consulting appointment/multiple crews

Discussion in 'Christmas Trees & Seasonal' started by David Gretzmier, Dec 19, 2009.

  1. David Gretzmier

    David Gretzmier LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,646

    I had a wonderful time the other day with Brite Lites of Houston. over a period of 4 hours we talked about everything outdoor Christmas decorations. I'll let them chime in if they wish about what they felt like they got out of it, but I will tell you this. Even though I have been doing this for pay since 25 years plus ago, I still learned a few things just talking with stacy and carlos. suppliers I have not tried, marketing ideas I have not tried, etc.

    It was really neat to see where they are and where they wanted to go. Thier business is where I was around 4 seasons ago, and they are at one of the toughest points in a Christmas light biz- going from being the crew foreman/hands on every job to turning over the installs to 2 install crews. what makes them unique is their "other business" is not lawn care or spraying lawns or anything to do with lawns or landscape. They can tell you what they do the rest of the year if they want. I don't always kiss and tell.

    I made this crew transition by necessity, right around the 60 customer mark. my payroll went from one guy to 4 guys. every job went from me being on the roof, running cords, etc, to me doing just sales calls and employees doing everything. It is a tough bridge to cross. training 2 crew foremen in October becomes a have to. you have to trade perfection for excellence and sometimes be satisfied with "that looks great". and that leads to a greater number of customers letting you go year to year. I remember losing only one or two customers a year until multiple crews entered the picture. then it was 3-10% per year.

    scheduling becomes an issue. one crew will be better than another. one crew will forget more things, one will be better at mini's, or one will be better at tough heights/pitches, etc.

    The temptation is to try and run one crew and then have one other crew. the problem with this setup is you do not have the freedom to leave your guy to bring the other crew what they need or to help them figure out how to install the job you gave them.

    vehicles. you have to buy not only one, but two trucks, and maybe have a backup. you drive one, the guys have a truck and or trailer each, and you need a spare in case any of them break down.

    I actually used a boxvan as my personal ride the last week when my 2006 ford truck needed an alternator. 5 days later they had the part and got me going. If this were during the busy season, I would have had to drive the Christmas Bus ( a great UPS van like bus rig,perfect also on the weekends to scope for chicks ).

    I will say that the transition to 3 crews from 2 is WAY easier. and me going to 4 rests on one fact- getting that 4th crew foreman trained in time and he stays. I may train 5 guys next year to be crew foremen in the last 2 weeks of October and then pick 4. That way I have a spare guy.

    I do believe that brite lites will get over the hurdles and do what they have to do to grow their company.

    I was wondering if any of you out there experienced the same thing when going to the next level?
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2009
  2. turf hokie

    turf hokie LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,753

    Yes to all of the above....

    Holy cow you hit the nail on the head.

    Year 1-3 I did everything with 2 guys and had very few service calls.

    Year 4 Hit around 60 customers and planned on growth. I put a second crew out (that one ran independent) and I was still on a small 2nd crew (hands on trainging) but broke off to do estimates etc and left the guys (with a crew leader) to try and do the jobs. We did not have quite enough work to run a second full independent crew, so this was the "small job" crew
    What a nightmare, every single customer that I did not personally install the job, called in to complaign about something, both new and old.
    Jobs went from perfect to OK. I ended up dragging guys by their ears to look at jobs and would make them figure out what was wrong and why. Some things were very easy (dumb mistakes).

    I was physically and mentally drained. This is not the way to do Christmas. As David said, you cant do this, as the owner you rush appointments (my close rate was 37% last year worst ever), guys stand around waiting for you to get there because they cant figure out the map, forgot the orchard ladder etc.

    Year 5 (this year) same 2 crews full time from last year. Without me even showing up on some of the jobs 90% of the jobs were very good. (what a wonderful thing to finally have seasoned and trained crews that finally understand how we do things)
    I could find something wrong with every job, but that is me just nitpicking and going for perfect. I told the guys if they can start seeing what I see we will not have any customer issues. I rode them pretty hard with the details and they finally started to see these things.

    The guys also realized that there is competetion now and that actually made it easier for them to understand and see how what we do is so much different and I will say it; BETTER than the competition.

    I only have one company that I would consider REAL competition and that is a Brite Ideas but he is running from 45 minutes away so I beat him on just being the "local" guy especially now that we offer the HBL line. All the other guys are "price" guys, hang homeowners stuff etc. NOT what we do

    Back on point....
    We did fall into the tempation of running one bigger crew on some jobs, dont let this happen, you will do this because as David said, some guys are better roof, some branch wraps, some at fluffing garland (serious, it is an art) so pu them together and you have a "perfect" crew, right? wrong...
    Just try to schedule the jobs that better suit each crew, and keep them close together as much as possible. It also feels like you are getting more done with a bigger crew, you really are not.

    As far as trucks, 2 box trucks, these are so nice to have.
    1 pick up for running around and bringing crews what they forgot.
    1 trailer used occasionally for the jobs that not everything fit into a box truck
    1 cargo van for catching up after rain and for service calls while the installs are still running crazy. This truck did not go out until late and we had essentially trained up our 3rd crew leader.

    Anybody else?
    Last edited: Dec 19, 2009
  3. britelights

    britelights LawnSite Member
    Messages: 91

    Oh my gosh we enjoyed meeting with David! The 4 hours just flew by -- and we didn't even talk about everything we wanted to! It was truly a very valuable experience. I always love talking and networking with other business owners; but to have the opportunity to sit one-on-one with someone who has been in your shoes --- and analyze your numbers and marketing strategy, etc. --- that is priceless.

    We knew going into the season we were going to be stretching ourselves thin with 1 crew --- and wow did we ever. We know next year that 2 full-time crews is an absolute necessity. We had originally thought about Carlos running one of those crews --- but we know now that's not a great idea. We have alot of homework to do before next season -- but we are looking forward to it and we're excited about taking our business to the next level.

    Thank you again David!! We look forward to our next session --- and I'm so glad you don't charge extra for the comedy. :) If you haven't met David in person --- let me tell you --- he's hilarious -- his stories will have you laughing so hard you'll cry!
  4. David Gretzmier

    David Gretzmier LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,646

    Glad we had fun. I'll be gladder still if the 7-8 action items we talked about help your #of closed jobs and your bids in '10. we'll follow up in 45-60 days or so to see how you guys are doing.

    also- for everyone- I just did a search on ebay for box van, and finessed the search once I narrowed it to the commercial truck finder. basically I put in under 5000 bucks, under 200,000 miles and listed them in oder of year. there were 88, but many of them are with a reserve price and will not sell for $5000 or less. another good place to search around is there advanced search function won't let you get rid of the expensive trucks, but you can search by your zip code, sort by price, and don't forget further down the list are the non enhanced listings in your price range as well.

    I got both of our current box vans from ebay, paying $3500 for my '97 14 foot aero fibergalss e-350, and $4500 for my 2001 14 foot e-450 super duty. I would reccomend doing 16 foot length minimum and 20 foot maximum. a 16 foot boxvan can carry a 32 foot ladder inside rather than on top, and will save the guys the 15-30 minutes to load it on top and unload it/strap and unstrap every day. also, at takedowns, I have found a 14 footer is barely enough space to carry everything that 2 guys can take down in a 8-10 hour day.

    I will try to buy another box van this year, but I HAVE to get my add on to shop up first this year.
  5. britelights

    britelights LawnSite Member
    Messages: 91

    Wow those are great prices for a boxvan. I will start checking out ebay. I think that's the best route for our next business vehicle. I doubt we will ever do a truck and trailer setup again -- especially if you're going to have employees driving.

    This brings me to another big of an area do ya'll service? We used to concentrate within a 30 minute driving distance...then we expanded to one very small affluent section of Houston. This year as we're trying to expand even more -- we branched out further. Which of course turns into a headache for service calls when you have to drive an hour one way.

    I have considered a 2nd storage warehouse for our clients on the other side of town...and then we would have a crew that would be based on that side of town for next season. Has anybody tried this? Is it better to just consider the drive time as part of the cost of expanding business?
  6. David Gretzmier

    David Gretzmier LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,646

    we bought our warehouse about 4 seasons ago and played it like this- all our installs went out of the old, and the takedowns went to the new place. I can honestly say we had a dozen or so times where we needed something at one place and it was at another. those are REALLY frustrating.

    after that season, I am in the one shop camp.

    but we do service a 2 county area, and we have many installs that are an hour away from the shop. That is more of a function of the location of our shop, which leans heavy south of one county.

    not really for storing jobs, I cannot count the times I wish we had some form of supply shop for the north edge of the north county. a 5x10 rental storage place stocked with a case each of clear and multi c-9s, all in clips, s-clips, gable clips, 50 boxes each of color and clear mini's. 15 boxes of red mini's. a case of garland and each size of wreaths, 6 links of each popular design, a magic box, spool of c-9 cord, male plugs and 6 each of extension cord sizes.
    If you filled it at the beginning of my season on Sept 1, and then emptied it the day after Christmas when takedowns are slow, you would be out about 80 bucks in storage and the cost of the items added to your inventory list.

    would the cost of such a thing be worth it? probably you would have to use it at least 4-6 times a year, and think of it more in terms of allowing you capture opportunity cost, rather than the cost of labor saved from not having to pay guys to drive all the way back to the shop when they run out of bulbs or they forget the garland for a job, etc.

    But you also have to look at the cost of paying guys to load, unload, and then empy and restock the shop each year as well.

    tough call.

    My plan in 5-6 years once my expanded shop is full is to build a 10-12,000 square foot, 20 plus foot tall shop in a 2 mile radius of the exact center of our service area. That would really help our average drive time. I would expect a centrally located shop would either allow us a 6-8000 per year labor savings, or we would get more dollars of work done with the same labor, guys on the job more than in the truck.
  7. addictedtolandscaping

    addictedtolandscaping LawnSite Senior Member
    from NY
    Messages: 569


    What is a magic box??
  8. turf hokie

    turf hokie LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,753

    We call it a buzz box or test box. It is what you use to test light strands that are not working
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  9. addictedtolandscaping

    addictedtolandscaping LawnSite Senior Member
    from NY
    Messages: 569

    That is what I call it too, buzz box lol

    Thanks, thought maybe there was something that I could get that was "magical"

    Thinking of really getting into landscape lighting, any suggestion on LED systems??

    Sorry to steal the thread so to speak.
  10. David Gretzmier

    David Gretzmier LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,646

    I call it a light testing unit or magic box. when you hit the button, lights come on like magic.

    LED's in the landscape light industry are newer than even LED's in the Christmas light biz. James Solecki at Integra Lighting up in canada has developed the first LED landscape light bulb I would TRY. It has less than 16 months of actual use in the field, and last I heard it is still going well. The color and lumen output are near perfect for 2800 kelvin color, and lumen wise it mimics the 20 watt halogen at around 11.5 volts. I give no guarantees of it's life or what the lumen output and color will be over time. everything else out there, and I mean all of them, has failed. FX's line looks good in the heatsinking department, but it again is so new it has less than 6 months time out in the field.

    If you are thinking of getting into the landscape light side, I would stay away from LED for a few years until it shows itself as a viable technology. Use materials that have a history of 20 years in the field before jumping to the unknown stuff. You can try LED on your own home if you wish, but when I charge folks for something, I need to know I can stand behind it.

    while LED's when perfected will make the Christmas Light biz better by stuff lasting longer and using less elctricity, so installs should go way better, LED's on the landscape light side actually hurt you financially.

    I have a nice sideline rebulbing, cleaning, repositioning, etc, all the landscape ligghting jobs I have installed. In 5 years or so, That income will disappear when I rebulb with LED's. while lights will still need cleaning, reaimin, trimming away foliage that blocks the light, etc, yearly maintenance, I cannot imagine a client being willing to pay what they pay now when the cost of the bulbs is out of the picture.

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