By John Kmitta
As we head into the busy season for lawn maintenance, there is a lot on the minds of industry professionals. The overall business approach, equipment and technology being used, marketing efforts and goal setting are all some of the key areas of focus.
Changing business models
The challenges in recent years — most notably the economy — have caused many industry pros to assess their overall approach.
For some, the business model has remained the same over the years. “We have not changed our model approach at all in years,” said Michael McAfee, BS, MS, McAfee Mowing and Landscaping, Inc. “We stick by what works best, and that is keeping customers happy, offering services we are good at, and not trying to do everything.”
But many others have adjusted their business model, and have either added new services to maximize their opportunities, or they have cut services to focus on their core business competency.
“If anything, we have added more services to serve all our clients needs,” said Greg Parker, president, Parker Landscape Management Inc. (PLM). “If we do not provide the service they need, I have someone who does — making us a one-call do-it-all company.”
Ferdinand Zeller, owner of Royal Yard Service LLC, said his company started out as 10 percent commercial business and 90 percent residential, but it is now 70 percent commercial and 30 percent residential.
“We try to give more value for the customers’ money without sacrificing quality of service or cutting pricing,” said Ron Skover, owner/member, Greenlawn LLC. “We do not ‘bargain’ with our pricing. I try to explain to all clients that you get what you pay for. Our area is highly competitive with many ‘low ballers,’ so we have to do the extra things and exceed client expectations.”
According to Bob St. Jacques, president of Four Seasons Landscaping, Inc., his company is also becoming a one-stop shop, offering parking area maintenance and site work construction.
David Precht, owner, Frontier Lawn and Landscape, said his company used to be a “one-stop shop,” but has downsized to lessen overhead and time at a client’s property to maintain a decent profit/loss ratio. “As of right now, for the last phase out, we are 90 percent lawn maintenance and 10 percent landscape maintenance,” he said.
Todd Lembke, president of New-Cali Landscapes, decided two years ago to focus on his company’s core business, which is maintenance, and reduce labor costs by getting away from installation services. “We only provided these to our immediate list of customers, and did not take on any new customers,” he said. “We reduced income by 15 percent, but we reduced labor associated with this by more, so that was profit to the bottom line.”
Maximizing efficiency and productivity
Some of the lawn maintenance professionals with whom we spoke are utilizing more technology to help optimize and streamline business functionality.
Precht put all client data and paperwork on a Cloud-based system to access from any PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone.
McAfee added Xora GPS tracking to all his vehicles. “We are also installing CLIP at our office to be able to increase production and streamline things more effectively,” he added.
“I am really excited about our new technology for 2012,” said Parker. “We have integrated Exaktime to replace our hand-written time sheets and job site time cards. By doing this, our times are now GPS monitored and accurate. If someone is not where they are suppose to be or not really on time, we know it. This has saved us on regular time and saved us on bogus overtime. At the end of the day, the crew will sync up the day’s work, we will review it and sync it to Quickbooks time sheet, and invoice customers. This process will save us time on payroll and offer true job time costing.”
Parker added that with the Quickbooks online version, his company is able to add a link to invoices and customers can pay online — thus saving PLM time by allowing for faster payment. PLM also added an iPhone credit card reader to accept an instant payment from a customer in the field. “It is really cool to be able to sell a job and get paid on the spot,” said Parker.
When asked about how they market their lawn maintenance services, respondents overwhelmingly stated that word of mouth is still the primary way that they attract clients.
“I stand by word of mouth,” said McAfee. “You can advertise all you want, but word of mouth can help, and also hurt, you. I always think that if we do a good job, that person might tell one other person. But if we do a bad job, you can guarantee they will tell about five other people how bad of service we did — so we stand by word of mouth.”
In addition to word-of-mouth referrals, Pete Dove of Dove Lawn and Landscaping Service advertises in the Yellow pages in two local phone books, word of mouth. Richard Lauger of Lauger’s Good Lawn, LLC utilizes uniforms and lettered vehicles to enhance visibility. St. Jacques uses a newsletter, trade shows and professional associations.
Parker said that word of mouth is big for his business, but the Internet is a close second. “We get a lot of calls/work from our website and Google searches,” he said. “Social media has played a part in our growth. We have an Internet lead service that has worked well for us.”
Skover is also utilizing Facebook, but added that his best marketing is still word of mouth.
Business strategy, new technology and marketing efforts all play a role in the outlook for this year. So we asked the professionals involved in our discussion to share their goals for the upcoming season.
St. Jacques said that he wants to increase quality, maintain his customer base, and increase efficiency.
Bob Koca, owner of KLM Services, LLC, said his goal is not a new one — just to take care of customers and keep services up to par.
Precht has his eyes set on keeping his current profit/loss ratio and growing revenue by 5 percent.
“Goals we have set have been to cut down on overtime and do a better job of scheduling and routing crews to save money,” said McAfee.
Zeller said he is still working with his crews but, by the end of the year, plans to just supervise and handle administrative duties.
Dan Goff, owner of Rosewood Landscape, is focused on keeping his employees fully employed, and making the transition winter to summer more smoothly. “That can be a real juggle, and takes a lot of my time and continuing education with the crew leaders,” he added.
Dove plans on making it a priority to service contract customers and try to up-sell. He also hired a crew boss so he can do more bids and increase his customer base.
Skover said he wants to complete mowing accounts in a timely manner, and exceed customer expectations. He also wants to keep more personally in contact with fertilizing accounts.
Said Lembke, “We recently added a contract for the next three years with the local hospital district, and I have challenged our crew to do outstanding work above and beyond the scope so that in three years it will not even cross the hospital’s mind to go out for bid and work off a yearly renewal forever.”
Parker said PLM’s growth rate has been around 15 to 20 percent every year, but had only 6 percent growth in 2011. “This year — with a new focus on a solid budget, new pricing methods, real overhead cost, and an actual profit — we are shooting for a 20- to 25-percent growth rate, and hopefully more than that,” he said. “We are re-focusing on growth in lawn care and landscaping. It is going to be a good year for PLM.”