Photos by Kate Spirgen

Ameriscape has seen rapid growth in the past three years, growing from $5.6 million to $12 million. The company tries to maintain a gross profit margin of 50 to 55 percent and a net profit of 10 percent, and this year they’re hoping to grow 20 percent.

“But our success isn’t our numbers. Our success is our culture,” said CFO Juan Alvarez.

We got an inside look at the Tampa, Florida, company during columnist Marty Grunder’s GROW! 2018 conference last month.

Hiring and retention.

More than 150 people work at Ameriscape, and to fill those positions, the company networks with other local businesses. “Let’s face it, we all get guys from the same place,” Alvarez said. “The guy who quits at your place, he’s coming over to my place.”

It helps retain employees in the industry, Alvarez said. For example, if someone at another company can’t make it to work on time because he can’t drive, he might be able to make it on time to Ameriscape because his cousin already works there and they can carpool.

With so few workers coming to the landscaping industry, Alvarez said he can see a big benefit to working together instead of against each other.

“I don’t want to lose this guy to construction or agricultural work,” he said. “Competition in the landscape industry is so aggressive that sometimes we don’t work together.”

Ameriscape Services cut back on downtime by outfitting an emergency truck with everything contractors need to make equipment repairs in the field and keep fleets moving.

Joe Chiellini, president and CEO of Ameriscape, says no matter what it takes to find the right people, he’ll do it, and he wants his employees to feel open when talking with him. “I have an open mind and an open door,” he said.

Marketing Manager Nicole Daniels said the company takes a serious approach to hiring. “We don’t want to hire people and put bodies on trucks,” she said. “We want people who believe in our values.”

Chiellini does two ride-alongs per month with his employees. He’ll just jump in a truck, ask where they’re going and spend the day with them.

The company also goes out of the way to recognize outstanding performance. There’s a team member of the month program, and birthdays and anniversaries are always celebrated.

Safety and training.

Ameriscape starts the day off with a 5:30 a.m. truck and trailer safety inspection every day. Then, at 6:30, the entire company meets for a morning safety huddle.

“We’ll talk about a topic, especially if there was an incident the day before,” said Will Ortiz.

The company rewards safety with cash bonuses. Last year, an employee got a $500 bonus for finishing the entire year with no incidents.

The company focuses on in-field training and demonstrations rather than simply telling employees what to do or how to do it.

“You never say you don’t have time for the customer,” Ortiz said, adding that training includes teaching crew members how to talk to clients.

Ameriscape’s GPS tracking system is helping drivers stay safe. Each month, foremen are eligible for $50 to $100 bonuses for obeying the law, including driving at or under the speed limit. This year, 90 percent of employees are getting the safety incentive vs. 50 percent a few years ago.

Fleet and equipment management.

All of Ameriscape’s repairs are done in-house by the company’s eight mechanics. Canorro says it’s a much more efficient process than when the company put employees in charge of repairs. “We used to have to go back and fix a lot,” he said.

With their asset management system, Tenna, employees can flag a piece of equipment for repairs or maintenance. With a simple QR code scan, anyone can also see the equipment’s entire history from purchase to present day, including which employee used it last. Fleet Manager Tony Canorro called it a sort of “patient chart.”

“It provides a real-time inventory of where everything is. It’s all that data we want to find but we never really find the time,” he said, adding that it helps them locate where bad habits and behavior are.

For example, if a mower deck is constantly coming in with damage from contact with concrete, he knows that someone is starting the mower on the sidewalk, rather than the grass.

The technology costs about $1,000 per month to track 1,000 assets by QR code.

The company is now looking at integrating information like oil analysis into the process to see if there is possibly too much maintenance or not enough.

Ameriscape uses the PMCS program to help employees know what to look for, what it means and how to communicate that to management.

Lead with passion

Frank Mariani shared best practices for good leadership at GROW! 2018.

When Marty Grunder, photo left, asked Frank Mariani, photo right, his No. 1 tip for leadership, he immediately responded: passion. “You need to love this business which means your people, your clients,” he said.

Mariani, owner of Mariani Landscape, oversees more than 400 employees in the Chicago area. He shared his five best tips on how to lead.

Photo © Pamella Lee Photography
1. Lead by example.

Mariani wants to show that he’s willing to do the same things he asks his employees to do. If he’s meeting with field associates and they’re walking around the facility, he’ll put some sort of litter on the walk that he can pick up and throw away. He’ll also take weekend sales calls instead of asking one of his employees to do it.

“Nobody should be above doing the most mundane tasks,” he said. “That’s what you’re asking people to do.”

2. Have integrity.

“We believe integrity is when beliefs, words and actions all intersect,” Grunder said.

Mariani asks employees to look at the company’s mission statement when they have a question and ask them if the mission statement points them in the right direction. He said he gets a lot fewer emails and questions now that employees feel empowered to answer their own questions.

“If you’re going to allow a team to grow, what do you need to do? You have to allow them to do their job; you have to allow them to take risks and they’re going to make mistakes,” Mariani said.

3. Communicate well.

“The hardest thing for me … is to sit down and shut up and listen to what other people have to say before I say a word, or if there’s a chance, to not even say a word,” Mariani said.

Mariani Landscape has a website just for employees where he shares his thoughts on industry topics. “I think what’s important is that it’s just not bull. It’s got to be something relevant,” he said.

4. Be enthusiastic.

As a self-proclaimed “competitive guy,” Mariani thinks competition is great for the industry.

“The more we raise the bar, the better everyone is going to be,” he said.

5. Do a little bit more.

“How do you get everybody to go the extra mile?” Grunder asked. He said every time he visits Mariani’s company, everyone on staff is going above and beyond.

Mariani said it’s part of the culture and those who go the extra mile are the ones who last.