How Landscape America Overcame a Growth Bottleneck

Landscape America talks about overcoming a growth bottleneck.

A savvy business owner knows he or she constantly needs to be on the lookout for a growth bottleneck. If they want their businesses to continue to grow and perform, they need to remove these “hold-ups.”

But what if the owner is the bottleneck?

That was exactly the case for Doug McDuff and his business partner, Andy McDuff. In 2006, the brothers had founded Landscape America, a Wrentham, Massachusetts-based company that has seen impressive growth over the years—until suddenly they started to feel trouble looming on the horizon.

“We didn’t slow down growth, but we felt we could have been a lot further ahead than we were,” says Doug McDuff. “We also recognized we could stunt future growth if this pattern continued. The constant stress we were both under was taking a major toll. It was just time for a change.”

McDuff says it was time to take a step back and assess. He learned quite a bit in the process.

Removing a Growth Bottleneck Lesson #1: Take Off Some Hats

One of the most obvious realizations McDuff and his brother had was they were both wearing too many hats. And that was slowing things down. They basically had a hand in every area of the business—operations, scheduling, hiring, firing and sales production.

Doug McDuff talks about removing a growth bottleneck.
Doug McDuff

“We were spreading ourselves too thin,” McDuff says. “We never felt like we could focus on one particular area because we were constantly going in so many directions.”

McDuff says this required the brothers to take a step back and ask themselves:

  • What do we do the best?
  • Where do we contribute the most?
  • What do we enjoy about the business?

For McDuff, the obvious answer was sales and the visionary side of the business. For his brother, the obvious answer was being involved in the team and assisting with the development of employees. McDuff says this led to re-shaping the org chart so the brothers could re-focus on these key areas.

Removing a Growth Bottleneck Lesson #2: Create New Positions

Creating brand-new positions for themselves (Doug now director of sales and Andy now director of operations) opened up a need to fill some overhead positions. Since Andy had previously been in account management, the brothers hired someone to handle that work. On the sales side, they added a business developer for commercial maintenance and snow. They also added an account manager for residential maintenance.

“From there, we also created direct reports giving no upper level management position more than five reports,” McDuff says. “Previously Andy and I probably had seven or more each. But with our new org chart, it was our goal to make sure nobody was overwhelmed. Keeping positions more manageable was a big part of this shift we were going through.”

Removing a Growth Bottleneck Lesson #3: Accept Help

McDuff says in order to perform some of this restructuring, they needed a sounding board on which to bounce ideas. The brothers worked with a business coach and even consulted with some other businesses that had gone through similar shifts in ownership responsibility.

“My best advice to other landscape business owners looking to make similar changes is to use your support networks,” McDuff says. “We call these ‘thought partners,’ and they were vital in helping us make important decisions.”

Going through a reorganization must “align with your growth plans,” or it doesn’t make sense to do it. After all, this is no small feat—or expense. It took about a half a year of planning, plus McDuff says the company has easily invested more than $200,000 in overhead positions. He couldn’t have done that if they weren’t growing at a rapid enough rate to be able to absorb the cost. Last year, the company grew 18 percent. This year, McDuff is aiming higher.

A Brighter Future

At press time, Landscape America was about four months into the reorganization. McDuff says he suspects to see it pay off in the approaching busy season. While he certainly anticipates the gross margin will improve, McDuff also thinks one of the bigger benefits will be reduced employee turnover now that Andy is able to put such a strong emphasis on recruitment, training and development—something he often got pulled away from when he was wearing too many hats.

They’ve also seen projects that were always getting stuck on the backburner. One example updating the employee handbook and getting it out to everyone in a timely manner.

“I think we’re going to be able to achieve more now that we don’t have our hands in every single area of the business,” he adds.

Plus, he says there’s no doubt the stress level for both has noticeably declined.

“Heightened stress levels were what brought these problems to a head and put us on this path toward change,” McDuff says. “I can already say I’m having more fun and am enjoying my time in the business more than I have in a long while. I think for any business owner who has lost a lot of joy, it might be time to re-evaluate some things. I’m glad we were able to make some changes before it started hurting the business.” 

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