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Moving to three two-man landscape maintenance crews from two three-man crews last year was an influential change to the bottom line at Capone Landscape, a full-service landscape company based in Wakefield, Massachusetts.

“The two guys work a little harder but everybody always has something to do,” says Frank Capone Jr., owner and president. “If someone is not pulling their weight, it’s really glaringly apparent when you go down to two-man crews.”

The case for two.

Capone says he added a third crew to his landscape maintenance division and efficiency picked up “big time” in 2016.

The company employs 11 people, has an annual revenue of $1.1 million and services primarily residential customers.

“What I was seeing was travel time expense,” he says. “Certain days we travel more than others. It seemed like three men at some places were just too many.”

Today the company has the three two-man crews that work five days a week performing landscape maintenance: mowing of grass, trimming, cleanup and some pruning of ornamentals. Each crew consists of a leader and a laborer.

Sending three men out on one job isn’t out of the question, but Capone says he is now more strategic about when this is necessary. For example, for work at condominium complexes, where properties are larger and closer together, three men are more efficient.

At Omaha Landscaping Solutions, Owner AJ Kendall says he has reached the same conclusion and will run two two-man crews. Each crew consists of a supervisor and a laborer. The supervisor typically has more experience, drives the vehicle and carries insurance to operate the vehicle, Kendall says.

“We try to stick to two-man crews, but having a third guy in there allows us to get a little more work done,” he says.

Performance predictions.

Kendall says his company is poised for growth this year and the landscape maintenance side will likely grow 40 to 60 percent.

“On maintenance we grew at about 60 percent more over the previous year,” Kendall says. “We had pretty steady business. We only had a couple of slow weeks in the summer and we had a really long fall.”

This year looks promising in Omaha, Nebraska, as more Baby Boomers retire and the area’s overall population continues to grow, making prospects plentiful, he says.

At Capone Landscape, landscape maintenance work makes up 60 to 70 percent of business.

“We are reviewing the numbers right now and I am liking what I see,” Capone says. “We tend to grow our maintenance between 5 and 7 percent a year.”

The company has been in operation for more than 70 years. In addition to increasing efficiency on crews, this annual increase in gross sales has been due to price increases and also a growing customer base, Capone says.

At Hartman Landscaping, based in Zanesville, Ohio, and primarily serving commercial customers, President Beau Hartman says the maintenance division is expected to grow gross revenue in 2017.

About half of the company’s $1 million in gross annual revenue comes from landscape maintenance. Other services offered include hardscaping, irrigation and snow and ice removal. Fifteen employees work at the company.

“The last few years we’ve kind of shifted gears a little bit,” he says. “We have kind of gotten rid of the ‘mow, blow and go’ customers, and have moved onto the people that have full service.”

These accounts are typically more profitable because in addition to maintenance, the customers are open to purchasing additional services such as sod installation, irrigation and landscape lighting.

“I feel that it’s overall improved our business image, our clientele and profit,” Hartman says.

Onboarding new hires.

Typically, new hires will start as laborers on mowing crews, Hartman says. But, in other cases, hires are made for specific positions, he adds.

“Some prefer to just stick with mowing or just stick with landscaping,” Hartman says.

At Omaha Landscaping Solutions, which posted $190,000 in 2016 revenue, mowing is also typically considered an entry-level position, with pay starting at $13 an hour. Ninety percent of customers are residential and three employees work at the company. Those laborers can work their way up to be a crew leader. Each crew will mow about 30 lawns a day during peak season.

Regardless of whether the employee is new to the company or new to the industry, they undergo basic training before working in the field.

“They spend a few hours operating the equipment, even if it’s on concrete, not in a yard,” Kendall says. “We practice moving the mowers and the equipment, how to start them, what gas to use, how the gate goes down.”

The idea is to take it slow once an employee is out in the field,

Capone Landscaping won’t let a new employee work at a high-end property until they are more seasoned.
Photo courtesy of Capone Landscape

“We have them start with a smaller mower that’s easier to maneuver, a 21-inch mower,” Kendall says. “Then in the bigger yards, we will give them more practice. After a couple weeks, they will be more comfortable using the (larger) equipment.”

Training also begins in house at Capone Landscape. “We go over the lawn mowers and ease them into it at certain properties,” Capone says. “We try not to roll someone out at a high-end residential property before they have the skills.”

Typically, it takes a new laborer one season to become proficient on a maintenance crew.

tips for success.

Customers want to work with a company with crews that are both reliable and predictable, Capone adds.

“We really try to be at the same account at the same time, same day every week,” he says. “If you start showing up different days every week, customers don’t like that.”

One of the biggest challenges Hartman says he faces with this division is making sure laborers pay attention to detail.

“Treating the property as their own – we really try to instill that in our employees,” he says. “If you were paying for this service, how would you want this done?”

He, or the operations manager, also perform quality site assessments on each property at least four times a season using a mobile app, Fast Field Mobile Forms. During the assessment, a checklist is followed for each property and photos document areas for improvement.

“We really try to catch an issue before a client notices anything,” Hartman says. “It has been very beneficial to us in upselling enhancements to customers. If there is gravel rock bed that was rocked five years ago and it’s packed in or washed out, we can make note of it and forward it to the customer.”

The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.