Tips from the Top: Steve Parker, Parker Cos.

Parker Gardens President Steve Parker explains how delegation, putting the customer first and having a collaborative team environment have kept both his and his brother’s businesses at the top.

The company Steve and Rich Parker inherited from their parents began with war savings and carrier pigeons keeping the business alive. While much has changed since then, the same work ethic, teamwork and dedication to the customer established in those early years still fuels both Parker Gardens and Parker Interior Plantscape today.

My father, at the beginning, would still be involved in larger decisions. When you spoke with him, he wrote down everything. I thought I could remember everything, but then you find that every once in awhile you should have wrote it down because you forgot it and didn’t get it done as fast as you could have. Taking notes and listening was probably some of his best advice.

Another one of my father’s things was that if you’re selling to a certain type of customer, you could still offer those people other services. A lot of people don’t want to be involved with four different vendors. So that concept is something we’ve kind of kept up with when we feel that we can take advantage of it. There is a negative to it – if you’re not an expert in each field that you’re involved with, it could blow up in your face because instead of losing just an outdoor landscape, you could lose all of whatever else you’re working on.

The key is doing it slowly. In my particular case, my brother specializes in certain areas, I specialize in others, and under us we have people who specialize even more so in different areas, and it’s a chain of command. It’s making people responsible for their particular area. Sometimes it takes 10 years to end up getting the right person into the right job. In the meantime, it’s a trial and error situation where you don’t want to overstep your bounds where you fall on your face. You do it slow enough that you can do it without hurting your customer or hurting yourself.

For a long-term business, if you don’t have the quality, forget it. That’s one of the things that we pride ourselves in, although like anybody else in the kind of economy that we’ve had, you can’t do everything that you might have wanted to do because you have to watch your dollars.

You have to let certain things slide and certain things take priority. Anything to do with a customer is a priority item. You’re not just putting in the hours, but you’re concentrating on areas where you can improve the most without neglecting other areas. You have to make sure you’re constantly re-evaluating instead of falling into a slump where you’re doing the same thing every day. You have to figure out the problem areas and check up on how to fix them.

In my younger years, I thought that maybe I was going to educate the consumer. But in reality, some people want to be educated and some people still don’t understand the process. It’s never going to be the way I thought it would be. When someone gets an email or fax with something half our price, they have to be suspect and see if it makes sense. If you promise the world, you can’t have everything for nothing. I’m one to think that if I can get it for less, I need to really check into it so I know that I get what I pay for. Then there are times that someone can charge double what someone else does and even if I paid the cheaper one 25 percent extra I might be better off.

Sometimes you have to say to the person, “You see our guys out there for say 20 hours a week. Multiply their pay by the number of hours you see them out there, and it doesn’t make sense how ‘Joe’ can offer half the price.” And sometimes that will resonate with people to not go with the lower price person, and other times they give it a try anyway. If you really think about it, do you want to save a little money now, and then a year from now have a problem that might not be fixable, or is fixable but for $10,000? Or, you call and the business is no longer in business? I’m one who would be willing to pay a little extra to get that extra service, because in the end, it’s cheaper.

You name it, we’ve learned from it. I’m sure we’ve made every mistake under the sun after being in business for more than 60 years now. The thing you try and do is not make the same mistake again. The best thing in management I can tell you is to have someone who covers your weaknesses. It makes your team a better team. It’s overlapping salespeople, installation people, managers, etc. to eliminate problems before they happen.

It’s a different world. I find myself more involved with the paperwork end rather than the sales and operations end that I was in my younger years. So I try to keep my hands involved in the operations, not overly so, but enough to keep involved in the areas that I enjoy more than the paperwork. You have to do the things that you enjoy to keep your interest in the business.

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