Our Level Up series shares the strategies that help landscape and lawn care companies get to the next level.
Like many companies in the industry, the seed of Southern Botanical, Inc. was planted when a young boy started mowing his neighbors’ lawns.
President and CEO Jason Craven launched his business officially in 1995 as J.C. Services, which eventually became Southern Botanical, a Dallas, Texas-based landscaping company that now makes $30 million in revenue. The company employs around 270 people.
Southern Botanical’s services include residential and commercial maintenance, landscape construction and tree care. The company has also dabbled in several other service lines.
“I really don’t recommend taking on more service lines as a means to grow,” Craven says. “Until you have mastered what you can do, it really doesn’t make sense to add service lines. We’ve had pool, interior as well as a retail location, that were flops. It was a distraction from our core business as well as our leadership. We definitely learned our lessons.”
Keys to Growth
Craven credits his company’s culture, values and team to their growth.
“We hire professionals then empower them to take care of our team and clients,” he says.
Southern Botanical’s culture can be defined by The Green Standard. This is the company’s disciplined approach to never cutting corners and ensuring maximum value in the long run by creating healthy landscapes. The company also has a culture of achievement supporting the personal and professional growth of each employee.
The company’s values include treat people the way they want to be treated, deliver wow in everything you do, become better every day and give thanks and give back.
“We want to work hard but also have fun,” Craven says. “It’s not fun if you’re just constantly grinding all the time and not backing up and seeing your progress and celebrating your victories.”
Craven says NALP has also elevated their perspective in many ways.
“The most valuable has been meeting peers in the industry and learning what other best in class companies are doing to be successful,” he says.
Craven says the company does not have an ideal size, rather their values and culture dictate everything.
“We’ll continue to grow as long as we can maintain those,” he says.
Craven says they’ve never really had a challenge with growth. He says they focus on how they do things and let the work sell itself. He says growth comes naturally when you are doing the right things for your team and clients.
“We’re always so busy trying to get the work done and do a great job for the client,” Craven says. “We’re just rewarded with more and more work.”
The company has only had to temper their growth based on their ability to find, train and retain front-line associates. Southern Botanical has experienced periods of sudden growth throughout the years, including the late 90s and mid-2000s. Craven says in 2014 they had to step back and allow their systems and processes catch up to the size of the business. He says they were experiencing tremendous turnover at the time.
“We had a sales culture but operationally we were a mess and we weren’t profitable,” Craven says. “We worked hard on systems, processes, accounting and our branch model from 2014 to 2016.”
Craven says the company needed to go in a different direction and made quite a few changes to their team and how they do things and since then they’ve been very profitable and had great retention of their employees.
“More recently we’ve focused more on profitability, systems and leadership more than top-line growth,” he says. “We’ve been consistently more profitable since 2015 and now have the systems and leadership to make another leap.”
Current Branch Model
One of the major changes the company made was going to a branch model for all five branches. Four of the branches are housed in Southern Botanical’s headquarters in Dallas and the fifth branch is located in Celina, Texas.
Each branch has its own individual profit loss statement. Each month Craven says they review the branches’ financials, how they’re performing and how they’re doing compared to the budget.
“We look at every line item on their statement to see how we’re tracking,” Craven says. “It’s brought visibility to each team and it’s brought control to each team. I think that that’s been the largest contributor to our success was being able to have that visibility so if they see they’re going the wrong direction they can correct the course and make improvements. They have their peers to help keep them accountable.”
The individual branches set their revenue goals and they meet as a group and talk about them. Craven says they set their profitability goals as well.
“The teams are incentivized,” Craven says. “We pay about 13 percent of our operating profit out to the branches.”
Craven says allowing the branches to set their own goals has allowed their leadership to be more focused on their team and the team can see how they can impact the outcome. He says another advantage of the branch model is employees can know their boss intimately and talk with them.
Southern Botanical tries to cultivate a lot of their future leaders from within so future branch managers will originate from the Dallas office to start branches elsewhere.
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