Down the line

Features - Turnaround Tour 2020

David Hawkins Jr. hopes to set up Hawkins Landscaping for success now and later, when his son takes over the company.

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February 6, 2020

David Hawkins Jr., left, with his son, David Hawkins III, of Hawkins Landscaping in Thurmont, Maryland.
Photo courtesy of Hawkins Landscaping

Walking away from the company he started right out of high school in 1974 will be difficult, especially since David Hawkins Jr., loves working in this industry so much.

He’s not only invested over four decades at his own company – he’s put in the same time helping his area’s landscaping industry, too. He helped found the Frederick Area Landscapers and Nurserymen Association and is a member of the Maryland Green Industry Council.

But Hawkins Jr. knows he needs to set up Hawkins Landscaping so that down the line, his son, David Hawkins III, can transition to the top role seamlessly. There’s no set timeline on when Hawkins Jr. will retire or step out of the ownership role, but establishing a strong succession plan is one of the top reasons Hawkins Jr. applied for the Turnaround Tour.

“It’s kind of a sore subject. We haven’t really sat down and come up with a timeline,” Hawkins Jr. says. “That’s a big deal, and I definitely need to work on it.”

Finding ways to hand over the reigns to Hawkins III – or “D-Three,” as he jokingly calls himself – isn’t the only thing Hawkins Landscaping is looking forward to in the Turnaround Tour. The company makes roughly $2.2 million annually and employs roughly 30 full-time employees.

But one of the largest issues Hawkins Jr. says his company faces is being stagnant. Because they’ve been in operation for 45 years, it’s difficult to break out of the system of operations they’ve found successful over time.

“We’re obviously looking for guidance. Nobody has the magic bullet, but hopefully we can gain bits of information here and there,” Hawkins Jr. says. “It’s just trying to get us to the next level.”

“Nobody has the magic bullet, but hopefully we can gain bits of information here and there.” David Hawkins Jr., Hawkins Landscaping

Hawkins Jr. says he wants to keep up with the rising tide of competitors in the Washington D.C. area, so staying current with the latest industry practices could help them stand out among competition.

Take finding quality labor for instance. Since the government implemented an H-2B cap, Hawkins Jr. says the company has really struggled to hire the right people. ““If guys would come, they’d come really late, so we just stopped using H-2B 10, 12 years ago,” Hawkins Jr. says. They’ve counteracted that loss in labor with a referral rewards system for their employees, where each person who brings in a laborer who stays for six months earns a $500 bonus.

“Pretty much nine out of the last 10 employees were brought in by one of our existing guys,” Hawkins III says. “If they know they’ve got to work with them, hopefully they won’t bring in somebody horrible.”

So, it’s not that the Hawkins father-son duo is not trying some new things – it’s simply that they want more guidance and more options for solutions. Technology also exemplifies this: Hawkins Jr. isn’t sure his company has adopted the best technology updates on the market, simply because Hawkins Landscaping has found a way of doing things and it’s worked well over time. But is there something more efficient? Something that could help the company better at organization?

“Because of the technology, a lot of things have changed since I started. It’s like on a weekly or daily basis almost,” Hawkins Jr. says. “(Staying stagnant is) the number one problem now. We’ve done it that way, we stay that way. Definitely, we need to make changes.”

After meeting with the Harvesters, the Hawkins tandem says the most urgent order of business appeared to be getting their company back into more maintenance work. On his Turnaround Tour application, Hawkins Jr. wrote that 65% of their work is design/build while 25% is in maintenance.

That strategy worked for some time, Hawkins III says, because there were a lot of major companies in the D.C. area who snapped up residential maintenance work for cheap and made the scene incredibly competitive. However, the Harvesters pointed out that this type of work is what keeps a steady cash flow going for the company.

The Harvesters will also help Hawkins Landscaping focus on refining their systems, including a training program that Hawkins Jr. admits doesn’t really exist. “(It’s) here’s your uniform, get started, and we put them with a seasoned foreman and put them in the field,” he says.

“Basically, I’m just trying to tighten up the things that we need, get the systems in place, and hopefully help us get a little better balance in the business,” Hawkins Jr. says. “I hope they’ll help us develop a transition plan, too.”