Why profit and quality are important

Departments - Words of Wilson

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January 2, 2018

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In “Built to Last,” author Jim Collins spoke of “the tyranny of the ‘or,’” an approach to decision-making that restricts choices to either one or the other. For landscape contractors, the either/or conversation comes up often as in, “which is more important, quality or profit?” Efficiency or productivity? I believe one does not have to take a backseat to the other.

To be truly exceptional, landscape businesses need a high-quality level of service delivery and a simultaneously profitable operation. In other words, both. This is the true genius of problem-solving: eliminating the restrictions that limit what’s possible.

When I was president of ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance, I faced similar challenges and found ways to address multiple objectives simultaneously without sacrificing priorities. For example, in determining the Branch of The Year Award, we gave equal weight to gross margin, contract retention, growth rate, enhancement sales, safety and quality scores and employee retention.

To win, a branch had to be good at almost everything. In fact, the most profitable branches were not only leaders in gross margin and profit, but also in quality and client retention. They had better work crews who were better trained, made fewer mistakes and had lower turnover.

In cases where branches had new and inexperienced employees, we found that a lack of a seasoned team correlated to compromises in efficiency and shoddy work, resulting in fire-fighting and loss of customer trust – which results in customers watching your work and expecting to see deficiencies. This self-defeating cycle causes customers to think your mistakes relate to not having enough labor, and wanting you to put in more hours or add new people.

When faced with either/or options, managers who understand how to succeed at both quality and retention, for example, manage the process better than those who don’t. Good managers manage in a way that corrects glitches immediately and use them as teachable moments while not losing sight of the bigger picture. This inclusive approach to problem-solving leads to good service recovery, which can create a positive moment of truth in a customer relationship and significantly improve overall performance.

“Choosing quality or profit is like choosing between having good relationships with employees or providing value to customers.”

“Lean” best practices, initially developed for manufacturing, are important tools to help landscape maintenance companies generate improved results and behaviors. Lean-style processes can improve service and support operations, while improving customer experience. Specifically, improving delivery by better defining and aligning scope and budget, using the right equipment for the right reason, and establishing tighter start-finish work schedules, which eliminate long walks back to the truck doing nothing productive.

Heavy detailing and over-servicing in the name of quality is an example of a waste of valuable time if it’s a task that’s not strategically justified. The string trimmer, for example, is one of the most over-used pieces of equipment in our industry. Modifying its use on turf areas, for example, is a small production change that has a big impact on efficiency.

The pursuit of quality and profit as part of a cluster of objectives is not about having a vested interest in one over the other. Choosing quality or profit is like choosing between having good relationships with employees or providing value to customers.

The advantage to having both is as simple as embracing the value of ‘and’: focus on your customer and create value. Remove inefficiencies and waste. Track data and manage improvement by the numbers and empower your employees to own their role in the value creation process.

Bruce Wilson is principal of green industry consulting firm Bruce Wilson & Company.