Leaving Your Comfort Zone: How to Test New Concepts and Innovations in Your Landscape Company - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Leaving Your Comfort Zone: How to Test New Concepts and Innovations in Your Landscape Company

It can be so easy to stick to the status quo when running your lawn or landscape business. Often, when you finally get to that sweet spot where things are running smoothly the last thing you want to do is disrupt it by adding new processes, equipment or technology.

“I think you have to be motivated and I would say sometimes even scared,” says Bob Grover, owner of Pacific Landscape Management, based in Hillsboro, Oregon. “For me, personally, I would much rather lead and risk being a leader, than risk falling behind and getting left behind. I think that’s a philosophy that people have to have. Challenge yourself that you need to find things new because if you don’t, you can get left behind.”

Keys to Success

Grover says they are careful not to have a ‘If you build it, they will come’ philosophy. He prefers to seek out new technologies and services that are desired by customers.

“Most of our customers are commercial property managers, and at the end of the day, they may be interested in a variety of sustainable solutions, but those that require additional spend are difficult to get accepted,” Grover says.

Niwar Nasim, president of Nasim Landscape, based in Puyallup, Washington, says you have to be willing to take risks.

“If it’s going to truly make a difference because you haven’t found a solution yet, that’s a good indicator that it’d be worth trying out,” Nasim says. “That’s the mindset that in our approach that we take when we try something different.”

Philip Hussey, CEO of Outerlands, based in Mashpee, Massachusetts, notes that if you are experiencing constant churn with your crews, it is harder to test out and implement new innovations at your company.

Patrick Murray, managing partner of Local Roots Landscaping, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, says that complexity can kill organizations, so they’re always looking for ways to simplify their processes.

However, you don’t want to burn yourself out trying to implement new processes all the time. It’s a good rule of thumb to set quarterly objectives.

“It’s super easy as entrepreneurs to take everything at once and say, ‘Here’s our yearly goals. Start on January 2,’” Murray says. “And then 15% of them last. We’re learning that breaking things apart into bite-sized chunks and then being all in on those bite-sized chunks.”

Own the Failures

The time and resources required to test out different concepts can be daunting, but it is important to be willing to fail and admit when you called the play wrong.

“It’s hard sometimes for leaders to say we got something wrong,” says Justin White, owner of K&D Landscaping, Inc., based in Watsonville, California. “I think the best way to do it is you have to decide on something and go all in and be willing to give it a fair opportunity to succeed while balancing not doing too many things at once. And when something doesn’t work out, being humble enough to say, ‘Yeah that didn’t work. Let’s go in a different direction.’”

Murray and Hussey agree that the leadership needs to be all in on these initiatives. Hussey says one way to reduce your team’s hesitancy in trying these innovations is to communicate you own its possible failure.

“I’m always mindful to paint the big picture and say, ‘If it fails, it’s on me,’” Hussey says. “We just want to see if we can learn something.”

Jay Rotonnelli, vice president of business development for Piscataqua Landscaping & Tree Service, based in Eliot, Maine, adds that you’re never going to bat a thousand, so it’s important to approach initiatives with the mindset that not everything will be a good fit for your company.

“Some of the ideas are going to fail,” Rotonnelli says. “And that’s okay because you would never know if you didn’t try it.”

Determining the Fit

The amount of time it will take to determine if an innovation is working or not for your company will vary greatly depending on the nature of the initiative and your own company’s preferences.

For instance, White says you need to give software at least two years before deciding if you need to pivot away from it. Meanwhile, when testing out equipment, you could make a change after a 90-day period.

Grover prefers that technology or equipment initiatives be given at least a year to ensure their viability through the four seasons.

Murray says, in general, they like to give initiatives around two months because it takes a month to get people on board with the change to try it out. He says by then, they can tell if a new tool or system is burning people out or overly complex.

Nasim says he tends to work with proven products that have already worked for others, but he says three to six months is enough time to determine if an initiative is working or not.

Justin Gamester, president of Piscataqua, says conversations should be held prior to embarking on an initiative to build out a timeline of when a yay or a nay should be determined. He says that his team is open to new ideas because everyone wants to operate better.

“I don’t think in a week or a month’s time you can fully say, ‘Oh god that was a terrible mistake,’” Gamester says. “Step back and say, ‘Okay, well, did we try it this way or this way?’ and ‘Are we allowing the new technology actually work?’

Rotonnelli agrees that you shouldn’t be too hasty to decide if an initiative is a failure, especially if 70 or 80 percent of it works. Typically, spending more time fine-tuning can get it to a point where you are satisfied with it.  

Hussey notes that you can take your time testing out low-risk, low-cost ideas, but those that are a higher risk, you need to make a decision on more quickly.

Remember, no matter how many failures occur as you test out new operations and tools, you’re still ahead of everyone who isn’t trying.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.