Photos: © Jon Arman

Commercial confidence

Gabe Lobato, owner, La Cholla Landscaping

Last time we checked in:

Gabe Lobato had been a bit hesitant about adding more commercial work and wanted to focus on growing only residential accounts. On top of that, the one commercial property Tucson, Arizona-based La Cholla Landscaping did have made Lobato feel a bit overwhelmed. After having to cut ties with his brother, who was going to be in charge of growing commercial sales, he had planned on turning to an automated calling program to set up appointments with commercial property managers.

Latest updates:

After a few months managing his lone commercial property, Lobato has relaxed a bit and feels like he has a grasp on the job. He says the change occurred after taking a walkthrough with the client about a month after starting work on the job.

“To walk through, see her reactions, to see her feel as opposed to wondering – because you could never guess what they're feeling or thinking or hearing back from the tenants on the property,” he says. “But to actually have them one-on-one walking through, it definitely is a great thing to do within one to two months after taking a new property.”

In addition, he got a better grasp on how to quote enhancement work in a proposal for the property, on top of the work the company is currently performing.

“There are some things with variables and verbiage that I needed help or assistance with – how to navigate that in a contract or proposal wise for those enhancements,” he says.

One lesson Lobato learned when bidding commercial work is that you find out the pain points the property manager had with the previous landscaper.

“One of the biggest pain points on this property was not managing the irrigation system, monitoring and repairing it the way it should be,” he says. “So that was one of the big things to be able to walk through and identify repairs that we’ve done, but then to also see the fact that there are still repairs popping up. Then in the conversation meeting with her, discovering ‘Okay, this system is as old as the building, and the buildings are probably around 30 years old.’”

Lobato received approval to fix the irrigation systems next year, although the property manager is trying to work out something to get the work started this year.

The success with the current property has helped him gain confidence on adding commercial property.

Harvester’s take:

Arman and Laflamme would like to see Lobato implement the calling program sooner than later to get more leads on commercial work. While he is gaining more confidence on the commercial side, they’d still like him to visit a company similar to his size who is succeeding at commercial services, and visit industry trade shows to meet more landscapers.

“Most landscapers are visual and like to hear it from their brethren,” Laflamme says.

Humming along

Michael Mould & Tiffany Tucker, owners, New Visions Lawn & Landscape

Last time we checked in:

An ankle injury forced Mould to step away from doing physical labor on jobs but left him more time to sell for Panama, City-based New Visions Lawn & Landscape.

Even before the ankle injury, the company was growing at a rapid rate, maybe too rapid, but Mould and Tucker felt like they had a better grasp on the growth.

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It was a record breaking month in March for Tiffany Tucker and Michael Mould. The duo had their highest grossing revenue month since taking over the company in 2016.

While there were many factors to the success, Mould says he is free to sell more jobs because they now have a foreman to manage paver jobs, which Mould was doing previously.

“All day yesterday, I went and talked to 12 customers, and I sold to 10 of them,” he says. “But also what it did was led me to be able to cold call commercial properties, and every one of them is under contract, but what I did is I made myself available to get calls when the contract expires.”

Mould is targeting big properties that can bring in good revenue and are in fairly good condition; not ones that would take a while to get to average.

Mould also purchased training videos from the University of Georgia a few months ago, and finally found time to block out time for his employees to watch them.

“We cleared out the day for a Saturday, and we got them together, and just watched every film,” he says. “We talked over how it applied to us, and some of the shortcomings that we've been dealing with and everything like that. It was all recognized, and it made sense to everybody.”

He was impressed by how up-to-date the videos were with modern technology. The most important takeaway from the videos, Mould says, was how they focused on everyone’s role in a company.

“I wanted to get through to them that they're very important. Right underneath the customers, they’re the most important thing. In the video, it kind of went through how a business works, and they needed to hear that.”

Mould says business has been going well because of the immediacy the company acts on ideas.

“Tiffany and I have really stayed on top of stuff, and there’s no room for procrastination. We handle stuff right there in the moment. When thoughts come into our head, we act on them, and stuff like that,” he says.

“Us acting on the stuff that comes up to us and potential customers and really getting right to it, it blows the customer’s mind. They’re like ‘Wow. We’ve been trying to get ahold of somebody for three weeks now.’”

While hiring is still a challenge, Mould also wants to focus on improving the quality of the work the company does. He hopes adding a third truck and moving to three two-person crews will help.

“We took a little hit on the growth, making sure that the jobs are getting done right, having to send the guys back if need be,” he says.

“Overall we’re still at 49 percent growth, but we would be somewhere close to 60 if it was running the way that I’m saying. If the work load was spread out a little more, dispersed a little more, I think the margin would be a little bit higher.”

Harvester’s take:

New Visions is doing well and sales don’t seem to be a problem, but Arman and Laflamme would like Mould and Tucker to improve recruiting since they have exhausted all current avenues.

The duo should tap into the Hispanic community for workers, and can try developing a relationship with one or two people in the community and offer them a referral fee for anyone they recommend who gets hired.

Arman and Laflamme also recommend visiting a Hispanic church and ask if they had a job board and leave a flyer there, but also ask if the church needs anything they can help them with.

“You don’t want to just take and take, you need to give back,” Arman says. “You want to build a long-term relationship.”

Not an ideal start

Kimberly Rowe & LaMont Hess, owners, Outdoor Expressions PA

Last time we checked in:

LaMont Hess and Kimberly Rowe took the plunge and sent letters to customers notifying them of price increases and that the company would be switching to a prepay systems for mowing services. These moves helped with both cash flow and increasing profits. They were looking to add more employees to the payroll, as well.

Latest updates:

It hasn’t been the best start for Hess and Rowe in their first spring of owning Outdoor Expressions in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

The cold and rainy weather forced Hess to start his workers later in the season than he wanted.

“I didn’t bring anybody back until about the 5th of April, which was late, because we were cold,” Hess says. “So, everybody was laid off. And that was technically late.”

Once brought back, employees worked on spring cleanups of two big home owner associations but one of the properties took longer to finish than anticipated.

Lack of labor also cause the difficult start. Hess is still looking for more employees and will be speaking with 11 qualified candidates he found through a job posting on Indeed.com.

Hess had some luck using a temp service, which he thought would be too expensive, but after crunching the numbers, had a change of opinion.

“If you do use a temp service and you do find a good person, it’s really not that bad of a deal … for that entire time they’re not on your worker’s comp, they’re not on any payroll taxes or anything,” he says.

Hess says the company probably won’t make their goal of $450,000 by the end of the year, but he is optimistic the company can get to 70 percent of that goal. One contributing factor on falling short was lack of snow. Hess says his area only had five snow events this year, which didn’t net him much business.

“One thing I learned from some of my people that have snow contracts is they have retail stores and offices that needed to be salted,” Hess says. “They were able to make money on that. I only have HOAs and residential. Nobody wanted me to bring any salt up. So, all I did was do snow.

“If I’m going to survive winter doing snow removal, I need to have some contracts – so some offices, or hospitals, or hospices, or assisted living, or something like that where the employees have to come to work and somebody needs to have salt on their sidewalks and in the parking lot. Because we had a lot of freeze, a lot of ice this winter, but very little snow.”

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Hess is continuing to get solid leads from visiting offices and leaving his tape measure/marketing tool, which asks, “How does your landscaper measure up.”

He also adjusted his bids after losing jobs to lower bidders. He needed to lower the margins on mowing, but increase on the enhancement work.

“I think we really have work for my enhancement crew through the month of June already pretty much booked up,” he says. “So that’s very promising because last year when we first took over, we didn’t have any enhancement work.”

Harvester’s take:

Outdoor Expressions should have started advertising sooner for new jobs, right after Thanksgiving to help hit their sales goal. As far as weather delays in the season, Arman and Laflamme advise working on equipment and cleaning the shop during the time you can’t get out and work. To aid in recruiting, visit places where Hess thinks good recruits might be living or working.

“He’s going the electronic way (for hiring) which is OK,” Arman says. “That’s a good start. But I would physically drive through areas where (potential employees) live and find a trustworthy guy to be a recruiter.”

They also recommend making some changes to improve the culture at the company, such as creating a career ladder so employees can see how they can grow.

“Money isn’t everything, but it certainly helps,” Arman says. “You have to have enough bait to bait them with.”