Simplify and save by using software

Landscape contractors can simplify business and design processes when software comes into play.

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For years, Vista Landscape Ltd. in Vancouver, Canada, kept the same routine for doing business: Visit a project site; take notes for the estimate; return to the office to make the estimate; send the estimate out; wait to get approval; perform and complete the job; and, finally, collect the check for the job.

Vista Landscape Owner Kevin Slack says those trips back and forth cost valuable time and money, though.

“I found that from the first interaction with the customer through the closing of the deal, especially for jobs under $2,500, there’s just not the margin to justify all of that,” he says.

To streamline the estimating process, Vista Landscape turned to software as a solution. For $50 per month per license, the software allows Vista Landscape to complete the full sales process from reporting to estimating to invoicing all within the same system.

Most of Slack’s employees access the platform through a tablet. One feature allows them to communicate with the software developers by simply shaking the device. A screen will then appear for users to type in their suggestions or questions. One suggestion Slack made to developers was to integrate the software with QuickBooks so that transactions made in the field can be automatically entered into the accounting software. “Within six to eight weeks they had it integrated, so that was impressive,” Slack says.

Similarly, Jeremy Scarlett of Scarlett’s Landscape in Ventura, California, wanted to simplify the estimating process when he began using new software. Previously, he would create a new Excel spreadsheet for every new bid, but that process proved inefficient as the company grew.

“It was a sizeable initial investment, but it paid itself off in that initial year,” Scarlett says. “I never would have been able to turn around this amount of bids the way we used to turn them out through Excel.”

The sales and estimating piece cost $4,500, and there is a $140 monthly fee for servicing and updates. One feature that greatly improved efficiencies for Scarlett was the ability to create “kits” for the jobs they do frequently. The kits can be customized by the user to include all of the base materials needed for those common jobs, like specific amounts of sod or mulch, and then add it all to an estimate with one click.

The change order function has also been a timesaver for Scarlett’s Landscape. Users can go in and add or delete different phases and the software automatically creates the change order price and calculates the overhead.

Finding the right fit.

As every landscaping business is different, each business’ software needs will vary and change over time. Slack had been using a program that was more robust than what was needed. But changing to a simpler program allowed Slack’s employees to be fully capable of using it within the first week.

“We are dealing with a low-tech industry, so for the most part, some of the best landscapers are scared of technology. We saw within the first week that people who don’t use computers were using this on a daily basis. It’s very intuitive; we didn't have to send them to training classes,” he says.

On the other hand, some companies might be looking for an all-encompassing system, like Gelderman Landscape Services in Waterdown, Ontario. They were previously running several programs to do business, including sperate software for maintenance recordkeeping, CRM purposes and accounting. To simplify, the company has recently transitioned to an enterprise program that eliminates those three existing pieces of software, along with the need for many Excel spreadsheets and Word document proposals, says Nathan Helder, president at Gelderman.

“Our systems work, but they are just clunky and built for a much smaller company. As the business evolves, so do your requirements for software. How we run our business is very structured and organized, and we need the software behind it to generate those kinds of numbers and reports. (It) will take us from $15 million to $80 million,” Helder says.

To make that happen, Helder’s team has spent over six weeks testing, running scenarios and training staff on the new system. They must thoroughly understand the backend of the reporting to make sure they can get the numbers out of it that they need.

“We are able to make very objective management decisions based on accurate numbers.” Nathan Helder, president, Gelderman Landscape Services

“The integrity of our data comes first. It was a huge decision as a company to pull the trigger, and then once you pull the trigger, the implementation is critical. Don’t get too excited about something new and fancy, because you can’t be flying blind and hope for the best when the season starts,” Helder says.

The product was an investment of $100,000, and it will cost about $30,000 a year. The way Helder sees it, the company was already spending about $75,000 each year on individual licenses and upgrading, so the one-time capital investment in Sage X3 will realize value over time, he says.

“We are continually reinvesting money into our software every year, and that’s allowed us to get to the size we are and to know our numbers. If I want to keep growing this business and have the same kind of reporting and not lose sight of the numbers, I have to put the processes in place for it. The more detail you want, the more it costs,” Helder says.

Sage X3 will allow Gelderman to automate many processes like purchase orders. The software also allows Helder to take a maintenance contract with two different components and separate it out to know the true costs for each. This information can be used to determine pricing for the next year. “We are able to make very objective management decisions based on accurate numbers,” Helder says.

For landscaping companies looking to grow, Helder recommends investing in appropriate software.

“I would challenge people to put as much effort as you are putting into designing a beautiful landscape into the back end, behind-the-scenes stuff,” he says.

The author is a freelancer based in Kentucky.

April 2018
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