The beginning of the year is a time of such potential and such promise. I love this quote attributed to Mark Twain: “Yesterday, everybody smoked his last cigar, took his last drink, and swore his last oath. Today, we are a pious and exemplary community.”
To be fair, Twain goes on to say that most of us will fall back into ruin and sin by February. But whether you’ve sworn off the Demon Rum or just want to exercise more, you’ve got a fresh set of 12 months to make something of. Grab hold of that feeling of piousness and put it to use. Here are five resolutions you can make now to improve your business in the coming year.
Resolve to grow your network. Join an association, start a peer group or just go visit the shop of a contractor you know in another market. National, regional or local, there’s a group of like-minded landscapers out there that can help you solve problems and keep a good perspective on your own business. They’ve been where you are before. No sense reinventing the wheel.
Resolve to attend a new conference. Take a day and check out your market’s regional trade show, or one in a neighboring state. Stop by your state association’s next meet-and-greet. If you do it right, you’ll learn at least one new thing.
Resolve to call your elected officials. While it’s great to see the industry rally around a cause or specific piece of legislation, real value for contractors comes from stable, continued contact with local officials. Ring your representative and tell him or her about your business, the people you employ and the projects you work on. Put the work in now, so they know who you are when times get tough.
Resolve to take a vacation. Maybe it’s the single-digit temperature in Cleveland talking, but plan to take some time off. If you never get away from the day-to-day grind and actually think about the future of your business, you can’t improve it. The trip doesn’t have to be tropical (though that would be nice) or a month-long trek into the mountains (not bad, either), but just a couple days in a clean, well-lighted place where you can think.
Resolve to download our new app. Many of you (like, 40,000 of you) have already done this, and I love you all for it. But this month, we’re revamping our app to be more interactive and chock-full of more cool stuff. It pulls together the best parts of everything we do in one place. Go get it now.
For my part, I’m resolving to focus more keenly on what I’m doing, and not be distracted by all the shiny objects that cross my path. Whatever you resolve to do this year, do something to improve. Let me know how it works.
– Chuck Bowen
Next time you are face-to-face with a customer or employee, remember, you are an entertainer.
And as part of being an entertainer, you have to – no matter how you are feeling – create what Jon Petz calls “showtime” moments.
“As a speaker and entertainer, we have these opportunities where we’ve traveled all night. We’re tired. We’re hungry,” says Petz, a corporate and motivational speaker.
“And whether you feel like it or not, sometimes the audience really doesn’t care. They have an expectation. They want an experience.”
As a business owner, you have to look at your audience the same way and you have to provide them with the showtime moments that they will remember you by.
“Anyone can meet an expectation,” he says. “But people talk about people who create an experience.”
We caught up with Petz and found out how you can create those memorable experiences.
L&L: Coming from a perspective of a small business owner who is spending a good portion of his day out in the field doing the work – how can you set yourself up to create showtime moments?
Jon Petz: How do you create it? Realistically, I’m in the same situation. I’m a small business owner that’s putting out fires and running in different directions, and out in the field too. So I really relate to these folks.
I think sometimes we are so focused – we get so focused on obviously the important things – the company’s financials, putting out the fires.
And, oftentimes, we don’t take a pause, an operational pause, to really gain a bigger perspective of what we’re all about and why we’re doing it.
We each have a different parameter of customer, and we really need to understand what that one customer’s dreams and desires are for their front yard, their back yard, their corporate environment. Then we can kind of create that culture of that environment for that.
L&L: Most owners of landscaping companies are on the road visiting job sites a lot. How can a leader work on employee engagement outside of an office environment?
Jon Petz: Take a true interest in the person and their own personal goals and interests. That engagement always comes back to that. If you want someone to be engaged, what’s their passion?
I mean they’re working for you, realistically, because they need to feed the family. We all understand that. So what truly is the why? Why are they getting the hourly check?
If you’re going to lose someone for 10 cents an hour across the street, there’s probably something amiss in terms of what you’re not understanding about that person.
Understand the true goals and passions of that individual. What do they hope to accomplish? Do they want to be their own landscape company one day? Is this the summer job that is a way to pay for school?
What’s the real reason? The “why” is what it comes back to.
Because if they’re happy, if they’re reaching their goals, if they’re engaged, man, then my customers are happy. Our bottom line is increasing. Boom. That’s where you want to go with that.
L&L: Can you talk a little bit about what you learned about how to really have an effective meeting, and how you define what an effective meeting is?
Jon Petz: I think so often, today, the excuse for so many conversations is – “Well, let’s just have a meeting about that.”
People walk in the door with no real goals of what the meeting is sometimes.
And worse yet, what I’ve found is they don’t have the outcome speak. Outcome is: what are we going to accomplish as a result of this meeting?
And people don’t put the thought into it. And realistically, it’s a one-sentence outcome statement. What is the walk-out-the-door statement?
And I think that’s probably the number one thing, that when people ask me to come in, I ask them about. And if we’re doing training or consultation on effective meetings, we start at the beginning. What’s your objective? And what’s your outcome?
And people don’t think about that because they don’t know what they’re going to.
If you can’t figure out what you’re going to, then you’re not prepared. And if you’re not prepared, then you have a lackluster meeting that’s going to create a do-over meeting.
Jon Petz will be the keynote speaker at the Green Industry Great Escape, which will take place Feb. 21-23 in Las Vegas. Visit bit.ly/LLGIGE2013 to register.
For Deborah Silver, one idea in the garden leads to another – and one business as a landscape design/build firm has led to another two complementary ventures that work symbiotically.
Deborah Silver & Co. designs and builds high-end landscapes – Silver sees the work as garden sculpture – and her store, Detroit Garden Works, offers a collection of fine garden wares. Finally, Branch Studio is where handmade garden pots, planters, furniture and structures are manufactured.
“Having a wide range of services means that anyone who is truly interested in gardening or landscape can find something that is either of interest to them or helps them in their own landscape,” says Silver, who founded her design/build firm in 1986.
Her first client was Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Mich., an account that sustained her business through its first season in 1986. “I had one truck two guys, some machinery – that was it,” she says. The landscape business grew from there, mostly by word of mouth during a time when face time wasn’t an online pursuit.
And Silver had worked on Mackinac Island and other key projects while working for another firm, so when she went off on her own, the clients followed. “I had met a lot of clients and people in my capacity at this first landscape job, and I suppose that the exposure to these people made such an impact that they tried to find me after I started my own business,” she says.
After 10 years of running the business from home, she outgrew that space, despite the setting on 5 acres in a fairly remote neighborhood in greater Detroit. She acquired a 10,000-square-foot building on an acre of property, and that room to grow prompted the launch of Detroit Garden Works. Six years later, and following more growth, Silver moved to an even larger facility, 30,000 square feet of building space on 7 acres of property. With an extra building on the land, she opened her manufacturing division, Branch Studio.
“So as my companies grew, then I had to have a place for them,” Silver says. “That was sort of the springboard to adding another division or another service.”
Creative counterparts. A passion for beautiful, interesting things in the landscape and a love for season’s change is evident at Detroit Garden Works, which made Martha Stewart Living’s 2011 The Garden 50 – a compilation of 50 favorite products, projects and places inspired by the world of gardening.
Deborah Silver explores landscape ideas and pulls customers in with her blog.
Deborah Silver’s blog, Dirt Simple, is home to more than 9,000 photographs she has shared in the last few years, and a near-daily blog that she’ll spend up to an hour writing. She takes her blogging seriously, and that’s because it feeds her creativity personally and professionally. Plus, her blog has acted as a welcome mat for passionate gardeners who enter Silver’s blog-world and take home ideas.
“I have grown relationships with gardeners all over the country, and the blog has certainly driven some profit,” she says, noting that it steers some readers to Detroit Garden Works, which has a robust online store.
Here are some ways that Silver uses her blog as a tool for outreach, inspiration and business development.
There, you can find containers of all kinds, antique garden ornaments, specialty plants, sculpture, furniture and more. The variety is extensive, but the selection is carefully honed.
“If you want a fabulous garden antique from Europe, we have those things,” Silver says. “But we also have a lot of items with style and interest that are great looking and reasonable on price.”
For instance, Detroit Garden Works sells fiber pots ideal for starting a container garden collection and expanding one’s plant palette. The simple pots ordinarily used for nursery stock can be dressed up with galvanized steel stands. “It’s a very inexpensive way to make a decision to invest more money (in plants),” Silver says.
“Great design is not so much about money,” she continues. “It’s about a look.”
Silver’s buyer for Detroit Garden Works has an eye for choosing items that are just right for the store, she says. “He can look at the most ordinary object and think, ‘That would be really great looking in the landscape.’”
The see-it-like-it-buy-it effect is huge. That’s why Detroit Garden Works closes its doors every January 15 until March 1 – they’re open by appointment or by chance. During that time, the shop gets a fresh coat of paint, every item is removed and the space is cleaned out completely. “We redo every display on an acre and 10,000 square feet before we reopen,” Silver says. “Everything is fresh, all the relationships are fresh, there are new ideas about putting this with that. That’s what people get excited about.” Meanwhile, diversity extends to the customer base of Detroit Garden Works, which has expanded in a vast way thanks to online sales. Plus, the retail center serves clients locally that are interested in Silver’s designs and garden style but do not hire her for landscape design/install services. “The store is a way for me to still reach people with the design aesthetic I think is important,” she says.
Seasonal bustle. December is the second busiest month of the year for Deborah Silver & Co., following May, the start of spring. The holiday surge of business is thanks to a robust décor service that Silver offers clients, from winter containers to interior design to outdoor lighting.
“There is nothing more forlorn than a pair of pots sitting empty on a front porch all winter,” Silver says, relating the inspiration behind this business. She began filling Detroit Garden Works with cut greens, twigs, natural branches and other materials, both real and artificial, to fill those pots during the cold season. And her people grew very skilled at fashioning container winterscapes for clients. “The holiday business grew out of my shop – I wanted to be able to tell clients who were buying a great pot that they had other options besides planting it for the summer,” Silver says.
The holiday business keeps Silver’s employees working year-long, which is another bonus. “I like employing full-time people, and most of our people have worked for me for 10 years or more,” she says. “At a certain point, you want to offer people you really value full-time employment.”
Silver enjoys decorating for the seasons, and for occasions that may last only an evening. Her relatively discreet event business – she decorates about 10 sites per year – fulfills a passion to transform a space using cut flowers and sculpture. “I like building props because that is just an offshoot of sculpture, and I’ve always done that, but I limit these (event) projects to the time of year when I can really handle it,” she says. “Sometimes the landscape business is just so busy that I can’t (take on event clients).”
Keeping the business right-sized is important to Silver. She appreciates the nimble nature of her operation. And while extensive in the way her businesses serve clients locally and beyond, all efforts are focused on a design aesthetic that is purely Silver. “I would not want to own a company so large that it takes an act of Congress and 55 meetings to decide you’re going to sell Halloween themed items,” Silver says.
For more Business Builder, visit www.lawnandlandscape.com/newsletters.
Many of my clients from California to New York have come through the last five years and they are in better shape than ever. The economic recession of 2007-2009 forced them to rethink everything. Yes, they could have had a “pity-party,” but they chose to face the brutal facts and move on by realizing that sometimes you grow sales revenue and sometimes you have to grow internally.
Below is how my clients and successful entrepreneurs face and survive hard times.
This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t plan for, and expect, huge improvements in your business.
Uncertainty doesn’t have to permeate you and your organization. That’s one thing about which you can be certain.
JIM HUSTON runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm. See www.jrhuston.biz; mail email@example.com.
Chris Angelo has a lot on his plate. He’s successfully transitioned from a kid tagging along with his dad on the weekends to the president and CEO of one of the largest companies in the industry. He says a focus on his father’s core principles and investment in his people put Stay Green on the map and will keep it moving up the ranks.
At the age of eight I was shadowing my dad and walked through his jobs. In my teens I worked on gardening rounds, mowing rounds and enhancement rounds during the summertime.
One thing he taught me was always work harder than anybody else in your position.
If you’re staying flat and you like the status quo, landscape peer groups aren’t for you.
In the beginning, we didn’t understand the dynamics of managing a bunch of different relationships that span across multiple branches. We figured that on the other side of that mountain range, the clients would accept the same pricing that we did in one range and one valley, and it’s absolutely way different.
We’ve had a very successful transition from my father to myself. The second generation needs to be just as passionate as the founder was in order for the transition to be successful.
When we were smaller, it required less because we weren’t growing at a rapid rate. You could control it with one hand. When my father was running the business, the only people that had to think of the P&L were him and the CPA.
The owner/operator carries all the intellectual brain power that you run at the organization. So as an owner of a growing business, you’ve got to really be vulnerable and allow yourself to bring in team members that are going to challenge you personally.
We made several mistakes because we were inexperienced at having a greater level of talent in. I personally went against the decision of the second person in the interview process, against what the personality profiles said the candidate’s strengths and weaknesses were.
So we got the person into our organization who from a technical aspect knew the job, but from the personality and cultural aspect had a really hard time meshing with the team. That created a cancerous environment that became very negative.
The thought is, “Well, if I train these people, then they’re more valuable, they’re going to ask for more money or they’re going to leave for a competitor.” That mindset will not get you on that Top 100 List.
The face of the company isn’t myself or my father. It’s our frontline managers that are walking into our property manager’s office.
Spend money on training and education and foster their professional development.
As a kid, I could surf in the morning and I could be snowboarding in the afternoon. That’s how we live. We’re servicing 15 different landscape zones, if not more. We could be servicing properties on Malibu all the way into the inland deserts, and then the coastal valley.
We’re able to convert whole irrigation systems with new technologies. We just saved one property two million gallons a year. That’s just managing their systems more effectively, changing out some nozzles, making sure that the heads are working, and then tracking the flow of the system.
Thirty-nine. Yeah. I’ll be 40 in August. I had to grow up fast.