Above water

If it’s not snow, it’s something else. The team at Pratt’s Lawn Care & Landscapes has to grapple with mother nature and a lack of employees as the busy season picks up. By Lauren Rathmell

Although the snow has cleared, the team at Pratt’s Lawn Care & Landscapes is facing another curveball from Mother Nature. The nearby town of Muskoka was devastated by flooding in early spring, leaving many of Pratt’s lakefront clients with severe property damage.

“I’d say 95 percent of our properties are lakefront properties,” Jennifer Davies says. “Maybe 75 percent of them have really been affected, so we’re getting in, getting a bit of work done, but we can’t finish projects.” Their plans to start the construction on the greenhouse site was also delayed.

There’s also been a surplus of phone calls coming in from people in the community hoping for some help getting their lawns back in shape. Davies says she and her husband, Bob Naylor, have had to prioritize current clients instead of taking on anyone new.

Recruiting woes.

The influx of work requests coupled with the lack of a full labor force has left the owners of Pratt’s turning down a substantial amount of work.

“We’re really still focused on recruiting,” Davies says. “We can’t not be focused on that right now. We just can’t take a lot more work on so which is unfortunate, because our phone rings off the hook.”

With job fairs at local colleges proving to be unfruitful, Davies says they are in the early stages of looking overseas for more workers. She’s not quite sure how the process will work, but she knows other businesses have had luck with it.

And, with the added cost of renting a house for the summer for potential employees, the couple is eager to get the rooms filled. Yet, they remain empty and the owners are eating the $14,000 in total rent costs for the season.

The Harvesters are hoping to see the couple beef up their recruiting efforts by enhancing their referral program. In the past, they have offered a $100 bonus for recruits. Davies has been tasked with implementing the new tiered system, which will offer $100 after 30 days, $200 at 90 days and $300 at the end of the referral program.

“We’ve started (the new program) but haven’t seen much luck with it yet,” she says.

Mounting pressures.

Davies and Naylor have both been focusing on staying in their own lanes when it comes to managing their team. They were worried that the start of the season would prove to be a struggle, and with the unexpected weather, Davies admits they have slipped here and there.

“Things have been pretty good with Bob and I,” she says. “But we’ve been able to recognize when we may have handled something wrong.” She says they’ve been able to reflect back on situations where they should have deferred the decision making to one another, and the employees have been understanding.

Harvesters’ take.

During the winter Jennifer and Bob did really well working on a number of initiatives, their recruitment program being the most important. They also worked on their roles as husband and wife within the company so they stay in their own lanes. They reexamined their vision, mission and core values and wrote an on boarding program. They did this in between plowing the more than 10 feet of snow that fell. Yikes! 10 feet really!

We talked in May and they were dealing with major flooding in the area. It was so bad that many areas had to be evacuated and the Canadian Government sent in the army to help. Bob has been spending his days putting sand bags around his client’s homes.

Because of this severe weather they haven’t done any landscaping yet and the construction of their new building had to wait until this month. New customers have been put on hold for this year while they concentrate on just taking care of their existing ones. If you can believe it, they already booked two landscape construction jobs for 2020!

As for recruiting, not so good. They have some potential workers from Dubai, Pakistan and possibly Mexico but have received absolutely no response from their local ads despite offering top dollar.

All in all, they have very positive attitudes and accept these “speed bumps” as part of everyday life where they live. Let’s hope the weather is more favorable and their hiring efforts pay off otherwise their growth efforts may be stalled for 2019.

Now or later

Maple Hill is pressing to find immediate help while tabling an acquisition discussion until next year. By Jimmy Miller

When it came time to start the season, Bobby and Lauren White just ran out of time.

They were in the process of acquiring a landscape maintenance company, which would’ve added somewhere between 100 and 200 more clients and a new account manager to Maple Hill Lawn & Garden’s staff. But ultimately, negotiations just stalled a little too long and both parties agreed to table the conversation until January. The last thing they wanted was a messy transition.

Instead, the Whites opted to focus on their own company and hire a new account manager they knew from years of working in the same industry. He has 20 years of experience and one day, after meeting over lunch with the Whites, decided he was open to jumping over to Maple Hill. He’s already proven helpful, though it’s not quite what the Whites had in mind: He’s jumped onto undermanned crews and served as quality control when needed.

“The plan was not to do too much labor-intensive stuff,” Bobby says. “The hardest part for me right now is that I want to get him out of the role he’s in right now, but I can’t tell you the benefits of having someone who’s versatile like that to be able to place him where he’s needed.”

The new guy’s been tasked with other responsibilities largely because Maple Hill lost some valuable employees before the season started for varying reasons, like finding a slightly higher-paying job or wanting to switch industries.

The Whites have also dealt with an unexpected rash of disciplinary issues they’ve never had like this before, like someone on their crews placing business cards – but not Maple Hill’s business cards – in clients’ mailboxes. Lauren also recalled an incident where Bobby pulled one of his employees randomly for a field job he jumped in on, but Bobby noticed the employee – who had been at Maple Hill for several months – simply didn’t know how to do their job.

In searching for new talent, the Whites agreed to pay more for less people, but those new hires will be held to a higher standard than before. In particular, they’re looking for two new drivers. Lauren admits the search isn’t going well yet, but the opportunity to start fresh and trust their crews with more responsibilities is exciting.

“We’re cleaning house, which is a good thing,” Lauren says. “Sometimes it’s good to get rid of old blood because they learn bad habits and tricks. To really get some really good crew leaders and drivers, pay them well but expect the world of them. He’s been able to rethink what we need out of those drivers.”

One thing the Harvesters have tasked Bobby with is devising a list of 200 possible clients they’d like to have someday. This campaign, which the Harvesters call “2@200,” involves an effort to become somebody’s second choice for their landscaping business.

“To me, it honestly makes sense. When your guy sucks, call us,” Lauren says. “It’s okay to be No. 2, but you’re the first person they think of when they’ve had it with their current person.”

Bobby says just about every landscaper thinks about their ideal clients. Maybe it’s a lot of retail stores or a cluster of apartments or homes they pass every day. Either way, marketing plans like the 2@200 promote taking a stab at clients who would be a good match for your landscaping company.

Bobby says he’ll reach out to these clients with branded, practical gifts like a notepad, as well as a bid packet and a list of the pain points Bobby identified on their properties that Maple Hill could help improve.

“We’re looking for some of the game-changers, as Ed calls it, some of the locations that you’d think would be outside of your realm and still go after them,” Bobby says. “You’d be surprised at how many people follow up. It’s to be on the mindset of those decision-makers so that when bid time comes around, they remember that stack of sticky notes on their desk that has the company logo on it.”

Harvesters’ take.

Bobby and Lauren continue to make great progress.

Some further items in their Harvest Playbook they were trying to accomplish was to re-organize their chart of accounts by department so they can get accurate gross margins for each, every month. This has been accomplished. They also put in place the Harvest Mini Budget, they updated hourly rates by department, reviewed production rates so they have more accurate estimates, they’ve hired their first account manager. We helped them ‘seal the deal’ with our Harvest Account Manager Incentive Plan.

Regarding the possible acquisition they were negotiating, it fell through because the owner decided at the last minute not to sell. The deal is not dead but for now it’s on hold.

Maple Hill continues to get plenty of new work this spring but like most they’re beginning to feel the labor pinch the rest of the country is experiencing. We worked with them on many suggestions in how to attract, hire and keep employees so only time will tell regarding their efforts.

All in all, Maple Hill is shaping up to significantly increase their sales and their profits as well. It goes to show when smart driven people have a plan, have direction they can accomplish amazing things.

Let them swim

Circumstances are forcing Gary Hardy to trust his team. So far, it’s working. By Brian Horn

There have been a couple of major developments for Brunner’s Lawn & Services. But before getting to those, one issue the company was figuring out earlier in the year was pricing. CEO Gary Hardy was skeptical of the gross profit margin percentage the Harvesters wanted him to bid into commercial maintenance jobs.

Turns out that he’s not necessarily sold that Brunner’s can get those high of margins (50 percent) on the contracts, but can on selling enhancement work to existing customers.

“It’s really customer-dictating,” he says. “We have a client right now that (accepts) pretty much every proposal that we give to them because they care about our quality. I think we may have to, on new contracts for like total maintenance, suffer at a little less of a margin than what the Harvesters want, knowing that we’ll get the higher margin on all the enhancement stuff.”

Two key changes.

While it may not sound like a major change, the addition of a part-time receptionist has made a noticeable, positive impact on the company.

The position was filled by a friend of COO Josh Brunner’s mother, and she will be working 20 hours a week during the peak times – 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The addition of a receptionist has come just in time because of another change. Hardy has been experiencing post traumatic stress from his time in the military, and will need to briefly step away.

“She’s made it to where I’ve been able to take time off to try to get my head straight without there actually being any real gap in the business,” Hardy says. “The business has actually been running with me working about 20 hours a week over the last month.”

Hardy will be spending a week at Save A Warrior, a program that specializes in connecting active duty military, returning veterans, and first responders experiencing psychological trauma.

“She’s going to work full time to make sure that the office is running and I don’t miss phone calls. And if an important call comes in, she can direct it and let them know that I will be calling them back as soon as I get back because our clients are pretty much going to think I’m on vacation,” he says.

Brunner doesn’t see his role changing much while Hardy is gone.

“I think we’ve got stuff set in place to where it’s just kind of turnkey right now,” he says. “It’s a lot of the things right now are just automatic. The only thing my fear is that, you know, I have a couple guys not show up next week.”

The PTSD combined with the hectic nature of the season has essentially forced Gary to delegate and trust his staff – and he’s found out it’s working.

“I’ve pretty much stopped micromanaging Josh, and Josh is able to just run with stuff and get stuff done. I’ve stopped dealing with the day-to-day employee stuff and that’s something that the Harvesters have worked with me on – just letting them sink or swim,” Hardy says. “My leaders right now, they’re swimming pretty well. They’re doing a pretty good job.”

Harvesters’ take.

Gary and Josh accomplished many of their key Playbook goals over the winter. For example, they updated their customer proposals, began getting testimonials from clients and began working on their Harvest Mini Budget.

As with most companies their employee handbook was weak, so they engaged the services of another Harvest Group member, Steve Cesare, to update it. It’s important to have a bullet proof handbook to reduce the owner’s liability. This has been completed.

They also finished renovating their office and it has made quite a difference. Once that was completed, they hired an office assistant to help handle oncoming calls and do the daily paperwork.

From a client standpoint, they dropped a number of low margin clients and picked up new larger ones. They exceeded their snow budget and are now working hard to make sure they meet or exceed their landscape goals.

As with most all landscape companies, their biggest problem is finding quality workers.

They have had some success with second-chance employees but still need more crew members to fill the ranks because their sales efforts are working. They are following our advice, “always be recruiting” but despite all their efforts, more workers are still needed.

The season looks bright for this hard-working duo and we are seeing them moving toward their best year ever. From our standpoint, this is what it’s all about.