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Discussion in 'Original Pictures Forum' started by RLS24, Jan 21, 2010.
Little storm for Thanksgiving.....
9;2" Boss V on the Ford with wings...thats 11' of plow
That's a whole lot of plow! Love the look of that ford
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Now that we're into December here, This is my year-end re-cap:
We started off in a blunder because of the situation with the shop and everything getting dumped (literally) back at my house, everything was disorganized and a mess and we wasted a lot of time in the mornings getting going trying to find stuff. While this sounds like it was horrible, which it was, getting out of a shop and back home may have been one of the best things to happen (more on that later). Around the same time, I also added another vehicle to the fleet. We had a lot of new business this spring, and became very busy very quickly. I added a couple new employees, and we had all 3 trucks going out every day, sometimes to separate jobs, and we were just really cranking out work. The crews had a few mishaps here and there while I was trying to bounce between multiple jobs, doing estimates and taking care of other general business matters. By June, I added another Stander to the mowing equipment and it has proven to be a wise investment. I had finally done what I was scared to do for a number of years, and that was set up a mowing crew and let them go out on their own.
Money was flying in by July-August, but so were complaints from customers. As a result, while money and work was flying in, some customers (and I mean GOOD long-time customers) were flying over to other landscapers. By this point work was slowing down so I was able yo get back with the crews and really figure out what was going on. Most of the problems seemed to have stemmed from the guys trying to rush through things and really just not looking at things the way I do. I have a passion for this business, its what I live, breathe and eat every day and night. I can look at a lawn, and know that I'm going to start mowing at this point because when I get to another point halfway across the lawn I can go around a tree or go past a flower bed and the chute on the mower will be pointing away from that obstacle and I can go around it without messing up my striping patters. Or, I know this person walks down this way to get the mail and they HATE grass in the flower beds so lets take some extra time and make sure that there is NO clippings at ALL in that bed by the mailbox, but that bed in the far back corner of the yard I know they've never even been back there so dont spend as much time there, etc. And my guys just don't think that way. Can you blame them? I can't. They're just here to work for me, and if they had the same passion and love for this, they'd probably be out on their own and not working for me. The extra time and detail that was going into these jobs when I personally was there doing the work made it well worth the extra amount people were paying, and now that they weren't getting that anymore, they might as well at the very least pay someone else considerably less money for the same level of work. Can you blame them? So I had to get back in the field, and we saved a lot more angry people. I also realized that having more than 1 landscape job AND mowing going on at a time is just too much for me personally to handle. I'd like to joke when I say that the wrong plants could show up at the wrong houses, but that actually did happen to us once. Thankfully we caught it before they were actually planted. People (on here especially) would tell me that I need a foreman and/or a secretary. And I do. The problem is that in my area, this is such a competitive business that adding an extra administrative person to my staff would put my overhead costs up just enough to price me out with a lot of people. Sounds ridiculous but thats how competitive it is here.
I also realized that I was spending a TON of money having 3 trucks on the road. In most cases, we'd have 1 truck as the lawn truck, one truck to landscape job A and another truck to Landscape job B or if we only had 1 landscape job going on, the 3rd truck was nothing more than a mode of transportation for staff. When all this was going down, I decided to make some drastic changes. I cut the 2 oldest trucks out of the fleet, cut my staff, and most importantly, I went back into the field. We struggled the last half of the year because we had improper equipment, and the weather was just as bad as it could possibly be for leaf cleanups. It's dec. 9 as I write this, and theres still quite a few leaf cleanups that we never got to simply because it was either too wet, too windy and because it snowed before thanksgiving.
Looking into winter, heres where we are: I whittled my plowing routes WAY down. I will NOT leave withing a 3 mile radius of my house, and quite frankly I don't have to. When I started years ago, I would go ANYWHERE to plow a driveway. Over the years I've built up a very good bunch of customers close to my house. I've also weeded out all the "pain in the a$$" people. I don'y care if you're 3 doors down from my house, I don't care if I do 8 other driveways on your street, you call me every time it snows and I can never please you. No amount of money is worth that headache. I picked up several more commercial lots, got my blue chevy set up as strictly a driveway rig to plow the 35 or so driveways I still have, and have my diesel truck set up to plow all the commercials. and the "selective customer" policy has worked out tremendously so far. We have plowed 2 storms this year and have not had one single phone call for any reason whatsoever from anyone. I've decided that with snowplowing, its never a financial battle that I am going to win with myself. I would rather work just THAT much harder in the summer to make my money there and just do what I have to in the winter to keep some income coming in. It's not worth the headaches, you beat up the trucks all winter pushing snow and you pay for it all summer, and you beat yourself up trying to please people that are impossible to please. Its just not worth it.
Looking forward to the spring is almost like looking back 2 years. 2 years ago, I had 2 trucks, 1 with a dump insert and a dump trailer. I got rid of the dump trailer to buy another truck, because more trucks can go to more places and do more work and more trucks can plow more driveways right? Yes but in the end I looked back and while a tremendous amount more money came through the door with all the trucks and all the people, at the end of the day what the company (and myself) was making for profit wasn't really THAT much more than back when I was doing less work with less equipment and less people. And the small amount that profit did go up certainly was not worth all of the additional headaches. This spring, I am going be putting a dump insert in the '06 chevy and I'm going to buy a dump trailer to outfit for landscaping. We are going to go back to focusing on doing less work but higher end work, only 1 crew at 1 place at a time, 2 reliable vehicles instead of 3 or 4 older beat up ones and to solve the problem of having trucks going out just to transport crews? I replaced 2 old and run down regular cab trucks with a newer crew cab. I am also saving a ton of money by not having the shop. Although going back to my house was kind of a downfall at first, I have taken that money that I've saved and started to do a lot of renovations to my home to not only make it a better place to work out of but a better place to live and enjoy my time off. It also makes me think new purchases through more because due to the lack of space the whole "where am I going to put this? and do I REALLY need this?" come into play. It also helps keep us way more organized.
The final big thing is this: I just need to be there. Whether its going a simple landscape maintenance job, a major install or mowing a lawn, I need to be there because theres that attention to detail and the "signature touch"that employees can't be taught and people are willing to pay for. What's my time as a business owner worth? Probably not what I'm getting but to me retaining that customer and keeping that customer happy is worth a LOT more. I hope everyone has a good spring coming up!
Sounds like you took a lot of punches but just kept standing up and fighting. Not many people would do that. Others would tap out or just stay down until it was over.
Who knows, maybe with the reorganization you've done, one day you will be able to expand again. Maybe it was just too quick too soon? Maybe in the next 10 years you will cherry pick enough accounts and be able to send out a non rushed crew. Although I know your want to be in the field (as a supervisor and enjoying the outdoor work) may make it difficult again to exit.
I just know that if and when you decide you want a family (if that is even something you want) you may have a different view of wanting to be in the field. Being able to leave the office to take care of your family is much easier and doesn't necessarily affect the bottom line than leaving a job unfinished or delayed for family needs.
Good story to share though. Hopefully we all can make improvements on what we do and our customer base.
As a side note, you're going to pile dirty, smelly workers in that beautiful truck!!!!????
Too big too fast is definitely a good way to describe it. An even better way is that I need to learn to say "no" more and I certainly have, especially with the snow plowing. My theory is this (and you'll get this being a local guy): companies like Green View, Grabber & Sons, Braunschdel, etc all made their money hand over fist in the 90s and early 2000s and just banked and banked it. When the economy took a dump, they were ok because they had all that money in the bank and had a lot of resources stockpiled from the hay-days. They can carry along with the big crews and all the equipment from when thigns were booming, because they have it so they might as well use it. A buddy of mine has a shop right by Greenview's so I see it all the time, and the newest truck I think they have is an older body style Chevy (like my blue one) so a 2007. So they havent purchased a new truck is going on 7 years. My theory is is the economy today, you're better off staying small, no more than 2-3 crews and a small fleet of equipment.
And you have to say "no" to customers and jobs that you know are going to be a pain in the a**. Thats the biggest thing because those types of jobs and people are not worth your time dealing with. One of my best friends also owns a landscape company about the same size as mine and we talk all the time about business and one of our terms that we've coined is "qualify the customer." You know your routine and what you do and what your "thing" is and you should be able to come up with a standard series of indirect questions to sort of feel the potential customer out and know if you and your crews are going to be a good match for them. It's not worth changing your whole business model to appease one customer for a $500 mulch job. On the other hand, find things that you can do that others won't and justify charging for it. For example, I have a 21" mower on my trailer and I love to use it! I have picked up numerous lawns because other guys either don't have one, are too lazy to use it and will just hit areas with a trimmer because its quick but it looks horrible. I charge for that 21" mower but people are willing to pay for it.
Very well said Mike, too big too fast is full of headaches. Trust me I know.
i agree 100% with you on the employee situation when your not there it is a pain to find a guy who takes pride in his work like you do as the owner. For my cutting crew i offered some incentives if they dont get any complaints(not the little bs ones) but anything thats major so if they have a good week i will usually buy them a sandwich and drink at WAWA the following monday and im thinking for install and tree crews when i go to inspect the final project and talk to the customer, im thinking if each week if their jobs are all done to the customers standards an their happy ill do the same thing at wawa with them as well might cost me $50 or $60 a week which at the end of day isnt a whole lot if there doing a good job and that will lead to more work. Thats the best way ive figured to handle it
just figured id share that hope you had a good season and stay safe this snow plowing season
Mike, agree with everything. Especially the bigger companies who started in the 80's to early 90's. Landscaping's biggest growth time where companies made tons of money and now own tons of equipment. They can handle the huge jobs because their resources are vast.
Times are different for sure. I'm skipping the lawns needing a 21" mower. I have one for certain lawn areas that are problematic but I'll refer all of those to you! Ha!
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If you ever want to refer anything to me, feel free! I really don't mind using the 21" actually I really like that mower! Theres a few yards that we do that we COULD use the 36" (meaning it will physically fit) but We'll opt for the 21" just because its easier to maneuver.
You still mowing any of those ones?