Level Up: How These Companies Are Stepping Up Their Game - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Level Up: How These Companies Are Stepping Up Their Game

With the off-season just around the corner, you might already be thinking about how you can step up your game and grow next year. The off-season is a great time to reflect upon how you performed as a company and what you can change for the next season. But what does it take to get to the next level?

That answer is going to be different for every company. Perhaps it’s stepping up your marketing game, investing in new equipment or technology, or maybe finding a way to better target the ideal client base you want to capture.

We spoke to several landscaping companies that we believe have leveled up by making conscious changes, which led to improved efficiency, enhanced profitability, and overall better performance. We’re sharing their stories along with their advice on how other landscaping businesses can follow suit.

Growing by Knowing When to Say No

Photo: Grassperson

Similar to many other landscaping companies, Jack Moore says there was a time that they said “yes” to every client that came asking for their services. But these days, the owner of Grassperson Lawn Care & Landscape in Lewisville, Texas, says they turn away multiple clients each day that “aren’t the ideal fit.” He’s learned that to “level up” and grow, it’s been important to focus on the ideal client.

“Like a lot of companies, we started as a lawn mowing service,” Moore says. “But then clients asked us if we could care for their plants, fertilize their lawn, hang their holiday lights, or take care of their irrigation system. As you say yes to more and more things, you start to stretch yourself thin. So, our leveling up strategy has been that we can be a full-service company — but we need to attract the ideal clients we want to serve.”

Moore says that even though they have been turning away work, their revenue has grown. They’re now targeting clients who don’t want to nitpick just one or two services, but that ideally want a whole range of services. This target audience is made up of clients who desire what Moore calls the “Total Maintenance” program. These homeowners are willing to spend the money to know that their property is being fully cared for with services like mowing, bed maintenance, irrigation, and lawn care.

But Moore says that Grassperson is continuing to also target clients who just want to sign up for a lawn care program. However, instead of allowing them to pick a service here or there, the company has all of their services packaged into tiered program options.

“With our Total Maintenance program, we’re trying to sell a lot of services to a select client base but with our lawn care business, we’re selling just a few services to a broader base of clients,” Moore explains. “We’re focusing on these clients with a very targeted sales and marketing strategy that has allowed us to identify who is a really good client that we want — and who to steer away from.”  

Moore adds that turning away business can still feel somewhat strange. But they are always polite.

“We thank them for thinking of us, say we’re sorry that we can’t help them, and we always recommend someone else,” Moore says. “We’re getting a lot better at identifying our ideal clients so that we’re able to be more profitable.”

Moore says that he thinks of “leveling up” as more of a journey than an actual destination.

“The destination is forever changing as our world evolves,” he says. “As a landscape business owner, you’re constantly learning new things and finding ways to build upon the momentum you’re gaining — otherwise you become stagnant. Each time we level up, we want to continue to go further.” 

Integrating New Technology

For Yellowstone Landscape, headquartered in Bunnell, Florida, leveling up has meant integrating new technology that would allow the national company to continue to grow. Like a lot of other companies, Yellowstone had a diverse set of landscape management systems operating throughout the different locations — but no really good way to summarize the business as a whole, particularly as it related to production. In order to level up, the company had to standardize processes and implement landscape business software.

Photo: Yellowstone Landscape

“We had a really good handle on how the company was operating financially but we knew that in order to step up our game, we needed a better grasp on what was going on in the field,” explains Joseph Barnes, marketing director for the company. “In the last five years, we’ve done a total overhaul by adding GPS in every fleet and introducing Aspire software. Now, with our crews using smart devices in the field, we know exactly what’s going on.”

Barnes says that has included completely overhauling the company’s reporting capabilities so that managers at the regional and field support levels could have access to real-time data whenever they needed it. The company has also moved to online scheduling.

“This has all allowed us to more closely manage the business and make better decisions in real-time,” says Barnes. “As a result, we’re operating more efficiently, serving our customers better, and achieving financial results.”

The ability to communicate with customers about what services were performed and what time crews arrived and left has also been invaluable information.

“With tools like GPS and smart devices now rolled out across every branch location, we’re able to precisely answer customer questions about where we are on their property and what services we’re performing for them,” Barnes says. “As a large company, we need to be able to centralize all this information, but it’s also important that we continue giving our local leaders the information they need to run their day-to-day operations and provide hyper-responsive service to our clients.”

Yellowstone has also completely revamped their human resources operations and gone entirely paperless. Every employee throughout the entire company can now log in and look at their hours, pay, and benefits. Barnes says that this has streamlined the onboarding process, as well.

Though Yellowstone has invested heavily in this technology, Barnes says that there’s a starting point for every company to look at what tools can help them improve.

“I think the most important place for any business to start is where their biggest expense falls — which is labor,” Barnes says. “You need to have tools in place to be able to accurately make decisions around labor that help keep you profitable while also keeping your clients happy.” 

Stepping Up Branding

As a landscaping business, your brand is your identity — and can do a tremendous amount of work for you in terms of bringing in qualified leads. But many landscape businesses don’t take the time to really focus on their brand and make sure it’s doing the heavy lifting.

Photo: Outback Landscape

For Chase Coates, owner and founder of Outback Landscape, Inc., in Idaho Falls, Idaho, the move to a new office was the opportunity to really step up their branding game. The colors of the company building now match the branding of the trucks and all of Outback’s marketing efforts.

In addition to Outback, Coates says that they also acquired a lawn care company, Lawn Buddies, and rebranded it with a koala bear mascot — playing off of the whole “outback” theme. Between the branding efforts for Outback and for Lawn Buddies, the “recognition factor” is off the charts. Coates says that they’re bringing in qualified leads simply because prospective clients see the trucks out and about or the appealing koala bear signage for Lawn Buddies. On any given day there are 40+ well-branded company trucks out on the road and Coates says it’s provided some serious marketing momentum.

“I think with branding, people have to have some sort of attraction or relation to it,” Coates says. “I think one of the challenges is trying to find the right alignment with who you are and what you want people to ‘feel’ about your company. We’ve worked really hard to use our branding to help attract the right type of client. We don’t want to feel overly expensive but we’re also not trying to attract tiny jobs.”

Photo: Outback Landscape

Coates says that for other landscaping companies who are looking to step up their game, branding or re-branding can be incredibly powerful.

“When people start recognizing you from your brand, you know you’ve created something that can just keep growing,” Coates says.

Since creating the koala bear yard signs for Lawn Buddies, Coates says he’s had a handful of parents say how much their kids love the signage. He took that opportunity to mail those kids a stuffed koala bear from Amazon. In that way, the brand has really taken on a life of its own — but is also doing the work of targeting the optimal audience.

“For Lawn Buddies, one of our ideal clients is the stay-at-home mom who just wants her yard to look nicer,” Coates says. “A cuddly koala bear is the perfect mascot for that client. While some of our crew members might have liked to see a koala bear with flames or something they thought was a little cooler, cuddly, non-aggressive, and relatable was the way to go. We’re able to target just the right client.”

Going Eco-Friendly

In this day and age where so many conversations center around sustainability, lots of landscaping companies are stepping up their game and incorporating eco-friendly services. Among them is Terren Landscapes in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania.

John Lipartito, marketing manager for the company, says that for them, it’s been part of an effort to keep up with the latest technology. Years ago, that meant being one of the only landscaping companies in their area to offer text and email communication along with online payment options and video chat. Today, it has meant being some of the first in their market to utilize robotic lawn mowers and provide fully eco-friendly services.

“Staying even just one step ahead does more to attract and retain customers than people realize,” he says.

Lipartito says that for other companies to follow suit, they must be willing to get over their fear of failure.

When you’re aiming to be on the cutting edge (literally), it can mean that things don’t always go as planned.

“So long as they know their budget and don’t go buying every new piece of equipment on the market, it’s okay if something doesn’t work out and needs to be scrapped,” he says. “Ultimately, the benefits gained from the successes more than make up for failures.”

Although making eco-friendly changes and keeping up with technology has an impact on customer satisfaction and is also a wise business move, at the end of the day, he says the lessened environmental impact is their biggest benefit. As a company, doing their part to be good stewards of the environment is part of who they are.

“Each reduction in harm is an important part of the general effort to reduce our impact as landscapers,” Lipartito says. “If the whole industry can ‘level up’ in the same way, it might really make a difference.”

Turning the Focus Inward

At the end of the day, all landscaping business owners and managers would likely agree that their most important asset is their people. And with recruiting more difficult than ever, retaining existing employees is absolutely imperative. That’s why Skip Thompson, LIC, CEO of TideWater Landscape Management, headquartered in Savannah, Georgia, says that they’re leveling up by focusing their attention inward.

Photo: Yellowstone Landscape

“We’ve just started doing more little things — like getting the crews breakfast once a month on a random day,” Thompson says. “Or, today, I’m out in the field mowing with the crews because that’s what they really needed from me today. They needed to see me out here sweating with them and working hard for the company.”

Thompson says it’s important for landscape business owners to remember it doesn’t always have to be a huge, grandiose gesture to show employees that you care. But you do need to find ways to make sure they know.

“They’ve got to know that they’re not alone on an island — or just somebody in the field working,” Thompson says. “They need to know they’ve got your support. If I’m out on a job with the crews, I’ll make sure to buy them all a Gatorade. It’s just small stuff like that — but it matters.”

Thompson says that one of the best ways that landscape companies can follow through on showing appreciation to their team members is to plan and budget for it ahead of time.

“Set aside $5,000 and decide that’s going to be all for different gestures or events for the team,” Thompson says. “In the grand scheme of things, that’s a small amount for what will come back to you when employees know you care. In this day and age, employees will leave you for twenty-five cents more per hour if they don’t feel appreciated. Your people need to know you care.”

This article was published in the September/October issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Landscape Professional magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.