Level Up: Martin Landscape Trains to Retain Employees - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Level Up: Martin Landscape Trains to Retain Employees

Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.

Wade Martin started his company Martin Landscape with a desire to provide a place where people could grow. Ever since opening their doors in 2004, the Port Royal, South Carolina-based company has invested in their employees.

Martin has been working in the industry since high school cutting grass and then going on to learn irrigation repair and installation. He says he loved being outdoors and interacting with different homeowners.

He says he knew he wanted to start his own business when the company he was working for at the time wasn’t treating their people fairly.

“I felt like I was tapped out with no room for growth and I said, ‘You know what, I want to create a company where people can grow.’”

Now Martin Landscape currently brings in $7 million a year in revenue and has a second branch location. Martin says his goal is for each branch to bring in $5 to $7 million each a year as they’re working to be a $15 to $20 million company.

“The difference with us is, we work on our net profit,” Martin says. “We don’t necessarily want to be the biggest, but we want to have good net profit and pay our people very well.”

Transitioning From Residential to Commercial

Photo: Whitney Spurlock Photography

The company services the Low Country region of South Carolina through coastal Georgia with 90 percent of their work consisting of commercial lawn maintenance. They care for commercial properties like HOAs, apartment complexes and POA neighborhoods. The other 10 percent of their work is commercial landscape construction and commercial landscape enhancement work.

However, Martin Landscape originally began on the residential side, with Martin starting out with a truck and push mower doing only lawn maintenance. He expanded to include irrigation installation and landscape construction. He says he took on anything and everything to grow the company at first.

When the company reached their first million dollars in sales, he realized they needed to identify the type of work they were doing and what they were good at. By the time they reached $2 million in revenue, Martin says they were wondering if the residential work was really worth it.

He took a hard look at the numbers when the recession hit and found that while 90 percent of their issues and complaints were coming from the residential clients, all of the money was coming from their commercial clients.

“It was very tricky and it was hard for me to let go,” Martin says. “We found out real quick that our profit margins just were not there in the residential market. When we started using different types of software, we realized that ‘Hey, we’re not making what we thought we were making.’”

They slowly transitioned adding commercial clients to replace their residential revenue. They also spent a 12-month period working to help their residential clients find new service providers to preserve the company’s reputation.

Recently, Martin Landscape has also merged their sister company, Martin Sweep, into the business to serve as another profit center for them with street sweeping.

Keys to Success

Growth has been steady for Martin Landscape and he credits this to being very selective as to who they work for.

“We know our niche, so we turn down a lot of work,” Martin says. “We don’t just work for anybody.”

Photo: Whitney Spurlock Photography

Their ideal commercial client is someone who cares about the way their property looks and is willing to spend money on enhancements. Martin says he doesn’t want clients to call them because they are the lowest bid. Martin Landscape also works to self-perform all their work. They try not to subcontract any work out.

Martin says one of his keys to success is being involved with the company’s day-to-day as the owner.

“I think companies get to a certain size and the owner loses focus,” Martin says. “I think my presence there helps me focus. I’ve done everything from cutting grass to doing irrigation and now I’m running the business.”

He says talking with the leaders in the industry, meeting with them through NALP has been a big help as well. Martin also credits his executive team for being successful at keeping their people around.

Train to Retain

Currently, the company has about 67 team members, but Martin says they could use 100 people on staff.

Photo: Whitney Spurlock Photography

This is their first year with an HR director and she comes from the corporate world. Martin says he researched her on LinkedIn and did some headhunting himself when looking to fill the position.

“One thing that I have found in our industry is a lot of people get their mindset focused on, ‘Oh I need somebody that’s in the green industry,’” Martin says. “Well as I’ve gotten bigger and wiser, you don’t. We’re a landscape company but like any company, I just need a good HR director.”

Since joining, she has brought a lot of new ideas to the table and their retention rates are getting better.

“Just having someone that’s involved, where that’s their sole job has helped us tremendously,” Martin says.

Some of the new methods include not just posting jobs on social media and LinkedIn.

“We’re out in the public more now,” Martin says. “We’re setting booths up now to introduce ourselves, instead of advertising our services, like most people there. They’re advertising their services. Well, we don’t have a problem getting the work, we have a problem getting the labor to do the work.”

Martin says their HR director goes to these events and they aren’t just recruiting in their hometown but all over. They also provide transportation for their employees from the corporate branch to their other branch that is an hour away.

Photo: Whitney Spurlock Photography

They’ve also been getting a number of applications through their career page. Martin says their HR director has introduced them to Hireology, which posts the openings on all kinds of social media platforms.

The company is always working to provide growth opportunities including training every morning. On rainy days, they’ll keep crews on the clock and have them train in their Battle Room instead. Martin says they have a saying ‘ABR – always be recruiting.’ Whenever there is a new opening, they advertise it to everyone in the company. If no one applies for it, then they’ll look outside the company.

“We want everybody in the company to know what positions we have available and how you get to the next level,” he says. “Do you need to be certified in pesticides? Are you going to be a spray tech? Great, we’re going to give you the books, and we’re going teach you how to pass the test to get your pesticide license so we can move you out.”

Martin says they’re always teaching their employees because they don’t want their employees to be stuck at a dead-end job.

Strong Company Culture

As the company has grown, Martin says maintaining the culture has been a challenge and it is something they talk about daily. He says they stand out because they are very involved with everyone who works for the company.

“I have heard from these other guys that come from bigger companies that they never see the owner of the company,” Martin says. “They’ve never met him. They’ll meet him once a year at a company party. They never see him in the field just going out and looking at a job and shaking their hand.”

Martin says they have an open-door policy and listen to their employees’ needs. If they give a suggestion that they can’t fulfill, he says they explain why.

Photo: Whitney Spurlock Photography

The company uses culture coins worth $5, $10 and $20. These are awarded to employees when they do something good whether it’s something safety-related or a jobsite looking particularly good. These culture coins can be spent on paid time off, or Martin Landscape swag.

“We have it posted on our big screen TVs where it’s a challenge and the guys really are taking advantage of it,” Martin says.

They’re also doing a safety campaign right now where employees receive a gift card for being safe. Martin Landscape participates in NALP’s Safe Company Program and their safety manager downloads safety topics from NALP. Martin says they’re awarding people a lot more than they were in the past.

Martin Landscape also runs an open book of business and made a game out of it. He says their employees like the healthy competition among each other.

“You can see it when they knock off in the afternoon,” Martin says. “They want to hang around, they want to talk, they want to laugh, they want to joke. We have a good time. It’s a game. We want to create that positive outlook.”

Click here to read more Level Up stories.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.