When Jay-Crew Landscape separated its lawn care business from the landscaping side to form Brooklawn Services, it was a move that proved to be beneficial for both the company and its customers.
“I’ve been in the business since 1982 and found from experience that bigger is not always better when it comes to ethics and products,” says Scott Semon, operations manager for Brooklawn Services in Muncie, Indiana.
Since the separation in January 2014, Brooklawn Services has been able to narrow its focus and specialize in the services it offers, and hire experienced, licensed employees to complete them at high standards.
Whether turf, trees and ornamental, spring vegetation control or pest control, each specialized service area requires its own license, Semon says.
“To be able to apply the products, you have to have a commercial applicators’ license in the state,” he says.
“I look to hire a person who has been in the business for at least a couple years and knows exactly what he’s getting into as far as where and when and how to use those products,” he says.
Take ownership.At Greenview Partners in Raleigh, North Carolina, technicians are assigned a route and all customers in that territory fall under them.
If there are any issues, they are the ones who have to go back and communicate with the customer, owner Darrin Hockstra says.
“That’s their customer, so they are going to be more prone to taking care of those properties so that they don’t have to do a callback,” Hockstra says.
Because Hockstra depends on his technicians to take ownership of their territories, he looks to hire employees with customer service experience in addition to technical knowledge.
Most of the time, callbacks and other issues are resolved by a simple explanation to the customer as opposed to it being a quality issue, so good communication skills are essential.
“The biggest thing you can do to differentiate yourself is through customer service,” he says. “You have to return phone calls, you have to say what you’re going to do and you have to be there on the days that you are supposed to be there.”
Hockstra finds that most of the time, if customers are unhappy it is because technicians didn’t make enough suggestions for them.
“We’ve found that people want you to come up with ideas on how to improve their properties,” he says.
The more thorough and successful a technician is, the faster a lawn care company can grow, Semon says.
“It’s always about making your lawn look nicer than the neighbors on either side of it and doing things properly to get people talking,” Semon says.
Pay for quality.To get quality results, lawn care companies simply can’t skimp on chemical quality, even if that means paying a little more.
Customers will perceive service success based on how quickly weeds or other nuisances on their property are eliminated, even though environmental factors such as the weather may delay or lessen the effectiveness of the application. That’s why Brooklawn Services chooses to add extras like spreader stickers to their mixes to protect against stray showers and ensure that the high-quality treatments can do what they are intended to do, Semon says.
“We spend a little bit more money upfront to protect both the customer’s investment and the investment we’ve made in those products to put on the lawn,” he says. “We don’t want them to be washed away.”
To help maintain financial health when purchasing those higher-quality chemicals and products, Semon suggests finding a good supplier who will warn you when prices are fluctuating. “You have to anticipate price spikes and do the best that you can on your profit margins by forecasting what the price of the fertilizer will be,” he says.
“The chemical companies that we work with are good about giving me the opportunity to stock up on a product at a lower price before it goes up.”
To maintain good profit margins with commodities like fertilizer and other chemicals, contractors must have good planning.
Hockstra sets up a spreadsheet each year and sets percentage goals for chemicals, labor and profit. When he measures a job cost, he can refer to it for price ranges per thousand square feet for applications and other materials.
It starts at the time of the sale,” he says. “If you have a salesperson not putting in the right square footage and not putting in the right application price so that you get the correct margins, that’s an issue.
“We audit all of our sales through the office as soon as the sale comes in, and we have our customer service representative call the customer to review and make sure everything is set up the way they need it to be.”L&L