Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
New Castle Lawn & Landscape, based in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, has undergone some serious ups and downs over the years, but they have weathered the storms and come out stronger now.
Founded in 1994 by Bryan Weise and Brian Cuccaro while they were both attending Penn State, New Castle provides a full line of maintenance and design/build services. Their most popular service currently is their lawn applications.
“We set out to get about 300 new customers this year and we have 270 so far,” says Brad Stephenson, co-owner and general manager of New Castle. “We had a huge campaign to try to push that service because it’s a low dollar amount, as far as overhead, and high profit, and it’s something we really want to grow as a company.”
Currently, the company is going up by about a million in revenue each year. They are on track to bring in $8 million this year and have a 10-year goal of reaching $25 million.
While New Castle is thriving right now, they did go through several hard times. In 2008, when the recession hit, they had to lay off their 20 employees. New Castle had also just built a new building at the time and still had to make payments on it.
Stephenson says they stuck through it and their CFO helped them get back on track and they were slowly able to bring staff back as the HOA work came back. Now the company’s customer base is a 50/50 split of residential and commercial work.
“That’s on purpose because in 2008 when the economy crashed, the commercial side helped things go along and residential fell off so we’ve stuck to a pretty good mix,” Stephenson says.
Another year of hardship was in 2018 when New Castle did not get their 25 H-2B workers two weeks before the mowing season started. Stephenson says they had a massive hiring campaign and that they probably hired 50 people throughout the year due to turnover.
“We were in trouble,” Stephenson says. “We learned a lot through that year. That’s the same year we implemented the EOS system. We stuck with it. Our leadership team and everybody were out mowing and it was a mess. I mean we lost $350,000 that year, but it was money well spent.”
The company still uses the H-2B program, but Stephenson says they don’t depend on it anymore and tend to bring in 8 H-2B workers now.
Keys to Success
Stephenson says their number one key to success has been the implementation of the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). After 2018, the business started skyrocketing.
“We figured why not just have all the pain in one year,” Stephenson says. “So, we just put all processes and everything in place that year so that we could grow from there.”
He says they also took a hard look at what they were good at and what they were not. They got rid of work that was not in their core services such as installing awnings and doing asphalt sealing. Stephenson says their team was getting frustrated with junk work. Now they’re doing larger projects they can be proud of.
“We have minimums on everything,” Stephenson says. “Our enhancements have a four-hour minimum. Construction has a day minimum. Trees have a day minimum. Our HOA properties we try to give them a little bit of a break because we can do a bunch of jobs in a day. But the minimums have been really important to get rid of all that junk work.”
Stephenson says budgeting was another key to their growth.
“We didn’t really know our numbers,” Stephenson says. “We thought we did, but we really started looking into our properties that we said were great properties, until you really start looking at it. Now that we’re running Service Autopilot, guys are punching in and out. We can see time. So now we can time and cost things and understand what properties really are profitable and which aren’t.”
He says it was eye-opening and they got rid of some bad properties. They also changed their pricing structure and raised a lot of their prices. For instance, they were at 3 to 7 percent profit with their snow work. Stephenson says it was not a comfortable feeling.
“Why be in business if you’re not going to make money?” Stephenson says. “You got to make money to take care of your employees and everybody else.”
As a result of all these changes, New Castle has experienced a 25 to 30 percent revenue increase for the last three years.
The company has also opened the books to their staff in order to be completely transparent. Stephenson says they’ve gained trust with their employees by doing this.
“Letting the people see the numbers, see how we came up with the numbers and then why we charge what we charge,” Stephenson says. “It’s been huge.”
Each department has its own budget and P&L. Stephenson says they’re focused on profitability rather than the top-line number.
“Revenue doesn’t mean anything if you’re not making anything on it,” Stephenson says.
As part of their transparency, New Castle has career progression charts with pay rates so employees can see where they can grow and earn more. Stephenson himself is a prime example of their possibilities, as he joined the company in 2006 and worked his way up until he was a minority owner. He became a 50/50 owner when Weise retired last year.
He says growing the company to $25 million will help provide ownership opportunities for their existing employees.
New Castle has around 70 employees now and they don’t deal with a lot of turnover. Stephenson says this is thanks to their company culture, which has a family atmosphere. He has monthly one-on-ones with his employees to see how they’re doing and if there is anything he can help with.
“You’re there to serve your guys, they’re not there to serve you,” Stephenson says. “I would rather grow the person than the bottom dollar. I want to see people grow.”
He says they use Greenius and NALP’s training resources to ensure their team is properly trained. All the employees receive performance reviews in August and February. Recently, New Castle bumped everyone’s pay up as Stephenson says want to be the highest paying landscape company in their area.
For recruiting, Stephenson says the majority of their new recruits are family members or friends of their current people. New Castle also has a three-payment referral bonus system for the longer a person stays with the company.
“It wasn’t cheap but if you can find some good people it’s well worth it,” Stephenson says.
Click here to read more Level Up stories.