Travels with Jim follows Jim Huston around the country as he visits with landscapers and helps them understand their numbers to make smarter decisions.
I’ve driven more than 1 million miles as I’ve consulted with clients throughout North America these last 32 years. Three deer, numerous birds and a couple of groundhogs joined the ride along the way and helped me total two pickup trucks as well a brand-new Hertz rental Volvo. My objective in all of this driving was to keep the wheels on my vehicle going ‘round and ‘round in the right direction and underneath it. Unfortunately for my animal “hitch-hiker” friends, this wasn’t always the case.
Get the right people on the bus.
Rob and Michelle Munn were looking for a vehicle to help them achieve their financial goals. They purchased a residential landscape maintenance company, English Garden Care, near Sacramento, California, to help them do so. Having no experience in the landscape industry, their “wheels” weren’t always going in the right direction and their ride was a bit chaotic at times. It was challenging, to say the least, and it brings to mind the lyrics of the song, “Take It Easy” by the Eagles: “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.”
First, they realized that the residential maintenance market wasn’t best suited to them and their goals. They began a painful process to transition to the commercial maintenance market. This took a number of years, but they did it successfully. As they did so, they realized that they needed to implement Jim Collin’s sage advice from his book, “Good to Great.”
It was also at this point that I began to work with Rob and Michelle.
Few of the people who started with Rob and Michelle lasted and personnel changes had to be made. Making those changes wasn’t fun but it was necessary. The existing account managers had to be replaced with ones who were willing to change and grow with the new management team and its direction. The same occurred with a number of the crew leaders. As uncomfortable as it was, Rob and Michelle knew that they had to get the right team in place.
Next, I helped them implement accurate benchmarking, budgeting and bidding. As I worked with the new owners, we benchmarked the business by means of a detailed budget and properly formatted P&L statement. Once these were in place, we made sure that bids were sufficiently detailed and accurate.
The Munns took to all of this with enthusiasm and over a five- to six-year period saw their entire company transform from one going in the wrong market with the wrong people and the wrong results to one that provided good profits in the right market with the right people. All of the changes and the accompanying chaos were extremely challenging to deal with. Add the fact that not only were Rob and Michelle raising three daughters during, but they also had to deal with a cancer battle.
The Munns knew that running a small business was not for the faint of heart. They were neither intimidated nor deterred by challenging circumstances as they faced some brutal setbacks and made the necessary changes to turn things around.
How’s your financial vehicle doing? Is it taking you to your desired destination or are you letting its wheels “drive you crazy?” If you aren’t getting the results you desire, be like the Munns. Show your grit! First, face the facts, then be creative to find and implement a solution that works.
If you’re not achieving the goals that you desire, be like Rob and Michelle. Face the situation, be creative and get help. If you do, you might be surprised at what lies just around the next bend or two.
Jim Huston runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm.
Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm.
If you’re like most landscape business owners, you still have an entrepreneurial streak that not only got you where you are today but continues to drive your enthusiasm for action. And if business is so good you’ve outgrown your facility, there’s no action bigger than opening a second location.Growing your service footprint, opening up a satellite yard and launching a full-fledged branch office can all be effective ways to become more profitable. But it’s far from easy. Expanding takes a lot of preparation and, just like buying a new home, location, value
Do you have a plan?
If you have a long-term business plan or strategy with specific growth goals, you’re already ahead of the game. But even if you don’t (and you should), you need to measure the strength of your existing business. Is your current operation profitable and generating positive cash flow? Can what works at your home office – the behavior and characteristics of your culture and service model – work at a new location with equal strength? What’s the profile of the existing competition? Can you staff a new location with qualified talent without compromising your ability to generate and sustain quality across the whole of your business? How long will it take you to capture sales and become financially sustainable in your new location?
Have you done your homework?
Research is an opportunity to be strategic and confirm objectively what you think you know. Survey your customers for feedback so growth is aligned with their needs. Perform an analysis of your competition to more fully understand gaps you can fill and demands not met by competition you can deliver to fill the void.
Do you have the money?
Assess your financial situation to see if you need funding sources, outside investors or financing to support expansion. Opening a new office can be disruptive to current business and you’ll need sufficient cash flow to carry the project through its ramp-up phase. Understand the impact of expansion on HR and your legal and internal resources. And make sure the risk vs. reward case and the hidden costs of running a second business are well considered. A satellite location may not need administrative support on site, for example, but a branch does.
Are you ready to delegate?
You can’t be in two places at once. Can you afford to move some of your senior executives away from your current operation to drive readiness initiatives for a new location? Are you comfortable with having a second-in-command, a new partner or a new manager? Can you replicate your workplace culture, systems
Do you have systems in place?
Determine how the new location will be staffed and supported, and have an organizational chart in place for reporting and accountability. The logistics required to manage more than one site require integrated technology infrastructure, state-of-the-art
Unless your business is performing profitably at a high level and you have
Bruce Wilson is principal of green industry consulting firm Bruce Wilson & Company.
Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.
The topic of sexual harassment is back in the news with more publicity than ever before. High-profile individuals like Harvey Weinstein, Les Moonves
Notwithstanding its social stigma and personal impact, it is important to restate the fact that at its legislative core, sexual harassment is an aspect of sexual discrimination, which directly violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
Whether it’s quid pro quo or a hostile work environment, all types of sexual harassment are illegal at both the state and federal levels, putting individuals and organizations at considerable risk. In response, many organizations have drafted detailed sexual harassment policies, instituted legally compliant training programs and secured comprehensive employment practices liability insurance policies. These are all ways to pledge to provide a safe, discrimination-free environment for all employees.
“Sexual” harassment now commonly falls under the umbrella of “workplace” harassment. For example, workplace harassment now covers the following types of harassment: discriminatory, physical, psychological, third-party, retaliation, personal, power,
Organizations have strengthened their affirmative defenses by broadening their workplace harassment training strategies, administrative policies and managerial awareness.
Due to this heightened cultural awareness, many companies now include questions about workplace harassment as part of their selection interview protocols, present extensive reporting procedures in their employee handbooks and craft comprehensive workplace harassment prevention and investigation guidelines.
While not yet formalized, the steady trend suggests that bullying may soon become a precursor to violence in the workplace. With that seemingly inevitable causal progression in mind, insightful organizations are choosing to address the root causes of this proactively, instead of awaiting potentially detrimental outcomes.
Organizations successful in preventing sexual harassment are led by stalwart executives who routinely take public stands against all acts of discrimination, harassment, bullying
Secondly, these companies possess clear policies, procedures and core values designed to eliminate any instance of disrespectful behavior. Next, these companies take great pride in providing interactive training articulating the legal foundations, formal definitions, behavioral examples, desired response sets and unforgiving consequences associated with such unwanted behavior.
And finally, these companies uniformly hold all employees, business partners, customers and vendors accountable for their actions – actions which must treat all employees with sincere respect at all times.
Regardless of the type of incident, organizations must always have an appropriate response system in place. Failure to do so implies negligence.
Specifically, the company employee handbook should outline the exact steps for reporting any such incident to human resources or a company executive, and guide employees to state and federal agencies for information and support.
Organizations should have written investigative procedures necessary to collect, evaluate and document all relevant facts of each claim in a fair, thorough and timely manner. The entire investigation should be reviewed by the company management team.
Additionally, adept organizations will possess employment practices liability insurance to serve as
In closing, it is obvious that the once-singular topic of sexual harassment has transformed into a multi-dimensional theme that can no longer be dismissed as a joke, simple misunderstanding or casual contact. It the business owner’s responsibility to assume a leadership role on this issue by addressing it holistically, strategically and sincerely as a system for protecting their employees, their organizations and their reputations.
Steve Cesare is the Harvest Group’s expert for human resources and safety. He has more than 25 years of HR experience.
As commercial property managers incessantly handle daily responsibilities, the last thing they want to take care of is a minor landscaping hiccup.
That’s what Marc Fisher says. Fisher, president
“You want to be a solution provider,” Fisher says. “What you really want to talk about is how you can reduce headaches.”
Commercial landscaping can be quite lucrative, but it comes with responsibilities and challenges unseen in residential work. For one, there’s plenty of competition because the jobs are highly desired. One contract alone could be worth more than $100,000.
Then there are the heightened expectations that accompany large-scale jobs. Property managers might meticulously demand the highest quality from your crew.
Still, if property managers can trust your company to take landscaping concerns off their plates, chances are good you can land and successfully manage the jobs. “This is a relationship business, just like anything else,” Fisher says.
Identifying the right clients.
The first step to landing a potential commercial client is figuring out exactly what kind of property you can service. Finding the right match can be tricky. Each type of property has different objectives, so the landscaping needs will vary between accounts. A hospital, for instance, will likely demand more from its landscaper than a “blow and mow” apartment complex just looking to keep the lawns clean.
It’s best to be realistic with yourself before making the pitch. Fisher says one size of service does not fit all, as smaller landscaping companies without enough labor or equipment may not be able to service a top-level property that demands keen attention to detail.
If you’re thinking about getting into commercial landscaping, close your eyes, take a picture and find out what that means to you, Fisher says. “Rather than just go to a meeting and approach different potential clients, I think it’s important to really think about what are your skill sets, and where do you fit into the commercial marketplace?”
Making the bid.
Understanding what a company wants is especially important when you’re submitting a bid. While every company will initially ask about cost, potential clients might care more about the appearance or quality of the final product than the price tag. Some clients might want you to run everything by them first, while others might ask that you just take care of problems, like a dead tree, and alert them later.
Small details can set you apart from your competition. For example, if a company’s mission statement includes a line about sustainability, it wouldn’t hurt to include an explanation of how your company stays sustainable, too. Maybe you mulch excessive waste, or perhaps you can point out how your crews limit water use in irrigation.
“You really need to do your homework about every single opportunity that’s presented in front of you,” Fisher says.
Fisher says quality service is the best way to keep the job. He says at the lowest level of a buyer-seller relationship, there’s little loyalty involved at all. Meanwhile, at the highest level of buying, which Fisher tabs “joint planning,” it’s all about value and trust. The buyer and seller collaborate on a shared vision, and
“I think one of the most important things to do is to put in your mind this mantra of, ‘If (you) owned or managed the building, what would you do?’” Fisher says. “That’s the way you want to approach almost every building you’re responsible for.”
Fisher also says that when you’re first entering the commercial industry, you may need to take a job that doesn’t make a profit or even take a loss simply to build trust.
People talk, Fisher says, and when you’ve done a quality job and built a lasting relationship with a property manager, new jobs could open up to you elsewhere.
If a manager leaves to take another job, you could follow them to that new business. You could even ask managers to recommend your landscaping company to other businesses, although Fisher says that may already begin happening after you’ve established a relationship.
Fisher adds that another great thing to do is to get plugged in on LinkedIn. He compares his list of connections to the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Much like how every actor is in some way connected to Bacon, Fisher always knows somebody who is tied to the person he needs to reach.
“I just have to dig hard enough to find what that connection is,” Fisher says.
Ultimately, Fisher acknowledges it’s not always easy to make and keep connections. Sometimes it takes extra steps like showing up at HOA meetings or small courtesies, such as ensuring your crew turns down blowers when people at those properties pass by.
Still, going the extra mile will go a long way to landing your dream commercial accounts and keeping customers happy.
“You may be trying to get into that contract, and you may be unseating somebody who has been in that contract for 10 years,” Fisher says. “
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