Scott and Kellie Alford, co-owners of Alford’s Landscaping in Denham Springs, Louisiana, instill a hands-on approach to running their business. It starts with them and trickles down to their supervisors and their crew members as well.
The husband-and-wife team attribute much of Alford’s success to this business plan, which includes crafting personalized career paths and models for each of its employees.
Scott equates this decision to tending to a garden.
“If you have a garden in your backyard and if you don’t plant anything in that garden, how do you expect to go out and pick a crop?” he says. “So, if you don’t put the work in to plant, then you’ll never reap the harvest. If you don’t train employees, they don’t see a future in what they’re doing. And if they don’t see a future, they’re looking for their next opportunity.”
An unexpected journey
When the Alfords decided to start their own business over a decade ago, Scott originally wanted to focus on land development and heavy equipment work as opposed to landscaping.
“When we named the company, we made a split-second decision to go with landscaping even though we had no intention of actually getting into landscaping,” he jokes. “There was a vehement desire on my side to never do landscaping.”
However, after receiving advice and mentorship from a friend in the business, Scott decided to pursue his horticulture landscape license. “I then got an offer from someone else and went into irrigation training, and received that license as well,” he says.
Meanwhile, Scott decided to sell the dozer and part ways with the tractor he had to bid heavy equipment jobs with and fully jumped into landscaping.
The Alfords remember the early years of their business as a bit of a struggle.
“We started in the midst of a recession and when most people were going out of business, we were trying to start a business,” Scott says. “To say 2009 and 2010 were difficult would be an understatement. But we got through it.”
Nowadays, the company hit the $1 million market in 2021, with $1,442,629 in revenue. They also saw 62% growth compared to 2020. There are currently 16 employees with Alfords Landscaping, including some office personnel.
Forming a pathway
With growth continuing to be the top priority for Scott and Kellie, the couple came up with establishing personalized business models for employees to map out their future with the company.
“One of the things I’ve stood by from the very beginning was that we always wanted to grow organically,” Scott says. “Through this process, I learned that growth can multiply, but it can only multiply if my supervisors are of a similar mindset and are properly trained to handle a situation.”
Once an employee has been with the company for over a year, Scott and Kellie begin crafting a vision for them and creating the model.
“We look at what they enjoy doing,” he says. “As I’m in and around jobs, I’ll watch what they do and meet with them to discuss it. I share with them my thoughts on where I think they’d be a good fit and get feedback from them on where they’d like to be and what they’d like to do.”
The pair have about three meetings a year with the employee to review the plan, see how things are going, see what else they’re interested in learning and more.
“Through this business model, we have seen the guys’ ambition be so much higher,” Kellie says. “Instead of just coming to work and going home, they have ideas and discuss those with us. Through this plan we implemented, having the meetings, and getting together, they know we’ll support them in whatever training they need, whatever certifications and whatever licensing. It’s really built up their confidence. They have ambition and feel like they have a purpose.
“We’re enjoying watching this unfold and hearing them talk about the future,” she adds.
While most employees take advantage of the business plans, Scott notes that it is not mandatory to participate.
“If an employee says, ‘Hey all I want to do is come to work and go home every day.’ That’s OK. But if an employee has a desire to be around, learn and grow — then we want to help that employee,” he says. “Because a successful business can only be built around successful employees.”
These business plans have been developed for three years now, and Scott says he’d like to take them a step further in the year ahead.
“One of the things we did this year was finally make the transition of a small business operated out of our home office and personal space into a full-fledge office with a commercial building and commercial shop and storage facility,” he says.
“Now having an office that is not in our own personal home — it opens up a lot of opportunities. Our plan is to really take things to the next level during the wintertime, which is really the slower months. We’ll go into a heavy training period to prepare guys for next year.”
And that plan includes more frequent meetings with each employee.
“We’re really going into a phase this year where guys will be taking full ownership. They’ll be their own boss when they come to work,” Scott says. “I will meet with them once a week or once every two weeks with my primary crew leaders.”
Scott and Kellie also say that these business plans help them deal with labor struggles as well.
“We’re always looking for ways to invest in them, or give them, a leg to stand on,” Kellie says. “I think that helps a lot with turnover.”
Like most landscaping businesses, Scott says that labor is an ongoing obstacle.
“In this industry keeping laborers around is the hardest part,” he says. “Unfortunately, we have a lot of guys come to work for one day and then don’t come back. I do a lot of hiring where people don’t even show up the first day.”
For those employees that do stick around, most of the business plan created for them involves training and other educational opportunities.
“My primary motto in business has always been excellence,” Scott says. “But excellence is not perfection…The only way we can get excellence out of crew leaders, and those on the job, is if they are trained.”
Scott says not only does this training helps his crews work more efficiently, but it also gives them a leg up by obtaining certifications and licenses.
“For example, with irrigation, we’re going to bring a gentleman in who’s going to teach my guys the engineering side of irrigation design for residential homes,” he says. “Quite a few guys who’ve done installs with us and know how to do the gluing and screwing and how to put it all together, they don’t understand the exact ‘whys’ on the engineering side.
“It’ll be a two-day class that will prepare them for a state class and certification. It will meet Irrigation Association, and state, demands for education. And it gives them a trade that if they ever move or go somewhere else, they can take with them.”
For employees with personalized plans, another avenue taken is general business or education classes. Scott says he has someone pursuing this path currently.
“I’m going to put him in some business classes that will most likely be online,” he says.
But Scott says nothing replaces real-life, on the job training.
“It’ll be day in and day out with me dealing with customers, and then I’ll transition to where I’m riding with him and letting him deal with customers. I’ll just sit and listen and help when help is needed,” Scott says of the employee taking business classes.
He adds that he’s always found training his employees personally to be quite effective and a way to pass his knowledge and experience to the entire team.
“Hands-on training has always been the most beneficial,” he says. “What I like to do is once I’ve trained my crew leaders to a point, I find that they’re just used to doing their job.
“I have to explain to them that their job is now a training and teaching aspect. I remind them how I taught them, and I watch how he teaches those he has working under him.”
Ultimately, the biggest drive behind this business model is for Alford’s employees to take on more and help expand the business.
“Each division (installation, maintenance, grade, lawn) leader has been given incentive to train those in their crews that they feel want more responsibility to lead giving excellence and quality to our customers,” Kellie says.
“Duplicating themselves allows them to move into other divisions or to start a new division they are wanting to learn and grow with our company. They are being trained on the software and they are taking the reins to schedule and execute the jobs for their divisions.”
All the training and investment the Alfords put into their employees has helped boost company morale, they say.
“We tell them every single day this is your company. Take ownership and treat it as if it’s yours,” Kellie says. “We don’t make them feel like they work for Scott and Kellie Alford. We make them feel like they work for themselves. They are their only competition, and they are their biggest critic.”
Word to the wise
The idea behind the personalized plans stems from a tradition of Kellie & Scott’s for their own personal growth. “I really think it’s about having a vision,” Kellie says. “That’s something we do every year. We write a vision for ourselves personally as well as for our company. We do this in early December. In doing that, you have a plan, and we start to implement it through action.”
Now, they are reviewing their plans of all their employees at the start of the new year.
Scott adds that innovative ideas such as this are easiest to implement when there is more downtime — usually in November and December. He says it’s also the best time to hold one-on-one meetings with staff.
“The easiest way to get started is that it has to be done outside of peak season,” he says. “In the south, our primary season is March through October. It’s hard to do training and meetings in the middle of those times because you’re running so wide open, and you already have to keep your guys from being worn out…they don’t want to talk to you. They’re just trying to get through their day.”
Kellie advises to start budgeting for these training and education initiatives well before they are implemented is also ideal. “From a financial side of things, start setting aside money early for those things if your budget is tight,” she says. “That’s something we do. For trainings and certifications, we set those funds aside.”