In our April 2017 issue, we featured contractors in their first couple of years of operating a landscaping company fulltime, and the ups and downs that come with it. We checked in on them a year later and find out what has changed. – Brian Horn
Eric Ellington and Will Lane
Glen Allen Grounds, greater Richmond, Virginia area
Q: What have been a couple of major accomplishments you’ve had since we spoke last March?
A: We felt we finished strong to end the year. It got a little dicey at the beginning of quarter four. (We) had some major equipment and computer breakdowns that we had to scramble on because it was a necessity to finish the season and ended up spending a lot more than we anticipated. Toward the end of the year, we got it all together and that last month, month and a half was good. (We) booked some solid jobs on the hardscape side to start off 2018 as well. I think that put a lot in perspective; that was probably one of our toughest stretches that I can remember.
Q: Did any major challenges come up?
A: Mostly, our work load. We are currently scheduled out until almost May across all divisions, which is great, but could put us at a disadvantage for getting in front of new clients. Our maintenance routes are packed tight with almost zero room for additions, which could be a problem. We feel we do not have enough properties to start a third mowing crew and are trying to get through 2018 without a vehicle purchase. We may not have a choice but to start some sort of hybrid crew to get us through, and hopefully build off of that for a full maintenance route. With that comes extra expenses, obviously. Personally, I felt that is what held us back a little last year from a cash flow perspective. We had to hire a ton of guys and bought three trucks within four months. We are hoping to use 2018 to bounce back from all that and control the growth a little.
Q: One issue you mentioned in the article was getting backing from banks. Has that improved at all? Why or why not? How has that helped or hindered you?
A: That ship has sailed. Really, we don’t need it at this point. Some weeks have been tough, but already in 2018 we have been more aggressive with paying loans down faster and not using the line of credit for major purchases. We picked up some used equipment through a service trade, and really watched what we were spending the first part of this year. Again, no major purchases thus far which is helping tremendously.
Q: When I spoke with you last year, it sounded as if you were growing at a good rate. Is that still the case, and how have you been able to manage that growth?
A: Yes, (we are) up almost 40 percent from 2016 to 2017, and (it) is trending that way again based on our first quarter thus far. I think looking at the bigger picture and not sweating the small stuff has allowed us to plow through. This business can do a number on a person for sure, you are just constantly worrying and thinking about future jobs or not finishing something. We’ll get it done, always have. If we are calm in the office then the guys out in the field see that, they trust us, and know we are putting them in the right place to be successful. Scheduling properly, being more efficient and attempting to eliminate mistakes are all factors that we hope will allow us to be more successful this year.
Q: Have you learned any valuable lessons since last March?
A: Breathe. The world is not going to end. There are no such things as landscape emergencies. Do everything that we are supposed to do and do it better than anyone. Not every client phone call is a bad one, even if they are questioning a particular service or have an issue with how you installed something. Make it right and they will continue to call you back. And, social media is king. We have gotten more compliments, referrals, and leads because of our media pages including Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Houzz. Be sure to check us out and follow our season! @glenallengrounds.
Read the story from our April 2017 issue bit.ly/glenallenlawn
Deep Roots Landscaping, Merritt Island, Florida
Q: What have been a couple of major accomplishments you’ve had since last March?
A: Since last March, we’ve won a number of major commercial projects and have grown tremendously. I now have three vehicles on the road working one to three projects at a time. Also, we now have our irrigation contractor’s license and are doing landscape and irrigation and will be bringing outdoor lighting in house quite soon.
Q: Did any major challenges come up? If so, how have you handled them?
A: There’s always major challenges it seems now. The largest is learning how to bid against large statewide and sometimes national commercial outfits. Most residential bids are straight forward. It’s a whole new ball game bidding on large projects where pennies are pinched and prices dropped to what seems low profit margins to win a project. We probably win one out of every 10 we bid. Exhausting, but I’m handling it by slamming my head against the wall every time I spend hours on a bid to not win it. On the other hand, when I do win one, I’m losing my mind thinking what part of this huge estimate did I mess up to win this bid – still learning!
Q: Have you learned any valuable lessons since last March?
A: A large lesson I’ve learned, which now seems like common sense, is when a customer requests a change order for new work on a project, it’s smart to always document immediately and send the update invoice instead of “getting to the paperwork later.” When a customer is hit with a large amount of change orders (most of which were requested by them) at the end of the job, tempers can flare at costs. I always strive to be transparent so updating invoices quickly helps keep everything in check.
Q: When we last spoke you mentioned wanting to hire one or two employees; were you able to do that?
A: Yes, I actually have five full-time employees plus three “part-time” and bringing on another full-time here this month.
Q: Were you able to get your foreman into a truck and take some burden off you getting up at 4:30 a.m. to drive trailers to jobsites?
A: Yes, I’ve been able to get him into a second truck as well as add an irrigation van to the world’s smallest landscape fleet. I still am burdened with driving trailers to jobsites early in the morning but now the jobs seem to be larger so they stay longer... (it’s) not that bad anymore. Also, I’ve adjusted my trailer fleet. We have our gooseneck for long hauls but have super-duty dump trailers for smaller work. These trailers can support heavy machinery weight and are great for around town.
Q: It sounded as if you were growing at a good rate. Is that still the case, and how have you been able to manage that growth?
A: Growth is still incredible. I hired a full-time office support employee. She is able to help with large estimates and do the backend work of bookkeeping, finding paperwork for clients, ordering material, the list goes on.
Managing growth is interesting. I still don’t have the knack for slowing down, I’m afraid work will dry up. Keeping food on my employees’ plates is (a) number one priority to me, so sometimes I get myself into unique situations where we just don’t think we have the man power to get a job done on schedule, but somehow we make it work.
Read the story from our April 2017 issue bit.ly/deeprootslawn