Tips from the Top: Ken Coggins

Ken Coggins, Metroplex Garden Design

September 11, 2012

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 has changed most about your company since it was founded ten years ago?

We rely on technology much more. That’s the single most important thing that has changed. It has allowed us to streamline our operations, become more profitable and communicate better. We’ve introduced electronic estimating, contracts and work orders, and begun communicating with customers through technology.

To what do you attribute your success and growth as a company?

Aggressive sales, trying to do our work better and cheaper than our competition and thinking outside of the box.

Did you plan to grow the company this big?

Actually, we lost a quite a bit of business during the economy’s downturn. But since then, we’ve streamlined a lot of processes and maintained profitability through the recession. As a result, we have come back up in sales. I believe that has made us a little more profitable then we would have been otherwise. And did we intend to grow this big? Yes we did.

Many business owners talk about the importance of finding the right people. Can you offer any advice from your experiences?

It is hard to recruit good employees. You have to do the type of interviews that allow you to understand who it is that you’re hiring. If you make a bad decision, you need to correct it as quickly as possible. So if you hire somebody who can’t fill the role and do a good job at it, it’s not fair to them or to you to maintain that relationship.

In building this company, what are some of the bigger or more difficult decisions that you’ve had to make and how did you deal with them?

One of the bigger decisions we’ve had to make is whether to do all of the work locally or step out to other markets. You have to determine how you want to run your business so that you know how to deal with government regulation, for example. You have to determine the cheapest and best way to run your business through technology and outsourcing.

What mistakes have you learned from most in your career?

We tried opening up some garden centers. And as it turns out, we probably could have made them successful but we didn’t have the skill set to run them correctly. So we shut them down – they weren’t profitable. That would be a good example of us dipping off into something that’s related, but is really a different business altogether. I guess the lesson that you learn is you need to stick to your knitting.

Is there any other advice you can give leaders who want to grow their companies?

Well, there’s a lot. I would say understand the finance and accounting and business very, very well. I would set budgets and manage my budgets. I would understand where your sales come from. I would make sure you have systems in place that allow a good workflow and communication for work orders, contracts and proposals. I would make sure you have the right people in place to manage all of these systems.

I would also have a way of understanding whether or not your employees are doing their job and doing their job well.

Is there anything else you can add about your business or the industry in general?

We are facing a lot of hits, and we still have a housing market that is in the doldrums. Even though interest rates are low, people aren’t buying houses. Also we had so many suppliers go out of business during the downturn that we are going to face some material shortages.