Palmer Higgins and his team at Chenmark have invested heavily in education, though they’re finding opportunities in unconventional ways.
There are plenty of differences between the green and hospitality industries, but one thing that remains the same is a focus on satisfying the clients. Roughly 60 Chenmark employees enrolled in the Ritz-Carlton training program to find out what sets them apart from other hotel chains nationwide. Hint: It’s not just luxury suites or skyline views seen from the windows.
“If you’re focused on customer service, you’re focused on the wrong thing. You should be focused on customer excellence,” Higgins says. “Everyone does customer service, but if you really want to differentiate, you need to shoot for legendary.”
Chenmark ranked No. 43 on the 2021 Top 100 list, earning $50 million in revenue from 2020. For Higgins – a partner at Chenmark and the CEO of Mainely Grass, one of Chenmark’s several companies – constantly learning about the green industry specifically is essential. Before Chenmark partnered with Mainely Grass, he was a chief operating officer at a company that created Spanish and French textbooks.
But even for employees who have always worked in the green industry, Higgins says educational opportunities are important. The big takeaway from the Ritz-Carlton program was that they needed to raise the bar.
“You’re not just checking a box to resolve a situation – that’s table stakes. That’s not bad, but that’s not good enough,” he says. “What more can I do? What more can we do as a company to go above and beyond?”
Higgins also saw 51 employees enroll in a turf management course at the University of Massachusetts. Higgins was one of them, and his employees asked him frequently how he was doing. They were all in it together, but they wanted to see if Higgins could earn an A.
“I don’t think it wasn’t competitiveness in the sense of trying to do better than other people,” Higgins says, “but among my management team and I, we certainly had an internal competition.”
Due to COVID-19, the classes were held remotely, one of the silver linings of operating amidst a pandemic. Before this year, the drive out to Amherst – where the classes were held at a UMass campus – discouraged many of the employees from enrolling in the class. Only a handful of employees would take the course before the pandemic, but having the ability to log in and learn helped make it more accessible.
Of course, it wasn’t just accessibility that intrigued the employees: Mainely Grass paid for course enrollment and offered a $1,500 bonus for anyone who completed the course, plus an extra $2 per hour for anyone who earned an A grade.
“If you’re focused on customer service, you’re focused on the wrong thing. You should be focused on customer excellence.” Palmer Higgins, CEO, Mainely Grass
It certainly wasn’t an easy A. Higgins says the course was a time investment, as it was four classes a week, and each class required roughly three hours of video review outside of class time. Then, once in the class each week, it required an hour-long Q&A discussion on the reviewed material. They also took roughly four quizzes a week.
“The hardest class specifically was probably plant pathology,” Higgins says, joking that there are too many Greek words. “That’s getting pretty technical into plant disease and mechanisms in which they infect hosts and spread.”
Higgins says paying for the courses wasn’t an issue for the company despite the pandemic. He added that he was proud to say that no Chenmark companies furloughed or laid off any employees due to COVID-19.
In the future, he says Chenmark will continue to invest in employee education. They’re developing an internal training program, and while they’re not sure if they’ll go back to the UMass classes should they be in person rather than virtual, Higgins says they’ll seek out education opportunities regardless.
“At a high level, education is something that I’m going to continue to back pretty strongly, whether it’s another crack at turf management or diving into pest control,” Higgins says.