Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Fine Earth Landscape Inc., based in Poolesville, Maryland, has grown bigger than president Joel Hafner, LIC, ever thought he would reach. Since exceeding his expectations, he says the company has continued to naturally grow.
Fine Earth specializes in residential design/build and high-end residential maintenance. It has a revenue of $13.5 million currently.
Hafner says they experienced a growth spurt around five years ago. Their maintenance division has also been growing this year, despite the pandemic. He estimates their maintenance has been up by at least 15 to 20 percent.
While the company hasn’t necessarily been trying to reach a specific revenue amount, Hafner says the main contributors to their growth are customer service, referral work and providing efficient projects.
“A successful company has to have really good customer service,” he says. “Call people back immediately, follow through.”
Thanks to having such good customer service, Fine Earth receives a considerable amount of referral work.
“At least with maintenance I think we’re just recognized now as one of the better maintenance companies in our region that we work,” Hafner says. “Neighbors see it and clientele see it. A friend tells a friend and we end up picking up maintenance strictly because of that. It’s not because of advertising.”
The company also participates the NALP Awards of Excellence program and uses it as a marketing tool for both current and future clients.
“We let them know that they’ve been recognized as one of the national award winners,” Hafner says. “That’s really big for online referrals and gaining more business.”
Hafner says the third reason they’ve been able to grow successfully is because they can provide customers with an extraordinary project with very few problems.
“We’re very efficient, and we have very little problems on projects,” Hafner says. “When we start a job, we don’t pull off of a job until we completely fulfill the contract and then we’ll move on to another project.”
Hafner says even if a customer adds a large change order in the middle of a project, the install crew assigned to that project will stay on the job until it is completed.
He also credits the education, networking and camaraderie provided through NALP as the foundation of Fine Earth’s business.
“I’ve taken so many things from other companies and put them into ours to make us better, as well as shared things that we do to help companies get better,” Hafner says. “I think it’s a win-win for all companies around the country to get more involved.”
He advises not just becoming a member but participating in events and getting to know the people who are key to the industry and learning from them.
Experiencing a Growth Spurt
As the economy recovered from the recession, Hafner says they began to receive more and more calls from new customers, thanks to their reputation for great customer service. In one year, the company went from $9 million to $11 million.
“You get to a certain point where you realize you’re going to have to grow in order to do the extra workload,” Hafner says. “So, we hired some extra staff people for our top salespeople, which really frees up our top salespeople to do more sales and they have more support.”
By doing so, the company was able to produce more projects, sell jobs quicker and get back to clients faster. Since their growth spurt five years ago, Fine Earth has never had to scale back their workload.
The maintenance side of things has also picked up as Fine Earth strives to convert every install client into a maintenance client.
“We’ve been very successful at doing that because we’re so efficient at doing the actual install project that the maintenance was pretty easy to sell,” Hafner says. “Our maintenance manager does a very good job at retaining those clients year to year.”
Prior to growing, Fine Earth had three maintenance crews and now there are six crews. Meanwhile, they added five extra install crews, for a total of 15 installation crews. Overall, the company has gone from 50 people on staff to 83 individuals.
Offering Certified Services
Fine Earth offers a wide range of services and Hafner says as president of the company he is always looking for the next thing.
One example is when green roofs were first becoming popular. Hafner was quick to have the company participate in Green Roof Professional Training and Accreditation.
“I think you always have to recognize if you want to grow, you have to recognize what the next big thing is that’s coming,” he says. “And you have to prepare yourself and train your employees so when it comes, they can already implement it. That’s what’s made us successful as far as the growth that we’ve achieved in new acquisition growth.”
Fine Earth also worked to get certified in the county jurisdictions that they work in when it came working in the Chesapeake Bay area. Additionally, Hafner got involved with NALP’s certification program. The company is in the process of becoming a Landscape Industry Accredited Company.
“Certification has been really big for us,” Hafner says. “I think that’s a great way to train your employees so that they’re doing things by best practices within the industry. So that’s an invaluable tool with NALP.”
A common challenge for any company growing in the industry is finding personnel. Hafner says while they don’t struggle with losing experienced workers like crew leaders and sales staff, it is an issue to keep labor staff.
“There’s so much competition from other companies that are looking for people,” Hafner says. “If you had a laborer that you hire, and you set your company policy of ‘we’re hiring at this rate’ somebody will always tend to beat you in what they’re offering for starting pay.”
However, Fine Earth hasn’t had to deal with a lot of turnover. In 20 years, no foremen and no office staff have left the company.
“It’s really how you treat people, what you pay people, and how you talk to people,” he says. “If you set expectations for what you expect from them. You treat them with respect, they respect you. We consider our employees like family and we treat them that way.”
Thanks to the lack of turnover, Hafner says it’s fairly easy to maintain company culture.
“We have a certain way we want to do things,” he says. “We have a certain expectation of what we expect from our employees. They have an expectation of what they expect from their boss. It’s a shared experience and I enjoy working with them. I think they enjoy working with us.”
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