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March 16, 2015

16 ideas to steal from Coastal Greenery

From the simple to the complex, the CGI team shares how you can improve everything from your morning huddle to your hiring practices.

By Chuck Bowen

BRUNSWICK, Ga. – Jeffery Johns started Coastal Greenery in 1994 because he loved plants.

And after several years of 70-hour-plus weeks and scrambling to meet overhead, he learned to love the business side, too.

Johns and his team hosted a tour as part of GROW! 2015, an annual conference organized by L&L columnist Marty Grunder.

More than 200 landscapers from across the country converged on southeastern Georgia to learn how to work more on their businesses instead of in them.

For pictures of the event, visit bit.ly/growphotos.

Coastal Greenery employs 47 people and posted $3.2 million in revenue in 2014.

During the tour, the company’s staff opened up to share how it operates everything from when the gates open in the morning to when they close at night. Here are 16 ideas the team shared that you can use to improve your company, too.

1. Misty Johns, Jeffery’s wife and head of the marketing team at Coastal Greenery, worked with an outside agency to develop a sharp, eye-catching logo to help the company stand out in the very crowded southeastern Georgia market. That logo is everywhere – on business cards, trucks, trailers, uniforms and leave-behind materials for clients.

2. The company prints and mails a quarterly newsletter to current, past and prospective clients to build and reinforce relationships. It’s not a sales pitch from Coastal Greenery. It’s meant to educate clients on things like how to protect plant material in the cold and how to choose the best color for their landscape plantings.

3. Any prospective employees are first asked a series of questions to determine if they’re worth even talking to, such as, “Are you currently working?” and, “Do you smoke?” (CGI is an entirely smoke-free company, which gets it a break on its insurance rates.)

4. New employees are asked if they can run equipment, and then, regardless of their answers, are asked to demonstrate their proficiency at the CGI yard, not on a client’s property.

5. CGI has a standing meeting Tuesday mornings with the leadership team to discuss any problems and keep each division informed of what’s happening and why it’s happening in the rest of the company. That team includes Jeffrey as head of sales, Misty as head of marketing, Crystal Price as head of finance and Faulkner Bell, operations manager.

6. Price plans a quarterly meeting that brings the entire company together for a few hours. Here, the leadership team can publicly celebrate employees who have gone above and beyond in their work, announce birthdays, weddings and births, and update the team on financial progress.

7. The company tracks “kudos” on index cards. Those are compliments from customers and team members. Whoever has the most kudos at each quarterly all-staff meeting wins an MVP award.

8. Crews refill gas cans and equipment when they return to the yard every afternoon. Next to the gas pump is a Dumpster, where they empty any trash from their trucks. Green waste is dumped in the back of the property and removed by a third party to be composted off site.

9. Crews wash their trucks regularly (once a week or more as necessary) at one of several wash sites on the property.

10. CGI crew members are still on the clock when they clean up their equipment, and they are scored by the company’s mechanic according to a punch list. The crew with the cleanest truck for the month wins free lunch.

11. Gates open at 6 a.m. so crews can punch in and get ready, and reopen at 4 p.m. The yard is locked during the day. The morning huddle, led by Bell and translated for Spanish-speaking employees, starts at 6:30 sharp. It is usually finished by 6:36 and the trucks roll out. If an employee is late to work, he is sent home without pay. He’s replaced for the day with a floater crewmember.

12. Bell tracks the daily cost of the huddle. He figures it costs 26 cents per minute per man, so about $55 for six minutes. Each day’s figure is posted in the office near the schedule board.

13. CGI’s sales team uses Skitch to communicate client requests on job sites to team leaders and crew members. Marked up photos can be emailed to the office, printed out in color and attached to job forms for the crews

14. The CGI team uses Aspire software, which combines the features of Excel and Outlook to allow scheduling, job tracking and communication between sales and production staffs.

15. Russell Pittman, CGI’s lead mechanic, works five eight-hour days, and also maintains the facility (electric, plumbing, etc.). Friday, when crews are off, is truck maintenance day (regular oil changes, tire inspections, etc.).

16. Pittman uses Mower Meter software to track equipment maintenance and hours. When CGI has spent three-quarters of the value of handheld equipment, they trade it in and replace it with a new piece.


Brainstorming to better your business

Jim Huston’s workshop gave contractors the chance to discuss a wide range of topics.

By Brian Horn

JACKSON HOLE, Wyo. – L&L recently had the chance to sit in on two days of columnist Jim Huston’s brainstorming session at the Snow King Hotel. Forty contractors from 19 companies participated in the 2 ½-day workshop where topics ranged from hiring methods to marketing strategies to choosing the right clients.

Below is a roundup of topics discussed and what contractors had to say about them. (Editor’s note: Due to this being a private brainstorming session, L&L did not identify or quote contractors.)

Employees. Finding quality employees wasn’t the only problem when it comes to hiring. Finding any employees was a common issue among those in attendance.

In addition, once they’ve found some keepers, contractors struggled to create ways to make the job enticing. Solutions suggested:

  • Pay to send them to training workshops. They come back pumped up because they feel they’ve bettered themselves and are especially proud of the certifications they received. The actual paper certificate is something your workers can be proud of and it gives them confidence that they can do their job the right way.
  • Pay tuition for employees. If your employees are interested in going to school, or back to school, pay the bill. This can help to show that you value growth as a company, and you may also be able to write it off when tax time comes. If state law allows, you may be able to write into the payment agreement that the employee has to stay at the company a certain amount of time before leaving. You can also write into the agreement that the employee must maintain a certain grade point average.
  • Offer transportation reimbursement. Make the ride into work a little more enjoyable by paying for mileage if they drive in, or take care of their bus or train fare if they use public transportation.

Incentive programs. A little extra money for employees can go a long way. And the financial incentive doesn’t have to be for extra work or a job done especially well. It can be for tasks they should be accomplishing, but maybe haven’t prioritized some as high as you have. If you are seeing crews slip at some practices you feel are important, like cleaning out their trucks, add those to a list. If a crew can check off those items every day for a certain amount of time, reward them with a bonus.

Vetting clients. A long-heard complaint from contractors is the time it takes to travel to a lead, and then meet with that lead, only to find out the potential client isn’t close to fitting the criteria of an ideal customer.

Instead of meeting leads in person, take the time to vet them on the phone. Tell them what your minimum budget is, and if they balk at that, there’s a good chance they won’t be a fit. One contractor said he was only getting 30 to 40 percent of the leads he was visiting in person, and now is up to 95 percent by questioning them more in depth on the phone.

Marketing. Many ideas were tossed around – all with varying degrees of success. Post cards were a hit for one contractor, while a client tagging another company in a Facebook photo resulted in six figures worth of work for that company. Those were anomalies, but the point was you have to try different methods to find out what works in your area.

A number of contractors used money from their marketing budget to repaint their trucks one color with a logo, and found success using those as marketing tools. Huston said one of his clients painted a trailer like a billboard and had an employee just drive around town to be seen.

Online presence. While most in attendance said an online presence was necessary, which avenues to take were debated. Yelp was not a popular website due to the amount of negative comments it has.

One contractor experienced a potential client creating a Yelp account for the contractor’s company just to post a negative remark. The person was never a client, but the contractor put in a bid to work on the person’s property. The potential client felt it was too expensive and went to Yelp to express their dismay. The lesson was you have to take control of your online presence, which includes creating your own Yelp account before someone else does.

One other site discussed was Houzz. A few contractors got leads from the site, and one contractor was able to get nine positive reviews from clients. The contractor simply asked customers who were happy with a job to post a review. She emailed the clients and explained how to post the review, which lead to more jobs.

Overall feeling. Contractors were experiencing the same pains and successes L&L has heard recently. Business is good, but finding employees is difficult. None in attendance complained of business being down, but some would like it to be more successful in certain service areas. Huston also went over the amount each position should be paid and how much they should generate in revenue. To find out more about those wages, check out Huston’s Benchmarking Your Business article in the November issue of L&L.


Attention Students

Lawn & Landscape, and its parent company, GIE Media, is giving away a $2,500 scholarship. The Richard Foster Award is available to outstanding students planning careers in the landscape, lawn care or horticulture business.

To be eligible for an academic scholarship, you must be enrolled at a recognized two- or four-year college or university working toward a degree in horticulture, environmental science or other field related to a segment of the green industry.

Visit bit.ly/llschol to fill out the form.



Yes, even us sharp-eyed editors miss things.

In this case, it was something pretty big. In our January issue, we wrote an article about soil preparation with the headline, “Know before you grow.” While the image we used was a beautiful picture, as we looked closer when the magazine arrived, we noticed that it was indeed a picture of artificial turf. So, while it’s too late to change it now, we offer you this photo of a lush lawn, which we bet had the most prepared soil you can find.


NCNLA honors five companies

– The North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association has announced the winners of its 2014 Excellence in Landscape Awards. NCNLA’s Excellence in the Landscape Awards reflect a company’s commitment to promote high standards of quality landscape design, installation and maintenance.

The program recognizes and awards landscape professionals who execute quality and sustainable landscape projects. The award categories are the following: landscape management, landscape installation, design/build, sustainable landscape, ecological plantings and container plantings.

Below are the winners of the 2014 Excellence in Landscape Awards:

Receiving MERIT Awards:

  • Appalachian Naturescapes, Morganton, N.C.
    Landscape Installation Residential and Design/Build Residential
  • Greenleaf Services, Linville, N.C.
    Landscape Installation Residential (above)
  • Coats Lawn Service, Clayton, N.C.
    Landscape Installation Residential
  • Landvision, Raleigh, N.C.
    Design/Build Residential

Receiving DISTINCTION Awards:

  • PLI Co., Garner, N.C.
    Landscape Installation Commercial
  • Coats Lawn Service, Inc., Clayton, N.C.
    Ecological Plantings



Ask the Experts

Overtime concerns

Q: What’s the best way to avoid the overtime scenario? These guys want to work, so in the growing season it’s going to be really hard to keep them to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and have a happy crew.

However, we can’t afford to pay the kind of OT we’ve been paying. I’ve heard of doing a 10-hour day four days a week, but I don’t know what the extra day is for or if you rotate crews all week? Perhaps we have too many workers? Any advice on how to approach this question would be very beneficial.

A: Managing your overtime is a requirement for your business to stay healthy. At points, we’ve all allowed OT to get away from us, and it will kill your bottom line. Of course, not all OT is bad. In the right situations, it can lead to increases to your bottom line. Consider creating an indirect overhead account in your chart of accounts for OT. Watch it regularly and once it’s gone, it’s gone. Careful though, it can quickly get away from you. OT has to be managed at the field level on a daily basis. Regarding four 10-hour days (four 10s) of work, this could have an impact on your OT but likely not a lot. Those contractors that work four 10s tend to do it to eliminate the fifth day of indirect labor and to give themselves a “makeup” day. My company works four 10s. This week it rained all day Tuesday but was nice every other day of the week.

We worked Monday, did not work Tuesday, and just pushed back the schedule by one day for the remainder of the week. We still got a two-day weekend, and if it hadn’t rained at all, it would have been a three-day weekend! (Note: four 10s work great for production but most administrative, management, and sales staff need to align their working hours with those of their customers who usually work five 8-hour days)

Roscoe Klausing, Klausing Group
PLANET Trailblazer

Ask the Experts is brought to you in partnership with PLANET, the national association for lawn and landscape professionals. Questions are fielded through PLANET’s Trailblazers, the industry’s leading company mentoring program. For more questions visit www.landcarenetwork.org.


New Products

Cirus Controls SpreadSmart RX Touch

The pitch:
The SpreadSmart Rx Touch offers technology such as temperature-controlled spreading, integrated load and rate management and Wi-Fi data transfer compatibility.

  • Built on the SpreadSmart Rx platform, the SpreadSmart Rx Touch is a system designed specifically for truck and tow plows, and offers an easy-to-use touch-screen interface.
  • SpreadSmart Rx is compatible with Cirus Controls’ telematics systems, offering the ability to capture, download and utilize data on vehicle location and performance.
  • GPS DataSmart winter maintenance reporting system provides maps and reports to reduce road maintenance costs and improve road-clearing performance, operator safety and more.

For more information: Ciruscontrols.com

Drafix PRO Landscape Version 21

The pitch:
Version 21 of PRO Landscape now contains more than 13,000 high quality images, and the updated library contains new plant material for all climate zones, hardscapes, water features, lighting and more.

  • Save drawings as scaled PDF files and you can email to your customers or to your local print shop.
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  • PRO Landscape Version 21 also includes new features such as an enhanced edit menu, auto-save feature, legend options, improved backup utility, symbol array offset tool, update check tool and more.

For more information: Drafix.com


Green Climber
The pitch: Green Climber is a mower used for maintenance of green areas and embankments, as well as cleaning of roadsides and undergrowth.

  • The tracks of the Green Climber can extend from 4.3 feet to 5.6 feet. It can also be used on slopes up to 60 degrees.
  • It is equipped with a self-cleaning Cleanfix reversible fan that sucks and blows air to keep the radiator clean and which saves up to 6 percent in fuel.
  • The remote control allows the operator to work from up to 950 feet away and controls the machine speed and acceleration, the movements of the accessory (lifting, side-shifting), starting and stopping the engine and the electronic direction correction system.

For more information: Greenclimberna.com

Highway Products Pickup Pack

The pitch: Pickup Pack is a custom-built work truck bed organizing system for pickup trucks that provides quick and easy access, lockup security and maximum storage space for tools and cargo in pickup beds.

  • The Pickup Pack includes two full-length lockable low side boxes, a flat or dome center hatch, a Headache Rack and a removable ladder rack.
  • When closed, the hatch locks the tailgate, making the bed area secure and weather resistant.
  • Pack comes with a 4,000 lb. capacity Roller Coaster cargo tray that installs in the truck bed and slides your cargo out of the truck in seconds.

For more information: 800toolbox.com