Three ideas from GROW!

Departments - L&L Insider

Key areas of focus every landscaper needs to know.

March 5, 2013
Chuck Bowen

NASHVILLE – Landscape contractors, whether just starting out or pulling down millions in revenue, need to focus on three key areas if they want to continue to grow their businesses.

That was the main takeaway for the 140 attendees at GROW! 2013, a leadership and development conference put on by Marty Grunder, owner of Grunder Landscape Co. and columnist for Lawn & Landscape.

Conference presenters included Mike Rorie and Jim McCutcheon, as well as some strong, but relatively under the radar, owners like Jeffrey Johns, Matt Caruso, Lee Buffington and Benton Foret.

The main focus of the event was leadership and management development, and encouraging the attendees to think of themselves as true leaders of their businesses and not the guy who does the technical work. Some of the best-received discussions centered on time management, delegation and general business systems.

Time management – Here’s a quick, three-step process for delegating and tearing through a set of tasks. Ask yourself three simple questions:

What happens if I just delete it? This applies to email, certainly, but also taking meetings and conversations about your new truck. If the answer is “nothing,” then get rid of it.

Can or should someone else do it? Delegate everything you can so you can focus, as Matt Caruso put it, “on the significant few, not the important many.”

Can it be done in three minutes or less? If yes, do it now. If no, put it on your list and set a time to do it later.

One of the best ways to save time is to not go out on sales calls with prospects that aren’t a fit for your company. Here are some questions that Grunder’s team asks anyone who wants to work with them:

  • How did you hear about us?
  • What process are you going through to hire a landscape contractor?
  • What are you looking for in this project?
  • What is your timeframe?

Each company will have slightly different questions, but they should be asked by the receptionist or an inside sales rep to pre-qualify all prospects. Then, salespeople aren’t wasting time on people who don’t fit the company’s scope or ideal client.

Mike Rorie, who founded Cincinnati-based GroundsMasters and grew it rapidly to $30 million before selling to Brickman, spoke about some of the systems he used to scale his company so quickly.

First, answer some the key questions: What do you want? What does success look like? Are you spending your time on the right things? Do you know what your key people want?

“Have you really asked yourself what you want from this business? ... If you don’t know this, nobody on your payroll has a chance. Are we going to work like dogs just to work like dogs? ... No, we’re going to celebrate. We’re going to have fun.”

Second, have a repeatable, scaleable and systems-driven business model. Rorie’s was commercial landscape maintenance, and there are many others.

Third, have focus. He cautioned attendees to stay out of markets that are too different (commercial vs. residential, for example) and away from lots of services. “Do they sell pizzas at a car rental place? Can you pick up your dry cleaning at a car rental place?” he asked. Complimentary services make sense when they’re built off a core silo of work and sold to existing customers. “The way I manage is through elimination. All this stuff shows up and I have to decide quickly what’s important to me and who’s going to get it, because it’s not me. I don’t have that aptitude,” Rorie said.

“You’ve got to keep the periscope running or you’re going to run into something.”

Fourth, have a handle on your sales pipeline. “This is your oxygen,” Rorie said. An owner has to know how many prospects it takes to produce a lead, and how many leads produce a sale.

And fifth, have an organizational structure. Keep it simple: sales, production, administration. You as the leader have to be the head of resources and accountability.

“You all are wearing that hat whether you know it or not, recognize it or not, appreciate it or not,” Rorie said.

Delegation. As companies grow, the role of the owner and leader changes. Before, he was responsible for practically everything in the company, but now he must relinquish some of that day-to-day responsibility.

“Saying yes gets you to $1 million,” Grunder said. “And saying no gets you to $2 million.”

Several discussions focused on the importance – and art – of delegation. Johns said his main tool for delegating is his org chart, which also helps him set expectations for his team, and focuses them based on their skills.

“A lot of us as owners impede growth instead of encouraging it,” Johns said. “Give your people the chance to demonstrate their skills, and they might surprise you.”

McCutcheon said owners have to realize and accept that their employees will eventually screw up. “As long as they learn from it, and can tell you what they would have done differently,” he said, “It’s OK.”

McCutcheon said the best way to get over that fear is to pick one person at your company and delegate something – anything – to them. “Start there and it will get easier and better,” he said.

Rorie suggested that owners delegate the tasks that they are best at. “You can always come in and fix it if it goes left or right on you,” he said. If you don’t give them the chance, “nobody else has a bat, so no one else gets to hit and therefore doesn’t get to train up on different skills.”  

GROW! 2014 will be held in Atlanta. To register, visit