Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.
Most of us who have owned a business find ourselves running as hard and fast as we can just to keep up. As the business grows, it becomes more complex. And before you know it – the business is running us.
As E-Myth author Michael Gerber reminds us, it is critical that we work “on” our business instead of “in” it. Which means taking the time to sit in the pilot seat, checking that all systems are functioning properly and that we are flying toward our objective.
Now is the time of year to start thinking about creating a plan for the coming year.
Business planning answers these three primary questions:
- Current Reality – Where are we today?
- Goals – Where do we want to be in the future?
- Action Plan – How are we going to get there?
However, before you can dive into the deep end of the business planning pool you need to do some homework. This process can be divided into three steps that will prepare you to develop an actionable business plan for the upcoming year.
1. Know Your People.
Success in any organization depends on setting clear expectations and goals. To ensure that everyone in your organization is clear about the road ahead and what’s expected of them along the way, it’s critical that everyone – including the leaders – are able to answer these six questions:
- What am I supposed to be doing?
- What are the expected goals or standards?
- How does my performance match up to these goals?
- What do I need to learn or do to improve?
- What can I expect if I am successful?
- What happens if/when I fall short?
Present these questions to the key leaders and managers in your company and ask them to answer them in writing.
2. Know Your Clients.
Another aspect of information gathering is to survey your clients. These should be conducted at least once per year on all jobs and as often as once per quarter for key high potential jobs or jobs that have recently been started up.
Sample Survey Questions:
- What is your current level of satisfaction 1-5?
- What do we need to do to make it a 5?
- What would you like to see us do more of? How about less of?
3. Know Your Business.
You need to determine the current stage of development or maturity of your organization. Small businesses can generally be broken down into five basic levels or phases of existence.
Stage I: Existence. The organization is a simple one – the owner does everything and directly supervises subordinates who should be of at least average competence. Systems and formal planning are minimal to nonexistent.
Stage II: Survival. The organization is still simple. The company may have a limited number of employees supervised by a production manager. The PM is not a decision maker, but instead carries out the rather well-defined orders of the owner. Systems development is minimal.
Stage III: Success. Organizationally, the company has grown large enough to require functional managers to take over certain duties performed by the owner. Basic financial, marketing and production systems are in place. Planning in the form of operational budgets exists. The owner and the company’s managers should be monitoring a strategy to maintain the status quo.
Stage IV: Take-off. The organization is departmentalized. The key managers are competent to handle a growing and complex business environment. The systems are becoming more refined and extensive. Some operational planning is being done. The company is still dominated by the owner’s presence.
Stage V: Resource Maturity. The company has now arrived. It has the advantages of size, financial resources and managerial talent. If it can preserve its entrepreneurial spirit, it will be a formidable force in the market.
Now that you are armed with these components, you can begin to create an effective plan for next year.
Contact Fred Haskett at email@example.com
With many businesses cutting budgets and people pinching pennies because of COVID-19, your sales approach is more important than ever.
This was the topic during a virtual session presented by Brian Williams. Brian is a sales consultant who works with green industry consultants and Lawn & Landscape columnists Bruce Wilson & Co. During the session, he gave his five tips for having a better sales meeting, which I think could help with business development efforts in 2020 and beyond.
1. Connect and build rapport.
Always have video if you are meeting virtually because research shows that the brain processes information through words, vocal tone and through body language. Video has all three. “If you are on a phone call, the brain is saying, ‘I’m only getting about 45% of what I need to understand.’”
2. 70/30 time rule.
This means 70% of the time you are in a sales meeting, you should be listening and 30% you should be talking. Williams had a meeting where the first 40 minutes was just talking about family and what was going on in world. He didn’t think he’d get the business, but he did. “I just listened to what they were going through, what their challenges and concerns were – if they had fears,” he says. “I didn’t pitch a product. I said, ‘Can you explain that more,’” and he got his notebook out and took notes.
3. Show empathy.
You will most likely meet with potential clients who have been personally affected by COVID-19 and who are genuinely scared and confused about what is happening. You have to be quiet and process their words carefully. “We have to have the empathy to understand their concerns,” he says.
“Some of these tips you may have been practicing before COVID-19 hit, but now you may have to make them the lead items in your sales approach because the world has changed.”
If the potential client is having a great day, then be excited about that. If they are having a terrible day, tone down the enthusiasm and get the details on what they are going through.
5. Deal with the issues.
Potential clients might want to avoid talking about the ugly problems they are having, but you can’t avoid talking about those uncomfortable areas. “Get deep in the weeds with them and deal with the issue,” he says.
Some of these tips you may have been practicing before COVID-19 hit, but now you may have to make them the lead items in your sales approach because the world has changed.
“Yesterday’s keys won’t fit into today’s locks,” Williams says. – Brian Horn
From service dogs for veterans to the Boy Scouts of America, Fullerton Grounds Maintenance (FGM) takes charity giving seriously. FGM gives to dozens of charities, says its CEO Scott Fullerton.
Some of these charities include America's VetDogs, Community Food Bank of New Jersey, the Family Resource Network, Jersey Battered Women's Service and the Boy Scouts of America.
FGM has a focus on building up their community on a local level, so it gives to many local children’s sports teams and completes community projects, too.
“I think that once you do (charity work), you'll find that it is actually more self-serving than you think,” he says. “Because it makes you feel good. You see the need, you do it. So, it's almost a selfish endeavor… It's addictive.”
The cost of giving.
Fullerton says approximately 2-3% of the company’s budget is spent on charitable giving. There are 20 organizations that FGM supports listed on its website, but Fullerton and his team gives to many more in smaller ways.
“If someone's looking for a $200 sponsorship, that's just a no-brainer,” Fullerton says. “Again, there's just so much need.”
FGM usually gives financially but will also volunteer company time so many of its 180 employees can give their labor, too. For their volunteer work with Habitat for Humanity, employees will, on a company-selected day, be let out to volunteer and are still paid for their time.
Fullerton also volunteers much of his own time to volunteer work. Usually, he volunteers almost a full workday every week to talk with these organizations and facilitate with them. Outside of work, he also spends an average of two to three nights per week at charity events. During the spring, it can be up to four nights a week.
“I won't say (charity work is) overwhelming,” he says. “Obviously, there's a lot of time that goes into it that's not business time, so it pulls me away from my family… so that balance has always needed to be looked at.”
Choosing where to give.
Fullerton, 60, does have a criteria on what organization or cause his company supports – It has to have a need. Employees are free to ask the company to support a cause they are passionate about. They just need to go to him directly and explain to him the need.
“We have one manager from Honduras when Hurricane Mitch hit way back when,” Fullerton said. “We sent care packages out to his home country and his village and money to rebuild houses. That was near and dear to him.”
Generally, Fullerton is open to sponsoring and giving money, especially when a client or employees asks, but, because there are so many needs, he is not able to do this for every need he comes across.
“There’s charities in your face every minute of every day… so you do have to make choices,” Fullerton says. “There's just some that hit home for you that you then follow up with and you want to do more… you want to go a little bit above and beyond the average sponsor.”
One of the organizations that hits home for Fullerton during the past few years has been Project Evergreen, which helps facilitate free lawn care for the homes of veterans while they are deployed.
Since 2018, FGM has provided lawn care to 10 homes of the deployed throughout the Kenvil, N.J., area. This service includes lawn cutting, edge trimming and maintenance of shrubbery.
“We had a young man that just bought a house, a small house, and he got deployed for a year,” he says. “And he really couldn't afford to have it maintained and everything. (Before,) he did all of it himself. So, we maintain this house for him, stay in contact with him and do his spring cleanups – keep it looking lived in.”
Fifteen employees participate in this program, incorporating these homes in their regular routes. This will often add extra time to their routes, but they do not complain.
“They're all like, ‘No sweat. We'll put it into the schedule. We'll figure it out.’ So, I think everybody's 100% behind that,” he says.
Fullerton stands behind this project too for several reasons; one of them being that his daughter joined the U.S. military three years ago.
“It's so easy to go through life and not realize what people sacrifice,” he says. “There's people that are in the armed forces that push paper and sit at a desk, but you know what? They still take a year away from their family or four years away from their family… It just really hit home that what these people give, and (Project Evergreen) just makes their life that little bit easier.”
Other recent volunteer work has included volunteering and collecting food for local food pantries in need because of COVID-19.
Fullerton grew up in a household where giving and volunteering was a part of the normal routine. Early in starting his own family, he helped run a church youth group and got involved in Habitat for Humanity, an organization he still volunteers for to this day.
Fullerton says that those who can give should, especially as they become more successful. Now that he is successful, Fullerton can give back in larger ways. This comes from a sense of morality and care for others.
“I'm a Rotarian, and so when you live in those circles, seeing what people don't have, it almost makes you feel guilty what you have, so it's easy for me to give,” he says.
Fullerton suggests other businesses pursue giving, too.
“It doesn't have to be money,” he says. “Some people are good at giving money. Some people are good at giving time. I think some people might back away from charities because it's like, ‘What can I do?’ Well, you can do a ton with your profession. You can do a ton with your time.”
The author is an editorial intern with Lawn & Landscape.
Roger Zino joins Gothic Landscape as vice chairman
He was formerly CEO of ValleyCrest Companies and vice chairman of BrightView during the company’s integration.
SANTA CLARITA, Calif. – Roger Zino, the former CEO of ValleyCrest Companies, has joined Gothic Landscape as a vice chairman and is now on the company's board of directors. Gothic Landscape ranked No. 6 on Lawn & Landscape's Top 100 list in 2020.
In this role, Zino will partner with Jon Georgio, Gothic’s CEO, to drive the company’s long-term growth strategy.
“Roger and I have worked very closely together over the past nine months and I am thrilled by his commitment to our long term-growth,” Georgio said. “He has a unique range of relevant experience, understands family businesses and can see around the corner of where we are heading. He has such great energy, and has blended in so well with our team, in a way that has been very inspiring to our Gothic family.”
Zino has been recently leading Socratic Dialog, a business services consultancy, as its managing partner. He was formerly president of ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance, CEO of ValleyCrest Companies and vice chairman of BrightView during the company’s integration. Prior to ValleyCrest, he was a partner at McKinsey & Co. and served a range of diversified businesses in that capacity. He has a bachelor's degree in accounting/computer science from Georgetown and a master's degree from the Harvard Business School.
“I am very motivated to take on this important role with Gothic, a family-owned company that is well known for its consistent growth over the past 36 years in the landscape industry that was built on an unyielding focus on having truly extraordinary relationships with its customers and its people and an unwavering focus on doing what’s right,” Zino said.
Sperber adds another company in Florida
Sperber partners with Greenscapes just months after adding Top Cut Lawn Services.
WESTLAKE VILLAGE, Calif. – Sperber Landscape Companies has expanded its presence in the Florida market with the addition of Greenscapes in southwest Florida.
The news of the Greenscapes partnership comes after Sperber’s announcement in February that Top Cut Lawn Services, which services the southeast Florida market, would join the company.
With a history spanning 50 years, Greenscapes has built a commercial maintenance portfolio in the state. Headquartered in Naples, Greenscapes President Linda Nelson will continue to lead the company.
“We know that by partnering with Sperber Landscape Companies, we are able to provide even greater resources to our clients and create even more opportunities for our team members and for the future generations to come,” Nelson said. “This is a much-celebrated partnership for Greenscapes.”
“The addition of Greenscapes comes with a lot of excitement for us as we build upon our presence in Florida," said Richard Sperber, SLC’s managing partner. "Linda Nelson and her management team are some of the best in the business. I’ve been impressed with their attention to detail on each project and how that has led to loyal and happy clients across the board.”
Greenscapes was exclusively represented by CCG Advisors, an investment banking firm specializing in the green industry.
SavATree merges with Downey Trees
Downey Trees is a full-service company with offices in Georgia and Florida.
BEDFORD HILLS, N.Y. – SavATree has merged with Downey Trees of Atlanta, Georgia, a full-service company with offices in Norcross and Savannah, Georgia, plus Destin, Florida.
This marks SavATree’s first entry into the Florida market and expands their Georgia presence into Savannah. Both Downey Trees and SavATree’s current Norcross branches will combine to form a metro-Atlanta presence. SavATree now has 43 branch offices serving customers in 23 states.
Since 1984, Downey Trees has focused on serving commercial clients, property managers and homeowners’ associations. Services include tree care, plant health care, vegetation management, retention pond management and emergency response services.
In addition to current offerings, clients will now have access to a wider range of services including professional lawn care, tick and mosquito treatments, deer deterrents, organic options and consulting services.
“With the addition of these three locations we are able to develop and expand our market presence further into the Southeast region, which has been a priority for some time,” said SavATree Executive Chairman Daniel van Starrenburg. “We’re excited to accomplish this by joining forces with Downey Trees.
“We welcome their dedicated, knowledgeable team and believe the union with our existing Norcross office will be beneficial for both teams and customers. We are further excited to have a new entry into Savannah, Ga., and the Panhandle area of Florida.”
Downey Trees Owner Paul Bagley said, “We are very excited about this merger. SavATree shares our philosophy about quality, values and standards, so it’s clear that our two expert teams put together will yield an even stronger, more impactful result for our clients.”
Oldcastle APG acquires B&B Bedding to extend Midwest reach
B&B Bedding specializes in manufacturing bagged and bulk mulches and soils.
ATLANTA – Oldcastle APG, a CRH Company, extends its geographic reach with the acquisition of B&B Bedding, a regional manufacturer of lawn and garden products. As a long-time co-packing partner, the company fits into APG’s existing portfolio. B&B Bedding lawn and garden products are derived from recycled valued woods and natural resources.
Founded in 1984, B&B Bedding specializes in manufacturing bagged and bulk mulches and soils from facilities in Oskaloosa, Iowa, and McLean, Illinois. The company supplies retail and independent customers throughout the Midwestern U.S.
The acquisition follows several purchases by Oldcastle APG in both landscape materials and concrete products. In 2019, APG acquired Ohio mulch manufacturer Buckeye Resources, followed closely by the acquisitions of Allied Concrete Products, Abbotsford Concrete Products and US MIX.“We look forward to enhancing APG’s geographic footprint to better service our customers throughout the Midwest with the acquisition of B&B Bedding,” said Oldcastle APG President Tim Ortman. “In addition to its manufacturing capabilities and industry expertise, the company’s product offering fits seamlessly with ours and will strengthen and complement our position in the lawn and garden segment.”
The deal was finalized in late June 2020.
MiniTrencher promotes Harris to general manager
JJ Harris will oversee the day-to-day operations of the company.
VANCOUVER, Wash. – MiniTrencher has promoted JJ Harris to general manager.
Harris joined MiniTrencher in 2016 as product manager and has since risen to the executive team.
Harris brings with him 23 years of experience in the Architectural/Engineering/Construction (AEC) industry and has a Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Master of Business Administration from Western Governors University - Washington.
Travels with Jim follows Jim Huston around the country as he visits with landscapers and helps them understand their numbers to make smarter decisions.
During any given week, I talk to 10-20 green industry entrepreneurs and visit the offices of two or three. As a result, I pretty much have my thumb on the pulse of contractors around the country. Discussions with these individuals almost always turns to what they see as their number one problem – labor. There simply isn’t enough supply of qualified labor to meet the demand that the market offers them.
When I talk with these entrepreneurs, most want me to share with them what other business owners are going through and how they are addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and current economic situation. Let me share with you what I’m hearing and seeing.
First, the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic turmoil, with few exceptions, haven’t diminished the demand for residential green industry services. In many areas, it has actually created a boom market. Many of my clients are experiencing the best start ever to their year. Commercial demand also remains strong. However, due to the economic uncertainty, the demand for maintenance enhancement work is down.
Second, while the demand side of the “supply and demand” economic curve is very robust, the supply side is suffering. The number one challenge that contractors tell me that they face is an extreme shortage of qualified labor to meet the demand for landscape, irrigation and tree care services. The experience of the following contractors is typical:
Dave Rykbost, president of Dave’s Landscape near Boston, tells me that he can’t depend upon the federal government’s H-2B program. The lottery method of choosing who gets workers and who doesn’t, guarantees that every three or four years you won’t get the workers that you need. How can you build a business on such a capricious program?
Greg Wrenn, president of Past The Gate Landscaping in the San Francisco East Bay area, tried to recruit workers from Puerto Rico. However, he found the government hoops in Puerto Rico were ominous and the workers that he did bring on-board were generally not up to the physical requirements of the work.
With 40 million Americans out of work, you’d think that hungry workers would be beating down your doors and filling out applications to get a job. Think again. Some might show up, fill out an application and even show up to work. Unfortunately, due to the physical labor involved, many only last a day or two, or until their previous employer calls them to give them their old jobs back. Hiring locals and the recently unemployed is like trying to fill a bucket with a great big hole in the bottom. It often creates a revolving door that consumes contractors’ limited time, energy and resources.
In some areas of the country, commercial and residential demand remains strong, while finding qualified labor is still a huge issue.
One solution that many of my clients have found useful is to obtain the assistance of either a part-time or full-time human resources (HR) specialist. Such a person, whether as an employee or a subcontractor, can help you on-board (hire) employees and implement an effective training program. They can also act as an “advocate” for your employees. This should not only lessen the workload for entrepreneurs but it should also increase productivity, reduce turnover and improve morale.
Another strategy is to recognize the inherent opportunity when you have excess demand and limited supply of a service or product. It’s called raising prices. This is especially true in today’s residential market. Sean Macauley, president of MountainScapes in Jackson, Wyoming, said it best when a builder-client complained to him about his high labor prices. Sean’s reply: “I don’t like them either, but if I’m going to make money, these are the prices that I need to charge.”
To use the vernacular of the day, “Today’s labor market sucks.” You all know that. However, it’s imperative that you recognize the inherent opportunity that such a market provides when demand is high. Take Sean Macauley’s advice. Raise your prices and be ready to respond to those who question or criticize your actions. Quote Sean if you have to, but be ready to defend your position.
Every market provides opportunities if you are prepared to recognize and act upon them. The current market is no exception. However, I disagree that the current labor shortage is a green industry entrepreneur’s biggest challenge. Next time, I’ll explain why.
Contact Jim Huston at firstname.lastname@example.org
How is 2020 looking as far as hitting your revenue budget?
- Significantly over
- Slightly over
- On budget
- Slightly under
- Significantly under