Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Jeff Fliginger says he never made a conscious choice to get into the lawn and landscape industry. It was just something he always enjoyed, even as a kid. Mowing lawns meant more than earning a little extra spending money to him.
When he was 12 years old, he started towing his lawn mower with his four-wheeler in Belt, Montana, and named his business Flik’s Lawn Service.
In 1998, he graduated from high school and renamed the business Doctor Lawn Landscape Management, based in Great Falls, Montana. He studied horticulture and landscape design at Montana State University. Originally, he wanted to go on to design golf courses.
“As time went on the company just kept growing and I figured it was hard to walk away from something that you’ve built up and you’re servicing these customers,” Fliginger says. “I’d just feel bad walking away from something like that.
Now the company is at $2.5 million in revenue and has opened branches in Kalispell and Helena. Fliginger says over the next 10 years he’d like to get $8 to $10 million in revenue.
“We’re excited to grow and see what can happen,” Fliginger says. “We have a vision to have at least three successful branches in northwestern Montana.”
Moving to Commercial
Starting out, like many others, Doctor Lawn served primarily residential clients. Now they’ve found their niche is commercial maintenance. Their primary customer base is regional retail centers, stores like Home Depot and Target and hospitals.
Most customers opt to hire Doctor Lawn for a mixture of the services they offer. Fliginger says their snow removal work has grown tremendously recently.
“I think our customers like that they can make one call and we can take care of everything that’s outside for them,” Fliginger says. “If it’s something that we can’t take care of, we have a pretty good network of other companies that we work with electricians, painters, etc. so we can be a resource for them for other projects as well.”
Doctor Lawn added parking lot sweeping to their services in 2001 at the request of a property management company they were working for. Fliginger says the pandemic has boosted several of their services, such as the parking lot sweeping and enhancement work.
“It actually helped us especially on the sweeping aspect of things, because just everybody was about cleanliness and keeping things clean and the parking lot was no different than inside of their store,” Fliginger says.
Previously, they’d sweep two nights a week and now they sweep five to six nights a week, if not seven. They are now looking into parking lot sealing to go along with the parking lot sweeping service.
“It all comes down to employees too,” Fliginger says. “We’ll go invest in the training and the equipment to get into this service line, and then if you don’t have anybody to do it, it’s just a waste of time.”
Keys to Success
Quality service, integrity and presenting a clean image to the public are the top three things Fliginger credits to their company’s growth.
“One thing that I’ve always just been a stickler on, even since I was 12, is keeping everything clean,” Fliginger says. “All of our equipment is clean. Our trucks get washed at least once a week. Just presenting a nice, neat and clean image to the public is huge for me.”
Another key to success has been finding what they’re good at and being able to say no to people.
“We get calls all the time from residential customers for just basic yard work and it’s just not something that we do and there’s plenty of work to go around for everybody,” Fliginger says. “So we have a list of other companies that we work with that we can refer to those people when they call.”
He says as an NALP member, it’s been nice to connect with different people and share stories with companies that are in the same position as Doctor Lawn as well as hear stories from larger companies that serve as inspiration. He attends several industry events such as the Grow conference hosted by The Grow Group and NALP’s Field Trips.
“That’s really helped to be able to get out and talk to people and get that motivation to keep going,” Fliginger says.
He also says his wife Willow Fliginger has been an integral part of their growth and success. She joined the company in 2008.
“When she started, if she was done with her office work, if we needed help out in the field she’d hop on a mower, weed eater, it didn’t matter,” Fliginger says. “She’d come with us and do whatever it took.”
Doctor Lawn has been growing slowly and steadily, but Fliginger says things have started to pick up over the last three years and they’ve had to hire for some higher-level positions, such as production manager and director of business development, to help them set up their systems and processes.
“What we’re doing now is just trying to come up with systems and processes to make sure that those branches succeed and how do we set sales goals and make sure the people that we put in those positions are trained and we can trust to succeed,” Fliginger says.
Fliginger is a very hands-on owner and prefers to be able to get out in the field and work alongside his crews. He says this is part of the reason they brought on Richard Cronk as their director of business development to help with tasks such as their developing their org chart and job descriptions.
“The goal is for me to be able to step away from what I’m doing right now,” Fliginger says.
Fliginger says one of their biggest challenges has been putting people in the right roles and knowing when to add an additional position and what responsibilities that role should have. By refining their organization chart, he wants everyone to know exactly what their role is so are no questions and no surprises as far as who’s in charge of what.
During the peak season, Doctor Lawn employs 30 team members. He says they have tried about everything they can think of when it comes to recruiting, from kite flags in front of their facilities since they’re located on one of the busiest streets in town to using recruiting sites online.
In one instance, they had seven interviews lined up and only two people showed up to them. They were hired, but when it was time to do some training only one of those new hires showed up.
As for their retention strategy, Fliginger says it comes down to treating their people right and helping them grow.
“I don’t want to ever lose track of the people that come into work that are on a paycheck to paycheck basis that need work to do,” Fliginger says.
The company hosts several barbecues a year and will try to have fun outside of the regular work hours as well. Fliginger says culture needs to be at the forefront of the job.
“Otherwise people are going to come into work that have no reason why they’re here, or they don’t care,” Fliginger says. “It’s just ‘I come in and do this and get paid and then I go home.’”
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