In hindsight

We asked some Top 100 company leaders about decisions they’d want to do over, and some choices they made that they wouldn’t change.

Larry Ryan, Ryan Lawn & Tree

Mistake: I would not have gotten into Christmas lights. Too much risk and too little revenue when we are still producing revenue from other sources. Also, landscaping was an area we got into then out of. It is complicated and needs high detail people running it. We did not have that and gladly exited. We would like to someday get back in, but that is in the future.

Kevin McHale, Mchale Landscape Design

Mistake: I would like a do-over with regard to developing a maintenance division sooner than we did. It took us almost 20 years before we understood the importance of renewable income that comes with annual maintenance. Today our maintenance division brings in 25 percent of our total revenue. The benefit of its positive impact on monthly cash flow is huge.

David Dubois, Mission Landscape

Mistake: I wouldn’t buy a small company because it didn’t work out too well. Companies have values they work by that drive their culture and support their goals to success. When two companies are not enough alike, chances are it’s not going to work and for us it ended up taking a very long road to bring it around.

Joe Gonzalez, ArtisTree

Mistake: We would have changed our company name sooner. When I bought this business back in 1990 – which was then a four-man mow crew – I kept its existing name, Save-On. It was just easier that way, and it also implied that we offered services at affordable prices. But over time, as we expanded our maintenance services and added a design center, we decided that Save-On didn’t fit us anymore. We brainstormed new names, held focus groups – and when the name ArtisTree was suggested, we knew we had a winner and had a distinctive new logo created.

We liked the play on words – how the name tied into our industry but also how it suggested our artistic capabilities. When we rolled out our new name and logo in 2002, the public embraced it very enthusiastically and we received incredible positive feedback. Our employees really liked the new name, too, because it made them feel like they were working for a trendsetting firm vs. a generic-type company. It gave them a stronger sense of pride.

Maria Candler, James River Grounds Management

Achievement: Several years ago I deliberately put our company in the painful place of reducing our dependency on H-2B workers. This was so painful and literally changed almost everything about the way we operate. Some locations went cold turkey while others greatly reduced their numbers. As I sit here and watch the ridiculous actions of the DOL and DHS, I'm so thankful that we went through that exercise. There is still such an extraordinary need for these workers, but it requires serious balance.

Craig Ruppert, Ruppert Landscape

Mistake: We changed to a different brand of mowers. Even with asking the questions that we thought were the right questions, there were a number of ramifications. Challenges we experienced, like the quality of the cut and operator comfort/ergonomics, became sticking points. If we could go back and ask some of the questions we now know were relevant, it would have led to a more thorough analysis.

Teddy Russell, Russell Landscape

Achievement: Our company's largest customer was not profitable and we decided to ask for an increase. The customer went to a formal bid process and at the end, they gave us an opportunity to match pricing of the lowest bid which was less than what we were originally being paid. We declined to match the pricing and although we did not retain the property, it has freed up our staff and resources to focus on much more profitable work. I wouldn't think twice about changing this decision and am confident we will perform work on this property again one day.

Chris Senske, Senske Services

Achievement: In the early days of my career, I had a team of three employees who worked with me. One early morning they all showed up on my front porch at home and quit. I was really saddened that here was a group of young guys that wanted to do a good job but there was an environment that made the job not worth the hassle. I had made the decision that they were not going to be welcome back to work. A day later, one of them came and asked for his position back. That person has been part of the Senske team for almost 40 years, making incredibly valuable contributions along the way and is VP of the corporation. I sometimes wonder how many others we lost along the way due to our policies or procedures that could have made equal or greater impact on Senske’s success.

Tom Houghnon, Reliable Property Services

Achievement: The last 12 months, we have had to make decisions on a number of large package bids with some historical low margins, particularly some winter work that had drastic margin variability depending on the amount of snowfall. These were long-term customers and we had very solid relationships with each of them. We based our analysis on historical data, seasonal data and what type of higher margin work we would sell to make up for the losses. It was a difficult decision but we were not in the price range that our customer was willing to pay and we lost the business. Over all this work represented over 10 percent of our top-line revenue. We have managed to replace the work with higher margin work that provides the financial goals we need to meet to continue our growth. We also want to make sure we can provide the customer the “contracted experience” they need from their vendors.

May 2015
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