By Tim Kubista
With continued inflation, a labor shortage and rumblings of recession on the rise, the landscaping industry must rethink all the old strategies it once relied upon to build business.
The industry survived the pandemic and the supply chain crisis of the past two years only to be faced with these new problems that threaten to prevent you from growing your landscaping company the way you want.
It’s no longer enough to put an ad on the job boards to attract employees or provide your workers with average equipment or pay. You also can’t rely on word-of-mouth to drum up new business while your competition is using the latest technology to secure work and hire the industry’s top talent.
But now is not the time to manage your business by fear.
Tightening labor market
As anyone who picks up a newspaper or follows the news knows, the labor market is tightening to such a degree that finding enough workers to fill open positions has become a struggle all business owners face.
This is even more evident in positions that require physical labor, such as the landscaping industry.
Baby Boomers are retiring, and there are simply more people leaving the workforce than there are entering it. Right now, the United States is short about 400,000 to 500,000 workers, and it’s not going to get better. In five years, we may be short as many as 1 million workers.
And no silver bullet is going to fix this problem.
Landscapers must develop a strategy that will allow them to continually recruit top talent. For example, if you know there are only 100 people in your market willing to do a specific job, you should target the top third of that talent.
Identify those who want to work hard, who will show up on time and take care of your equipment, then go after those people with gusto.
You may need to pay more, of course, but it’s not just about money. It’s also about culture and work environment. You can offer newer equipment, late-model clean trucks, nice uniforms and a positive company culture. No single thing is going to attract all the top talent.
Second, hire a recruiter whose only job is to be in the trenches and recruit talent. You should make a concerted effort to not only actively recruit high school students who don’t want to go to college and might be interested in a landscaping career, but be prepared to also actively recruit on social media. Look at your competitors to see how they are retaining their talent. Make contacts with those individuals who do a good job, and keep them on your radar.
Keeping a stable of good employees is important if you want to succeed in the landscaping industry.
One way to free up cash in order to hire a recruiter is through technology.
There are several companies that can handle your business operations so you don’t have to – whether it’s hiring a human resources management company to do your payroll and taxes or a company to answer your phones and set appointments. Outsource those items that are not your core expertise.
There is also new equipment that can help you reduce the headcount of entry-level employees. Autonomous products such as robotic mowers can help you take a mowing crew of three down to a crew of one, while remote-controlled mowers can replace manual mowing of steep slopes and extreme landscapes.
This technology helps you to not only be more efficient, but it also allows you to improve the compensation of your more talented employees.
And, in an interesting twist, this technology can help you identify niche markets your competitors don’t want to work in. Robotic mowers can allow you to bid out more work on tasks like landscaping steep slopes, wetlands and other areas that many landscapers hate to touch because of the safety risks and time constraints.
The good news
While no one wants to mention the word, “recession,” the fact is that landscaping is an almost recession-proof industry. People have to maintain their properties. They might cut back on introducing new landscaping features, but they still need their yards mowed, their properties pruned and their flowers tended.
Still, there’s no denying that landscapers are human. It may be tempting to shrink your business in an attempt to withstand inflation and recession, but it’s usually the more courageous business owners who shine during challenging times.
The best thing a landscaping company can do is find what it’s best at and promote that service.
And one of those services should be improving the customer experience. Find ways to make it flawless and deliver without exception.
Price is important to many clients, but building a devoted client base is not limited to offering the cheapest service. You must ensure that your website is easy to navigate, have a human answer the phone and make sure you get your proposals out quickly.
Once you’ve earned the business, you need to ensure that your employees are well groomed and their trucks are neat. Make sure they communicate with the customers about what’s expected of them and give them enough time between jobs to make sure they are always prompt.
You should also encourage your team to make recommendations. They are out on the property several times a month – they will know if the edging needs to be repaired or bushes need to be replaced or flower beds need to be refreshed.
If they see something, they shouldn’t be afraid to say something.
And, finally, don’t be afraid to let go of deadbeat customers. While this may seem like an anathema in business, customers who never pay on time or are never satisfied are costly. If you can’t make them happy, let them go and focus on the customers who are happy and potential advocates for your business.
Afterall, the best recommendation of your company – and your future successes – is to have happy customers who recommend you to their friends, neighbors and family.
As vice president of sales and marketing for RC Mowers, Tim Kubista specializes in revenue growth, acquisition, sales training and building dealer networks for the company. He has had two companies on the Inc. 5000 list and came to RC Mowers with a vast knowledge of the commercial mowing industry. For more information about RC Mowers, visit www.rcmowersusa.com.