Tips from the Top: Robert Wilton

The president of Clintar Landscape Management tells how his company grew to top $50 million.

There’s a first time for everything – the first sale, the first expansion, the first mistake and maybe even the first award. To help gain insight into the successes and lessons learned by successful business owners, every month Lawn & Landscape will talk to companies who have surpassed those milestones and have become some of the newest members of our Top 100 list.

What services did you start out providing and how or when did you expand to offer more services?

We started in the lawn spraying business, both residential and commercial. The next move was because we had to eat all winter. We got into snow removal so we could generate winter income. Then, about the same time, we started to offer weekly maintenance because of the opportunity to grow our spraying and fertilizing revenues.

Our overall plan is to be the outside providers. If it’s outside the front doors, we try to look after it, whether it’s irrigation, lawn cutting, spraying, fertilizing or parking lot maintenance. We try to be the one-source provider of everything outside the building. We’ve got everything covered except electrical.

What else has changed about your company as it has grown?

Certainly growth has caused a lot of change; new layers of management and supervision, it’s a constantly evolving people thing.

Technology has also changed a whole heck of a lot.

We are now outfitting our vehicles with BlackBerry Playbooks to track labor and eliminate manual recording on job sites.

Is that a way you can enforce your quality of service?

It helps to verify where we are and what we’re doing. We also do that through GPS so that we can substantiate where each crew is and what time they arrived and what time they left.

It’s particularly helpful in the snow removal business because customers want to know when you arrived.

To what do you attribute your company’s growth?

Our people. It’s not a very unique answer, but it’s the truth. I truly believe that selecting only good people makes it so much easier.

And I think that for anybody that’s grown beyond a certain size, it has to be the people. Anybody can buy a truck or a lawn mower and a snowplow, but you’ve got to have very good people to make it all work and keep the customers happy. Our retention rate is basically due to having people who love their job.

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to approach training – we probably spend a disproportionate amount of time on training. We’re not one-man bands, we’re teams.

I was thinking of that the other day watching the Masters – it’s an individual sport, it’s not a team sport. We’re the opposite, we’re a team sport, and I’m kind of the coach.

In building your business, what are some of the biggest decisions that you had to make and how did you deal with those choices?

A big decision was to grow by way of franchising rather than branch offices. That developed about ten years into running the business. It helped bring in equity and capital. Having franchise owners invest their own money was a motivating factor. I always thought that an owner close to the customer would always outweigh a branch manager.

I don’t know whether I will ever prove it, but I hear it from the customers that they like to know that they are dealing with someone with a vested interest.

August 2012
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