Shrub Trimming & Commitments

Discussion in 'Turf Renovation' started by DFW Area Landscaper, Jun 18, 2006.

  1. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    I'm running into a MAJOR problem. The problem is the same problem I have been on Lawn Site whining about since the beginning of time. That problem is, the phone rings off the hook with requests for clean-ups and shrub trimming/tree pruning work all spring (March - April - May). Then, almost as fast as the demand started, it drops back to nearly nothing.

    The bottom line is, for the remainder of the year, my shrubman can do chemical apps every other month and stay busy, but as soon as the chemical apps are done, I will have no choice but to send him out with door hangers and try to create a mowing schedule for him on Friday's and Thursday's.

    So I think my company will be making a MAJOR policy change with regards to shrub trimming. We are glad to trim shrubs and clean out flower beds but only if the client can commit to having our shrub crew out four times per year with a one hour minimum each visit. No commitment, no shrub trimming. Very simple. Our shrub trimming revenues will plummet next spring, but if we can replace those revenues with lawn mowing revenues, I really don't give a damn.

    Do you think that a pay-per-cut operation, requesting a six cut commitment for lawn mowing service, could dictate terms like that?

    Later,
    DFW Area Landscaper
     
  2. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 21,653

    It all depends but I know where you're coming from, this is one of the reasons I am refusing those sub-standard lots where one look tells me all it is going to need is 6-7 grass cuts / year, for the same reason: It's not worth me keeping these 200-300 dollar accounts that take up slots and time that I could better invest waiting on the one nice yard that will replace 3-4 of these in one fell swoop.

    Up until a few hours ago, so I thought... Yes, it would be nice to only have 20-30 of these class-A accounts instead of 50+ of everything - I would spend less time driving and more time working billable hours. But it seems every time I make a change to benefit myself, I also open up a new can of worms... Soon as I get rid of the crappy yards, here come the picky high-fallooting customers who can't wait one more day to have their yard serviced and all they do is 'can you do this and that and the other...' Some have ZERO patience if it takes 30 days for a weed treatment to take effect they can NOT wait and they think I'm their 'lawnboy' to come hither at their beck and call and I get sick and tired of hearing it when with the sub-standard lot, they didn't care when I showed up and they treat me at least like we're on equal terms.

    Neither side thinks our labor rates are anywhere near what they are. The sub-standard lot fellers figure it out on the cheapest terms but then if I don't turn their yard into class-A overnight (or even never), they also don't care. Meanwhile, the ones who can afford it are convinced we should get paid around $30 / hour, so here again we are at the point of heavy duty suck.

    Where the cheap job owner doesn't care if I spray round-up on the weeds or not, the rich guy thinks I should pull them by hand...

    So with your situation, I can foresee your demanding what you demand, then having to lower your prices to make up for that, or having to give out all these extra things all the time, that's what I see happens when I get demanding... I lose one set of accounts and gain another which bugs me until I can't see straight - That is not to say I don't have some really beautiful ones in between, but...
     
  3. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    Topsites,

    I guess what I'm saying is, when a customer calls and says "How much to trim the shrubs or clean out the beds?"

    I respond with something like this:

    "We are glad to trim the shrubs and clean the beds. Our hourly rate is $44 per man-hour, but we discount that to $36 per man-hour if the client doesn't require that we drive out for a free estimate first. Additionally, we only agree to trim the shrubs if the client can commit to having us out 4 times per year with a one-hour minimum each visit."

    I go through this every year. Someone has too much work to do in the spring and then when the summer gets here, they have no work. The first two years it was me. Last year, it was a three-man crew that mowed lawns on TH-FR so we laid a guy off and had a two-man crew mowing on W-TH-FR and often they had no work for Monday or Tuesday. This year, I figured with an additional mowing crew I could easily keep one man busy five days a week but now it looks like that business model doesn't work either. The problem is not a ratio of mowing clients to workers, but rather, it's an issue of seasonal demand that doesn't exist for 9 months a year.

    My question is, can a lawn mowing company dictate demand for the other nine months of the year by saying "we will only trim the shrubs if you promise us we can do it on a regular basis"?

    Later,
    DFW Area Landscaper
     
  4. Precision

    Precision LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,995


    I think it depends on how much you want to be in that line of business. What you are doing is essentially raising the price, so why not just do that directly and move it up to $50 per hour or $44 if you don't have to do an estimate.

    Have you already made it so you only do shrubs for mowing clients?

    The other thing you could do is offer higher rates in peak season and lower rates in off-season. Say $60 per hour 01 March - 30 May then offer your regular rates (labeled as discount rates) starting 01 June. That alone will shift some of the work to February and June. You could also offer people your "discounted" rates for quarterly trimming if they sign a commitment/ contract. or maybe even 3 trimming if you can keep him busy with apps part of the time. Say one in March, one in July and one in Nov.

    Just some ideas.

    You could always look for someone who only wants seasonal work. I know its the wrong time of the year, but kinda like summer vacation school teachers or someone who works a night job and could do that for you during the day.
     
  5. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    I don't think charging a ridiculous rate in the spring will solve the problem. People already ***** about $36 per man-hour. If I tell them I am $60 per man-hour until June, they won't wait that long...they'll just find someone else.

    I am finding that more and more lawn mowing companies aren't even offering shrub trimming. They're probably more experienced with this than I am and decided there would always be someone with less experience around to do that kind of work. And I have noticed that if the homeowner is happy with the lawn mowing company they have, I can't steal them even though I am offering one-stop shopping.

    To date, my one-man shrub crew has generated gross margins of about $30,000 this year. That is something I'm just going to have to wean myself from because it is so seasonal. Last year, our revenues for this kind of labor were 7X as much in April as they were in September.

    Shrub trimming on a "call when you want it done" basis is just not a sustainable business model. If they commit to regular shrub trimming, it probably makes sense, but to let them call when they want it done is not working. Just like we schedule regular mowing intervals, we will begin to schedule regular shrub trimming intervals. Take it or leave it.

    And yes, we will be making exceptions for the remainder of the year because we are over-staffed and desparate for work. But next spring, things will change dramatically.

    Later,
    DFW Area Landscaper
     
  6. HOOLIE

    HOOLIE LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,981

    I don't see any problem with a "annual program" for hedge trimming or bed cleaning.

    Non-recurring jobs, for a business that mainly does recurring work, creates scheduling and labor problems as you well know. For a seasonal business like ours, you want to fill your schedule rather than hope that people will call for one-time stuff.

    I've gotten a lot tougher this year with dictating terms and conditions and payment methods, and pretty much people have been going along with it with no complaints.
     
  7. Precision

    Precision LawnSite Silver Member
    Posts: 2,995

    If that many companies are stopping doing it, it sounds like it might be a great opportunity to make money. But you obviously need a method to deal with it.

    My suggestion about price raising or having peak season and off peak season pricing was to be used as an incentive to shift people to getting the hedges trimmed more frequently.

    by offering those that commit to an annual program the cheap rates even in peak season you will get some people who smell a deal and will go for that. And if you don't really want that business, then the higher rate will at least make it worth your while for doing what you get hired for.

    If you are generating $30k in gross margins off one guy in 4 months and you can have him doing fert for another 2 months and flyers for another 3 months then you have the dead season. I really don't see a problem. It is all work that needs done and it has paid for itself. I wish I knew your secret to finding and keeping good employees. I can't keep a guy for more than 4 months anyway. For me that would be no issue. He would either go away on his own or just move to a position vacated by one of the others who quit.
     
  8. MarcSmith

    MarcSmith LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 7,157

    I had "contract trimming" but they were only for people I cut the grass for...

    If I got a call to do a clean up, it got pushed to the end of the schedule, behind all of my other regular clients.... Ther were exceptions to this like if a neighbor next to one of my full service accouts wanted the shrusb trimmed and I knew I could get it done with out having to adjust my schedule to suit them, I'd squeeze it in....But the cold call, 15 minutes out of my way, they had to wait....Soem did, some didn't...
     
  9. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    Would it be an outright lie to tell a customer that it doesn't cost much more to have them trimmed regularly as opposed to once a year? My thoughts are that when they are overgrown, there is more work to do.

    Any thoughts on this?

    Later,
    DFW Area Landscaper
     
  10. DFW Area Landscaper

    DFW Area Landscaper LawnSite Silver Member
    from DFW, TX
    Posts: 2,116

    OK...How does this sound?

    You are receiving this e-mail because you have previously ordered non-recurring work from Meier’s Landscape Maintenance.

    The purpose of this e-mail is to let our customers know that we are altering our policy for shrub trimming. Going forward, we will only be trimming shrubs for clients who can commit to regularly scheduled visits by our shrub crew, four visits per year.

    In the past we have always offered shrub trimming on a “call us when you want it done” basis. This method produces many problems for both us and for our clients. For us, we see more demand than we can keep up with in March, April & May and by the time September rolls around, our shrub trimming demands are down over 85%. For our clients, many don’t know when certain plants should be pruned or trimmed and therefore don’t call us to trim their plants at the right time of year. The crepe myrtle, for example, needs to be pruned before it breaks dormancy. In the past, we’ve had problems with people calling us to prune the crepe myrtles just as they are breaking dormancy, but by that time we are already booked solid for the next 3 weeks.

    We realize that not all shrubs grow at the same time of year. The burford holly, for example, only puts on growth in the spring and fall but next to nothing in the heat of summer. The silver leaf euonymus puts on growth during July thru October, but very little the rest of the year. The nandinas grow pretty steady for 10 months a year. The ornamental grasses only need to be scalped once a year in the late winter, ideally after the final freeze. Crepe myrtles only need pruning once a year in the late winter. We understand these things and most home owners do not, or, if they do, they forget to call us at the right time of year.

    We will not be trimming shrubs that don’t need it when we show up for an automatic shrub trimming visit just so we can run up billable hours. We will only trim the shrubs that have new growth and actually need work or are “due” for a pruning, such as the crepe myrtle in the winter. It may very well be that when we show up at your place nothing needs trimming, pruning or scalping, in which case, we will just move on and you will not pay for service on that visit.

    All in all, we really don’t expect our shrub trimming clients to pay a lot more, annually, for the work that will be done on their landscape. When there is less foliage to remove, there is less clean-up. Plus, by being on an automatic schedule, your landscape plants will get the attention they need when they need it…automatically. Being on an automatic schedule is better for your plants and will keep your landscape looking it’s best year round.


    Later,
    DFW Area Landscaper
     

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