Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Rob Ambler grew up with an entrepreneurial spirit, always thinking of new business ideas and ways to make money. Because his father traveled a lot working for corporate America, Ambler knew he did not want that type of life for his own family.
“I wanted to have my own business,” Ambler says. “I wanted to be involved in business but didn’t want to be traveling. I want to be home at night. There are long hours and a lot of work that goes into it, but I sleep in my own bed, and that’s a major part to be home with my family.”
While in college, he started a mowing company and wanted to see if he could build it into a sustainable business, which he did. Ambler Industries, based in Furlong, Pennsylvania, was started in 2004. They currently have an annual revenue of $4.5 million and Ambler says their goal is to reach $10 million.
“I love the business aspect of it, the actual running of the business, so that was what really I wanted to do,” Ambler says.
Growing the Business
The company started out serving mainly high-end residential clients. Ambler recently hired someone with 20 years of property management experience to run the business’s commercial side. Ambler says he wants to grow both customer bases, but he wants to grow more heavily on the commercial side.
He says their most popular service is their design/build work. They do almost all their construction work in-house and only have to sub out for tasks like building decks or installing plumbing or electrical.
“We enjoy that,” Ambler says. “I think we do a lot of stuff that other companies are scared to do or don’t know how to do. Our construction guys have been with us for a long time, and they do a really good job. I think we’ve built a really nice reputation for doing great construction work.”
The company has grown steadily but enjoyed a boost as COVID increased clients’ interest in design/build work.
“People have taken that money that they would usually use on vacation and put it into their house,” Ambler says. “We’re still seeing it go; I keep waiting for it to slow down. Very rarely do I have people say, ‘I just want a simple patio.’ They want the walls. They want the fireplaces, the fire pits and the lights.”
Ambler says one of the main challenges, as they’ve grown as a company, is to ensure they maintain the same level of quality.
“It’s really easy to grow so fast you just kind of end up throwing guys out there and not properly training,” Ambler says. “To make sure that we’re keeping up with training, make sure we keep up the quality, there have been a couple times where we said okay, we got to slow the growth down for a year and fine-tune our quality.”
Keys to Success
Ambler credits the company’s success to their culture, management team and delivering on what they promise. He says several years ago, he made a conscious decision to develop a strong company culture to help retain his employees.
“This is the first year in four or five years we weren’t going crazy looking for people because we retained and they all brought some friends,” Ambler says.
He says their culture is defined by excellence, as this is how they treat one another and what they strive for in their work. Ambler says he’s worked hard to hire leaders who can take them to the next stage of growth.
The company also works hard to follow through on their promises to their customers. He says being responsive to their customers also helps prove they can be a trusted resource.
“Especially for our construction jobs, we make sure we’re there for our customers and that we help them through the process,” Ambler says. “That’s scary. Somebody’s investing a lot of money in their backyard and they want to make sure that it’s going to be done right. They get nervous. So we make sure that we’re there for them and comforting and show them that we’re going to follow through with quality.”
Ambler adds that he has also invested significantly in their branding. He majored in marketing in college and is very involved with his company’s marketing still today.
“We do a lot of training on how to communicate with the customer and that’s been huge,” Ambler says. “The whole brand awareness has been huge.”
Ambler says NALP’s training and books have been valuable resources. He also likes being able to connect with knowledgeable individuals at NALP’s conferences.
“Just to know you have somebody in your corner that’s really helpful that they’re going to fight for you in advocacy for things like H-2B,” Ambler says. “To be a part of that team makes you feel like you’re part of something bigger, which is pretty cool.”
Hiring for A Cultural Fit
Ambler Industries currently has 50 employees. They recruit new hires by providing bonuses to their current employees who bring in new team members. Ambler says when they find individuals who are a cultural fit, they find a way to hire them.
“If they fit in with what our culture is, we make sure we hire them,” Ambler says. “We find a spot for them. Hiring the right person that fits our core values and our culture is how we try to hire.”
In the past, they were not as selective and would hire anyone they could. Ambler says they have a major heroin problem in their area and five years ago, he finally had enough and decided to start drug testing. He says since then their injuries and callouts have gone down. He says it’s also improved company morale and is probably one of the best things he’s done for the company.
“I know a lot of business owners are scared to do it because you’re scared of who you’re going to lose,” Ambler says. “It’s hard. We all need people, but it’s not worth it.”
He says since implementing the drug testing and hiring for culture, they have gotten better hires and it has been easier for them to hire. They also invest in their employees with training, host company events like family picnics and provide new equipment regularly.
Ambler says they are diligent about maintaining their company culture and sticking to their core values of foresight, integrity, teamwork and excellence.
“We just make sure that our complete management team is constantly pushing culture,” Ambler says.
“They’re pushing it to the foremen, who are pushing it to the guys. If somebody doesn’t fit our culture, we get rid of them quickly. They have to be a cultural fit. I’d rather have somebody who has zero experience and is awful at the job and fits a good culture fit than somebody who’s great, but it’s not a culture fit.”
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