Gary Hardy & Josh Brunner, CEO & COO, Brunner’s Lawn & Services
Photos: © Jon Arman

When friends Josh Brunner and Gary Hardy came to crossroads in their lives, it was Brunner’s father’s landscaping company that provided them direction.

Brunner had been laid off after more than nine years from a printing company.

Now, without a full-time job, he decided to turn his attention to his second job – mowing lawns at his father’s company, Brunner’s Lawn & Services, in Dayton, Ohio.

Hardy, on the other hand, had no experience with landscaping. He and his wife were dealing with the new challenges of raising their son, who was born with special needs.

After serving in the Army, Hardy was working full time as a fireman while pursuing a career as a paramedic and hospital administrator. Available hours in the day were almost non-existent. Brunner, COO of Brunner’s Lawn & Services, approached Hardy, the current CEO, about buying the company from Brunner’s dad, Larry. He planned to grow it to the point where they could focus on it full time.

Hardy declined, but said he would help out because he could use it as a project in his entrepreneurship class. After his professor told him the company could be a success, Hardy withdrew some of his savings money and in December of 2010 took Brunner up on his offer. As much as the duo was concerned about revenue, family was the main catalyst to run their own company.

“This opened me up to be able to help my wife more with our child who has Down syndrome,” Hardy says. “And it freed me up to spend more time with my children,” Brunner says. “Instead of working two jobs, I could work one and be home in the evenings.”

Deja vu.

But now, the duo’s day-to-day workload has reverted to the same amount they had before taking control of the company.

“Now we’ve gotten to where I’ve taken all of that stuff and I’m right back to where I was before I took the job, and I’m completely overwhelmed,” Hardy says.

Brunner’s Lawn & Services was on track to hit about $600,000 in 2018 revenue, and there’s an increasing amount of potential clients in their area.

“The Dayton-Cincinnati corridor is booming, which gives us a really good opportunities to go in there and seize those clients,” Brunner says.

One way the duo hopes to lessen the workload while increasing revenue is to cut some low-paying residential clients and replace them with more commercial clients. That would mean Hardy doing less of the day-to-day managing and focus more on selling and building relationships with new clients.

But an increase in commercial clients will mean making one problem they are experiencing – lack of cash flow – more of an issue.

“Although commercial properties pay more, they run on a longer pay cycle than residential clients,” Hardy wrote in his Turnaround Tour application essay. “We have struggled to keep our head above water with our increased expenses.”

Brunner and Hardy led their company to earn $600,000 in 2018, but Laflamme (pictured here) and Arman say there are plenty of areas to improve, like keeping their office and trucks clean and organized.

Giving back.

Brunner and Hardy also want to succeed so they can give back to their community. Hardy is involved in an after-school ministry and activities for middle school youth in their local school district, and he wants to eventually create a Junior Achievement Entrepreneurship program for middle schoolers. “What Gary has taught me is giving back to the community. Volunteering – it’s not so much about donating money but donating your time,” Brunner says.

To continue to grow the company – and subsequently, to be able to help the community – they’ll also have to focus on improving safety and recruiting and retention.

The duo has struggled finding labor, like most landscaping companies. By employing people who have had drug and alcohol problems, they can help their community and hopefully solve staffing issues. This approach has had mixed results.

“They last for a couple of months and then they end up falling off a wagon or they get better employment, which I think does make us a little bit of a success,” Hardy says.

“We’ve built someone to get better employment. But with that said, we haven’t had a lot of success but that doesn’t mean we are going to stop trying. Good people make mistakes. Everyone deserves a second chance.”

After their initial meeting with the Harvest Group, Brunner and Hardy say they now have a plan and are going to stick with it through the Turnaround Tour and beyond.

“We have a clear, defined roadmap,” Brunner says. “Rather than waking up in the morning every day and coming to work and looking at each other with this pile of stuff just to get done … it’s like wearing a pair of glasses and you go from the cold and come into the heat. You’re just all foggy.”

“We have struggled to keep our head above water with our increased expenses.” Gary Hardy, CEO, Brunner’s Lawn & Services

Harvesters’ take.

We had a great two-day visit with Gary and Josh in November. As with most owners, there is a ton to do, but we feel totally confident they are up for the challenge. We created their playbook so they know exactly what needs to be done in 2019 and beyond.

The critical areas they need to immediately address are increase sales by some 40 percent over last year, create a recruiting and retention program to attract needed people and build and implement a basic safety program.

Gary wears the sales hat for the company and has already began our Harvest “Be 2 @ 200 Program,” where you get on the radar of those who have a landscaper, in case the client becomes unhappy with the services.

He told us in our monthly Harvester Huddle in the beginning of December he has already secured $65,000 of new commercial work with good gross margins.

His mission now is to continue in his sales efforts and sell at least this much again to replace some of the low-margin residential work they currently have and then work to fulfill his new sales goals.

To help with their safety program, we suggested an online program. They will be starting that first thing in the spring, along with weekly “tailgate” safety meetings.

Before they start their recruiting and retention program, they wanted to accomplish what we call some “fix it” items. They did a complete cleanup of the outside of their facility and before the New Year their offices will have fresh paint and a great new look.

These items are important for the company culture and will help create a great impression when applicants come in their office in the spring.

They are off to a great start and excited to accomplish all their goals for 2019.