Mastering software

Creating a personalized software has helped McMaster Lawn & Pest Services take the business to the next level.

Each service vehicle has a tablet, keyboard and printer — so technicians can use the software anywhere.
Photo courtesy of McMaster Lawn & Pest Services

McMaster Lawn & Pest Services knows a thing or two about capitalizing on opportunities. The Central Florida, family-owned business started as a sod company before quickly becoming a full-service lawn care and maintenance company.

“People were always asking, once we installed the sod, what do we do now?” recalls Brian McMaster, the company’s vice president. “You have to fertilize it and take care of it, so we started getting into that industry more and eventually got into mowing lawns through some commercial contacts as well. We’ve been doing this business for 10 to 12 years now.

“We started by planning to do residential fertilization and just build a recurring business model…and it’s just grown from there. We’ve seen opportunities and had to take them,” he adds.

So, when the company’s business management software wasn’t up to par, McMaster saw an opportunity to create something tailored specifically to meet the company's needs.

Building something better

When the company was first starting out, McMaster says they were utilizing a business management software geared toward the pest control industry. He had done an internship with the company in college and was very familiar with how it worked.

But, because it wasn’t really designed for landscapers, they switched to a software designed specifically for the green industry.

“We used it for several years but started to feel some limitations with it,” McMaster says.

McMaster adds he was also looking for a more connected system as they were utilizing one software for accounting, the green industry business management software and something else for inventory management. He says it was difficult to get all the different elements “talking” to each other and working cohesively.

“I started looking for something that would do this all together — one unified system,” McMaster says.

But after searching for something for awhile and having no luck, McMaster decided to take matters into his own hands. Having taken some programming classes in high school, he sought out to create his own software.

Photo courtesy of McMaster Lawn & Pest Services

“I happened to find a program that was open-source language, so everything was visible for you to read, learn and add to,” he says.

Open-source language programs can be found online, and the language (or code) is not proprietary so that it can be modified by individual users.

“They had a partner network with people who’d help implement the program for you and help design any additional functionalities you might need,” McMaster explains of the program. “The system comes out of the box with accounting, inventory, CRM, help desk, payroll and pretty much all the stuff that runs a generic business.”

After contacting a partner to design a field service specific version of the program, McMaster says the price tag was too high, so he built one himself.

“I just took what little spare time I had to learn it and started building a program that would handle the bare-minimum field service requirements,” he says. “There’s a community of developers and partners who’ve implemented this program for other companies and they have a network online where you can post your code and basically share and collaborate. Somebody was developing a field service module, so I got hooked up with them and helped push that development along. Now, that’s the program we’re using today.”

McMaster says the new program has been instrumental in boosting the company’s efficiency — therefore making them more profitable and growth driven.

“It allowed us to grow quicker because once we got everything all in one single location it’s been a lot more efficient,” he says. “Everybody in the office and out in the field uses the same system and it seems like things happen a lot quicker. It’s been really good for us.”

The homepage for the custom software provides access to all of the business apps under one roof.
Graphic courtesy of McMaster Lawn & Pest Services
The company’s CRM allows them to track leads and their progress easily.
Graphic courtesy of McMaster Lawn & Pest Services

Easy implementation

When implementing a new software, McMaster says it can be tough. But the best thing a business can do is take it slow, put in the work and know it’s worth any hiccups or mishaps that might happen at first.

“We were fortunate because we were still pretty small at the time — it was just myself and my sister-in-law in the office running everything day-to-day,” McMaster says of implementing the new program. “We started slow and got accounting switched over first. And then with accounting ready, we got our sales team switched over.”

McMaster acknowledges that there will be difficulties in getting employees on board with something new, but with time and proper training, it can be done smoothly.

“There’s always a learning curve when it comes to getting everybody on the same page and trying to adapt our previous processes to a new system with slightly different processes,” he says.

When they were busy making the switch, McMaster Lawn & Pest Services was relatively small, so there were less employees having to break old habits or “we’ve always done it this way” mindsets.

“The biggest thing that made it easier for us is that the people we were hiring at the time didn’t know the previous system, so we brought them in and were training them right on the new system,” he says. ‘That really made it an easy transition for everybody.”

But as the company continues to grow, so will the software.

“There’s a lot more it could do but it’s just a matter of development time and man hours and what kind of budget we want to put toward it,” McMaster says. “There’s really nothing it can’t do.”

McMaster adds one of his favorite things about the software is how it makes the business look and feel more professional.

“It’s something that’s bigger than what our business needs right now, but it’s allowed us to become a more corporate style company,” he says. “We’re a small family business but we’re trying to become bigger.”

Setting sights on subscriptions

And something that comes along with that corporate-style approach is a subscription-based business model. McMaster says it was easy to implement with the new software.

“Switching customers over to a subscription-based model ties into the program as well,” he says. “They had a basic subscription application already.”

McMaster says what really drove the business to this model was having clients who utilize multiple services from them in different times of the year, leading to sporadic billing. He notes that customers who receive lawn care treatments and irrigation services may have gotten two bills in one month, none other months and so on.

“The subscription model basically means if you’re an application customer, then we’ll go out every other month so six applications a year,” he says. “If you’re spending $100 an application every other month, we’re just going to charge you $50 monthly. A lot of people like that. They set it up with their bank to pay it on a certain date, so it’s easy for them. For people who like automatic credit card payments, it was the same thing — nice and easy.”

McMaster says the company didn’t do much to roll out the subscription-based model except make clients aware of it.

“The program really helped us get on board with that idea because the feature was already there and we didn’t have to do anything custom to make it work,” he says. “We just switched customers over and with the new ones we just told them this is how we do it. And didn’t really get any pushback.”

And while reception of the change has been great overall, McMaster notes there are still some holdouts who prefer to be billed per service.

“About 10-15% of the customers who’ve been around for a long time haven’t switched over,” he says. “We just let it be and keep billing them that way. You’ve got to keep the customer happy. We have less and less of those to do now, which is nice.”

The author is assistant editor with Lawn & Landscape.

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