Making the grade, managerial change and weather woes

The three companies recap how their summers went and where they want to improve for the fall and beyond.

Michael Mould & Tiffany Tucker, owners, New Visions Lawn & Landscape
Photos by Jon Arman

The three Turnaround Tour winners have wrapped up the summer season and have eyes on finishing 2018 strong. New Visions continues to collect revenue at a record-breaking pace, but needs to keep an eye on the quality of the work performed. LaCholla Landscaping had a recent change that owner Gabe Lobato will need to be navigate. Outdoor Expressions continues to be slowed down by bad weather in 2018, but that hasn’t stopped the company from lining increased sales for 2019.

Quality Focus

Last time we checked in:

Michael Mould and Tiffany Tucker were coming off their highest grossing month (March) since taking the company over in 2016. Mould hired a foreman to manage paver jobs, leaving him more time to sell maintenance and enhancement work. Mould said he was concerned about the quality of the work on some jobs and wanted to improve in that area.

Latest updates:

Michael Mould and Tiffany Tucker continue to shatter records at New Visions. This time, the duo made $120,000 in July, which was their highest revenue number since making $79,000 in March of 2018.

But the rapid progress is no surprise, considering they joined the Turnaround Tour to get help managing that growth.

“It's like a controlled chaos now instead of chaos,” Mould says. “We feel like we've got a grasp on the day-to-day operations and scheduling and everything like that. Even though there's a lot of work that’s hitting the schedule, we're doing pretty good on getting to everything.”

But just like in the spring, the growth was causing the quality of work on properties to slip.

To combat that, Mould has instituted a grading system. Each crew gets assessed on three yards a week. Crews start with a hundred points, and Mould takes off two points for any major mishap on that yard. If they go below a 90, they failed that property. Some examples of major mishaps would be weeds bigger than 3 inches, shrubs not trimmed and leaving debris in a yard.

Mould has implemented a grading system to ensure a good quality of work.

When crews pass two out of the three yards, they get an extra dollar per hour they were worked that week. Mould hopes to eventually get to the point where passing all three yards is the norm to get a bonus.

“I don't think (the crews) were used to doing yards as thorough as what we are trying to move towards – improving our quality,” Mould says. “So, it'd probably be discouraging. I wanted to give them those bonuses at first to encourage them, and then move to passing three out of three.”

Mould will soon pass off his grading to a new maintenance manger he just hired. Mould met the new manager when he had a flat tire last year while he was working at another company. The two built a relationship for over a year and now he has joined Mould at New Visions. Mould will train the new manager over the winter and have him ready to go for next spring.

With a manager for the paver division in place and now one for the maintenance division, Mould will reduce his amount of direct reports to just the two managers.

“I’m going to thin out our customer base and get rid of the ones that we aren't really making much money on. I'm going to get rid of them, and then I'm going to go get commercial accounts. I'm going to sell enhancements. I'm going to push (the new maintenance manager) to sell enhancements, and I'm going start recruiting better people.

Wet weather has posed an issue for Tucker and Mould, especially with customers who have maintenance contracts. The rain has caused them to miss some mows, but the way New Visions structured contracts, they have some rain dates built in.

“We schedule for, on average, 41 cuts a year,” Mould says. “We only charge them for 38. If weather permits, they're actually going get 41 cuts instead of 38. We just explain that to them and let them know that they're actually getting extra services with predictions that there will be rain from time to time.”

Harvester’s take:

Mike and Tiffany are doing an outstanding job in growing their company. Of course, a vibrant economy where they are located certainly helps. Despite the typical problems and close to monsoon weather in that portion of Florida, it looks like they are going to triple their sales over last year, closing in on their first $1 million.

They attribute a good portion of this to extensive radio ads, great response from their website and a strong referral network. We suggested rewarding those people giving them the referrals with something tangible like gift baskets and thank you cards. With extremely fast growth comes challenges and as with most it always centers around people. They are experiencing great success due to hard work and planning but we advised them that they should be using the Harvest mini-budget so they don’t veer off course. They agreed to do that ASAP.

Gabe Lobato, owner, La Cholla Landscaping

A new ingredient

Last time we checked in:

Lobato had delayed using a calling service to contact commercial properties in order to get more commercial maintenance work, but he was still considering it for future use. After initially feeling overwhelmed working a large commercial property, he was getting a better grasp on the job and gaining confidence in winning more commercial work.

Latest updates:

After feeling comfortable with the commercial job and his relationship with the property manager, Lobato learned that the manager was no longer in charge of the property. Lobato is set to soon have a meeting to walk the property with the new manager. He’s confident in the work LaCholla has done on the property, but there is still some anxiety in meeting the new person in charge.

“There's just that anxiety of them wanting to terminate it and hand it to one of their buddies,” he says.

The calling service wasn’t what Lobato expected. He thought the service would be scheduling appointments, but instead was passing him leads that he had to contact and schedule a time to meet. So far, none of those leads turned into appointments.

As far as residential accounts, Lobato had noticed the company wasn’t getting as many residential property leads compared to previous years during peak season. It turns out, a few of his major keywords had fallen off page one to page two in Google searches, so he worked with someone locally to have that cleaned up.

Lobato also e-mailed a newsletter to his current client base with a discount for a monsoon cleanup.

“Literally, within like an hour or two after it went out, we had a handful of leads come in after that,” he says, adding that some of those leads turned into jobs. But even with those new jobs, Lobato’s overall revenue hasn’t increased. “Numbers wise, gross sales wise, it's pretty much right on par from last year,” he says.

Harvester’s take:

We have implemented several ideas to try and break into the commercial market to help Gabe build a more balanced portfolio and to replace the smaller sized residential accounts he now serves in the Tuscan area. We have had very limited results. But Gabe can absolutely grow his business in the residential sector.

We suggest Gabe add a referral program for existing happy customers. This is where Gabe would offer a month's service for free or a portion there of to an existing customer where their referral signed up for his services.

We would also suggest a “four post” program in neighborhoods where he has several satisfied customers. He or a team member would drop off a flyer or even a gift certificate to homes nearby his existing customers.

These would be next door, both sides, across the street and behind the existing customer, hence the name “four post.” We will help Gabe with building a flyer that will get the neighbors interested!

Kimberly Rowe & Lamont Hess, owners, Outdoor Expressions PA

More weather woes

Last time we checked in:

A cold and rainy spring forced Lamont Hess and Kimberly Rowe into getting a late start (early April) on jobs. They were still struggling to add quality employees but did have some success using a temp agency. Hess continues to get good leads and facetime with decision makers by visiting offices, but still struggles learning to bid jobs.

Latest update:

While the rainy weather in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania (it was the fourth-wettest July ever) continues to make performing maintenance on yards difficult, Hess is pushing through and trying to get to them before they grow too long and damage mowers.

“We had some places that grown up to a foot and you know, we're out there trying to mow it,” Hess says. Most of the week, Hess has two, three-man crews each, but the way the jobs fall they are working together most of the time on HOAs because they are so big.

The delays in being able to service yards hasn’t forced Hess to jump on a mower and help, but he has been doing some trimming while still selling new jobs.

He’s got bids on two developments that are almost $100,000 each and he’s sold two new residential accounts, one small commercial account and is in the running to get another HOA, which would be another $20,000 to end the year on.

We didn't get anywhere close to our goals this year,” Hess says. “But if I get some of the bids that I'm doing right now, we should be in great shape for next year. That's just, if I can figure out how to bid right.”

One property manager, whose property Hess bid on, told him she would be willing to pay more for better quality.

“What was really fun about the experience is to take the manager and drive the property and we drove it the day after it was serviced and she's pointing out what they had done and writing it down. These guys missed all kinds of stuff,” he says.

And even though Hess has been able to have success selling for 2019, he is concerned the quality of his current jobs has been slipping.

“Like weed eating – guys zip around and they miss little areas,” he says. During a morning meeting, Hess goes over any areas they can improve or that a customer complained about. “Then I get the blame game. ‘Well, he did that. No, he did that.’ I'm like, 'Okay, I don't care who did it, but if this looks like this next week, I'm going to have a problem with somebody.’”

Hess would still like to spend more time on finding better labor. He found a part-time employee through Craigslist. Another part-time employee found Hess through searching for landscaping jobs, and one through referral.

“I've actually turned everybody over this spring except for two people,” he says. “But I actually have a pretty good crew right now as far as everybody works hard.”

The Harvester’s Take:

Although LaMont suffered from job inefficiencies in the beginning of the season and many of the jobs he inherited with the purchase of the company were underpriced, his main problem has been, not enough sales.

As a result he doesn’t have enough sales to cover his overhead each month. The best thing he can do between now and the end of the year is carefully watch the amount of hours used and sell as much work as possible. He has already scrutinized his overheads and is operating as lean as possible.

If he can keep his payroll down and increase his enhancement sales, it won’t be a soft landing but he should make it.

He will be in much better shape next season because he has sold a substantial amount of work for next year already, at much higher prices and he has a year under his belt and better understands how to operate a successful landscaping business.

October 2018
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