You’re my only client.
That’s the mindset at Phoenix Landscape Solutions in central Florida, where Shawn Logan launched an installation and maintenance firm at the onset of the pandemic.
In an area where landscape companies are a dime a dozen, finding legal and qualified labor is a struggle, and where corporate national players clench high-profile accounts, Logan jumped in with a Disney-service style, an industry track record and a shining reputation with past clients.
But would they spend extra money in May 2020 when he opened up shop?
“I wasn’t sure, and many people were getting laid off,” Logan says. “I hoped I’d be able to cover my bills, but I found out that everyone working at home was looking at their landscapes going, ‘I will spend money to make this look better because I don’t want to do it myself.’”
He and his wife, Kylee, decided to give the business a shot for 30 days — and with the fast success, they pushed that out to six months. By then, Logan had brought in about $30,000 in residential installation business.
“It snowballed and kept going,” he says, citing profit margins of close to 65% on this type of work. “It was nuts.”
Shifting toward commercial maintenance with residential installation as “icing” after business slowed down in February 2021 forced him to shift into sales mode, and he began calling on the type of accounts he was known for overseeing at previous positions: resorts, HOAs and other visible commercial properties.
Today, Logan has his eyes on a prize. He loves to pull into a resort property’s grand entrance and take in thousands of annuals that are “perfectly aligned and maintained,” he says. “I love working on the property and overhearing guests come in and say, ‘Wow! Look at this place.’”
Generating revenue and relationships
Logan started working in the green industry when he was 18 years old, after tooling around a bit in the roofing and HVAC industries. “I’ve always been a work-with-your-hands type of person,” he says.
Then, he started working for a small residential landscape company that took care of about 150 houses in a nice neighborhood. “It was all push mowing, edging, trimming and general labor,” he explains.
Within a year and a half, he was running the truck all day and had learned the names of plants — taking a keen interest in horticulture. “I also knew how to deal with the guys,” he says of overseeing a crew.
He moved on within a year to a commercial landscape firm, where he built some leadership skills while running routes for accounts such as hotels, warehouses and retail centers. His next career move was maintaining high-end resorts, and he advanced to managing one of their key accounts and eventually became a branch manager. The operation grew from $1.5 to $3.5 million in a year.
From serving as a senior account manager to making operational decisions — shutting down an unsuccessful branch and overseeing a satellite office — Logan’s experience quickly escalated into leadership, yet always centered on clients and the team.
When BrightView recruited Logan, “it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down,” he says of diversifying his experience by working in more of a corporate environment. He soon returned to the mid-sized company that had lost money and helped double their revenue from $2.2 to $4.5 million within four years.
But when COVID-19 hit, Logan began seriously thinking about making a change. Kylee is immunocompromised with lupus and is a cancer survivor. “He would come home from his other job and sanitize himself in the laundry room, everything would go into the hot wash — he was afraid to kiss me goodnight,” she says. “It was a scary situation for him to be in.”
This made the decision to start his own business easier.
“When we went out on our own, he could set that standard of safety for our employees and clients,” Kylee says.
“They appreciate it when we would come to their properties with masks on. It was a much better dynamic.”
Since starting the business in May 2020, Logan expects to round out 2021 with about $400,000 in revenue and is projecting 2022 to bring in $600,000 to $800,000. However, one hitch during the pandemic has been vendor terms, he says. “A lot of vendors are not giving credit, and where you might have been able to get 30- to 90-day terms on accounts, it’s harder now to get approved for even 15-day terms than it was two years ago.” This has demanded a close eye on cash flow, Logan says.
And that is fueled by gaining business, some of which by Logan has done by growing partnerships with reputable local businesses such as Aqueduct, an irrigation firm in Minneola, Fla., operated by Joseph Zeilic, who worked with Logan at a previous business.
When Phoenix Landscape Solutions customers need irrigation work, Logan sends the work to Zeilic. And when one of Zeilic’s irrigation customers asks about landscaping, he sends them to Logan.
By sending work to others in the industry he knows and trusts, Logan can continue growing at a fast clip without getting burnt out, he says. “Family is the most important thing to me in the world, and I will not sacrifice family time to grow the business,” he says, adding that playing video games with his son, watching movies with his wife, and reading books about dragons with his daughter keeps him balanced. While his wife first questioned sending projects elsewhere, Logan has found this allows him to focus on the accounts he wants to attract while maintaining some sense of balance.What keep clients loyal and coming back is the customer service, says Zeilic, echoing Kylee’s remark that Logan treats accounts with a “you’re my only client mindset.” She says, “He has worked for successful companies and done so well that clients wanted him when he left. He keeps a consistent experience for clients.”
Zeilic adds, “(Service) is how he can make a bad situation — the pandemic — an advantage, because he answers, he calls and always gets back to you.”
Essentially, the Phoenix Landscape Solutions team treats landscaping as hospitality — and in many ways, it’s not all that different. People are the center, Zeilic says.
FINDING GOOD PEOPLE
Like with Zeilic and building their business relationship, Logan finds that keeping in touch with former co-workers has also given him a pipeline of potential employees like Grimardhy Garcia, who has been with the company since May.
“I can trust to leave him in charge of the crew on any project while I am out on estimates,” Logan says. “His quality and quantity level are on the same levels as my own. Grimardhy is a key player that has increased our ability to handle more work each and every day. I have kept in contact with all of the hardest-working people that I have worked with over the years and Grimardhy is one of the best, even at his young age of 24.”
Logan says keeping in touch with those employees has been beneficial for both parties.
“It’s been a great strategy throughout my career,” he says. “Not only does it help keep hard working guys around, but it has helped me build some of the strongest friendships. I am not always concerned about how they can help me but more so how I can help them. I’ve always believed in giving others help even if they can’t help you in return.”
Logan also focuses on taking care of his own. If a crewmember who always stops at the gas station mini-mart to grab coffee before the day begins skips the routine, Logan wants to know why. If an employee who’s usually social and joking with teammates is quiet, he wonders, “Is everything O.K.?”
“I am more in tune with the guys who work with me and their personal struggles,” he says, comparing the relationship to when he was overseeing workers as a general manager. Sure, he knew everyone on a first-name basis and would talk to them about their families. “But those guys who are working with me now, I’m a whole lot closer to them than when I was running 12 trucks, and I pay attention to their overall health.”
The pandemic sharpened his already careful eye on cleanliness and safety protocols, and he leads his company with a genuine concern for the “whole person.” That extends to assuring their financial stability, which has been a real challenge for many families during the last 20 months.
“When I hired my first guy, I remember other companies were paying $8 to $10, and I said, ‘My employees will make enough to actually support themselves,’” Logan says, noting that the per-hour bar starts at $15 and goes up to $25. This also helps attract driven, clean workers in a tough labor market, he adds.
As for recruiting the type of ethical, high-performing team members that can keep up with the growth clip at Phoenix Landscape Solutions, Logan has a few ways of filtering prospects so he can focus the search on real prospects. For one, he watches the clock to see if an interviewee shows up on time. If not, why would they respect the workday schedule?
Also, Logan tunes into body language. “I can tell if they are lying to me,” he says. “I’ll ask, ‘Do you have any experience,’ and if they look away or at the ground or they say, ‘I can do everything,’ then I’ll grab an edger and say, ‘Start this.’”
You’d be surprised how many can’t get a hedge trimmer going, Logan says. “I’ve had someone say, ‘I can do anything,’ and he didn’t know where the on switch was.”
He pays close attention to how a candidate carries him or herself. “I look for people who are respectful, courteous, polite and can make eye contact,” he says.
Like any owner, he has learned the hard way about what to look for in a hard-working employee. “My first guy I hired was great for the first few months, then he got comfortable and just stopped doing the work,” Logan says.
For example, on a basic irrigation job where the task was to fix a break on the backside of a wall, Logan brought the supplies to the site and took care of maintenance in the front. At 6 p.m. that Friday, the homeowner called and complained of pooling water. “I went back to the property, which was about 45 minutes away from the shop, and literally, the parts were still sitting there,” Logan says. “He just didn’t do it.”
He needed to find labor in a fix — and reached out to industry connections at previous places of employment. “Now, I’ve got two guys I used to work with, and they have good attitudes, they work hard, and I have some lofty goals for them over the next six months or so,” Logan says.
For instance, a “small” contract for the major resort properties he is in discussion with is a couple hundred thousand dollars annually. “You need all the upfront overhead just to start the contract,” he says.
But he’s got a plan for this, too. With a home-equity line of credit in place to support capital expenditures and a frugal eye on cash flow and the budget, he is leveraging resources to continue growing the company.
After a dynamic and fast-growth first 20 months in business, Logan will continue to balance acquiring desirable accounts with attracting talent.
And as for retaining that Disney way of service, the Logan family live those reminders by enjoying the park where their mother is a guest services pro at least every other weekend. They can operate a business that focuses on health, safety, hospitality and delivering on promises.
Logan says, “I started Phoenix Landscape Solutions knowing that if I owned the company, my values would be upheld.”