Like many other landscape business owners, Richard Arlington says he got his start in landscaping as a kid. Mowing grass, raking leaves and shoveling snow was an easy way to earn some income. Upon returning home from some time in the Marines, Arlington says he couldn’t find a job—so he returned to doing what he “knew,” and got right back into landscaping.
That has certainly paid off for Arlington who, today, has more than 25 years of experience in landscaping and snow and ice management practices.
In addition to being owner of Arlington Lawncare Inc., Arlington also serves as national business manager for Affiliated Grounds Maintenance Group Inc. and maintains his consulting firm, Rich Arlington & Associates, which got its start in 2005 conducting business training, risk management and financial counseling.
What is your proudest moment in business?
My proudest moment in business was watching my daughter drive a loader for the first time. Just to see the kids take an interest means a lot since a lot of times in a family business, the kids don’t want to be involved. Of my two children, my daughter is very immersed in the operations. My son prefers the office work. He works in my accounting department after earning an accounting degree.
Arlington Lawncare Inc.
Location: Eerie, Pennsylvania
Year founded: 1986
2018 revenue: $3.2 million
Client mix: 98% commercial, 2% residential
Service mix: 15% design/build, 40% maintenance, 10% lawn care, 35% snow
Business motto: To exceed customers’ expectations above and beyond the level they’re willing to pay for.
Personal motto: Knowledge is only valuable when shared with others; if kept to yourself, it’s worthless.
What is your biggest business challenge today?
The biggest challenge is striking a balance between customers’ expected price and their level of expectation for what they pay. Prices have been driven down and customers want more and more for what they’re willing to pay. To deal with this, I start off with two questions:
- Are you happy with the quality you’re getting now, and you just want a better price?
- Are you happy with the price you’re paying now, and you just want better quality?
No matter which way they answer, this leads into a third and vital question: What is price you’re paying now? And then I can either proceed with what they want … or I can’t. It puts everything out there and stops a lot of the chasing. I believe in having upfront and direct conversations about pricing and expectations.
What motivates you on Monday mornings?
Mondays aren’t necessarily the start of my work week since I pretty much work seven days a week. But I would say what motivates me is always improving—and seeing if we can do better each week than we did the last.
What business worry keeps you up most at night? How are you trying to solve this?
What keeps me awake is when you get to my size you face a reality that every decision you make, good or bad, affects a lot of people. Decisions affect not just your employees, but your vendors, your suppliers and other places where you spend money.
I look back about 15 years ago now on a memory that really brought this realization to light. I negotiated a better deal with a different supplier for snow plows. We normally bought between 10 and 15 plows a year and were always rotating them out each year. When I changed suppliers, two people lost their jobs because I was no longer buying plows there and no longer bringing in my plows for service or going there to buy parts. They had to cut their staff as a direct result. That was a difficult eye opener for me about my decisions and their impact. Yes, maybe I saved $100 a plow, but it cost two people their jobs. So, when you change parts suppliers, stock suppliers, flowers suppliers or even just go from a Chevy to a Ford, it always affects someone. I’m more cognizant of that now.
Who is your business mentor or idol?
Mike Rorie—I just like the way he built his company. I like his morals and ethics and the way he does business. I’ve always found him inspiring.
What is your favorite business book?
The book I’ve read 50 times in my life is “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s full of practical advice on decision making and important business skills.
What does it mean to you to be a landscape professional?
When I set out to be a professional, it was to set myself apart. Too many times in cities you have an overabundance of landscape companies or mowing companies, and everybody always says the same thing and bids the same way and you have to find what makes you different. The answer should be professionalism. I used to say: “Would you trust your heart surgery to an uncertified doctor? Would you go to court without a board-certified lawyer? Then why would you trust your biggest investment—your lawn—to an uncertified landscaper?”
What does it mean to you to be a member of NALP?
I think if you’re serious about anything, education and training is always key. I think you have to stay plugged in and continue learning all the time. Plus, it’s a great place to meet people. The networking opportunities that come out of NALP are fantastic.
In five years, where do you see your business going? Where will you be?
In five years, I hope to be on a beach and watching my kids take the business to the next level. They’re both working in the business now, and I can’t image that in five years from now they couldn’t just take over.