Staying the course
Bobby & Lauren White, owners, Maple Hill Lawn & Garden
Bobby and Lauren White entered the Turnaround Tour exhausted with their overwhelming tasks as the owners of Maple Hill Lawn & Garden in Maryland. They’re ending the experience feeling much more confident about the direction of their company and their workload.
Yes, when the season started, it looked like they might be doing even more work than before. Bobby was still hopping on crews and Lauren was sifting through the books like never before. The Harvesters came in and assigned several tasks like cleaning up their books, fixing labor inefficiencies and identifying hundreds of commercial client prospects for the future.
So, no, it wasn’t always easy for the Whites, who had plenty of heavy lifting to do during the Turnaround Tour. But now, they say they’ve constructed a plan and simply need to stay the course.
“I wouldn’t say we’ve arrived. I told the Harvesters we wouldn’t be so bold to say that we’ve got it now, but I do feel like we’ve got it,” Bobby says. “Some of the biggest, most important puzzle pieces, we were missing. It’s really a matter of working the plan.”
Among all the takeaways from the Turnaround Tour, the Whites say the biggest has absolutely been their renewed confidence in job costing. Bobby says the Harvesters constantly joke about the three biggest things in landscaping: know your cost, know your cost and know your cost.
Additionally, their new sense of pride in their labor means the Whites shouldn’t be burdened with tabling their own responsibilities to fix daily problems as frequently in the future. Once they implemented a stricter 40-hour work week and a GPS tracking system to monitor their crews’ routes, they cleaned up some of the time and money hemorrhaging from the company.
The big changes to work flow miffed some long-time employees who weren’t willing to change, Lauren says, so they left the company.
“As much as you need labor, you also need good labor,” Lauren says. “I guarantee you probably 90% of the smaller companies would say the same thing to you: They just took whoever they could.”
Looking ahead, Lauren says she’s going through and cleaning up all the books on the finances end, working now with the mini budget model the Harvesters suggested earlier in the Turnaround Tour.
The Whites say they’re have sent out a proposal to acquire the company they nearly bought at the beginning of the Turnaround Tour, but they are looking for other opportunities to grow, too.
Bobby says Chris Darnell, a sales and marketing consultant with the Harvest Group, is also chipping in his consulting on redesigning the Maple Hill website and strengthening their language to appeal to commercial clients. The Whites say they are aiming for $500,000 or more in new commercial work for 2020.
It’s this kind of guidance and more the Whites say they appreciated during the Turnaround Tour. As they continue to implement their plan moving forward, they have a whole year’s worth of consulting to lean back on as they enter yet another season at Maple Hill Lawn & Garden. “The Harvesters asked if we would do it again,” Bobby says, “and I said, ‘In a heartbeat. Where do we sign up?’”
Harvesters’ Take: It was quite a year for Bobby and Lauren, going from close to zero profits in 2018 to over 25% net profit this season. Not only that, they exceeded their sales goals as well. This just goes to show that “applied knowledge is power.”
One of the things the Whites learned from our visit was how to price their work. This was a huge revelation for them. Also, the generosity of the Verizon folks in giving them their system for a year helped them to monitor their people and begin to job cost their work. With Bobby’s sales ability and Lauren’s close eye on the customers and the books, they should have another outstanding year for 2020. And truthfully, they now have the potential and desire to grow into a substantial company.
Gary Hardy & Josh Brunner, CEO/COO, Brunner’s Lawn & Services
While Gary Hardy and Josh Brunner have had their share of bumps in 2019, overall the duo that runs Ohio-based Brunner’s Lawn & Services has improved in a number of areas after completing the Turnaround Tour.
Most importantly, Hardy says he now has a grasp on how to bid correctly, which includes what kind of margins to build into bids and the time of year to submit them.
“We have some good new contracts this year based off of the bidding that I was losing at the beginning of the year,” Hardy says, adding that he previously bid jobs in February or March after budgets had been set, which resulted in rejection.
Hardy and Brunner also point to an established career ladder, which you can read more about at bit.ly/apriltat2 from our April issue.
“There’s a better, more concrete, foundation – a little more organized,” Brunner says
As far as 2020 goes, Hardy and Brunner both want to continue to focus on the management side of their roles. For Brunner that means less mowing and more supervising crews.
“It really hinders me to be out in the field,” Brunner says. “I love to mow, but my skill set and expertise from experience makes it to where I need to be overseeing the guys and training.”
Brunner would like to continue to grow as a CEO.
“Once my sales are done, I want to give it to Josh and not have to worry about it and just get updates on completion,” he says. Hardy also wants to improve their safety training, which took a hit when the employee in charge of the program left for an out of state job earlier in the year.
“That way I can have it “fill-in-the-blank” for whoever takes it over after I’m done,” Hardy says. The duo has brought in a third owner to help with planning purposes, which will help Hardy in his quest to be more of a CEO.
If all of this continues to develop, eventually Hardy and Brunner can get to a point where they can work on the jobs they desire.
“If that big client calls, I can say, ‘yes, we can do it’ rather than trying to figure out how to do it,” Hardy says. “I want to be at a point where I can expand and contract on demand.”
Harvesters’ Take: It was a pleasure working with Gary and Josh this year, their humility persistence and drive went a long way in helping them achieve their goals. From our visit last year, they had much to do and they accomplished a great deal of it.
They are in a very competitive market but they know their niche and if they stick to it they will continue to grow and so will their profits. The key to their future success is to plan out the winter so they continue to put the systems in place the company needs and for the two owners to stay in each of their lanes so they can each work with their strength.
Gary’s plan during the winter is to focus on sales, especially larger and more profitable accounts; we endorse that effort 100%. Josh on the other hand will be working in operations making sure the equipment and personnel are ready for the impending snow events. The Harvesters wish them the best and are confident they are now on solid ground moving forward and are set for a great 2020 season.
Jennifer Davies & Bob Naylor, owners, Pratt’s Lawn Care and Landscapes
When we first met the team at Pratt’s Lawn Care & Landscapes, they were digging out of nearly 12 feet of snow. And, to finish up the year, they’re digging out of more snow. But this time around, owners Jennifer Davies and Bob Naylor have a little more organization going into the snow season.
“It’s been a relief for me,” Davies says. “Bob’s taken over the snow plowing and we’re better at staying in our lanes now.”
One of the biggest problems (aside from labor) was an unclear understanding of who was in charge of what at the beginning. The goal was to have Naylor own the snow plowing operations once winter rolled around, and with Bala, Ontario’s first big snow of the season, it was a success. “I’m actually very surprised at how we’ve managed to do it,” Davies says.
Being in such a unique area, labor has been a struggle throughout the Turnaround Tour process. The owners tried to lock in housing for employees, but weren’t able to fill the rooms. And they experienced some turnover due to the nature of the work.
Davies says they’ve relied on their solid core team of employees to bring on new people, and it’s been good for morale.
“You can’t forget the people that are in front of you, right? We always want to be focused on recruiting. But the people in front of you are the most important people cause they’re here,” she says. “We try to treat our team really well and let them be our ambassadors out there.”
This past year has taught Davies the value of accountability, she says. It’s one thing to look at your business yourself but having someone checking things out along with you has been very helpful.
Plus, it’s been nice to get some recognition when things have gone well. “It was super helpful and I enjoyed it,” she says.
With labor still tight, Davies had to pick up some snow routes herself to get things moving, but the winter weather will likely push the company to their $1.2 million revenue goal for 2019.
When plans were announced to build a greenhouse on the property, the Harvesters were a bit skeptical.
Davies did her due diligence and now almost four years later, the greenhouse will be open for business in May of 2020, as planned.
“I never knew anything about landscaping when I bought this business,” Davies says. “That was not a smart idea, but we figured it out. So, I figured we’ll figure this out too.”
Harvesters’ Take: Despite all of the weather-related problems Jennifer and Bob met their sales goals.
With some 12 feet of snow, a late spring start and rains that delayed the spring cleanup by one month, they had everything back on track in a short time.
The biggest problem they have is an extremely small labor pool. Their landscape season is only six months long and they are located in a very high-end residential vacation area.
We brainstormed ideas to attract employees into their market but only time will tell if it helps.
In the meantime, Jennifer and Bob have been dreaming for years about building a large greenhouse on their property and this dream is coming true. They put up the entire framework and will be working on it during the entire winter.
Not only will this serve as a place to keep their vehicles warm before snowstorms they will have a substantial office for the company and will be growing annual and perennial flowers they can sell to the 10,000 vacationers who invade the town each year.
The Harvesters were skeptical if these folks would see their dreams come true but after working with them for an entire year we were blown away by their tenacity, ingenuity and grit.
Get out of their way because nothing is going to stand in the way of their success. They said they are going to send us pictures of the greenhouse when it opens, and we can’t wait to see it.