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D.W. Burr Landscape and Design has experienced significant growth over the years. Gaining new accounts affords us opportunity to invest in existing employees by increasing compensation and paying for more advanced training and licensing.
This growth has also meant we have been on the front lines of hiring, competing with other service providers in the area for talented individuals. To be innovative and remain relevant requires a workforce that is knowledgeable, creative and adaptive. We must look toward cultivating these qualities as we develop our next generation of workers.
Below are a few specific things I think we at D.W. Burr Landscape and Design are doing well to attract and retain talent. I am not suggesting that we are doing anything extraordinary. In fact, this is why we wish to engage in this conversation. We are offering our ideas and, in return, hope to gain ideas from others.
Desirable work schedules.
During the spring, summer and fall months, our landscape crews work four 10-hour days.
This shortened workweek is often cited by employees as one of the things they like most about working at D.W. Burr.
This schedule was initiated to reduce overtime costs, which it has done. Also, if there is rain during the week, we can hold off on work for that day and bring the crew in on Friday, our “flex day,” to make up for the lost time and keep our maintenance schedule on track.
By generally giving employees a three-day weekend, they have the option of spending more time with their families or working a part-time job. The millennial generation finds this particularly attractive, giving them more time on the weekends to pursue other interests.
Flexible work schedules.
Our owner, David Burr, emphasizes it is necessary for employees to put family first. To this end, he is willing to be flexible and make reasonable accommodations to schedules and workloads to enable workers to meet the needs of their families or personal lives from time to time.
Some employees may need to put work on hold for a month to move their household or to deal with a natural disaster back home. This flexibility, coupled with a work-at-will policy recognizes people’s need to leave by choice or circumstance with the understanding that they will be welcomed back at a future point.
Loyalty is valued, especially because having a stable workforce contributes to our ability to offer a consistent level of service to clients. So, we reward loyalty with budgeted annual raises and years-of-service awards. We also value performance, so we offer opportunity for performance-based raises when we conduct annual reviews.
For those members of our team who are willing and available to work on snow removal crews in winter, we offer the “snow incentive plan,” which consists of two parts. The first part is a flat payment of $250 (prior to tax withholding) for each month during the snow season that the individual is available to be on call for snow removal duties. It adds up to $1,000 if an employee is available December, January, February and March.
The second part is a variable payment based on money left over in the snow damages account. Prior to the snow removal season, a certain amount of money is set aside to cover potential expenses for property damage that would be incurred as a direct result of snow removal operations.
The bonus is the balance of the snow damage account at the end of the season after covering the expenses for property damages such as turf repair, curb repair or garage door repair divided equally among each member of the snow removal team. This is a nice way of rewarding careful work.
We also offer tokens of appreciation for each employee with a turkey at Thanksgiving and a gift card in December at our holiday get-together. Another highlight of the year comes in mid-September when the company hosts a fishing trip on a charter boat on the Long Island Sound.
As I said before, we’d love to hear from you. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to continue the conversation.
Joel W. Poskus is the horticultural crew foreman at D.W. Burr in Simsbury, Connecticut.
JCB 3CX compact backhoe
The pitch: At 6 feet wide and 9 feet high, JCB’s 3CX Compact backhoe is designed to be highly maneuverable on even smaller, more confined jobsites.
- The 3CX Compact features a turning radius of 19 feet to the outside of the wheels with brakes engaged and 22 feet without brakes engaged.
- It has compatibility with backhoe loader, compact excavator and skid-steer loader attachments, giving the 3CX Compact the versatility to tackle even more tasks on the jobsite.
- A three-speed hydrostatic transmission allows 3CX Compact operators to switch between low and high range for ease of use, greater pushing power and a 25 mph maximum travel speed.
- Powered by a 74 horsepower JCB Tier 4 Final engine, the 3CX Compact does not require a diesel particulate filter or after-treatment, simplifying maintenance and associated costs.
For more information: Jcb.com
New Holland B95C Backhoe Loader
The pitch: The New Holland B95C backhoe loader offers smooth transport, loader performance and efficient backhoe operation.
- It gives the choice of standard Power Shuttle or optional Power Shift transmission that automatically shifts through gears.
- Straight arm loader design delivers increased loader lift capacities (+11,000 pounds to full height) and bucket break-out force (+13,900lbf).
- Curved boom backhoe design, including optional long reach dipper, with in-line cylinders and dual swing cylinders deliver enhanced visibility and fast, smooth movement of the backhoe bucket.
For more information: Newholland.com
CASE N Series Backhoe
The pitch: The N Series backhoes come with more standard features and machine enhancements like improved drivetrain.
- Previously optional features including a battery disconnect switch and jumpstart terminal have been made standard.
- The drivetrain has been updated for improved roading and gradeability, as well as more pushing power under load and greater acceleration around the jobsite.
- The machines also feature new externally adjustable Extendahoe wear pads that allow for easier maintenance and serviceability.
For more information: CaseCE.com
Kubota Compact Tractor Loader Backhoe
The pitch: Kubota’s three sizes of compact tractor loader backhoes are powered with a Kubota diesel engine.
- An easily removable backhoe allows for optional three-point hitch operation as a loader landscaper.
- The hydrostatic drive provides precision speed and traction control.
- The largest model, M62, has comparable dig depth to a full-size tractor loader backhoe.
For more information: Kubotausa.com
Gibbs Landscape Company likes to incorporate water features to enhance outdoor living spaces. However, the company recently worked on an outdoor living space design where water features took center stage.
An Atlanta-based homeowner heard of Gibbs based on the company’s reputation in the community, so they called the Smyrna, Georgia-based company and requested a design that included a very large water feature for their backyard.
“They wanted something big,” says Peter Copses, vice president of Gibbs Landscape. The company ranked 84th on Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 list in 2017, with $28 million in revenue.
The homeowner knew she wanted a backyard design with a water feature that would serve as an entertaining space, but Copses says they needed Gibbs’ help to smooth out the details.
The homeowner’s backyard features a slope, so she wanted a waterfall to stretch from the top of the slope to the bottom, ending in a pool that measures 20 feet x 30 feet. In addition, Gibbs suggested incorporating a spa next to the large pool at the bottom. By the end of the project, Copses says the water feature was 10 times larger than the average water feature Gibbs installs. The entire project cost between $200,000 and $300,000.
“It was extremely large,” Copses says. “I would say most (of our) water features are a tenth of the size of what we did there.”
When starting the project, Gibbs met with the client to come up with a design that would work well. The backyard, which measured about 1 acre, had a large, natural slope that leveled out at the bottom.
A staircase and thin brook stretched from the top to the bottom of the slope. There was a tremendous amount of natural stone of varying sizes for designers to work with. Copses says some stones were small enough to fit in the palm of a person’s hand, and other stones were 2- to 3-ton boulders.
The end of the yard touched the edge of a river that flows behind the properties in the Atlanta neighborhood. “The river behind the project really tied it all together,” he says.
“You don’t want to build something that looks like it wasn’t naturally there. The natural look is best.” Peter Copses, vice president, Gibbs Landscape
Gibbs aims to achieve natural-looking designs that blend in well with the surrounding topography. Sometimes, Copses says the company has worked on landscapes that had features that seemed artificial compared with the native area.
“You don’t want to build something that looks like it wasn’t naturally there,” he says. “The natural look is best. In the end, that’s often what the customer wanted.”
With this project, Copses says a very large water feature looked natural because of the native elements already in place.
“The lay of the land and the way it slopes down would help to tie it together, making it look dreamily natural and like (any added water feature) has been there. The river works with it, pulling everything together to make it look extremely natural,” he says.
The slope and brook in the backyard allowed for a natural-looking waterfall to spill to the bottom. Gibbs placed a waterfall next to the staircase, designing it with four spills that fell into a large pool at the bottom.
The backyard also had lots of natural stone to mix into the design, but Copses says arranging the stones in a way that seemed authentic was difficult.
“When you get into smaller boulders and stones, it’s like putting pieces of a puzzle together just right to create that natural look,” Copses says.
Gibbs also placed a spa next to the pool at the bottom of the waterfall. Copses says the homeowner was unsure about this at first, but, after the company showed her some pictures of similar designs, she was sold.
“It was one of those ‘aha’ moments,” Copses says. “At the end, that was one of their favorite parts of the project.”
The spa is heated, so it can be used as a cooling place in the summer and as a place to keep warm in the winter. Next to the spa, Gibbs installed a stone patio with a rustic fire pit and a few chaise lounge chairs. “The client can sit with family and friends at the bottom and look up at the water feature,” he says.
As a final touch, Gibbs installed plant material that blended with the design, such as irises, cat tails and other plants that can be found near rivers and streams.
Kevin Wilkerson finally has the backyard of his dreams. For three years, the owner of Innovative Stoneworks and Landscaping in Kingman, Arizona, has been working on a huge, 4,550 square-foot project that he designed and installed with the help of his team.
“It’s kind of like the mechanic’s car is always broken down kind of situation,” Wilkerson says. “I could never finish it because my company is so busy.”
Innovative Stoneworks and Landscaping has about 40 employees working 50 hours a week, Wilkerson says. That made it hard to find time to finish the huge project that spans 4,550 square feet.
Including a pool, entertainment center, outdoor kitchen, fire pit and fireplace, the project took three years to complete. There are 14 speakers with subwoofers built into the benches (all controlled by phone or remote control) and an overflow pool. Wilkerson says the backyard contains all of his coolest ideas.
Wanting something a little different from the traditional Arizona backyard with palm trees and curvilinear lines, Wilkerson went with a nearly 100 percent evergreen plant and tree palette. “I just wanted to be different,” he says. “That’s why I went with a totally modular design with no palm trees. I wanted it to almost look more like a California backyard, not like palm desert, but a more modular, contemporary deal.”
The total cost came to about $110,000, not including Wilkerson’s time. He did pay employees to help out on the weekends, but says he put a lot of his own time in. He and his team were able to lay down 35 pallets of pavers over the concrete in just three days, but the brickwork was much harder. Incorporating more than 100 pallets of bricks into the project was the most time-consuming part.
He estimates that the total, including all of his labor, would be about $150,000.
While Wilkerson uses the patio for his own parties, he also uses it to show customers just what his company can really do. He says the project has already helped him seal the deal on two pools.
“I think they were kind of sold anyway, but just showing them what we’re really capable of really helps,” he says. “It’s not that I want to brag but I love sharing my cool ideas. All of my top ideas are in this yard.”
Even though the job is already complete, he says he’s thinking of going back and redesigning the project to show customers how it’s done from start to finish. “We would be able to have them look at it and see the whole thing getting designed and built right in front of their eyes and then have before and after pictures,” he says. “We want to have that 3-D design available just to show people the whole process.”
And he doesn’t plan to stop there. He’s already hired a professional photographer and has plans to enter 10 to 12 of his projects into different contests in the area. “I’m looking at going in there and making a statement with the jobs that we do,” Wilkerson says.
“We want to have that 3-D design available just to show people the whole process.” Kevin Wilkerson, owner, Innovative Stoneworks and Landscaping
However, competition is tough. Kingman has a population of about 29,000 and is up against companies in cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix.
Innovative is looking at doing some more traveling to get to larger commercial projects. The company has tapped out commercial jobs in its area, but Wilkerson says the average job is about $25,000. He recently submitted a bid for a $1.2 million job that’s about an hour away. “It’s not that far,” he says, adding that the company already travels an hour in the other direction for commercial jobs in Lake Havasu. “We’re just limited here. There’s not that many people and not that much development.”
Wilkerson estimates that about 300 new houses are built every year in Kingman, and Innovative landscapes about 200 of them. “Other than that, there’s only a couple new commercial buildings that get built or remodeled each year,” he says.