Tips from the Top: Bliss Nicholson, The Bruce Co.

Bliss Nicholson, president and CEO of The Bruce Co., discusses how smart growth and an emphasis on quality can elevate a company from even the smallest of beginnings.

In its 60th year in business, The Bruce Co. celebrates a long history of expansion in both services offered and locations serviced. Through careful growth in areas that benefit the company without compromising quality, The Bruce Co. now offers everything from snow removal to pond and water treatments and has served Colorado to South Carolina with golf course remodels.

We got started about sixty years ago when a young gentleman named Lee Bruce wanted to go to the Boy Scout Jamboree and didn’t have the funds to do it. So, he borrowed the tractor from his dad and started working in people’s gardens and lawns and earned enough money to go to the jamboree.

The second year, he had all of those people call him back, so he had more work, and by the time he was 15, he was encouraged to apply for a job with the state of Wisconsin. He did it, got it, but the problem was when he went to sign the contract, he had to go back and get his father because he was only 15.

From there, we grew from doing landscaping to landscape design, construction, irrigation, etc. This was spread out over a period of 20-plus years of just getting involved with one end to the other. We started with landscaping, but over time we started a nursery operation to grow our own plants.

A mistake we made was thinking that we could be everything to everybody and do everything. If you’re set to do a certain kind of work, you just can’t take on a different kind of job and get the same quality of work on that different kind of job. You’re competing in a world of bidding jobs compared to competing in the world of design/build. It’s about the relationship with the customer and the quality of the work you’re doing.

I think the one thing that we always have to keep in mind is that we can build many customer relationships, but building those lifetime relationships with those customers and knowing more about the customer and their needs than the customer knows is what makes us successful. And understanding how important our employees are to the whole process.

We continually tell our supervisors that employees have to see an example from the top down, enforcing that our customers are important to us, and that we expect them to be treated respectfully. So in training, we spend time not only with the people in the field but with the supervisors. We tell them that when you stop at someone’s house, take time to introduce yourself and hear what the customer’s concerns are and what they have to say. Be there in a clean truck and a clean uniform – those outward things that people pay attention to.

I guess I’d certainly look at two things: is it profitable, is it sustainable? If I’m going to grow the company, don’t just get into something without having somebody that knows and understands the cost of getting into it and making sure it’s something that you should do. Know the pros and cons; check the facts.

If you’re going to be expanding, my advice is to make sure you can execute the things you do, and do what you say you’re going to do.

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