Though the long list of services at Thames Lawn Care & Pressure Washing is related to lawn care, the company’s capabilities go far beyond the “lawn” label.
“I don’t really feel like I’m providing ‘lawn care,’” says owner Jeremy Thames, who’s technically been doing so for about 20 years. “I provide customer care. We offer anything a customer could need outside, from the smallest detail to a complete redo of their yard. If a customer asks for it, we look into it. Anything to do with lawn care, maintenance, installation, enhancement, enjoyment, beauty and preservation – that is our wheelhouse.”
That limitless customer care has grown the company into a full-service shop in Sumter, S.C. Thames provides nearly every imaginable service related to the exterior of a property. A partial list of specialty services on Thames’ website spans from retaining wall construction and lighting design to pressure washing and steam cleaning, even offering customized wreath and holiday decorations, both indoors and out.
But the flip side of that commitment to customer care is that Thames must deliver not just variety, but also quality. “The challenges are that you’re sometimes stretched to be everything to everybody – and do it with perfection,” Thames says. He relies on keen planning and a committed team that is both prepared and nimble enough to meet a spectrum of demands daily.
Plan ahead. Every night, after the rest of the crew goes home, Thames prepares for the next day, allocating resources, equipment and employee schedules across the wide range of his customers’ needs.
Of course, the daily demands aren’t much of a surprise, because he already spent the weekend coordinating the week ahead. Then, each day, he discusses the schedule with crew managers and makes a final check of every truck before it heads into the field.
The add-on conundrum
The decision whether to subcontract or do a job yourself can be a difficult one.
When your wheelhouse is as broad as the entire exterior of a property and your goal is complete customer satisfaction, services are added and updated constantly. “New services are really a product of customer demand,” Thames says. “The first fire pit we designed and installed was because a customer asked if we could. The first irrigation install was because someone needed that.”
So, when customers request a new service – or a twist on an old one – the question isn’t whether or not Thames Lawn Care & Pressure Washing will do it. It’s whether they’ll do it internally or through a subcontractor.
“The decision to sub a particular project is based on whether it’s a job we’re likely to do again and again, making the expense worth the investment,” Thames says. “Insurance and specialty equipment for cutting down 50-foot trees is expensive and requires dedicated employees. Would that really be the most cost-effective way to manage my people, my tools and my time? Answering that question always helps me decide how involved I want to be.”
In the case of tree removal, it makes more sense for Thames to work with a trusted contractor while his crews focus on more regular, recurring work, using equipment and insurance they already have.
Still, when Thames decides to subcontract, it’s with strict expectations. Because customers still associate that work with the Thames name, his partners must maintain the same level of service.
“I have developed close ties with certain companies that will give me good service, respect my relationship with my customers and provide excellence in everything they do in my name,” Thames says. “I still deal with my customer. I am the phone number they call. They are holding me responsible and expecting the same quality they expect when they see my name.”
“It’s not easy and it is definitely nerve-wracking, but it also ensures my crews are not on site and find they don’t have what they need to complete the job,” he says. “We have employees going out to prune, others installing irrigation, others climbing trees and others building retaining walls. Does every crew have the materials it needs? Is every crew staffed with the best people for that particular job? Is the right equipment loaded? It’s a constant, demanding plan.”
Even the best prepared plan still demands that Thames’ field crew of 12 be flexible and skilled enough to switch seamlessly from one task to another.
So, as soon as a new crewmember is hired, Thames begins to set the expectations. Employees quickly learn that Thames Lawn Care isn’t just about lawn care, and perhaps more importantly, their job isn’t just about getting the job done.
“A lot of companies only want to make it through the end of the day,” he says.
“I need every new hire to understand that ‘almost’ will never be ‘right’ and ‘right’ is the only way we do it. That means no scrimping, no shortcuts.”
A day with the boss. Most crewmembers get a chance to work alongside Thames in the field at some point, so they can see how focused he is on quality.
If a job doesn’t meet his satisfaction, they’ll keep working until it does. And, he says, his standards are much higher than the customer’s.
While the quality standard is ingrained from the start, individual areas of expertise at Thames are developed later. New hires start with basic lawn maintenance, while Thames observes them to identify special talents and interests. Then, he’ll work to help develop natural abilities – supplementing in-house skillsets with subcontractors.
“By allowing each person to grow into their own capabilities, they are happier, I have a better staff and they are better satisfied,” Thames says. “So turnover is far less than trying to make an employee do a job they don’t like and aren’t really fitted for.”
That development process gives employees some ownership in the reputation of the company, which gives Thames the peace of mind that they’re representing his name well in the field.
“It’s my name on the truck,” he says, “but it’s the employees’ customer service, attention to detail, attitude and quest for excellence that has made the Thames name synonymous with perfection.”
But it’s not just perfection for the sake of excellence. The team understands that it’s all in the name of customer satisfaction.
“When that is the first and final consideration throughout the planning and work process, it doesn’t matter what the particular job entail; the end result is always the same,” he says.
“Every customer knows their wants are foremost in our plans and that we will be there from beginning to end because their ultimate pleasure with our finished project is our only goal.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.
Photo courtesy of Thames Lawn Care