One man's trash

Treasure Coast Irrigation & Landscape was about to go bankrupt until Scott Fay got his hands on it.

June 20, 2013
Lindsey Getz

Scott Fay has a knack for taking failing companies and transforming them. In 1996, that’s how his success story with Treasure Coast Irrigation & Landscape, in Hobe Sound, Fla., began. It was just a tiny service company going bankrupt when Fay began to work his magic. He transformed it into a business that did just over $13 million in revenue last year. Today, Fay has formed a business that compiles 13 other distressed companies that were all going out of business.

“I tell people that I’m not gifted enough to take a good company and make it great – but I know how to take a broken company and fix it,” he says.

“I have worked out a formula that allows me to take a failing company and fix it. We have an infrastructure already in place so the first thing we do is get rid of the senior level people at the company. That’s the expensive part. But I already have a fantastic leadership team in place. From there, we go to work on rolling that business into the main company. There are a number of philosophies and strategies that come into play for that.”

In fact, Fay has a variety of core philosophies that he operates his entire business on. His belief in the importance of operating under business principles also lead to a book, Finding Your Sweet Spot, to be released this summer. Fay believes it’s these philosophies and strategies that have set his company apart and he recently shared some of the ones that have helped him grow his business from the ground up.

Developing leadership.
A lot of people build a company based on trade, Fay says. There’s no doubt trade is important. In irrigation, contractors need to be skilled at installing systems and troubleshooting maintenance problems.

But Fay says that the real key to success is leadership. “We drilled down on trade only after the leadership was already in place,” Fay says. “That comes first. In the early days when we were starting out, I surrounded myself with people who believe like I believe – but think different thoughts. I don’t mean politically or my faith, but I mean about business.

“I want leadership that has the same underlying business beliefs as me but bring different perspectives to the table. That includes what we focus on as the four posts of business: Top, Bottom, Inside, and Out.”
Fay breaks them down:

Top. “Sales is the top line. It’s your income. Everyone has to believe in the importance of sales to be on my team.”

Bottom. “The bottom is profit. I have to surround myself with people that believe in profit. There are people who are put off by profit. Who say they’re uncomfortable with a focus on making money. I don’t want people who are put off by profit.”

Inside. “My inside customer is my team. We believe that everyone is a customer and that includes the team. It’s just as important for my inside customer to have a great experience as my outside customer and I need leadership that believes in that too.”

Outside. “Leadership also has to believe in the importance of a great experience for the outside customer.”

Fay says that the company keeps an eye on these four posts of business to ensure they are always working in harmony. He feels that his approach of focusing on leadership first is a key differentiator in setting his company a part.

“There are a lot of really good irrigation contractors out there who are quite good at what they do,” Fay says. “They’re good at the trade. But they haven’t taken the time to develop their business and they certainly haven’t developed their team.

“The founder of Southwest Airlines, Herb Kelleher, has said that the ‘business of business is people’ and that’s what we believe. We feel that if we can get the ‘people part’ right – not just getting good people but also training them well – then we are on the right track.”

Extensive training. Training is actually one of the most important ways that Fay says employees are prepared for the job. And Treasure Coast boasts one of the most extensive (and intense) training programs in the country. It’s a 30-step in-house training program. That training happens in three components: a lab, a ride-along field experience, and classroom/lecture-based training.

“It’s extensive – but it’s a differentiator,” Fay says. “We’re looking for the person who doesn’t think our training is ridiculous. It’s definitely over the top – but by intent. If we have an average program, we’re going to be an average company.

“So we have training that is over the top. If a potential employee comes in here and says it’s ridiculous – they just want to get out in the field – then they’re not the right person for us and it’s best we find that out in the beginning.”

Fay says that philosophy and business models are incredibly important to him and are therefore a huge part of the training. “Part of being trained means listening to me lecture on the philosophies of our business,” Fay says.

“If I get an irrigation tech who really doesn’t want to talk about philosophy and resists the training, then that person isn’t right for us. We want employees who care about our business philosophies.”

In addition to the lectures and the hands-on field training, Treasure Coast also offers an incredibly unique training experience with an actual lab. “We take equipment that was either broken in the field or we’ve purposely broken it for teaching purposes,” Fay said.

“It’s a great training opportunity. I use non-functioning valves or clocks – especially electrical and mechanical components that aren’t working – and demonstrate how to repair and diagnose. There’s nothing more fun than taking a new guy who thinks he knows everything and putting some broken equipment in front of him. I say ‘Don’t tell me how to fix it – show me.’ It’s a great lesson. There’s always something to learn.”

A maintenance focus. Like every other company, Treasure Coast was faced with determining how to continue thriving despite the recession. For Fay, maintenance was an obvious answer and the company has a strong focus on that area.

Fay says that every business needs “something to carry you through the highs and lows.” And with construction, he says, the industry has been in a “serious low.” For the company, maintenance has been that opportunity to carry on despite the low.

“Maintenance is a backbone,” Fay says. “It may not be sexy, high gloss, or even technical – but it’s steady. It’s constant revenue and that’s what has helped us build a fantastic clientele list that becomes loyal to the other services we offer as well.”

Fay says that a lot of businesses make the mistake of getting caught up in building and they forget to also pay attention to maintaining. Installations are certainly a lot more glamorous and mean more profit at once.

But in his training sessions, Fay teaches about the value of maintenance by using Olympic sites as prime examples. “Olympic site designs were built in a magnificent way and were truly incredible designs,” Fay says.

“But now that nobody maintains them, they look absolutely terrible. They may have been built in an extraordinary way, but with nobody maintaining them, they’ve lost that magnificence. I use this example and photographs when teaching. I have a passion for maintenance and really believe in its importance.”

Fay has many philosophical beliefs about business that he wants to see leadership and employees follow. But what it comes down to is value. No matter what service the company is offering, he wants to ensure it’s a value-driven service. Consequently, he also believes that employees need to deliver value to the company.

After all, value is what drives profit. “At the end of the day, if I don’t deliver value to my customer then we are going to be out of business,” Fay says. “We can talk about valves and plumbing and irrigation techniques all day but none of that matters if we don’t get the other stuff right and delivering true value. I think that’s our competitive advantage – an eye for all those other details.”