Catch up with our Turnaround Tour companies

Catch up with our Turnaround Tour companies

Features - 2019 Turnaround Tour

With an offseason of planning under their belts, our featured businesses are ready to start the season.

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April 23, 2019

The heavy lifting is now underway as the teams at Brunner’s Lawn & Services, Pratt’s Lawn Care and Landscapes and Maple Hill Lawn & Garden are executing the plans they worked on during the winter. Brunner’s hit a snag when it comes to raising prices, while Pratt’s has been busy catching up from a snowy winter and Maple Hill is fixing a major problem discovered recently.

Losses and ladders

Gary Hardy and Josh Brunner are finding it’s hard to raise prices and still hit revenue goals. By Brian Horn

Despite some challenges, Gary Hardy, left, and Josh Brunner, left, are still excited about the possibilities of raising their prices and making better profits on jobs, but so far, they have been striking out at their Dayton, Ohio-based company.

“I've lost $100,000 worth of clients,” Hardy says. “They were low profit. The thing is that we're doing things the right way that they (the Harvesters) want us to do it, but I don't have the resources to do it as quickly as they want stuff done,” Hardy says. “So, we've lost some of those low margin clients.”

While that may be a bad thing in the short term, it may pay off in the long term.

“What's going to end up happening is our revenue is going to decrease, but our profit margin is going to increase and we're going to focus on our team and get our foundation and then really start trying to expand,” Hardy says.

Gary Hardy and Josh Brunner of Brunner’s Lawn & Services
© Jon Arman

Moving up.

While they haven’t had much luck with proposals, they have noticed that the culture’s improved and employees seem more motivated. Hardy says this can be attributed to changes like developing a safety program, investing in new uniforms and providing $100 allowance to buy any replacements that are needed.

But more importantly, they’ve also established a career ladder to give employees an idea of what a future at Brunner’s looks like, and a training curriculum based off of the Harvester’s templates to achieve these positions.

It starts with the title of groundskeeper one, which is an entry level position for someone who’s never touched a piece of equipment. Hardy says it should only take two weeks to complete that training.

“Anybody that has any skills of any sort as a laborer can typically figure that stuff out pretty quick,” Hardy says, adding that the employee will also need to complete the safety program they purchased from the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Then the employee can move to groundskeeper two, which should be completed within 60 days at the latest. Then they can move to groundskeeper three.

“By the time they certify in groundskeeper three, they’ll be able to do everything in the company as a laborer – mulching, mowing grass trimming, things like that,” Hardy says.

Once groundskeeper three is achieved, they are seen as a leader in training. “After they're certified at that, then it's team leader one and then team leader two,” Hardy says. So, I created this whole career tier and I've got training programs written out up to the team leader one position.”

Hardy realizes the starting pay is low, but that’s because he and Brunner want second chance employees and kids in high school or those who are just out of high school.

“Somebody like an 18-year-old-kid out of high school can start here at $11 an hour and within 60 days be at 12 to $13 an hour,” Hardy says.

Harvesters’ take.

Despite the busy winter doing snow work, Gary and Josh have been “working more on their business and not as much in it” this winter. After we helped prioritize the urgent and important items from their playbook, they have been working feverishly to accomplish as much as possible before spring. Here’s a list of some of what has been done.

The online training program for their crews is set up and ready to go. All work schedules are in place for spring. Career Ladders were created so their team members can see how to advance in the company.

New safety cones for their trucks were purchased as we suggested, and their name will be applied to help in their branding/marketing efforts.

They are changing their team members uniforms so they are more appealing. Most importantly, they have separated their profit centers (departments) so they will be able to get gross margins for each and every month.

Not only are they doing terrific in accomplishing these needed items, but they met their annual snow budget one month early and their year-to-date profits are double that of last year.

Gary will focus on growing sales and hiring needed crew members while Josh attends to the equipment and vehicle preparation for the fast approaching spring season.

All in all, they are positioned well to have a terrific 2019.

Settling in

Jennifer Davies and Bob Naylor are plugging away at the goals the Harvesters set for them, but will it last when the snow clears? By Lauren Rathmell

Since the Harvester’s visit to Bala, Ontario, the team at Pratt’s Lawn Care and Landscapes has been busy digging their small Canadian town out of 6 feet of snow. But the weather hasn’t stopped Bob Naylor and Jennifer Davies from getting started on their Turnaround Tour “to-do” list.

One of the biggest reliefs for the couple comes in the form of a part-time administrative assistant. The new assistant is helping Jennifer with invoicing and payroll two to three days a week, which will hopefully alleviate the issues they were facing with late invoices.

“It’s been giving me more time to focus on other things and have some personal time,” Davies says.

Naylor and Davies are starting to settle into their more defined roles in the business, too. Naylor has been managing then on the operations side of things, which has been seamless with all the snowfall. The true test will come in the spring when the busy season starts. Davies says she anticipates that staying tied to their specific duties might be a struggle when the snow melts.

“I’ve been able to tell our employees if they have an issue that Naylor is supposed to handle,” she says. “I’m starting to let them know when they need to talk to Naylor about things.”

All on board.

Once Bill Arman and Ed LaFlamme left, Naylor and Davies had a team meeting to go over everything they discussed with the Harvesters. They even addressed the goal to hit the $2-million mark in 2021. When they went over what the company needed to work on, the team’s response was simple: “We can do that.”

“The team is really on board with the new changes,” she says. “We have the management people; we just need more (field) employees.”

Right now, Pratt’s employs 16 people, but Davies says the ideal number of employees is 25.

Recruiting season is gearing up for Davies, and she’s planning on heading to career fairs at local colleges armed with recruiting tips from Arman and LaFlamme. In the meantime, she was able to hire two additional employees with experience in gardening and landscape construction, one of which came from a local job fair.

The couple even found a short-term solution for their employee housing issue. A client let them know he wouldn’t be visiting this summer, leaving his summer house empty for the season. Davies was able to rent the five-bedroom property out for the summer and she plans on using it to house five apprentices this summer.

Expansion plans.

Davies’ greenhouse plans are still well underway, and she plans on starting construction on the site, which sits on their property, on June 15.

“We’ve spent four to five years planning this out,” she says. She feels confident that they’ll be able to profit from the new revenue segment. The greenhouse also offers a solution to the space issue that comes with running a business in their backyard.

“It was easy in the past to have team meetings at the kitchen table,” Davies says. Now that the company plans to add employees, she’s looking forward to being able to hold meetings inside the greenhouse office space. The current goal is to have the grand opening in May of 2020.

Harvesters’ take.

Most of core team will be returning from last year. This is great news. Jennifer has also hired a part time assistant to help free her up to lead the business and to work on the business.

Jennifer will be attending several recruiting job fairs at the local colleges.

The Harvesters will be helping Jennifer “tool up” with some great recruiting tips that will help attract students to Pratt’s.

Housing is such an issue for seasonal workers that Davies has already arranged housing for five apprentices for the summer. This was arranged with a client who has a property that will accommodate these seasonal team members.

This is the most critical part of the business. Harvesters say ABR: Always Be Recruiting! By the looks of it, they get this.

When it comes to Jennifer and Bob’s roles, it’s a lot easier when it’s snowing since this is Naylor’s wheelhouse. We will need to clearly identify Naylor’s and Davies’ roles in writing. Their relationship has been pretty good so far. Naylor will need to stay in his lane during the summer, but can he do this?

They are starting the very ambitious greenhouse project in May. The goal will be to have the Grand Opening on Mother’s Day 2020. They plan on doing a soft opening a week before.

We believe when you have a plan, a vision and the determination that Davies has, this project has a good chance of being completed. Will it make money?

Wasting no time

The Whites are trying to quickly purchase another company while pressing crews on timeliness. By Jimmy Miller

After the Harvesters left Accokeek, Maryland, following their first visit to Maple Hill Lawn & Garden, Lauren White had a sinking feeling in her stomach.

The consultants insisted the Whites’ crews weren’t completing tasks quickly enough, and they recommended a deeper look at what could be behind it. After carefully reviewing time cards and routing sheets, White says she found “hours and hours” lost.

Her husband and co-owner of the company, Bobby, had a stern meeting with the employees about how much time seemed to be wasted. The company is now changing its time sheets to show when crews should be completing tasks instead of when they should arrive to begin work. The Whites believe this will reinforce reasonable deadlines and force the crews to report any problems finishing a task.

“The goal is that on some of the routing sheets, we give time specifics,” Lauren says. “So (we might say), ‘You need to be done with that job by 1 o’clock.’ That won’t allow them the time to freely just take their time and do whatever they want.”

Lauren says the company also installed GPS tracking on its vehicles, which the employees didn’t know about at the time of implementation. The process only took an hour, and while they’ve only been able to really use the devices during snow management so far, they’re learning how best to utilize GPS ahead of their lawn care rollout this month. “That will be the big time that we’re really going to pay attention to it,” Lauren says.

The Whites were also in the process of purchasing a maintenance company, which Lauren says will improve the company in more than one way. They’ll get an additional 100 to 200 residential clients and an account manager to help Lauren ease up on running all administrative aspects that she currently manages. One of the couple’s top concerns entering the Turnaround Tour was finding the time and confidence in their team to take a much-needed vacation.

The contract negotiations presented a lot of back and forth, but with the season just about to begin, the Whites are itching to finalize the deal. Lauren says they’ll be prepared in case the deal falls through, but she also says she’s been ramping up her organization efforts in the probable event they’ll take on a slew of new clients.

“It’s a lot of back and forth in regard to salary, what do you have for clients and equipment, and what do you make per month?” Lauren says. “We’re trying to get all those details before we present an offer.”

Bobby and Lauren White are in the process of acquiring another company, which could help them take the vacation they’ve desperately wanted.
© Jon Arman

Harvesters’ take.

Bobby and Lauren had four critical items to do in their Playbook: increase gross margins, grow sales, hire an account manager and put a safety program in place. They are making great headway on all fronts.

First and most importantly, they are in the process of negotiating the purchase of a small landscape maintenance business from a friend. At this writing, it looks like a sure thing. This acquisition will substantially increase the company’s sales and give them the needed account manager they desire.

As for increasing gross margins, they have reviewed all of their jobs and discovered their crews were goofing off at the end of the day. These un-billable hours resulted in low gross margins. Now, with the GPS system installed in all their trucks, this bad practice is over.

Bobby and Lauren will be focusing on taking on a substantial number of new clients. This will be challenging for sure, but they are up to it. It looks like they are going to have a tremendous year.

As to their new safety program they are rolling this out so the crews will have this in place as they kick off the new season.