Lawn and Landscape CEO Secrets Revealed

At the CEOs Unplugged panel at Leaders Forum on Jan 14, 2017, hosted by Ken Taylor from John Deere, seven of the industry’s top CEO’s, shared a variety of business advice with an audience of nearly 200 people. The CEO’s included:

  • Mike Bogan, CEO, LandCare, San Diego, CA
  • Jim Campanella, CEO, Lawn Dawg, Nashua, NH
  • Dan Foley, President, DHCC Management, South Walpole, MA
  • Frank Mariani, Sr., CEO, Mariani Landscape, Lake Bluff, IL
  • Jim McCutcheon, CEO, Highgrove, Austell, GA
  • Steve Pattie, Founder And Co-Owner, The Pattie Group, Inc, Akron, OH
  • Abby Santos, CEO, No Ka Oi Landscaping, Kauii, HI

How Did You Build Your Brand?
Be consistent – When an audience member asked the panel how they built their brand, Dan Foley said that at the start of his business he didn’t understand marketing and branding, but he learned to be consistent and that is how he built his brand – on reliability. He learned what the company was great at and they stuck to that – saying no to everything else.

Stand Out – Frank Mariani shared that when his father died (who started the company) other people thought they wouldn’t make it.  He focused on branding their trucks, using a distinctive light green color, which was also great for safety.  His brother came up with logo and everyone said they were using the ugliest colors – but they were distinctive. Everyone could see the trucks coming.  They were so well branded by the trucks alone, they didn’t even need a logo.  Last year they were going to change the branding and they went through the whole re-branding process and then designed to stick with the same brand.

Police Your Brand – Ken Taylor, shared the extensive brand policing that companies like John Deere got through to protect their brands, reporting people who are using the brand incorrectly.

How Do You Feel About Sharing Financials With Your Staff?
When the audience asked the panel how they feel about sharing the company’s financials with staff, most of the panel had a model of transparency.

Talk About Financial Goals.  Steve Patti’s company has monthly all-staff meetings and they talk about financial goals. He said that every employee thinks you are making millions of dollars so you have to talk with staff about the profit margins.  They reward employees for good things they do with “Patti Points” which they you can trade in for a day off, car mechanical services, etc.

Remove the Mystification About Money. Dan Foley said that you have to remove the mystification around money and finances.  He said as a business owner, the end of the year is really hard when people expect bonuses if it is not clear to employees what they are based on.  You need to teach your employees about finances.  He credits Open Book Management with changing his life.

Open Book Management is Key. Jim McCutcheon takes 40-60 of their staff on a management retreat each year. Early on, they lost money one year and he struggled with what to tell employees – how do you tell them the company is losing money and still motivate them?  He found the book the Great Game of Business and learned about Open Book Management and that changed his perspective.

Make the Reward Structure Clear. Frank Mariani shared also shared that Christmas time can bring angst about bonuses to many companies who are unprepared. But their “associates” (they don’t call them employees) know exactly what they need to do to get their incentive – they are in control of their bonus.  Each week in their staff meetings, the team has to explain if they are off their goals by plus or minus by 5%.

How Do You Maintain a Good Work-Life Balance?
The CEO panel had to admit that they didn’t always have a good work life balance, but Jim Campanella has clearly been a role model.

Turn off Your Phone! Jim shuts off his phone at 5 pm each night and cooks dinner and has family time at dinner with no work distractions. Also, on vacation, he reads email and works each day from 5 am – 7 am – getting done as much work as six hours in the office – because there are no interruptions.  Then he shuts off the phone until the next morning. As a business owner, he can’t totally shut off, but compartmentalizing his time with a hard shut-off allows for time to relax and recharge.

How Do We Get Our Prices High Enough so We Can Hire Good People?
Quality versus Quantity. Jim McCutcheon has tons of competition in the Atlanta market so he is very selective about the type of client they take so they can keep margins up. Frank Mariani is also very selective, taking fewer of the best clients, because he doesn’t have the workforce to service more anyway. He services those clients to perfection so he can charge what he wants.

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