Growing his company through the 2008 recession meant that Dave Fairburn, CEO of North Point Outdoors in Windham, New Hampshire, found he was “saying yes” to nearly every opportunity. He was always afraid to turn work down because he was unsure where it’d come from next.
While trying to be all things to all people was “critical to survival at the time,” Fairburn says “it came at a cost.” In particular, it led the company in a direction that lacked focus and direction. Without a clear target of highly focused services, confusion and chaos grew. It was time to redefine his company’s business focus.
How To Refine Your Business Focus: Focus the Unfocused
In recent years, Fairburn says it has become increasingly obvious that the company needed a new “operating style,” and they have honed in on focusing their target customers and their ideal services and coverage area. They are also developing clear and measurable goals that will help dictate decisions going forward.
“I have learned that a small business owner should not be averse to saying no or turning down work when that work is outside of the company’s focus,” Fairburn says. “Every time we found ourselves in a situation to stretch our knowledge or crews by learning a new service or gearing up for something different, we not only noticed a dip in our profitability, but we started seeing that we were not focused on becoming successful and unique. I believe that not having a streamlined focus may have cost us upward of 20 percent of our revenue and time.”
Trying to offer so many services also impacted employee morale—specifically, “complicating their motivation,” says Fairburn. And it added unnecessary stress.
“That’s why we went on a mission to identify our target customers, services, and product offerings,” he continues. “We did this on a financial basis only. We studied profitability on site, non-billable labor, equipment costs, and as many nuance expenses as we possibly could. This exercise started to paint a clear picture of where we were working without turning the appropriate profits.”
How To Refine Your Business Focus: Take Small Steps Toward the Future
From there, Fairburn analyzed the intrinsic costs of selectively cutting specific customers and what potential impact reducing services would have on the business. He did this in “small steps” to minimize risk.
“I believe that not having a streamlined focus may have cost us upward of 20 percent of our revenue and time.”-Dave Fairburn, CEO, North Point Outdoors
The entire effort began by removing services that Fairburn felt were taking away from the company’s primary focus and goals. Not wanting to leave clients in the lurch, Fairburn says he also took steps to interview and find replacement contractors who would be able to pick up the work with no lapse in the customers’ services.
Of course, Fairburn says there was still backlash from customers who were unhappy about declined services. It required phone calls and emails explaining the reasons why the company was shifting its focus away from certain services.
“We are just passing the 18-month mark since our first service and customer reduction phase,” Fairburn says. “We’ve seen a dramatic reduction in operational stress. We also have increased time and focus on our ideal client base without having to constantly learn or develop new services. We have seen a 5 percent increase in gross profits across all divisions, as well as a 5 percent increase in our customer retention rate.”
How to Refine Your Business Focus: Keep it Simple
Fairburn’s best advice to other landscape businesses is to “keep your service menu simple.”
“Become as streamlined as possible with your service offerings and your target clientele,” he continues. “Don’t be afraid to change as your company grows and develops. Your company won’t have the same needs that it did five years ago. Allow your customer base and services to change as needed. Constantly analyze your focus to make sure it is in line with your long-term goals.”