Lauren & Bobby White, owners, Maple Hill Lawn & Garden
Photos: © Jon Arman

When Bobby White was mowing lawns in high school, it was just a good way to pay for his extracurricular activities, and later, college tuition. He continued growing the business while earning his degree in sports management but when he and his wife Lauren got married, they realized the business had real potential. So they decided to run with it and see where it could take them, but they didn’t know much about owning a business.

“I like the outdoors; I like being outside – getting my hands dirty,” Bobby says. “I would say the industry grew on me over time, but I certainly didn’t have any schooling and no family upbringing in it.”

Later on, Lauren quit her job in the medical field to stay home with their four kids (ages 6, 4 and 3, plus a 9-month-old). She took over the marketing and office side of the company and over the last 10 years, the business has grown exponentially.

Up until a couple of years ago, the couple was running the business from their home in Fort Washington, Maryland, but they’ve purchased a shop and a 2-acre lot about half an hour away to separate work and home life.

Now based in Accokeek, Maryland, Maple Hill Lawn & Garden serves a mix of residential and commercial clients, offering lawn maintenance, minor landscaping and snow removal when the opportunity arises.

The end goal is to grow to a point where they’re known as a local company that’s big enough to “fill in the gap where the big boys are, but small enough that even the average homeowner gets to be a part of our family company,” Bobby says.

Balancing act.

The Whites have a great reputation, good employee morale and happy customers, but they’re struggling to get a handle on the gross margins, their daily schedules and general workflow. Both Bobby and Lauren are so busy handling the day-to-day of the business that they don’t have time to assess what’s working and what isn’t.

“We just feel like we’re flailing every day,” Lauren says.

To combat that, the company hired an accountant in December to free Lauren up to focus on marketing. Bobby also wants to hire a right-hand man to help take the pressure off. “I really want to be involved with the business, but I don’t want to be as involved,” he says. “I want to be an advisor to someone who’s running the day-to-day.”

That would also free up Bobby to focus more on sales and scheduling. “No one really does sales,” Lauren says. “How much bigger could we be if we had someone out there selling?”

Currently, Bobby is setting up the schedule by hand every week, and while revenues are increasing, the company’s profits aren’t. This is likely due to lost hours, so Maple Hill plans to install GPS on all of their trucks to see where they can trim the fat.

“I’m scheduling guys for eight days a week as it is right now,” Bobby says. “I don’t want to just blanket raise everyone’s prices. That doesn’t do a darn thing. I want to figure out where we’re hemorrhaging first.”

Bobby and Lauren White work to set up a game plan with the Harvesters while Lawn & Landscape Managing Editor Kate Spirgen, right, looks on.

Price points.

Maple Hill is now working to reduce debt, increase sales and get a handle on job prices, which are too high in some areas and too low in others.

“In my off-hours, I’m going to take some clients we currently have and work them backwards as if I’ve never met them before,” Bobby says. “That tells me if there’s a normal increase customer or someone who needs to be cut.”

After spending some time with The Harvest Group, Maple Hill’s goal is to now have a 40 percent gross margin overall with all new jobs coming in at 45 percent or more. They also plan to start charging for drive time and will add a fixed load-up price for each job.

“Something I really need to crack down on is not incorporating all of the real costs for every single job so leaving too much to be a mystery,” Bobby says, noting that he’s going to come up with a pricing sheet. “So going forward, everything will be in there.”

Employee improvements.

Maple Hill has good employee morale and doesn’t have any trouble hiring, but they need to get to work on an employee handbook and a safety program, as well as an onboarding process.

Over the winter, Bobby plans to improve any safety concerns at the shop and spruce it up to create a more efficient and productive environment for the employees. “It still needs to be a bit more user-friendly, certainly more professional,” Bobby says. “I think that’s going to carry over to the crews and how they carry themselves.”

“We just feel like we’re flailing every day.” Lauren White, co-owner, Maple Hill Lawn & Garden

Harvesters’ Take.

Like many owners, we found Bobby and Lauren to be very devoted and zealous. The business provided them with a job, but they struggled to make a profit.

After doing an assessment on their business, we narrowed the areas they needed to focus on four critical areas. The first and most serious was their low gross margins. This appeared to be caused by gross inefficiencies. The second was the lack of profitable customers. The third, common with most landscape companies, was the lack of quality employees. Lastly, they had no safety program.

We created an extensive playbook for the Whites that provides them with a clear roadmap of the things that need to be accomplished during the next four, 12 and 36 months. In subsequent conversations, Bobby and Lauren reported they have been analyzing every customer on their books.

They are re-estimating all their jobs so they know how many hours the crews should spend. They are negotiating with a potential key manager to work with them this coming spring and they will be creating a basic safety program for startup.

All in all, we’re confident they will not only achieve their goals for 2019, but will most likely exceed them.