College horticulture programs went to BYU to compete in the National Collegiate Competition, which includes events like hardscaping.
Photo by Brian Horn

PROVO, Utah – While the future of the green industry battled it out at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition on the campus of Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, a new website was launched at the event to help attract more people to a career in horticulture.

Landscapeindustrycareers.org, will feature articles and more than a dozen video profiles of industry specialists such as arborists, landscape designers, account managers and lawn care technicians, who explain what their jobs entail and why they are passionate about their careers.

The website also includes an interactive quiz, provides links to schools with landscape programs and includes mentoring contacts and a job board.

“We know that finding and retaining good employees is the biggest concern of many landscape and lawn care companies, said Sabeena Hickman, National Association of Landscape Professionals CEO. “So NALP is doing everything we can to help solve that problem and the launch of this website, through the support of our Industry Growth Initiative, is the important first step.”

The announcement was made at the NCLC during the scholarship reception, sponsored by STIHL.

The event took place March 15-18 and included 750 students from 61 college teams and two FFA high school teams participated in 29 individual and team competitions.

STIHL Promotional Communications Manager Roger Phelps, who was attending his 15th NCLC, said he feels especially excited about the event when he sees students who previously participated bringing their own teams from schools where they now teach.

He said the website is a central place where students can learn about the different careers in the industry and available jobs.

The site can match the heart of those in the industry with logical facts of what a career in the industry can provide.

“This is a profession and a passion,” he said. The site is open to all industry professionals and job postings will be free throughout 2017, but there may be a nominal fee in 2018 to cover costs of the website.

“We expect schools will use these sites as essential components of their career development support.” – Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs at NALP

“The website is really a one-stop shop for people to better understand and get excited about a career in the landscape industry, and then get started on the education or career path needed to get there,” said Missy Henriksen, vice president of public affairs at NALP. “And the job board is a huge asset in connecting companies with new potential employees.”

While Henriksen said students can’t post resumes at this time, that option is being explored, and NALP worked with universities to develop the website.

“We have been in communication with faculty members at numerous schools to involve them in the development of LandscapeIndustryCareers.org and we have talked with them about the job board,” Henriksen said. “We expect schools will use these sites as essential components of their career development support.”

LandscapeIndustryCareers.org and the workforce initiative is supported through contributions by industry companies and suppliers. For more information and to contribute, visit the Industry Growth Initiative webpage.

During the scholarship reception, 57 scholarships were given away, including the Scott Allen Scholarship, which was given for the first time. Allen, the late son of BYU professor Phil Allen, was diagnosed with leukemia the day Phil Allen was leaving for last year’s NCLC.

Scott died a few weeks later, and the scholarship evolved from money raised by many in the industry. It was given to Benjamin Prouix from BYU.

“Let’s not get too busy where we forget to show gratitude,” Allen said.

NCLC career fair highlights recruitment programs

Landscapers looking for employees outline the opportunities available to students. By Brian Horn

PROVO, Utah – Companies at the National Collegiate Landscape Competition career fair wanted to promote the opportunity to work outside on jobsites and focus on the management side of the business in an office.

“You can do back office stuff and get your hands dirty,” said Willis Watkins, talent acquisition manager at Landscape Workshop in Birmingham, Alabama.

At the NCLC, 750 students from 61 college teams and two FFA high school teams attended a career fair and competed in events.
Photo by Brian Horn

The career fair was part of NCLC, an annual skills competition and showcase organized by the National Association of Landscape Professionals. It took place this year at Brigham Young University's Provo campus.

Watkins said the company has an internship program that sets up participants with mentors throughout the summer program. The internship allows them to work on jobsites and learn about back office systems.

“They aren’t on the truck every day,” Watkins said. “You have to learn what goes on in the back office.”

Jason Nielsen, CEO of One Grounds Management in Caldwell, Idaho, also offers an internships, but his company has an accelerator program as well.

The program is a two-year, full-time work program for graduates of a two- or four-year school. Spaces are limited in the program and consist of eight-month rotations through three key areas: operations and skills, sales and business, and technology and information. Once an employee finishes the program, they can stay at the company, leave and start their own company, or go work for another company outside of the area.

Host school BYU took first place in the hardscape installation competition, as well as the overall competition.
Photo by Brian Horn

Nielsen said even if someone does want to leave and work for another company, One Grounds Management likes to build relationships with other companies, and that new employee could be a bridge. One Grounds Management also uses subcontractors and having a past program graduate could lead to a possible relationship.

“We can’t be so shortsighted to think everyone will work for us forever,” he said. “We are into partnerships and expanding relationships.”

The company’s internship program allows students to work 30 hours per semester for credit, and like the accelerator program, showcases all aspects of the job, including the use of technology. The company developed an internal app that is used by crews to track job progress and other performance indicators.

“We want to paint the picture that it’s not just pushing a shovel and laying sod,” he said. “In our niche, there is a lot of opportunity for students to grow and gain experience.”

Casey Hare graduated from BYU-Provo last year, and participated in the NCLC competition. Hare had job offers eight months before graduating, but took a position as a garden manager at LifeScape in Denver after visiting the company’s booth at last year’s NCLC job fair.

He said he knew students with degrees in other industries who didn’t have jobs after graduation. But, with the labor shortage in the landscape industry, he said students can find a job, and possibly a career.

“If you are on top of things, you can have opportunities lined up,” he says. “There is room to grow and not be stagnant.”

How to create a strategic plan that works

Mark Bradley shares how he makes and implements strategic plans at two multi-million-dollar companies. By Chuck Bowen

I spent a few days up in Canada last month at the LMN Leader’s Summit, a three-day conference where landscape contractors discussed how to improve their sales process, set up a strategic plan and got some motivational insight from a two-time gold medal winner.

The event, sponsored by Caterpillar, Unilock, Greenius, Clintar and Landscape Ontario, brought together 175 contractors from the U.S. and Canada to share best practices, and focused on building a strategic plan.

Mark Bradley is the CEO of TBG Landscape, a design/build company in Ontario that last year posted revenue of $28.7 million. He’s also the CEO of LMN, the business software company he started based on the technology he created at TBG.

He outlined for the attendees how he sets up strategic plans for his landscape company and software firm.

Strategic planning involves not just owner, but key team members as well.

Bradley said that a successful strategic plan – a document that shows where you want your company to go in the future – starts with getting input from your employees. They have an idea of where they see the company going, and they’re also going to be the people who implement the tactics to achieve the strategy, so they need to be included in the process.

“I can only set the direction based on input from my team, and I can only hope for it to happen if they’re really engaged by the direction that I set,” Bradley said, adding that he includes managers and foremen in the discussion.

“It gives us a chance to really think about where we want to take the company in the coming years and how we’ll get there.”

This inclusion should improve morale and strengthen your team, he said. Everyone will understand why you do what you do in the business, and where you see the business going in the future.

“If they get confused in your business, they have a hard time seeing where they’re going in their career,” Bradley said, making strategic planning a retention tool as well as a planning tool.

Strategic planning starts with fact finding.

In the early days, TBG had a Friday cookout with crews to find out what customers were saying and what field employees needed to perform better.

Those grew into town hall meetings to hear about problems, areas for improvement and how employees from different divisions saw the business.

“Getting this input from anybody that does sales, accounting, billing … maybe it’s three to four foreman … involve everyone, down to entry-level positions,” Bradley said. “They’ll have different input than what you might. That’s what strategic planning is all about – identifying all the problems.”

Use those facts to set goals and solve problems.

Bradley likes to create systems to fix simple problems his fact-finding uncovers.

For example, he found out his crews were spending too much time fueling up their trucks, so he hired a third-party fueling company to gas up the equipment after hours.

“These improvements come quite naturally once we identify the problem and once we pull out of the day-to-day chaos and look at it through a clear lens.”

Share your plan.

Take the time to share your vision from top to bottom. The owner should be able to walk up to any person and ask them about the direction of the company and they should have the same answer, Bradley said.

Ultimately, strategic planning sets goals and a clear path for the company’s success, but also employees’ success, Bradley said, and that’s what owners should keep in mind.

“At the end of the day, we all work for a better quality of life,” he said. “How can everybody on your team enjoy a better life as the result of the company?”

Here are some other tips, trick and suggestions from conference:

A website is great, but a bad one isn’t better than not having one.

Bradley said that every landscaper should have a website because it’s the first place potential customers are going to look for information. “You can count on the fact that your client is going to Google you when they get home,” he told attendees.

But a bad site is going to hurt you more than it helps you, Bradly said. "You should not have a website before you have a bad one. If it's not selling exactly what you want to sell ... then it’s hurting you.”

Go for the gold.

Heather Moyse, two-time Canadian Olympic gold medalist in bobsledding, gave attendees some motivation to develop goals, not just dreams.

She told them they needed to build a plan to achieve what they wanted, not just wait around for it to happen.

“Excuses really are absolutely everywhere. You have to find courage to step outside comfort zone and feel exposed to see what you’re really capable of,” she said.

“Will you be the one who gets stopped by it? Or will you be the one how gets motivated by it?” she asked.

Bradley’s sales process.

Bradley made his bones selling residential design/build work in the greater Toronto area. Now his $28 million company does mostly environmental remediation and park construction, but he shared some of his sales tips from when he started with the audience:

  1. Reception should be trained to screen and process initial sales call with initial information.
  2. Meet at the prospect’s house after dinner so they’re not rushed.
  3. Bring a file with their name on it, a leave-behind portfolio with design and permit drawings, and photos (this sells you as an expert creatively and technically). “Some people want to buy art, some people want to buy function, some people want to buy both,” Bradley said. “We have to be prepared.”
  4. Park in the street and walk up the driveway. Start gathering information right away – notice if the property is neat, well-maintained, what kind of cars they have. Inside, look at their furniture, artwork, the design of their kitchen. “I can’t sell them anything if I don’t know their taste,” he said.
  5. Take your time. Plan on spending at least 1-3 hours so you can ask a lot of questions and really listen to what the homeowner is looking for. “I was always very slow with my meetings, never in a hurry,” he said.

Editorial comment: Canadians are just as polite as you think. I have traveled to Canada many times, and have found this to always be the case.

Here are some examples:

Bradley said he unionized TBG a few years ago to help ensure that even the lowest-paid members of the crews had the potential to make $100,000 a year. “That's when I felt most successful,” he said.

Another contractor from the Toronto area told me that he doesn’t do snow and ice management services because it grinds up his employees. “I don’t want my guys doing something they’re not passionate about,” he said.

And, when Moyse was speaking about winning her two gold medals she passed them around the audience so we could take pictures with them.

I stand by my statement that Canadians are just the best.

4 steps to separate yourself from the competition

The Ariens Company and Marty Grunder laid out tips at a recent event in Wisconsin. By Katie Tuttle

“Culture is your company’s personality,” said Alissa Beyer, director of human resources for the Ariens Co. “It’s hard to sometimes define, but it’s immediate when a company has a good culture. It’s that one thing you can’t put your finger on, but it sets you apart from your competitors.”

Ariens, along with Marty Grunder, president and CEO of Grunder Landscaping, hosted a group of 15 landscape professionals from across the U.S. as part of the Elite Retreat.

The event, which took place in Wisconsin, was two days’ worth of learning how to improve a company, whether with culture, social media or efficiency.

Here are four takeaways:

1. Respond to feeback.

Ariens uses an anonymous survey tool to get employee feedback and to see if there’s anything they can improve about the company’s culture.

Along with learning how to improve their company, Elite Retreat participants also tried out Ariens/Gravely equipment.
Photo courtesy of Jessica Bedore

Most satisfaction surveys will rate answers on a numerical scale, but they’ll also include comment boxes.

“You can skew the numbers, but it’s the direct comments we focus on. The direct employee feedback,” Beyer said.

Once you do the surveys, Beyer said looping back with employees is critical. If people feel confident enough to share their feedback with you, they like to know they were heard and that you listened to what they said.

“If you ask for feedback, you need to do something with it,” Beyer said. “Otherwise it destroys the trust.”

2. Go lean.

Lean manufacturing is a systematic method of getting rid of waste in order to make your company processes more efficient.

Ariens has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by becoming a more lean, efficient company, but it didn’t happen overnight.

“In the beginning, we didn’t have any expertise,” said Jeff Kerns, director of continuous improvement. “We didn’t have any lean experts in the company.”

Ariens brought in consultants and started doing week-long Kaizen events – activities to continuously improve all functions in the company – which involved everybody.

The company then started focusing on ways for continuous improvement, including the 6S audit form, which stand for safety, sort, set-in-order, shine, standardize and sustain. Ensuring that everything in the factory followed those six categories helped make things more efficient.

Ariens also started a near-miss program, meaning situations that were almost accidents were reported by employees, who were then incentivized.

“This allowed us to address almost accidents before they became real accidents,” Kerns said.

3. Social selling.

Companies who aren’t on social media, and aren’t using it as a selling resource, are missing out on a large demographic of potential customers.

If you’re new to social selling, the important thing to do is focus on one of these platforms instead of spreading your resources and effort too thin over all of them.

“Be an inch wide and a mile deep with social media,” said JW Washington, director of business development with Ariens.

“Have a vision where you want to go and stick it with – engage.”

On social media, Washington said there are four things to focus on: build and brand projection, content acquisition and creation, social hiring and social selling.

First, always post before pictures of a project, not just the after shots.

“Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t say ‘I have a strategic plan. Vision is a process. It’s evolving, it’s a journey. It’s one you’re regularly working on.” – Marty Grunder, Grunder Landscaping

“After shots mean nothing to a potential customer if they don’t know what it looked like before,” Washington said. Providing before shots shows exactly what your crews did to the property.

You can also use social media to sell.

“Social selling has become a massively important aspect of the modern sales process,” Washington said. Salesforce, a cloud computing company, interviews people across a number of industries and found that 79 percent of salespeople who used social media as a selling tool outperformed those who didn’t.

4. Create your vision.

Every company should have a vision statement. A vision statement is your “win” statement; it’s the ideal state, or goal, your company strives toward.

“If you can’t clearly articulate what your vision is, imagine how your people feel,” Grunder said.

If your company doesn’t have a clearly defined vision, now is the time to work on it. First, decide what your dream is, what you aspire to be and what you need to work on. Then, look at reality – where you are today. The steps in between the two are your strategic plan, which will help you get to where you want.

“It’s important to have small steps, small victories to get to where you want to go,” Grunder said.

“Martin Luther King Jr. didn’t say ‘I have a strategic plan.’ Vision is a process,” he said. “It’s evolving, it’s a journey. It’s one you’re regularly working on.”

Ask the Experts: Difficult landscapes

Q: I have a number of clients whose yards are problematic due to their landscaping, the amount of trees in their yard and possible soil and rock issues. We are thinking of introducing an upgraded package to the normal lawn care treatment package, but I am not quite sure how to structure it and what should be included.

A: With difficult landscapes, I would suggest adding a complete lawn renovation service which would include thorough assessment of the problems in a client’s lawn, then formulating a comprehensive plan to fix it. I would suggest by starting with the following analysis.

First, review the lawn traffic. Most grasses don’t tolerate heavy foot or vehicle traffic and often are covered with weeds. If traffic can’t be redirected, hardscaping is a good option.

Next look at the drainage. If there is a backup, it may create waterlogged soils where grass doesn’t grow well, these are often areas with recurring weed and disease issues.

Then analyze the shaded areas. Heavy shade just won’t support dense growth of even the most shade tolerant grasses. Shaded areas are often thin turf, with lots of weed problems and the harder we attack weeds the weaker the turf becomes. One option is to suggest pruning to let more light in, but if you can’t do that or your clients don’t want to, then suggest mulch or other ground cover in those areas.

Review the thatch situation, as years of excessive nitrogen fertilizer and poor pH may have created a thatch layer more than an inch deep, causing recurring disease and drought tolerance issues as well as very poor mowing quality.

Of course, the turf grass variety plays an essential role in how it stands up to the current sun and water conditions. If the variety is a bad match for the conditions, there will be continued problems.

Once you have done an assessment plan, the action plan might look like this:

If you haven’t already done a soil test during your regular treatments, then start there. Adjusting the soil pH, and adding needed nutrients will improve lawn establishment. Meet with your client and discuss all the issues that are negatively affecting their lawn.

Then, discuss the possible solutions including areas that should be planted to grass and areas that should be mulched, or planted to shade tolerant groundcovers, areas where hardscape could be used to address traffic, new drainage options necessary to eliminate problem areas that can’t support turf grasses, and recommendations for better species and varieties grasses for the lawn. Include blends of grass cultivars and mixes of different grass species in your seed plan.

Control problem perennial weeds and grasses. For perennial grasses, treat, then wait 14 days for weeds to recover before repeating the treatment. Follow label instructions which will specify the length of time after the final treatment when it is safe to plant seed.

Remove excessive thatch and aerate as needed. Apply the needed lime and fertilizer as specified by the soil test. This process will open up the turf and expose soil to improve seed germination. Seed the lawn using the recommended amount of seed for the mixture you are planting and protect the lawn with a covering of grass clippings or straw.

Then ensure that the lawn is properly watered for the next two weeks by providing instructions to your client.

By communicating closely with your clients so that they understand the issues and steps being taken to improve their lawn, you can build up this additional service line and set yourself up with satisfied clients who will continue with regular lawn services in the seasons to come.

Barry Troutman, NALP Technical Adviser

Ask the Experts is brought to you in partnership with NALP, the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Questions are fielded through NALP’s Trailblazers, the industry’s leading company mentoring program. For more questions visit Landscapeprofessionals.org.