The extra mile

ArtScape tapped into unprecedented growth by engaging employees in the company’s success.

Management at Andy Taylor’s, right, company made it a focus to give employees like Juan Garcia a bigger voice.
Photo courtesy of ArtScape

A few years ago, Barry Lee noticed a lot of turnover among the crews at ArtScape Lawn and Turf Professionals. He started asking employees what was going on, and one of them revealed that they “didn’t feel like they were ever listened to,” Lee says.

“That motivated me to do something about it,” says Lee, vice president of the Atlanta-based company. “I thought: If we expect them to go the extra mile, then we need to go the extra mile, too.”

Lee realized that ArtScape’s leaders needed to do a better job of explaining the company’s expectations, and then give the employees a bigger voice in attaining those standards. To accomplish this, the executives started engaging more with employees by holding weekly meetings to emphasize consistent service and open communication. They began to teach what they called The ArtScape Way – and the results were almost immediate.

“Though we have been in business over 30 years, we saw more growth over the last year than at any other point in time because of our laser-focus on quality and having employees buy into The ArtScape Way,” Lee says.

Since engaging employees in The ArtScape Way in 2017, the company has seen steady growth between 14-18 percent. Here’s how they did it.

“We really started seeing the difference in quality, and then we started getting more business. Because we engaged the employees and they saw that we were serious about doing extra, they started doing extra, too, and then we started getting extra work.” Barry Lee, ArtScape Lawn and Turf Professionals

Triple service.

ArtScape’s goal has always been to leave properties looking better than the neighbors. Ever since founder Andy Taylor began mowing lawns as a teenager in the ’80s, he gradually added more services to improve his customers’ yards.

“The turf and ornamental division started as a way to make our customers’ properties look better than the neighbors,” Lee says. “Back then, people didn’t know about weed control and fertilization, but because the yards he maintained looked better than the neighbors’ yards, non-maintenance customers became interested in the service, too, as a way to supplement their own lawn care.”

Since ArtScape’s work quality spoke for itself, the company grew over time through word-of-mouth and drive-by envy. Today, the fertilization and weed control division primarily deals with residential properties, while a commercial division handles maintenance and installation for larger clients. In the early ’90s, Taylor also took over his father’s tree farm, Taylor’s Select Trees, which supplies both commercial and residential clients, in addition to other landscapers.

“Our tree farm was originally seen as a way to cut costs on installation jobs, but it grew to be a profitable branch of its own,” Lee says. “We can do jobs at a lower cost because we don’t have to go through a middleman or pay retail for installs, so we’ve been able to get a lot of jobs by underbidding larger companies because we have the supply.”

Each division now accounts for about a third of ArtScape’s business, with 30 employees spread across the company.

Barry Lee says that since implementing The ArtScape Way to engage employees and better communicate expectations, the company has seen steady profits growth between 14-18 percent.

Quality control.

As these three divisions continued to grow, ArtScape’s team kept expanding to meet the need. With every new addition, it became more important – and more difficult – to keep everyone aligned with the company’s standards.

To oversee quality in the field, Lee spends about 15 hours each week inspecting serviced properties. He’s looking for any details that crews may have missed, like a bush that didn’t get trimmed or a stray weed poking through the pine straw. He scores each property, and offers gift cards to the crew with the highest-rated property each month.

Lee grades on a 5-point rating scale, and he totals the score of each job on a site and takes the average of those for the final grade. For example, a property may score high on mowing (4) and edging (4.5), but maybe lower on pruning (3) and weeds (2), for an average of 3.375. They track these weekly or biweekly and the scores help determine what areas to focus on in meetings.

“The inspections are usually nitpicky,” Lee says, “but it’s the little details that we focus on because anybody can go out and cut the grass or chop off the top of a hedge. It’s the finer details that set us apart.”

When Lee finds a mistake, he’ll snap a photo and then grab his hedge pruners to fix it, so he can show crews the before-and-after. But he’s also looking for examples of what crews did well, because he wants to illustrate what to do as well as what not to do.

“You’ve really got to teach quality constantly, and using pictures from inspections is a great tool to demonstrate quality,” says Lee, who joined ArtScape in 2005 as a spray technician and worked his way up to turf care manager then general manager before becoming vice president. “Part of the training is showing them, ‘Well, you missed it this time. Let’s do better here.’ But I also take pictures of what they’re doing well so I can say, ‘This is great work right here. This is the kind of quality we’re looking for.’”

Lee collaborates with ArtScape’s maintenance manager to coordinate weekly training meetings based on the issues they’re seeing in the field. Meetings may last between 20 minutes and an hour.

A 20-minute meeting is a training meeting where the company goes over weekly inspections and the employees learn what to look for and methods to do better. One-hour meetings are more involved and focused more on leaders asking employees questions. Finding out where the employees heads are at is a valuable way of being proactive and staying ahead of potential problems, Lee says.

“During our weekly meetings, we constantly ask employees to think outside the box to improve everything, from pruning techniques to driving routes,” Lee says. “Their feedback is the most important thing, because I can go out and look at properties all I want, but they’re the ones doing the work, so I need to hear from them to know what’s happening in the field.”

Good and bad: Lee points out what workers did well on a job, as well as areas to improve.

Team spirit.

Another event that debuted as part of The ArtScape Way focuses entirely on letting employees have fun. The company started hosting a monthly cornhole tournament and cookout one Friday afternoon a month and encouraging employees to invite their families.

“This is a great team-building opportunity that allows the employees to see ArtScape as more than a place to work, but as an extended part of the family,” Lee says.

By fostering friendly relationships and shared values, these initiatives have improved employee loyalty and even attracted more talent to the team. Now, instead of dealing with turnover, ArtScape is drawing more employees in because of its team-centric, family-oriented culture.

“Other people around us see the work we do, and they talk to our guys and our guys are happy,” Lee says. “Because of our happy employees, I don’t have to go recruiting other people’s employees; they come to us and say, ‘Do you have any openings? We want to come here.’ So we’ve grown our team the same way we’ve grown the business – just by word of mouth.”

Accountable to growth.

Once the employees saw that ArtScape’s executives were making consistent, concerted efforts to make the company better – and involving them in the process – The ArtScape Way started to take shape.

“We really started seeing the difference in quality, and then we started getting more business,” Lee says. “Because we engaged the employees and they saw that we were serious about doing extra, they started doing extra, too, and then we started getting extra work.”

Since then, the weed control and fertilization division has grown by about 17 percent, while maintenance has averaged 14 percent growth. “Since ArtScape started focusing on The ArtScape Way and engaging our employees in 2017, we have seen steady growth of profits between 14-18 percent,” Lee says.

He attributes some of that growth to the economic upturn – especially as commercial installs have started to increase. But he also emphasizes that this unified approach under The ArtScape Way is what positioned the team to capitalize on growth.

“You’ve got to engage employees on a different level – not only making them accountable, but making them want to go the extra mile because they want to do it, not because they have to do it,” Lee says. “When employees feel like part of the process and know that their ideas will be heard, they’re more (committed to growth).”

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.

October 2019
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