I was in Portland last month, so I called up Bob Grover for a private tour of some of his company’s coolest projects.
We’ve got a big sustainability issue coming up this winter, and I wanted to get a jump on it. I wore my nicest flannel shirt and Bob picked me up in his standard issue bright orange Pacific Landscape Management polo.
For a few hours, Bob showed me around the city, pointing out some of the latest in water gardens, bioswales and other green landscape improvements. We saw projects downtown and more traditional installations at office parks out in the suburbs. He showed me the good, the bad and the ugly.
Throughout, Bob kept returning to his focus on practicality in the landscape. He wants to strike a balance between no-input installations that become eyesores and highly designed projects that are pretty, but require untenable amounts of maintenance and attention.
As we were driving around, Bob made a great analogy: “When you look at a LEED certified building, it still looks like a building,” he told me. “A Prius still looks like a car. A landscape can be attractive and functional.”
He described a swing in the approach to landscapes in the Northwest. Years ago, projects were 100 percent input-based and built with no regard to what plants will work, or how the design should be maintained. Now, landscapes in the area are designed with too much attention paid to the plants’ provenance. People think “native” plants means “never maintain or think about again” plants.
Bob and his team at Pacific Landscape Management have made a name for themselves by preaching this smart sustainable message. But even with their success, he told me that he likely couldn’t expand even into Seattle, just a couple hours north. The market’s too different, he said, and he has enough opportunity to keep growing in Portland.
At the end of the day, what Bob and smart contractors across the country are advocating for is a practical approach to sustainability – one that helps the planet, but also makes sense for the businesses involved.
So, propane-powered mowers? Yes. Replacing all traditional herbicides with vinegar? No.
I don’t think Bob’s approach will work in every market – and neither does he. But his way of thinking could. His market and customers respond to the message of smart sustainability, and the idea that their property is helping to save water and reduce emissions. There’s a message like that for every market, you just have to figure out what it is.
– Chuck Bowen
If you like …
Hey, most of have interests outside of the green industry. It’s OK to admit it. We won’t hold it against you. So why not try and make some money off those interests?
We gave Paul R. Segreto, president & CEO, Franchise Foundry, a list of hobbies, and he gave us franchises you might want to investigate.
“My advice is not to always look at the obvious as the connection between what you like or enjoy, and what you’d like to do in a business,” Segreto says. “Often, it’s what the business provides to specific target audiences that may be more in line with what you love or what you’re passionate about. Think outside the box to explore those opportunities.”
Sports or Hunting
You should look into franchise opportunities of either a competitive nature or whose environment takes you outdoors. Sports-type franchises are truly the best of both worlds. Since the spirit of competition can remind you of your younger days, consider a youth sports franchise. I9 Sports is one franchise opportunity that immediately comes to mind. It offers sports leagues, camps, clinics and after-school programs. Activities include flag football, soccer, basketball, t-ball, cheerleading and more.
Even parked, a sparkling Ferrari just looks fast. If you’re a gearhead at heart, look at franchise opportunities focused on car appearance. Franchises like Ziebart and AltaMere immediately come to mind.
Ziebart has been around a long time but its service has evolved. No longer just a rust protection service, the company offers professional detailing, paint protection, underbody sound barrier, sprayed-on bed liners, automotive glass repair, architectural film, window tint, truck accessories, electronics, and scratch and scuff repair services.
Alta Mere is an auto window tinting and high-tech accessories franchise. Its typical customer loves his car and wants it to look and sound great.
You should focus on one of the many fitness franchises popping on the scene including Snap Fitness or Anytime Fitness.
But there are many other less obvious choices focused on specific demographic groups. That is where an individual who likes fitness should direct their attention to specific target audiences they would be inclined to work with, including fitness franchises focused on women (Lucille Roberts and Curves), children (Gymboree and The Little Gym) and moms (Fit4Mom), or specific training such as kickboxing (CKO Kickboxing) or boxing (Title Boxing).
A statement in Kiplingers on this franchise segment puts the growing trend in perspective, “America’s health and fitness kick – partially a response to mounting concerns about obesity, bad eating habits, and high health care costs – is fueling solid growth opportunities for franchises that focus on healthy living and well-being.”
There are many franchise opportunities to explore. But it's the unique concepts that I would recommend focusing on. Many have been developed with focus on health, ethnic fare, convenience and of course, let's not forget food trucks. Americans are passionate about the food they eat and more so when there's an experience to go along with it. A few franchises that come to mind are Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill, Sub-Zero Ice Cream and Sweeto Burrito. The QSR (Quick Service Restaurant) space is ripe with new, unique opportunities. If you're interested in getting in on the ground floor and possibly being affiliated with the next Five Guys Burgers, then I highly recommend a QSR franchise for your future.
You should avoid what might be a fad or with something that might be outgrown rather quickly. Think eBay-related franchises. And, also think about the changing world of print franchises.
Instead, I’d suggest focusing on franchises where technology is part of the offering services. One that clearly comes to mind is PostNet as this brand has evolved with the times and utilizes technology to assist small businesses.
No matter what he tried, Ben Goodall kept hitting a wall when it came to growing the lawn care side of his company,
His maintenance business was just fine, but branching out to lawn care was proving to be a big challenge for Goodall. But instead of scrapping the idea all together, he went a different avenue and invested money in a NaturaLawn of America franchise.
With proven systems, and loads of experience supporting him, Goodall was able to break through the wall, and now runs Goodall Landscaping in Topsham, Maine, a maintenance company and owns two NaturaLawn of America franchises to provide lawn care services.
“It’s been a good move for us,” says Goodall, who adds that he’s made 10 times more in revenue with a franchise than he could have with his own lawn care business.
But will it be a good move for you? After all, running your own company and then using a franchise to provide an extra service might hurt the brand of your own company. Plus, how much say is franchise management going to meddle in how you run your own company? And then there is the upfront cost that you have to pay to buy the franchise – about $30,000 for NaturaLawn.
L&L spoke with experienced contractors to gain insight on how the independent company/franchise relationship works.
Separate ways. Goodall runs his two companies as separate entities, and uses NaturaLawn as if it was subcontractor for Goodall Landscaping.
“(Work) would be billed through Goodall, but then, to keep our internal books square, we would pay NaturaLawn like we would any subcontractor,” he says. “Then, on the NaturaLawn side, NaturaLawn doesn’t really sub work to Goodall Landscaping, so the majority of the customers are standalone NaturaLawn customers for the lawn care end of things.
“But obviously, the larger company Goodall feeds NaturaLawn an awful lot of work.” So, customers only have to write out one check for the work, which Goodall sees as an advantage.
“We’re positioning it as a one-stop shop when it comes to the Goodall and NaturaLawn,” he says. “But behind the scenes it is two different companies. But we find that the people like the seamlessness of that alternative.” Goodall has crossover when it comes to office jobs like human resources, but Tom Curdes, owner of Barron’s Lawn Service and Weed Man of Toledo, Ohio, says his operations are completely separate.
Customers get separate bills if they are having their lawn mowed by Barron’s and treated by Weed Man, which has start-up costs that range from $40,000 to $50,000. “There’s a direct division and we don’t co-mingle anything,” says Curdes, who has three franchises and co-owns them with his wife, Rosemarie. Curdes says he keeps his three companies separate (he also has a real estate company) because it’s just easier to manage that way.
But employees have access to each other’s computer systems to avoid working on a customer’s property at the same time. “If we have a Weed Man customer that’s a mowing customer, we make sure that we aren’t out there on the same day trying to do fertilizers as we are mowing,” he says. “We can go right into their history as Weed Man and see what their mowing day is. We always try and work around all of that.
“We have to be more firm on our commitment on our weekly mowing. We can move a fertilizer day easier than we can move a mowing.” While both Goodall and Curdes like to keep the brands separate, they both cross-train technicians to help out when time permits and work has to be done.
“One of the biggest things is sharing the employees during the winter,” Goodall says. “We use NaturaLawn employees to help with the Goodall winter services and during the summer those key employees switch hats and go back over to the NaturaLawn side.”
Marketing. While they like to keep the entities separate, Goodall and Curdes will use one company to get customers for another.
“I’m able to leverage my Goodall landscaping brand to help grow NaturaLawn and on the flipside of that I’m able to leverage my NaturaLawn franchise to grow my landscape company. So it does work well in that regard,” Goodall says.
Curdes says, “You may be on the phone with a Weed Man prospect talking to them, and as you are talking to the Weed Man prospect they may say, ‘I am looking for somebody who can take care of everything for me.’ Well, we have the ability to do that with both companies.”
Both Curdes and Goodall say management at their franchises don’t interfere with how they run their maintenance businesses.
“That’s up to my discretion on how I want to conduct myself on that end,” Goodall says. “But there is a moral standard and ethics that I have to follow.”
But they say their respective franchises have taught them a lot and they apply knowledge and strategies gained from the franchise systems in their maintenance business. “You’re paying for all the systems and all of the ups and downs that NaturaLawn of America had gone through, and hopefully you’re going to avoid all of those costly experiences because you have a system to follow,” Goodall says. “You are buying more or less a blueprint on how to run your business.”
Curdes says he also can call other Weed Man franchisees and pick their brains on topics, on top of what he gets with the systems. “With Weed Man, you have national attention where you can interact with other contractors or other people that own Weed Man franchises,” he says. “I didn’t have that prior to getting involved with Weed Man. I was the lone man out trying to do my thing.”
Editors note: This is an excerpt from Joe Calloway’s book, “Be the Best at What Matters Most: The Only Strategy You will Ever Need.”
In a tough market, it’s tempting to look for short cuts. Reality check – there aren’t any short cuts. The one business strategy that creates and sustains success is to be the best at what matters most. What an audacious idea – outperform your competition on those things that create real value for your customer.
Deliver on your promise every time. One of the most popular concepts in business over the past 10 years has been that of the “wow” factor. It seems that everyone’s focused on surprising the customer with something different. That’s all well and good, but understand that the ultimate and most powerful wow factor is to deliver on your promise every time, with every customer, with amazing consistency.
They’ve taken their eyes off the ball. For years we’ve all talked about the need to think outside the box. I take that to mean that we need to be open to new ideas, new ways of doing things, innovation and creative thinking. I’m for it. Count me in.
The trap that many have fallen into, however, is being so enamored with the idea of thinking outside the box that they’ve taken their eyes off the ball. They’ve started spending so much time outside the box that they’re losing the battle where it’s being fought, which is squarely inside the box.
If you win on the basics, you win it all. Let me explain what I mean. You want to constantly innovate and improve for one purpose, to win inside the box. By inside the box, I mean those things that matter most to the marketplace. These are the basic expectations of your customers. These are the things that your customers value most. I go back to my core premise, which is that if you can clearly win on those basics, you win it all. It’s how every market leader succeeds.
Throughout this book there are examples of companies that win inside the box. I use that term to get your attention and to challenge the idea that the more “out there” the idea is, the better it is. It’s not about how outside the box your idea is. It’s about how useful and effective your idea is. Sometimes that can be something you come up with that’s radically different and edgy. Great. Go for it. The bottom line test, however, is how your idea affects the bottom line.
In many ways, the thinking in this book is radically contrarian. It seems that the conventional wisdom in business today, and what we hear from business authors, speakers and consultants is that, above all, you must be unique. They say that to compete and win you should focus your efforts on being different and doing things that absolutely none of your competitors are doing. They back these ideas up by telling really cool stories about really cool companies.
Barney’s vs. Nordstrom. A couple of years ago, I heard a marketing consultant tell his audience that they should emulate Barneys New York because it was the hip, edgy way of the future in retailing. His example of the kind of business model to avoid was tired old Nordstrom. He said that Nordstrom was, in effect, a dinosaur of retailing and simply wasn’t cool enough to survive.
Flash forward to today. Nordstrom is booming and The Wall Street Journal recently reported that oh-so-cool Barneys New York “skirts bankruptcy.” You know what’s cooler than Barneys New York? Making a profit and staying in business.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that being “hip, cool and edgy” won’t work. It may be exactly what you need to do in order to be the best at what matters most. My point is that all around us are books and articles and speakers and experts who are telling us that to succeed in business today we have to do the unexpected, the unique, and the outrageous.
What I’m saying, based the facts of who is winning and who is losing in the marketplace, is that you win not by being the most unique, but by being the best. Imagine that.
It’s a sucker’s game. Beware of anyone who says that the key to winning in this market is to focus on being different by over-the-top acts of uniqueness. It’s a wild goose chase. It’s a sucker’s game. It will throw you off course.
The best way to be different is to be demonstrably better than your competition at the basics, at what matters most to customers. Don’t agree? Read on. The evidence today is overwhelmingly on the side of quality performance as the only sustainable success strategy.
I’ll happily take the doughnut. But Joe, what about pleasantly surprising the customer? Sure. Bring it on. Give me a doughnut the next time I’m in the bank. Run out to my car with an umbrella when it’s raining. I love it. But what I love even more is for you to do your job the right way every single time. That doesn’t mean that consistency and giving something extra are mutually exclusive. Of course they’re not.
What it does mean is that you should take another look at the basics of your business and be sure that you are hitting 10 on a scale of one to 10 inside the box before you start thinking about how you can surprise your customers.
Your “table stakes” aren’t working. I had a bank client once tell me that good service for customers in the branches was just “table stakes” and that they were interested in playing above that level. I did a little mystery shopping and visited twelve of their branches. I just walked in and waited in the center of the branch. In eight of the branches, it took over five minutes before anyone even asked if I needed help.
Going beyond table stakes is all well and good, but if you are lousy at table stakes then you’d better focus there before you start thinking up what cool little surprises you can offer to win business. The battle is won and lost inside the box.
The new reality in business today is that quality and consistency rule. Hype and gimmicks are dead. The internet and an infinitely more sophisticated and informed customer killed them.
More to come on how the internet killed hype. But in a nutshell, it’s that if a business is all hype and can’t deliver the goods, the word that the emperor has no clothes gets out at the speed of a few strokes of the keyboard. You can’t fool any of the people any of the time anymore, because they’re online busting poorly performing companies right and left.
Bells and whistles wear off. 37signals develops web-based collaboration apps for small business. Their mantra is “Bells and whistles wear off, but usefulness never does.” What matters most to them are quality, usefulness, and attention to detail. 37signals is a cutting edge, incredibly cool company. That’s nice.
What’s nicer is that they are a very, very good company that succeeds. They are an example of a business that uses innovative thinking to win inside the box.
Glitz or profit? It takes real determination and perseverance to simplify your business, get focused on what matters most and be the best. It’s not easy. The fact is that most people can’t do or won’t do what I’m advising you to do. It’s much easier, albeit much less profitable, to pursue the glitz of gimmicks that will supposedly set you apart.
But the huge payoff for your effort comes when you begin to make being the best at what matters most your natural way of doing things. Then it does make work and life easier. You’ll reach the point where you look at your business and think “Why didn’t I always do it this way?” It changes everything.
The author is a consultant based in Nashville.
Leaves, grass clippings, debris. You might not be able to avoid onsite cleanup, but buying the right equipment can make handling landscaping leftovers an easier task.
The key, says Drew Coates, product manager for manufacturer Billy Goat Industries, is tailoring what you buy to your operation. “Consider your labor. What’s the most efficient at performing the task you need completed and in your price range?” he says.
Mike Thackrey, vice president and cofounder of Fieldstone Landscape Services in Clearwater, Fla., agrees. “I’d tell dealers or sales reps about the type of properties I work with and my typical client, then ask what type of power I need to service that client. From there you can start working on the price points,” he says. Blowers, vacuums, and truckloaders are the three most common options for handling leaves and other landscaping debris.
The majority of landscape contractors who purchase equipment from Pantano Power Equipment in Manalapan, N.J., buy blowers. “They’re versatile. You can get in and around beds, trees, shrubs and can use them year-round,” owner Rick Patano says. That’s why Chase Coates, president of Outback Landscape in Pocatello, Idaho, relies on a combination of handheld and backpack blowers – handheld for smaller residential lawns and backpack for cleaning up larger properties. Thackrey uses blowers too – mostly for grass clippings, but once a year for corralling oak leaves into piles for pickup.
Other debris cleanup options have a more limited use and a higher price tag. “Vacuums work for smaller lawn cleanup in the fall,” Pantano says. “They’re easy-to-push, high-wheeled machines, but typically a little more cumbersome. Contractors don’t tend to use them as much as a homeowner would.”
Customers who purchase vacuums generally ask about how easy it is to handle the debris bag and how much volume the vacuum holds between dumping, Pantano says.
Contractors who use truckloaders bring the material to the machine for collecting, condensing, and transporting. “Truckloaders are expensive, bigger, and need equipment to pull them,” Pantano says. But they might be the right option if you deal with a large amount of debris that must be removed from the job site. He says customers who purchase truckloaders generally want to know how easy they are to install and the ease with which one person can dismount and dump the truck. In addition, customers want to know truckloader weight and what size truck is needed to tow the loader.
Regardless what type of equipment you’re buying, Drew Coates stresses the importance of doing your homework, and taking equipment for a spin before buying. “Run the product versus competitive equipment to see how they actually perform,” he says.
His last word of advice? “Every product has its pros and cons. Find the one that best suits your operation before putting down your hard-earned money.”
The author is freelancer in Lincoln, Ill.
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