. “So it’s still better than last year. Last year he was every day.”

One place where Brunner’s has struggled is with weather – a couple of really dry weeks hurt the revenue a little. But, thanks to monthly billing of mowing, the pain hasn’t been as bad as it could have been.

In Dayton, Hardy says customers should get about 28-30 cuts, so Hardy bills based on 24 cuts.

“If I do under 24 cuts, I credit them for snow,” he says. “If I do over, I bill them. Unless it’s a biweekly property. Very few properties go under 26 cuts a year.”

Hardy said the company had a record month for revenue in July thanks to selling enhancements and plant installations. Hardy has been doing inspections on properties with clients, and point out areas where Brunner’s can help.

While doing an inspection with his largest maintenance client, it came up that Brunner’s did plant installations, which the client never knew. As soon as the client found out Brunner’s could do that type of work, they were because they also maintain the plants.

Hardy has based how hard he would try and upsell based on the client.

“If I know that they’re already budget strapped, I didn’t give them a proposal because some people just, they don’t like you sell them stuff,” he says. “So, what I did is in their quality control report I say ‘we did find some of this stuff. If you’d like the proposal on this, we can provide it for you.’”

That approach has stretched the season for the company.

“I have never had a full-time landscaping crew working full-time landscaping in September, and now I’ll have a full-time landscaping crew working until probably mid to late October,” he says.

Harvesters’ Take.

The two partners of Brunner’s, Josh and Gary, continue to guide their company to higher sales and profits over the previous year. One solid reason for their success is the inspection of their clients properties and creating enhancement proposals.

They stopped using some temp workers from the spring and cut overtime in half by making sure they had the right crews with the right equipment on each of their jobs.

Their jobs are doing well from a financial standpoint. Their overall gross margin goal for the year is 50 percent and so far their enhancement sales for the month of June was over 65 percent and the landscape maintenance department for the month of June was at 52 percent.

Down but not out

With the busy summer winding down, the team at Pratt’s Lawn Care & Landscapes has been working through a roller coaster of a season. Weather and labor threw some curve balls at owners Jennifer Davies and Bob Naylor, but the duo has been making strides to push forwards and end the season on a successful note.

Last time we checked in, a potential housing solution for prospective employees was turning out to be a waste of money. A client’s home that wasn’t being used was rented to the landscape company, but it sat empty as Davies said they weren’t able to get the labor they needed to fill the rooms. Fortunately, after an expense of about $14,000, the client let them out of their contract.

Jennifer Davies & Bob Naylor, owners, Pratt’s Lawn Care and Landscapes

“(The housing) was a gamble that did not pay off this summer,” Davies says. “I would be hesitant to commit to something long term after this trial run.”

The greenhouse project is well underway, and Davies says they’ve had some good progress made since the project began. They’ve been able to secure a supplier for the nursery operations, one of the largest retail buying groups in Canada.

“This will nail down the branding for the greenhouse and give us huge discounts on our purchases or nursery goods,” she says. Now that they’ve secured a plant supplier, the greenhouse will be able to be used to increase the Pratt’s recognition in the area and give the company a more professional working environment.

The team is also exploring the potential to grow some specialty products like edible mushrooms, herb gardens and indoor plants to add to their retail mix.

The employment situation still continues to be a struggle for the business. Davies said they had some really hot days this summer, which is unusual for their area. The hard work in the heat slimmed down their work force, and there’s still quite a few open positions.

“We have actually lost 6 staff in August with students returning to school, and (with) the strain of a long summer people have just had enough,” she says. They also had some firings to handle as well. The apprenticeship program is working well, and Davies says they have two apprentices currently. She’d like to have about 10 more to round out the program, however.

At the beginning of the season, the business lost three weeks of work due to flooding, and it did impact the company’s finances a bit.

“We just were not able to get on properties,” she says. “(It’s) never a shortage of work, usually a shortage of labor. If I don’t have the staff I just cannot bill out enough to meet our goals.” Still, the company is about $150,000 ahead from last year. The goal to hit the $2 million mark this year is off quite a bit, though.

Harvesters’ Take.

Jennifer and Bob have had their share of challenges this season. Over ten feet of snow fell during the winter and then it literally rained for a month in April, forcing them to begin the season one month later than normal.

Their greenhouse project has been making progress but much slower than they expected. Between the weather, the lack of timely inspections from the local authorities and the rock blasting contractor they hired, that never showed up, they are weeks behind where they had planned.

They suffer from the same problem most all of the U.S. suffers, the lack of good people. What adds to their plight is their location and short landscape season, it’s only six months.

As far as work goes, they have so much work they have already pushed jobs into 2020. Jennifer said they could easily add three or four more crews on right now but they just can’t find the people.

Despite all of these setbacks the Harvesters are amazed at how tough and optimistic the owners are. It looks like they are going to make the budget set last fall and at least get the framework of the greenhouse up so they can work on the inside over the winter.

The biggest challenge they are dealing with right now is the low morale of their staff. Harvester Bill gave them six solid tips in how they could improve their spirit. From cross training, to “eats and treats”, more one on one meetings and even a game they could all play together to lift their spirits.

The Harvesters take their hats off to this determined couple and are confident they will achieve their goals and have a great season.