Keep climbing

By Brian Horn

In the past, Paul Welborn would have taken the lead on assembling his company’s career ladder. But not this year, as Welborn continues to learn to delegate at Lawn & Pest Solutions in New Albany, Ms. He’s put his managers on the lawn side of the business in charge of creating the steps a technician has to take to climb the ladder.

“A year ago, I would have put a lot of the information together and had them look at it and see what they thought,” he says. “Now they're building out that information and I'm giving my feedback, which is the way it should be.”

Welborn has learned through the process that his managers are more than capable of taking on the responsibility, and saves him the headache of one more task.

He says they always had the ladder in their minds and operated as if it was official, but never had it in writing.

“It's sort of the way we did it anyway,” he says. “But the value in it now, it's putting it on a piece of paper and being able to put it in front of a guy and say, ‘Here's your path. Okay, here's the things you need today.’ Maybe we were pushing them towards some of these things, but it wasn't a formal, ‘Here's your plan, here's a way you can attack this and continue to move up in the company.’”

Paul Welborn continues to delegate as he works with the Harvesters.
© Jon Arman

In the details.

Allowing managers to assemble the career ladder has provided Welborn teaching moments. Technicians will have to take 7-10 tests to move to a new level. The tests are taken via training software the company uses.

The managers were in charge of formulating the questions technicians would have to answer to pass a test. One manager was asking entry-level technicians for knowledge that a technician who’s been there a year and a half would know. So, that manager was asked to create tests for the more advanced levels. And now that the lawn side has a foundation for a career ladder, Welborn wants to build one out for the structural pest side of the business.

“We've brought the pest manager in and he’s going to start giving some feedback of, ‘Okay, we can tweak this to better fit pest’ and make everything match up for their job responsibilities, versus a lawn tech,” Welborn says.

Sales challenge.

Right now, Lawn & Pest Solutions is 80% lawn care and 20% structural pest, but Welborn would like to grow the pest side. For 2020, they have mapped out a sales challenge where they will focus on growing one segment of that division a quarter – perimeter pest in first quarter, termite in the second quarter, mosquito third quarter, and then back to perimeter pest in the fall.

Since they started mapping out the contest in the first quarter, the pest challenge wasn’t too much of a priority, which was a good thing.

“Luckily (we didn’t have a) real strong contest in place for first quarter because our weather here has been rainy and very uncooperative,” he says. “So, our customer interaction or upsell ability has been very limited in the first quarter of this year.”

Harvesters’ take.

Paul is faced with several key challenges not the least of which has been the weather in February. Rain, and more rain, has affected their production goal drastically from a goal of $116,000 down to $18,000 for the month.

This has put quite a dent into their overall sales goal of $2 million. The team will have to hustle to get caught up and we believe this team will do just that. We will follow this team very closely as they make up this temporary setback.

Another key front is with people. In our last Harvesters’ Take, we shared that Paul had executed our retention game plan Perfectly with a key player and they have decided to remain on board! After deciding that the pay rate was probably too low for this high-skilled position, Paul made an adjustment but that was still lower than the offer they had received. After considering everything, this person stayed on board for two reasons:

• Culture: Lawn and Pest has an excellent culture! People feel engaged, challenged and part of a team that has strong core values and an excellent team atmosphere.

• Location: Yes, location! The excellent job opportunity this person received was a considerable drive to work each day while the Lawn and Pest location was very close. This was discovered during our meeting to learn why they were leaving. Once it was brought to their attention that they would spend more than an hour more per day driving to their new job, they agreed that a better work life balance was worth staying at Lawn and Pest.

• Lesson: Don’t undervalue the location of where you are based.

Making headway

By Kim Lux

Frank Leloia Jr. says he feels his business, Custom Landscaping and Lawn Care, in East Brunswick, N.J., is improving.

Since the team’s initial meeting with the Harvesters in December 2019, Leloia says they’ve already made a number of changes.

“The biggest factor that we’ve worked on so far has been HR-related issues,” he says. “Harvester Steve (Cesare) has been working with our operations manager, Syril, to make sure we are fully compliant.”

Leloia says the company has performed a full I-9 audit, looked into EPLI insurance and restructured the company handbook.

The business has also done some hiring recently, which will help streamline operations and allow the company to better delegate tasks.

“We hired an operations manager just for our residential lawn care,” Leloia says. “That went along with our strategy to organize more internally. We feel this will make us stronger. Our retention and our recruiting should increase.”

Frank Leloia Jr., left, has spent the early months trying to sign more commercial clients.
© Amie Retzlaff

Before the new hire, three employees were contributing to heading up the department.

“Now, with the hire we are more streamlined. We’ve essentially decluttered our organization chart,” Leloia says.

Along with the behind-the-scenes upgrades, Custom Landscaping has been striving to grow its commercial customer base.

“We’re out there chasing commercial accounts,” he says. “We’re very proud to say that we just got our sixth new commercial account. I think we should increase revenue by half-a-million dollars contractually.

“We’ve talked a lot with (the Harvesters) about how we can have better sales presentations put together,” he adds, “so that when we’re meeting with commercial clients, we want to be able to wow them and set ourselves ahead of the competition.”

To improve their presentations, the company has been holding mock sales pitches.

“Now we’re quicker on our feet,” Leloia says. “We’ve also been preparing more and our no longer just giving estimates. We’re more transparent in our contracts and we’re looking into incorporating some unique, video presentations, too.”

One of the goals set by the Harvesters was for Custom to have a 50-50 blend of residential and commercial accounts by 2022.

“Obviously it takes work, but the main thing they taught us is to have a target and identify what we want. At that point, we were able to focus on what we wanted and go get it.”

Leloia says to get to the 50-50 split, Bill and Ed urged Custom Landscaping to review its residential accounts and eliminate those that aren’t profitable.

“They wanted us to cut back a little on our residential accounts,” he says. “We haven’t cut back as much as they have wanted us to, but we’ve trimmed the edges of our less dense areas in order to make our denser areas more profitable.”

Harvesters’ take.

Frank and his team are going after more commercial work and leveling off on their residential work as we have agreed upon from our original Harvester visit. This will require a significant change in their mindset and what has been done here over several decades…. Frank is all in.

In order to take advantage of this market it will require some tune ups, changes and key action items if they are to be successful, here are some key points:

Editing of Non-Desirable Residential Work: This will require a review and ranking of accounts coupled with some professional termination notices.

Keep the Keeper Residential: The primary focus here will be to keep a dense route location to best serve the customer and to be most efficient.

• Learning How to Say No: Get a very clear selection criteria in place and know when to say no both with residential and commercial work.

• Build Killer Proposals: Build a proposal format that is more relational and less transactional and deals with solving their pains vs. selling and telling them how great we are…

• Estimating: Get a more formal estimating process in place using the Harvesters’ triangulation method: Crew Hours per Visit - Hours Per Task – Production Method – Compare to Similar Jobs

• Hire and Commercial Business Developer: Keep on the hunt full time with a business developer that is committed full time for selling commercial work.

It all starts with the leader in each organization. Frank is doing great and understands the importance of having a better balance of market types. Change is hard, especially if a business has been doing it one way for a long time. Frank has surrounded himself with good people and that is always a good start for the path of success.

Next take, we want to share how Frank got a top flight CFO on board at a most reasonable cost.

Remaining calm

By Jimmy Miller

David Hawkins Jr. says his employees are doing everything they can to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Of course, he adds that these measures are all things they should’ve been doing anyway: wiping down trucks at the end of the day, creating wash stations around the company yard and washing hands before lunchtime. But there’s only so much he can do to prevent the spread of germs and fear at his own company – clients are going to be equally concerned about the virus as well.

To this point, Hawkins Jr. says he hasn’t lost much business yet, which is a positive. He says his company has many long-standing relationships with clients that are handled differently now to maintain physical distance. No handshakes or hugs; just service and quick conversation.

“We just talked to them and we’re taking everything that we can do,” Hawkins Jr. says. “We want to keep our people safe. We’re one big family and try to do the right thing, which is not panic.”

David Hawkins Jr., left, says a mild winter allowed for a head start on spring maintenance.
Photo courtesy of Hawkins Landscaping

Among the chaos caused by COVID-19, one thing’s remained constant: Harvester Ed and Bill call Hawkins Jr. and the Hawkins Landscaping crew, based in Frederick, Md., every three weeks to catch up on the progress made on the team’s objectives. They’ve had plenty of time to focus on big-picture stuff given that it was a mild winter, though that presents a variety of problems on its own. With $60,000 worth of salt still in storage, it’s taking up space where seed and fertilizer usually goes. Plus, it resulted in less business over the winter than usual.

“But that’s part of the animal that you deal with when you do when you do snow removal,” Hawkins Jr. says. “It seems it’s either feast or famine.”

They never took any days off over the winter though, and Hawkins Jr. says they got a head start on spring maintenance work since the weather was so mild. They also did some hardscaping work, and some of the clients they have for snow work ended up giving the go-ahead for more work this spring. Plus, through word-of-mouth advertising with the clients they already have, Hawkins Jr. says they’ve landed some extra accounts like a nursing home recently.

The word-of-mouth helps because he says their prices are probably higher than some of the larger competitors in the area, but referrals ensure that potential clients know Hawkins Landscaping will spend more time on the little details.

“That way we didn’t have to bid it out,” Hawkins Jr. says. “That’s worked out pretty good, and we’ve got a couple others like that in the works.”

Now they’re working through creating a mini budget and identifying 200 possible clients over time. Hawkins Jr. says it’s been a while since they’ve looked at the bigger problems like pricing out new materials properly because usually, with so much going on, they just buy the first ones they find right at last minute.

“That’s one of my problems. You get busy, and we stay busy year-round, so we don’t watch our numbers as good as we can,” Hawkins Jr. says. “Traditionally, when we first started, we would work on equipment, but as the business evolved, we ran out of that time. Now we might be even busier over the winters than in the spring.”

Harvesters’ take.

It’s been a year of very little snow for the Hawkins team, but that has allowed them to work more on the company than in it. In a good snow year there is plenty of cash coming in for the spring, but this is not happening this season, so it’s been all hands on deck selling work and working on the urgent items in their playbook.

As of this writing, they are in full production with cleanups beginning and design build work underway. At this point, they have a solid backlog of work priced at our 50% gross margin goal. We talked about morphing over into more commercial maintenance work but this has been slow, in that they prefer to be selective in the accounts they go after. They are working with Harvester Ed’s Be 2@200 Campaign, which should bear fruit later in the year. One thing for sure: They don’t want to do any HOAs.

From a financial standpoint, Kristi Hawkins is working on setting up the Harvest Mini Budget so she will be able to see at a click, what the gross margins are each month, for each department. This will really help (in real time) in making sure their estimating, pricing and efficiency is on track. Carol Hawkins is working on their field-to-office paper flow to better track the work. She is also reviewing what was purchased last year to see if there is a way to be more strategic and save money. D2 an D3, that’s father and son, are working to improve their proposal process to be sure their estimates are more accurate.

So, all in all it looks like a good start and we will monitor their progress along the way.