EarthWorks, Inc., based in Lillian, Texas, is a full-service landscape management company with four offices and more than 400 employees across the state — a market position they achieved with no acquisitions and no outstanding debt. The company will hit $40 million in annual revenue this year.
Founded in 1979, the company started in the residential space before transitioning to commercial services. Chris Lee, president of EarthWorks, says there are a lot of ways to expand and they’ve found when they grow over 15% their quality suffers so they choose develop at a steady pace.
EarthWorks hosted landscape professionals at their Alvarado office at the end of ELEVATE on Wednesday, Sept. 13. During the tour, attendees learned about their daily operations, including their loading and dispatch, as well as how they onboard and train their employees. They also got an inside look at the business’s greenhouse production and business development practices.
Recruiting and Retention
Xochitl Lopez, recruitment and engagement manager, shared how a few years ago, the company was having trouble recruiting. When she was originally asked to be a recruiter for EarthWorks, she said no, because you have to sell the company. She didn’t feel they were there yet, so EarthWorks changed a number of things to become more of a destination employer.
Previously, their field employees had to wait a long time to accrue PTO. Now, PTO is provided after working for 90 days. EarthWorks also conducted surveys to see where they could improve.
Lopez says they had a disconnect between the management and field employees, but also between field crews. They host an engagement meeting once a month where the team members spend the whole day connecting with one another and playing games.
EarthWorks has also started offering employees access to the language learning platform Babbel as a way to enable better communication among the team. To ensure the employees are invested in progressing on the platform, those who use it have a $5 payroll deduction until they reach $120, which is the amount of the licensing fee.
Lopez receives reports on who is studying what and when an employee gets to the B2 learning level, which is fluency with native speakers, they are reimbursed.
In the past, EarthWorks had issues with their new hires being onboarded and trained properly. Nelson Ortiz-Martinez, safety director, says their foremen would feel like they were being picked on for having to train a new employee.
Now they have a weeklong training program where the new hire is with a trainer who covers topics including work quality and various safety aspects. After working with a crew for a week, they conduct check-ins to make sure they aren’t having any problems. If the new employee is struggling, they can find a different crew or utilize different skills for them before that individual quits.
If a new hire is having trouble keeping up on detail work, EarthWorks can send out a trainer who will stay back and coach the employee while the rest of their crew moves on to another site. Ortiz-Martinez says this is less stressful for the new team members and they are less likely to end up hurrying and getting injured in the process.
EarthWorks has bi-weekly safety meetings, and they also have random safety audits conducted by a third party. Each day the crews do a daily truck check before heading out in the morning to ensure they are working safely and meeting the company’s level of quality.
Several of EarthWorks’ proactive practices have helped them in the long run, including conducting regular preventive maintenance and growing their own annuals.
The company’s mechanic ensures that their trucks are serviced once a month. They have a spare for each type of truck in their fleet. The company has found that conducting preventive maintenance is far cheaper than fixing equipment after it has broken. They have a checklist that shows when any piece of equipment in their fleet is due for maintenance.
EarthWorks also makes a point of stocking the necessary parts for their equipment so they aren’t stuck waiting for a piece to be shipped to them.
Lee says the company has been looking into battery-powered equipment with Kress and is partnering with Scythe Robotics to test out autonomous commercial mowing. He says they also plan to add solar panels to their trucks to ensure they can charge on the go.
The company has also brought the growth of their annual plant material in-house. They found a lot of plant growers were focused on visuals and were neglecting plant strength and health. EarthWorks opts to grow their plant material to promote strong roots and strengthened cell walls. This focus on quality allows the plants to be more resistant to pests and diseases and withstand the Texas climate better.
Taking Advantage of Technology
EarthWorks also utilizes various types of software to help with their business. They switched to Aspire in 2021 and added their CFO when they started to see the data provided by Aspire.
Employees clock into the job via their foreman’s Aspire app on their company-issued smartphone. If an employee tries to clock in when they are still at home instead of the jobsite, the software can flag this.
Another software the company uses is SiteRecon, which Jacob Crockett, COO, says has helped them eliminate inconsistencies with maintenance. When trying to get large bids across the finish line, EarthWorks will use Structure Studios to create 3D renderings to help the client visualize the project.
The company’s project managers pull together site audits that highlight enhancement opportunities with the help of Site Audit Pro. This software generates reports the project managers can add photos, annotate and then easily share by email, text, instant messaging or file-sharing services.
EarthWorks prefers to act more as a consultant to their clients rather than a salesperson, so these monthly reports help them deliver this.