You will not live forever. None of us will. Before you get too excited, this is not a column about living each day like it’s your last. It’s a column about taking some time to sit down and think about what will happen to the people you love and the people you support when you’re not around anymore.
But this couldn’t happen to you, right?
Last summer, a very large landscape company in Colorado went bankrupt after the sudden death of its founder. This was an $18 million company with hundreds of employees and no plan in place to handle operations if the owner wasn’t around. They just sold off the last of the equipment in March to help settle more than $2 million in debt.
Now is the time of year when you and your crews get into full swing. That morning roll out is exciting and you’re finally able to start executing the plans you’ve been setting up all winter. It’s fun, and somewhat relieving, to get caught up in the day-to-day of that blocking and tackling.
But you still need to keep your eye on the horizon. So many companies are the owner’s baby – you’re the top (or only) salesman, you’re the key decision maker and the company is the primary source of income for you and your family.
But what happens when you aren’t around? I don’t mean for a vacation or a conference. I mean what happens if you get sick and you need to take an extended leave? What if, God forbid, you get hit by a bus?
I sat down with Gary Mallory, the owner of Heads Up Landscape Contractors in Albuquerque, N.M., a while back and he explained that he sits down every year to outline his financial and business lives.
Gary started this practice when his kids were young, and he asked them about his business. “I was surprised to find out that they thought I had a 50-50 partner. They did not know if we owned or leased our satellite office. They did not know that we had started doing residential install work,” he said.
Every January he and his wife, Thoula, write down information about their bank accounts, loan officers, safety deposit boxes as well as the names and phone numbers of their lawyer and estate planning adviser, and a brief overview of the business. So, if something happens, their family knows what pieces to pick up.
This month’s cover story is scary, and maybe a bit morbid, but it’s very important. Now is the time to start thinking about what’s going to happen to your family and your business and your employees when you’re not around anymore.
Room to bloom
Craig den Hartog got tired of looking at trashed landscapes, so he did something about it.
HOLTSVILLE, N.Y. – When Craig den Hartog started the Old Town Blooms program, he did it for selfish reasons. The owner of Emerald Magic Lawn Care in Holtsville, N.Y., was “pretty disgusted looking at the increasing trash and invasive vines attacking the corner entrance to my neighborhood,” he says.
So he and a neighbor grabbed their rakes on a Sunday morning and spent a few hours making a dent in the problem. “Before long some extra plants ... and leftover daffodil bulbs were blooming where litter once was,” he says.
Since then, with the help of Bob and Karen Laidlaw and Jon Juarez, the program has taken on a life of its own. In the past five years, Old Town Blooms has planted more than 15,000 bulbs along Old Town Road, which spans 7.3 miles and connects a number of neighborhoods, four towns and four school districts.
The bulb installations are done in stages and the group picks a few focal points that would benefit in some curb appeal.
“We identify what needs to be done in advance – litter or debris removal, brush back of low branches or invasive vines,” he says. “Bulb planting is the fun day. Everybody sees and knows what you are doing so there is a sense of excitement in the community.”
When den Hartog started out, he and his company footed the bill for the work he did.
“Now I do get some donations and some volunteers have enlisted,” he says. “In some instances some bulbs, plants and mulch have been donated by local residents and businesses. I have also propagated and planted some perennials to add some summer color.”
Though he does get those donations, money is still hard to find.
“Towns and organizations have limited funds,” he says. “Fundraising can be done but it can be slow and limiting. As business owners we all can be impatient with bureaucracy.”
Finding help can also be a challenge, but there are places to look.
“Do not expect many volunteers but if you get them be happy,” den Hartog says. “Volunteers can be tapped by networking with other civic organizations, schools, Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops. Many groups are looking for ways to volunteer and many high school and college-aged children need community service hours. A letter or phone call to the right person can work wonders.”
The “right people” can include those involved in a town or civic association or Chamber of Commerce.
“Talking to ‘like-minded’ people will help get your project moving in the right direction,” he says. “It also can generate volunteers too. Disregard the ‘no-no’s’ There will be plenty of people that will knock your idea. Keep moving forward and you will attain more boosters as the blooms increase and the Litter decreases.”
Doing so will help the community but also provides notoriety for your company.
“An added bonus is that it improves company name recognition and some would call that free advertising,” he says. “But even more importantly for Emerald Magic Lawn Care, it reinforces in our employees and in our company that caring is important. We care about our employees, we care about our community, we care about our customers. You can’t do one without the other.”
By Brian Horn
Out in the cold
Winter was all the talk at the New England Regional Turf Show and Convention.
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Much to everyone’s surprise, weather did not end up preventing attendees from making it to the New England Regional Turfgrass Conference and Show at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, R.I., the first week of March.
Even with the break in snowfall, the weather seemed to be a continuing discussion.
With a wet spring, hot summer, mild fall and a winter that was all over the place, lawn care professionals are beginning to think about the upcoming year and what practices will need to be implemented.
Over the four days of educational sessions, most topics covered pest and disease control, with a highlight on what role the weather conditions will play.
Here are a few points to take away if you couldn’t make it.
- According to Dr. Richard Cowles from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, if you’re spraying an insecticide to control the annual bluegrass weevil and some weevils survive, they may have genetic traits that they pass onto offspring. After a few generations they are no longer susceptible to the insecticide. So how can you manage pyrethroid resistance annual bluegrass weevils? Use only selective insecticides that don’t kill the predators that eat weevils.
- Cowles also said weevil adults often emerge in two peaks. Targeting first instars, a developmental stage of an insect, as they emerge from the grass stem is also effective against smaller larvae within the stem, so larvae resulting from both waves of adults can be suppressed with one spray.
- As more pesticide restrictions are being enforced, Dr. Jason Henderson from the University of Connecticut said lawn care professionals are finding it harder to use products properly, mostly because the way they were taught is not the way things are being done now. They weren’t trained to manage grass this way, so it’s making things more difficult. In fact, most current recommendations aren’t based on research.
- Dr. Patricia Vittum from the University of Massachusetts said weather conditions in New England throughout 2013 resulted in unexpected insect and disease outbreaks. Because the spring was wet, the summer was hot and the fall was mild, infestations were unusual and insecticides didn’t work as effectively as normal. Some places even saw new species, as the insects migrated to locations with more favorable conditions.
Next year’s show will take place Jan. 26-29 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, R.I.
By Katie Tuttle
I have an awkward and difficult question for you. I am and have been an operations manager for a couple different large commercial landscape companies for the last 10 years or so. For the last few years I have had my own company on the side.
Mainly focusing on residential clients, etc. I do everything, lawn care, maintenance, design/build, etc. It started out as just weekend stuff, then switched to weekends and evenings. The biggest problem for me is that the company I work for does not know, nor do they condone a person in my position to have or operate their own company. The real struggle for me is that over the last couple of years I have experienced good growth with my company and now have a shop, two full-time guys, three part-time guys, two trucks, etc.
I have had some commercial property opportunities come my way, etc. My annual revenue at the end of this year will be approaching $190,000. My question or concern is finding a balance between being a manager for a huge company and managing my own. I am not going to be comfortable leaving a good paying job to jump into my own thing full time until I hit $350,000 to $400,000. I am trying to do things the smart way and not grow my own company too fast to where I outgrow my capital, etc. I want nothing more than to own my own company and do it full time, but I have to keep in mind that financially I can’t do it until I get to a certain revenue point.
Up until the last year, I have managed to manage both well enough not to lose a grip on either. I know as my company grows that will be more and more difficult to accomplish. Any thoughts or advice on how I can juggle both, at least for the next season or two, until I am comfortable enough financially to go out on my own full time. I know I am not the only person in my type of position, working for a larger established company to juggle their own smaller company, too. I’m just trying to figure out some tricks to make it go as smoothly as possible. – K.L
Editor’s note: We sent the question to our columnists Marty Grunder and Jim Huston. Here is what they had to say.
In America, everyone has the right to own and operate a small business. However, I am fairly certain the big company you work for has a policy, possibly in their handbook, preventing you from running a business in the same industry “on the side” as you say.
So, it seems to me, what you are doing isn’t ethical. So, my answer to your question is really quite simple. You need to resign from your current position and devote all your time to your entrepreneurial endeavor right now. Too many entrepreneurs wait for the “perfect” time to do everything and rarely, if ever, is there a perfect time to do anything. Most entrepreneurs find success by taking risks and by taking action.
Waiting is only hurting your company’s potential and future and it’s also hurting your current employer as well as there’s no way you are fully engaged in that work. You’re thinking about your company constantly – I know you are ... all entrepreneurs that catch the bug do this. Your employees are calling you while you are at your job, you are doing things for your own company while on the clock of your employer and so on. It’s impossible to run a company with a few employees on the side without what I just mentioned happening.
As the owner of a landscaping company, I have a policy that prohibits our team members from moonlighting. It’s a conflict of interest. We want and need people that are committed to us and we in turn will be committed to them. We never stop anyone from starting their own endeavor. I love entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. However, there’s a right way to go about this and the way you are doing this isn’t right. You don’t want to have your ethics questioned and your reputation in the process tarnished. Our reputation is all we have and it’s critical you understand that and protect it by doing the right thing here.
If you want to be an entrepreneur, and basically you are, then go for it. Put all your heart and energy into your landscaping company. Success can and will find you there. All entrepreneurs have a defining moment, yours is upon you here. I hope you have the guts to take this time to seize the day and go full time with your company.
Best of luck. – Marty Grunder
As a consultant, my job is to make the complex simple and the chaotic orderly. Let me make this simple: STOP!
What you are doing is unethical. You have to make a choice and the sooner the better. You said, “The biggest problem for me is that the company I work for does not know, nor do they condone a person in my position, to have or operate their own company.” End of discussion.
If the company that you are working for condoned what you are doing, I’d defer to the sage wisdom of Forrest Gump’s mother (“Stupid is as stupid does”) and call them “stupid.” However, if your actions were condoned, your position would not be unethical. But the owner(s) of the company you work for would still be stupid.
I ran this situation by some of my business-owner clients. To a man, they were outraged. If they became aware of what you were doing, you’d be fired on the spot.
To quote Forrest’s mom again, “Life is like a box of chocolates. ...” You gotta pick one … swallow hard … and move on. – Jim Huston
Editor’s note: This is in response to Chuck Bowen’s February 2014 column, “How you Grow It,” which you can read at bit.ly/howgrowit.
What a right-on commentary regarding succession. It’s a great topic to expand upon with future articles or commentary.
Too late in life, I have discovered my faulty thinking about business growth, suffered the ravages of the economy and a changing market place. Those things have affected my succession. I did not build a business big enough to put management in place that could run the business without me indefinitely. Not that I have been unwilling to delegate, but growth in a saturated, mature market has been devoid of any large success.
In the late 90s, I chose to specialize on fertilization and irrigation only, which pretty much goes against the grain of what goes on in the industry. To succeed, I needed to create my own niche, and fundamentally change the way consumers view purchasing these two services from a single source.
What has been more discouraging in the last several years is the discovery – while seeking the best marketing advice and assistance, and networking with the best businesses in the industry – there are no really skilled people or companies that are able help a company less than $500,000 or $1 million in sales. There are plenty of people and companies to sell you marketing products and services, but are not necessarily the resource one needs to go from the $1 million level to the several-million level. I have yet to meet or speak with anyone in marketing that says we have had great success with this copy on these post cards, door hangers, Frisbees, etc., for a number of companies or regions of the country.
Every agency I speak to has a minimum fee of $2,000, or more per month and that is just for web work in inbound marketing. That’s 5 percent of sales for a $500,000 business for just that one single item. No direct mail, no sales person, no home shows, door hangers or whatever.
So I have come to the conclusion that one must go big or go home. You have to have a vision of your intended result or outcome in place, right there with your succession plan.
For others a “lifestyle” business where they always remain the same size and not too big is the right choice for them. They too can plan for succession, but only if they use bigger company methods to manage their business and keep a legitimate set of books. But a company where the owner is always part of the working crew, they better be making a big profit, because that type of operation will not yield much return, if any, when the owner wishes to leave.
In summary, what I feel needs to be conveyed to many entrepreneurs is your vision plan plus a vision for the future of the enterprise. Most helpful for those of us wanting more than a lifestyle business would be scalable three- to five-year marketing plans and web services based on the vision for the business.
Harold Fox, owner, Town Pride Lawn Service, Medford, N.J.
We asked commercial property managers what their preferred method of communication is from their landscape contractor, and it’s not what the mail carrier wanted to hear.
Buyers Products SprayLube 990
The pitch: Buyers Products now offers SprayLube 990, a spray lubricant.
- SprayLube 990 penetrates and loosens rust and corrosion on metal-to-metal parts.
- Formulated with corrosion inhibitors, SprayLube 990 protects surfaces as well as lubricates and displaces moisture.
- SprayLube 990 is ideal for lubricating and protecting a variety of parts including pintle hooks, drive train sprockets, door hinges and many others.
For more information: www.buyersproducts.com
CASE Construction 580 Super N Wide Track
The pitch: The 580 Super N Wide Track backhoe loader features Ram Laramie Longhorn styling.
- The 580 Super N Wide Track features a 3.4-liter, turbocharged 95 HP engine that burns cleaner and has up to five percent better fuel efficiency under load.
- The N Series models’ deliver increases in breakout force, lift and reach when compared to previous models.
For more information: www.casece.com
The pitch: Coxreels’ new 1175 and 1185 Series reels now come equipped with a remodeled, low-profile outlet riser offering improved full-flow characteristics.
- The 1175 and 1185 series feature a new on-piece swept outlet riser and replace the machined flange riser and o-ring flange seal.
- The low-profile outlet riser and open drum slot design also allow for a non-crimping, flat smooth hose wrap.
- A one-piece all welded “A” frame base for stability and 1 1/2 inch hose I.D.
For more information: www.coxreels.com
JRB Nexus Cast Multi Pick-Up Coupler
The pitch: The new JRB Nexus Cast Multi Pick-Up Coupler for wheel loaders increases productivity and visibility for wheel loaders using multiple attachments.
- The center of gravity is closer to the machine for load stabilization.
- It is designed to pick up both ISO and 416 attachments and features replaceable ISO pins and 416 collars.
- The JRB Nexus is available for a variety of OEM machine models.
For more information: www.paladinattachments.com
Kichler 2700K Design Pro LED
The pitch: Kichler has announced the addition of a 2,700 Kelvin color temperature option for select Design Pro LED products.
- Adhering to tight LED binning tolerances, the new 2,700K Kichler Design Pro LED fixtures provide color consistency for every job.
- The option will be available in two Design Pro LED 12-volt 2-in-1 water and accent lights, three Design Pro LED 12-volt wall wash accent fixtures, 18 Design Pro LED 12-volt deck and patio fixtures and 46 Design Pro LED 12-volt path and spread fixtures.
For more information: www.landscapelighting.com
Hunter Drip Emitters
The pitch: Hunter’s new pressure-compensating drip emitters are available in a range of flow rates, up to six gallons per hour, to deliver the right amount of water.
- They’re available in three inlets: self-piercing barb, 10/32 thread, and 1/2-inch female thread. The barb and 10/32 thread models are offered in .5, 1, 2, 4, and 6 GPH models; the 1/2-inch female threaded model is available in 1 and 2 GPH.
- An optional diffuser cap helps gently distribute water and protects the emitter from external debris.
For more information: www.hunterindustries.com
Profile Products Tornado Tack ST-1000
The pitch: The Straw Tack 1000 is an all-in-one, high-loading straw tackifier. Tornado Tack ST-1,000 gives contractors twice the coverage of a traditional blended mulch and tackifier while providing an environmentally safe bond.
- It can be loaded at up to 70 pounds per 100 gallons.
- A 3,000-gallon tank can cover up to four acres.
- Its all-in-one package means easier loading and storage, so there is never a need to transport multiple products to the jobsite for field mixing.
For more information: www.profileevs.com
Sany Company Excavators
The pitch: The short-tail swing Sany SY16C and the zero-tail swing Sany SY35U are the company’s first compact excavator models. They feature Tier 4-certified Yanmar engines.
- The SY35U features a zero-tail swing design and an enclosed cab that includes standard air conditioning and heating.
- The SY16C offers a short-tail swing design. The undercarriage is hydraulically extendible.
For more information: www.sanyamerica.com
Toro 800 Series Direct Collect Z
The pitch: The mower’s rear-discharge design that allows for trimming on both sides of the deck, so operators can keep planting beds and sidewalks clipping-free.
- It is equipped with a large-diameter blower that generates more airflow for better vacuuming and collection.
- The fill-reduction system lets operators choose between 100 percent bagging, 50 percent bagging/50 percent mulching or 100 percent mulching.
For more information: www.toro.com
The pitch: Vermeer now offers the BC1000XL model of brush chippers for tree care and land clearing. The diesel engine model now has a Tier 4 final Deutz engine option with DVERT diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) technology and features the EcoIdle engine control system, which contributes to fuel efficiency.
- When the EcoIdle engine control system is engaged, it automatically lowers engine speed to 1400 RPM if no material has been chipped for either 60 seconds or five minutes.
- Machine functions such as engine RPM, battery voltage, fuel consumption and coolant temperatures can be consistently monitored. Fault codes and error messages alert the operator to a potential problem.
- The SmartFeed feed-sensing control system is designed to enhance productivity and reduce wear on feed system components. A standard bottom feed stop bar is designed to make it possible for the operator’s leg to strike the bar and stop the feed roller.
For more information: www.vermeer.com
Worksaver Pallet Forks
The pitch: Worksaver introduces new pallet forks designed for mini skid-steers and compact tool carriers. Two models are available, with both models featuring universal mini mount type.
- Model MPF-900 features forks that are 1 inch by 3 inches by 31.5 inches, mounted on a frame that is 30.5 inches wide with a rated capacity of 900 lbs.
- The rail-style Model MPF-2000 is rated at 2,000 lbs. and utilizes Class I tines of 1.18 inches by 3 inches by 42 inches on a 33.25 inch-wide frame.
For more information: www.worksaver.com
Not-so sweet sounds
Hearing loss is a major problem in the industry, but goes unnoticed at first.
By Mickey McCord
Being struck by a vehicle, tipping a mower, skin cancer – those in the green industry face many safety issues every day, but hearing loss is one that people don’t normally put at the top of the list. However, I say this should be at the top of the safety training list for contractors.
When people outside the industry ask about the biggest safety risk for landscape contractors, my answer is always the same: “If by ‘biggest safety risk,’ you mean what could kill them, it’s a piece of equipment rolling over on them. But the hazard that landscapers face every day is noise exposure and hearing loss.”
It’s hard to find statistics specifically on the landscape industry, but the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says occupational hearing loss is the most common work-related illness in the United States, estimating 22 million workers are exposed to hazardous noise levels at work. The Bureau of Labor Statistics has reported that nearly 125,000 workers have suffered significant, permanent hearing loss since 2004. If you work in the field and don’t practice good hearing safety, you will experience hearing loss.
Hearing loss is a tricky problem: It usually causes no pain, has no visible trauma, leaves no scars and is completely unnoticeable in the early stages. It accumulates with each exposure and can take years to notice any changes. It can’t be cured, but it can be prevented with good hearing safety practices.
Visit bit.ly/llhearing to read the rest of McCord’s, founder of McCord Golf Services and Safety, article.
Keep it simple
Designing a training program doesn’t have to be a complicated process.
By Steve Cesare
An industry-wide sage contacted me the other day on LinkedIn to discuss training programs. During that interesting conversation, we agreed that many so-called “experts” typically complicate training program development to the point they fail to reach the desired outcome, waste inordinate time and money and leave a negative impression that training is an underperforming function. In response to this common problem, I informed the executive of the following four-step model to ensure training design is kept simple, efficient and results-oriented.
The first thing to do when designing a training program is to not think about training. But rather, think first of the empirical goals the company is trying to achieve (e.g., increase sales by 15 percent, improve gross margin by 5 percent, decrease employee injuries by 10 percent). These goals should be easily recited by all employees, be found in the company’s written strategic plan, and be part of every staff meeting.
All too often training programs are developed without a business goal in mind, and as such are destined for failure. If a training program does not directly impact a company’s business need, it should not be developed. Developing a training program without an empirical business goal in mind is like buying an expensive piece of equipment the company knows it will never use.
Visit bit.ly/lleasytrain for more tips from Cesare, an industrial psychologist with the Harvest Group, a landscape consulting group.
Crack down on crabgrass
Crowd out the weed by keeping turf strong and repairing problem areas.
When turf suffers under a tough winter, crabgrass takes advantage of the damage. Dr. John Street, associate professor of horticulture and crop science at The Ohio State University, talks about how to keep it from even getting started.
What does the crabgrass pressure look like this season?
I think it’ll probably be similar to typical years. If there’s a significant amount of winter damage due to snow mold or other issues, it could be a problem.
Since it’s been a more severe winter than normal, some places where it’s colder and they’ve had tall fescue that might die out with temperatures below -20, normally these are things that the grass will recover from on its own, but it’s harder when there’s snow mold pressure.
You usually don’t see people have to reestablish turf because of a cold winter, but what you do see is some holes in the lawn by that damage. The question is whether or not the cool-season turf you want will fill in before the crabgrass starts germinating. If it doesn’t, you’ve got an increased opportunity for that pressure.
Visit bit.ly/llcrabgrass for more from Street on fighting crabgrass.
I had come from a business management background. So I was very familiar with customer service and the financial side of the business. But I knew absolutely nothing about plants.
It was a family business and they were having growth issues. My stepfather knew all about plants and mowing grass and things like that but didn’t have much background on the business side or the customer service side.
I think I started off making $500 a week and I was working probably close to 90 hours. At one point I did the math on what I was making per hour. It was somewhere around $2.50 an hour. Then I really started to wonder if I’d made the right decision.
I never did it again. I decided right then I could never do this math again no matter what.
The basics of customer service are to be responsive. If somebody calls you, even if you don’t know the answer to what they need you call them back and say, “Hey, I got your message,” or, “I got your email. Let me research this, let me find it out.” They have to know right away that you’ve received the message and that you’re working on it. You can’t let them twist in the wind.
Then you have to follow up with them after the fact to make sure that, “Hey, did this get done? Was it done to your satisfaction?”
We try hard to make sure that what we’re recommending is not necessarily in our best interest but in our client’s best interest. And if there ever is a mistake or something goes wrong we don’t ever put a price on it to make it right. There’s no limit to what we will do if we caused the problem. Over time you engrain in people that you genuinely are concerned about what’s good for them.
Make sure the business you’re taking today is going to serve you well five years from now or 10 years from now.
That’s probably the single biggest thing I’ve learned in the last 17 years: Not all revenue is good revenue.
I was in the mindset early on of grab all the business you can get – we’ll figure out how to do it. Whatever it takes we’ll make it work, just grab the money and let’s go. There’s a lot of business you’re better off stepping away from.
And it’s hard. Especially when times are slow or when you’re a small business. I felt like I had to take every job if I could get it. If it was profitable, if it was skinny, if it was too far away, it just didn’t matter.
There was no time for thinking about the next step: Where’s our next market? Who are we going to go after next? How are we going to after them? I didn’t have time to do any of that. I was just treading water.
We’re pretty much under Dallas/Fort Worth-wide water restrictions of some sort at this point. And this a market that has historically gone with non-native plant material, very over-planted, lots of material that’s very water hungry and lots of turfgrass. You just can’t do that anymore. Those things are no longer sustainable.
They’re building big new reservoirs and they’re building pipelines, but we’re blessed with a great economy so we’re growing by leaps and bounds. All the water resources are barely going to be enough for the population expansion. It’s not coming back to the landscape market.
So we changed our focus on adapting native species, more rock, more xeriscape plants. The last thing I want to do is plant something that years from now I tell you I’m going to take out and replace with rocks because you can’t water it anymore. I may get two jobs out of the deal but there won’t be a third job.
You’ve got to get it out of your mind the way things have been for the last 30 years because that’s not the way they’re going to be for the next 30.