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In 2012, I believe there’s going to be an opportunity for many of us to grow our companies. I’m not an economist, but the trends I see so far point to a better business climate for all of us.

March 23, 2012

Marty Grunder

In 2012, I believe there’s going to be an opportunity for many of us to grow our companies. I’m not an economist, but the trends I see so far point to a better business climate for all of us. Let’s hope I’m right. And while I hope I’m right, I’m not using “hope” as a strategy to grow Grunder Landscaping Co.

There are all types of strategies that I see green industry companies employ. Some wander aimlessly from client to client, segment to segment, year to year. Others get focused on some days or weeks, lose that focus and then end up lost. But the most successful ones focus on a segment of the industry, clearly identify the client and then work like heck to own that space. This is the strategy I “hope” you’ll use. Let me explain.

The two most successful landscapers I know are Mike Rorie, who started Groundmasters in Cincinnati, Ohio, and sold it a few years ago, and Frank Mariani, who turned his father’s small mowing business into a multi-million-dollar giant north of Chicago. Both of these brilliant entrepreneurs focused on a certain client in a certain market and then went after it and won.

Mike started Groundmasters in 1979 outside of Cincinnati, like many of us did, with a pickup truck and a push mower. Along the way, he found commercial grounds maintenance to be what he understood the best, did the best and made the most money at. (If you ever see Mike on a program at a green industry event, I’d do whatever you have to do to go see him.) He didn’t just get lucky; trust me. His determination is world class and he ran Groundmasters to a point he felt it best to let someone else take it the rest of the way. Today, his company is part of the industry giant Brickman.

Mike grew Groundmasters by turning down the type of work that wasn’t a fit for what he did best. If he got a call to install a pool in someone’s backyard and landscape it, he said no. If he got a call to landscape a mall in Atlanta in the winter, he said no. If he got a call to do any type of work that wasn’t a bull’s-eye for the market he had defined, his team said no.

This incredible focus enabled him to make replication easier to attain. In every step of his business, he was able to keep things simple because the client was clearly defined. They were able to become a specialist instead of a generalist. So, I ask you now, how clearly defined is your client?

Frank’s Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff, Ill., had a different focus than Groundmasters and it worked – actually still does today, as Frank has not sold out. His focus is high-end landscape design/build and maintenance. And that focus works for him too. If Midway Airport calls Frank and asks him or his team to put in a bid for the snow removal, the answer is no ... make that NO!!! 

If a local shopping mall calls them and says they are taking bids and their number one issue in picking a contractor is price, Frank and his team politely say, “no, thank you.” Frank’s laser-like focus in a market has paid him well through the years.

By staying in his sweet spot, Frank’s team has become very good at taking care of the client. He knows what they do well and sells that, not something they don’t do well or don’t enjoy doing. I hope you are getting the lesson this month.

It is so hard in business to say no. We’re coming off a few bad years, ladies and gentlemen; it’s been about surviving, I know. But you must know the client that fits you best.

Pick the ones you enjoy working with, appreciate you and are profitable with. To do anything else is a mistake. Like a mentor of mine told me three years ago when the recession started, “You do in the short term what you would do in the long term and you will be just fine.” Words I have lived by and words that worked. They’ll work for you too; you just have to be focused enough to stick with it.

Now, who is your ideal client? What’s your sweet spot? Focus on those type of clients and prospects and success will be easier to attain.


Marty Grunder is a speaker, consultant and author; he owns Grunder Landscaping Co. See; mail