Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
It was seven years ago when Tim Hawkins, LIC, decided to take the leap and start his own landscaping company. The business he was working for at the time had just been bought and he had been entertaining the idea of starting his own business for a while.
“It’s one of those things where I wanted to provide more opportunities for myself and my family,” Hawkins says. “I’d also be to provide more opportunities for the people that I work with. So I thought, ‘Let’s try it. Let’s see how it goes.’”
Since then, Hawkins has grown Brookstone Landscape & Design, LLC based in Kirkland, Washington, into a $5.9 million company with 65 full-time employees during peak season.
Brookstone focuses on serving commercial maintenance and construction clients, but Hawkins says they have dipped a toe into high-end residential design-build work as well. He says it’s about a 50/50 split between the maintenance and construction work as far as clients, but the construction division brings in double the revenue.
All of Brookstone’s business has been from word of mouth as they don’t do any advertising.
“We’ve earned a reputation over the last seven years of being able to essentially adapt to whatever projects people throw at us,” Hawkins says. “We work with them hand in hand to understand the scope and then also how to implement it the best and make it a win both from a financial standpoint, but also a customer looking for a job well done.”
Hawkins says their ideal company revenue is somewhere between $12 to $14 million.
Keys to Success
Hawkins says one of his keys to success so far has been surrounding his employees and himself with others who want to build and grow. He appreciates having a team that is willing to roll up their sleeves and has an all-hands-on-deck mentality.
“There’s a lot of industry professionals out there that are looking for companies that are positive and forward-thinking and wanting to grow the company as much as I want to grow the employees,” Hawkins says.
One of the ways Hawkins grows his employees is by taking them to industry events like NALP’s ELEVATE, or having them become Landscape Industry Certified.
He says relationships with their customers have also been critical, as he doesn’t cultivate them just for his benefit but for theirs as well. He encourages being honest, transparent and forward-thinking.
“Take that customer as if they were a family member or somebody personal to you and treat them accordingly,” Hawkins says. “I think the relationship side of our reputation is that we take care of customers, and that’s why we keep getting people coming back over and over again.”
In the end, Hawkins says their success comes down to a lot of work and sacrifice.
“That’s a double-edged sword where a lot of people don’t want to put in those extra hours to see something succeed,” Hawkins says. “But really to get a new or small business off the ground and running successfully, you have to be willing to sacrifice a lot of things. You sacrifice time and your own personal ambitions.”
He says success is also determined by the support you do or don’t receive on the personal side. Hawkins’s wife is an accountant by trade and she frequently talks shop with their full-time accountant on staff. He says without her they wouldn’t have been able to reach where they are today.
“I would be a fool not to acknowledge that one of the keys to our success is my wife’s support at home and really being champion for this crazy idea to start a business and keep growing a business,” Hawkins says.
Brookstone has experienced several periods of rapid growth, where they doubled in size year over year, but Hawkins says that type of growth isn’t sustainable and is focused on quality and consistency.
“I would say probably about a third of our time in business has been aggressively growing,” Hawkins says. “Two-thirds has been methodically planning things out and implementing those plans to where it’s a win for the company and the employees.”
He says at times they have intentionally cut back and decided not to grow certain years or let some customers go so they could maintain their quality levels. Hawkins says it’s hard to say no at times, but you have to be careful and not take on too much and end up damaging your company’s reputation.
Brookstone has also stopped doing certain services after they found what they weren’t proficient at like large tree removal and concrete work.
He says as you’re growing, it’s not just about taking on the additional work, but considering how that will impact the rest of your team.
“Everyone thinks, ‘Oh, it’s not so hard to add another crew,’” Hawkins says. “Well, there are about 20 things that are attached to saying let’s add a crew that have to be in place by the time that crew gets going. What about their routes, what about that book of business, what about cell phones, uniforms, I could go down the list of things that are required to get a crew up and running.”
Hawkins says no matter the size of the company, they have always faced different challenges whether it has been cash flow or managing employees.
Recruiting and Retention Methods
Hawkins says that they are able to recruit new employees through word of mouth and they work hard to make sure everyone feels like they are a part of the team.
“Once people are on board with that concept and that idea they’ll be your best salespeople,” Hawkins says. “They’ll tell their family members and friends and acquaintances, ‘Hey, I got a pretty good gig over here. They’re hiring.’”
Aside from employee referrals, they also recruit at college career days and post jobs on Indeed.
As for retention, Hawkins says it’s a number of small things that make up to their culture, such as treating their crews to breakfast during their safety meetings and hosting quarterly company parties that recognize the employee and crew of that quarter.
“Your work experience is more than just compensation,” Hawkins says. “It’s incentives and perks along the way. Incentives could be health benefits, it could be bonuses for doing good on projects, it could be buying crews lunch.”
Despite the company growing, Hawkins still spends time visiting his crews in the field.
“I’m probably more hands on than most people,” Hawkins says. “I see the wisdom in going out and visiting with the crew on a job. If the crew is trenching, or taking out a shrub or planting a plant, there’s a lot of wisdom for the owner going out on the property and spending time with the crews.”
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