Lessons from the desert

The inaugural Aspire Client Conference featured business advice, education about the company’s software and the launch of its latest version.

February 15, 2019

From business management to mergers and acquisitions, the Aspire 2019 Client Conference featured a number of topics to help educate owners.

This is the first year for the event, which took place at the Tempe Mission Palms Hotel in Tempe, Arizona. While most sessions centered around helping attendees get the most out of Aspire’s software, including the launch of Aspire 5.0, presenters shared general tips on how contractors can better operate their businesses. They also gave some thoughts on how the industry is doing and where it’s headed.

Below are some ideas shared at the conference:

  • Mike Rorie, CEO of the software company GIS Dynamics, and Cincinnati-based landscaping company GroundSystems, took the audience through his history and how systems changed his business. He previously owned GroundMasters, and sold it to Brickman in 2006. Rorie spoke in detail about his early years running GroundMasters and how, before putting systems in place, he worked very long hours and didn’t earn revenue.  Here are his four steps on building a systems-driven business:
    • Adopt a systems mindset
    • Learn the three types of systems:
      • Hard systems: refer to the physical, tangible aspects of your company: Tools, trucks, machines, etc.
      • Soft systems: refer to the intangible aspects of your company. Often created as checklists, flow charts, manuals, documents. “Put a checklist anywhere.”
      • Information systems: refer to inputting, tracking, measuring, and reporting systems in your company.  
    • Build or buy systems.
    • Do 80/20 audits to prioritize and optimize your systems. “Go look at your customers from high to low … the 20 are your golden nuggets,” he said.
  • Jeff Harkness, principal at Three Point Group, a consulting firm based in Atlanta, gave attendees an overview of private equity’s interest in the industry. He said the green industry is seeing unprecedented interest from outside private equity firms, and that momentum should carry through 2019. However, tighter monetary policy combined with a heavy dose of political intrigue could make 2020 a different place. He said private equity is interested in this industry because it’s highly fragmented, and the owners of the companies are still heavily involved. After investing in a company, they want to keep those heavily-involved owners and their teams on board because of their knowledge of the industry. The investor doesn’t normally want to bring in their own people. “When this stuff happens on the outside, they don’t run everyone out of town,” he said.
  • Greg Herring from Herring Group, a consulting group based in Austin, Texas, focused on what to do if you don’t want to make profits at your company. He said companies that sell hours aren’t factoring everything they should be when it comes to their prices. Cost is made up of dollars, time and uncertainty. He used Uber as an example of a service that eliminated uncertainty: The days of calling for a cab and waiting for their estimated time of arrival is gone now that you can see where your Uber driver is on the app. “If you are selling hours … you may be giving away the value of the certainty that your efficient operation brings to your customer,” he said.
  • Lawn & Landscape columnist Bruce Wilson gave attendees an overview of how peer groups work. Wilson has been organizing peer groups since 2004 and said the groups serve as a board of directors for each company. Joining one is a commitment, but it allows you to discuss problems you have that similar, non-competing owners have experienced and resolved.  “These other owners help you see your blind spots,” Wilson said. “Everyone has them.” 

New and improved. Aspire also rolled out it’s latest update, Version 5.0 at the event.

The enhancements include full fleet management, GPS, route optimization and shop/equipment tracking to drive on those expenses. In addition, Version 5.0 also adds a customer portal where contractor customers approve and sign proposals, communicate requests and pay invoices all on line. 

“Version 5.0 is a big step for our clients,” said Kevin Kehoe, managing partner. “We continue to add features that help contractors operate more efficiently and service their customers better. These are game changers we think.”