But over the last three years, the company has experienced rapid growth, increasing revenue from just shy of half a million to almost $1 million. The paper trail was getting to be a big burden and the communication between the office and the crews was slow.
So in 2018, owner Chris Ahlgren decided to implement two new softwares – one to help with estimating and contracting, and one for scheduling and tracking.
“To be honest, we got overwhelmed because we grew quite a bit in the last couple of years,” Ahlgren says. “We got overwhelmed on the paper end, so we were late to the party as far as implementing something like this.”
And after a year filled with rain and rescheduling, the new systems are showing their worth.
Ahlgren Landscaping has 10 fulltime and 25 seasonal employees who perform landscaping maintenance and construction, along with snow removal services in Connecticut. When bad weather hits, as it did frequently last year, re-routing and re-scheduling can be challenging.
“In the past, that kind of fell to our crew leaders to kind of stay on top of where they were in the schedule for the week,” Ahlgren says. “Doing it digitally, they were able to skip lawns and we were able to have a better handle on where things were in the office versus having the crew leaders have the knowledge internally.”
Ahlgren says there’s no way the company could have handled the bad weather (it was fifth-rainiest season in Connecticut history) without the new software.
He says there would have been missed billings or missed services since some weeks required moving two to four full days around.
Plus, the office staff can now see exactly what’s happening with the crews, so when customers call in, they can provide real-time updates about why a property was skipped and when they could expect service.
“Previously we would just say it was skipped or we might not even know until the next week or the end of the week when all the sheets got turned in,” Ahlgren says, noting that they now can even provide the customer with a picture of the property and highlight the reasons a crew had to skip it.
Getting set up.
The biggest challenge in implementing the software was data entry to get the systems up and running with Ahlgren’s information from QuickBooks and paper records.
Both softwares offered online onboarding programs both for showing office staff how to set it up and showing crew members how to use it.
“For the most part, they were actually pretty excited because it gave them more control of some of the issues they had,” Ahlgren says. “Oftentimes with the paper route, they sometimes felt like they didn’t know exactly where they were or what they had to do for the week. Especially when the weather changed, with the expectation that things were going to get done, it was always kind of left up to them.”
And it’s a good idea to delegate data input to someone if you can. If you can’t, make sure that you leave yourself enough time to get set up at the beginning of the year.
Implementing two big software platforms in one year was no easy task for the company, and Ahlgren says if they hadn’t had a dedicated office staff to complete the data entry, they never could have pulled it off.
Do your homework and know exactly what you want before you buy, Ahlgren says. He started off with just one software and then found it wasn’t great for scheduling, so he added on another program to supplement.
He realized that if he had read more reviews and talked to more of his peers, he would have known that and bought the second software for scheduling earlier so that he could hit the ground running at the beginning of the season.
And before you buy, get some input from peers or review sites. He asked questions on Facebook to get the answers he needed before buying.