Getting rid of bad customers

GardenGal

LawnSite Member
Hi everyone. I was not sure where to post this. Someone did have a "firing client" post but it was confusing and from years ago ... so I decided to make a new one. Sorry if it's the wrong spot.

I just wanted your advice and opinions... I know things I should have done but I took over when my parents died, this is the 2nd season and I am finally ready to get rid of customers they've had for years - basically because I will be joining them if I don't, meaning dead by 35.

Anyway, most of the customers have been customers for longer than I've been alive.. 30+ years. So, of course, when my folks died and I was thrown into a chaotic mess, I felt obligated to keep as many as I could handle, guess out of loyalty or something, I dunno.

So, we have our usual naggy old ladies, that surprisingly now love me that I've stood up to them. And they absolutely adore my husband because he is very polite and does a better job than they pay for. Which can be both good and bad, but off topic.

I am sure we all have or have had customers that drive us bonkers, but we continue because it's just silly little stuff - like nagging about time, or cost, or wanting you to drop everything to do something because they don't realize you may have 50 other customers and it's just two of you. (Some even tell us we should hire more people, then we explain how we tried and went through 6 employees in 6 weeks and it's more of a hassle - we pay 15-25/hour so it's not like we want to pay minimum wage - but again another topic for another day).

Okay now to the whole reason for this post. Sorry, for rambles. We have a church as a customer. We'd done the cemetery - a huge, 5 acre mess, for years. At least 15 years. My family from way back when, were one of the founding members, multiple generations are buried here, my sister, parents, etc etc etc. SO I wanted to keep them because I felt attached. 3 seasons ago, my dad died and my mom was sad. So, when some random guy started cutting the cemetery and we found out because we were also cutting it and had a signed contract, she got upset. Now, again, she lost the man she loved the last 50 years of her life, so her fight was gone. She did stand her ground, explained we had a signed contract, he told her to piss off and left. She contacted the board, they were sorry, they fixed it - however, we lost 2 payments because that guy demanded he get paid. I wouldn't have done it that way, but whatever it's over. So mom dies shortly after dad and I am like well f me. So last year, sent a letter to all customers explaining situation, we lost 1 because he sold his house, the rest kept us and rooted for us. The church even asked us to do their 3 other properties because they fired the other guy for what he did to mom (apparently he was doing those and assumed he could also do the cemetery, I dunno). So that was nice, it was hard adding them but whatever. This year - the board is completely different. New president, new treasurer and I have no idea what else. However, same guy is the cemetery groundskeeper (he handles everything else, we just cut and weedwhack because he's older than God). So, he starts nagging because the season started early this year. We explained, we'd cut it already but could not weedwhack due to time restraints (Takes 3-4 days to weedwhack this place - nuts I know). So he says he understands, bla bla. Then , I don't know if he forgot this phone conversation but he calls and leaves a message saying we didn't weedwhack and that's not part of the agreement and he's telling the board and the treasurer that we didn't do our jobs. So - I e-mailed the president and explained - it was either cut it and charge for just a cut, or don't cut it at all and get a fine from the town (they don't require weedwhacking but do require mows to avoid the fine) Whatever, so she understands and oh God bless you. They also ask me about several other things, every year we gift services in memory of family members - we're talking $2000/year. My mom always did it, so I did it. My mom didn't invoice it though, I invoice every thing now and just put "gift" so they know we do way more, especially since it's new board members. ANyway - a week later we cut and weedwhack for mother's day - we always do the new section first and then the middle section because the old section is from 1600s who the hell is going to put flowers there, but whatever. So we made sure the new and middle were done for mother's day and looking nice and clean - the old section was mowed but only some weedwhacking. Then temps went into 90s, news called it record breaking heat wave at this time of year bla bla bla. That day, the president e-mails me that the groundskeeper guy is freaking out that we didn't weedwhack. I corrected her, said yes, we've been there the last 2 days and we got the newer sections completed for mother's day, we're still doing the old section, but basically the cemetery is 90% done. It's hot, I don't wanna join the people in the cemetery (I didn't say that last part but God I wanted to.) So she agrees that it's hot. Then asks when it will be finished. So at this ppint I am ready to fire them just for being annoying - you know, the usual ranting we all do when people annoy us. So my husband takes over since it's mother's day and I no longer have a mom and I am probably emotionally distraught. SO he asks her if he can call her to discuss. She gives him a number - he tries several times and it doesn't work. So we look up her name, she gave us the wrong number.... so he calls and explains the situation to her... she says "Oh, yes I understand it's very big job, yes it's been raining a lot and now it's really hot, yes yes. Well, we just don't like being billed for incomplete work." He says, "Billed? We haven't had the time to bill ANY customers this year, you weren't billed yet." She says, "Oh, I didn't know. I thought - well, I am not in charge of that. Must be a miscommunication. Will it be done today?" He says, "There's 6 hours left on a good day, its very hot so I do not think I'll have it done today but probably tomorrow as we try to weedwhack during cool hours since there is no shade at all." And then she says something about how it has to be cut and weedwhacked all at the same time and my husband's like, only if you have a crew of 10. And at that point he suggests they hire a different company that is more able and staffed to give them the services they deserve. She flips out and says no no, I will discuss with the others.
What in the hell? You basically accused us of fraud - charging you for something we didn't do - YET we didn't and it's broken down so we can omit the weedwhacking fees easily. Anyway, I am firing them because of several reasons: 1) it's chaos there with the new members not knowing a damn thing 2) they accused me of fraud or whatever you wanna call it 3) and I could get multiple jobs and make more than double what they pay because they pull the we're a poor church card and make me feel bad.

I just wanted to know your opinions - I was going to originally just say "We regret to inform you that we'll be terminating services as of this date due to our inability to give you the service you deserve." Or some lame words where it's my fault, not theirs. But then they accused me of charging them for stuff when I haven't made one invoice for any of my 50 customers this year. That really hurt me considering all of the factors.

Should I mention how I don't appreciate it or just leave it. My husband is worried that if I don't mention it in the letter, they will tell the whole community that we defrauded them because they are mad we fired them.

I am going to break down the bill, too. And show how we aren't charging for the first weedwhacking (it was actually half done but didn't feel like arguing so I am fine with just omitting it altogether from the first one).

Oh by the way - the old guy, yeah he used to cut it but refused to weedwhack it so they hired us. Thought that was funny and ironic.
 

Rockbridge Lawn Care LLC

LawnSite Bronze Member
Location
Central Maryland
IMHO when "firing" a client no matter if there is a long term relationship or relatively new you need to keep all emotions/feelings out of that termination letter. Treat it business to business -short and sweet and to the point-. If they want details they can contact you. Use this forum to rant & rave and let that stress out:nod:


To who it may concern:

Due to business circumstances beyond our control I *your name* , owner of *company name,* write to inform you that effective *date* the company will no longer be servicing your property located at *enter address*. This letter represents written notification per our contract service agreement as outlined in clause *insert clause number*.

Respectfully,
*your name*



First double check your contracts to make sure your following as written for contract termination (proper notice etc...)

Second, I'd talk in person to the person/group that is in direct leadership of your services and see if the situation can be rendered (if your business wants to..sounds like your done)

This is also a great time to reflect and figure out what your business can reasonably accommodate. It sounds like this property is to much labor for your business's abilities to complete it in a given time period. It also sounds like your hesitant about growing rapidly (hiring more employees) so as a business you really have to know your limitations and if a property is pushing the boundaries you really have to sit down and tell the church you can't do it all in one day; followed by what you "can" do to resolve the issue. In this example you tired to trim the one part for Mother's Day before the other.

On the flip side tho understand that the heat is not a factor in the scope of work to the church. That is just part of the job. So as a business you need to either suck it up or work around it by starting even earlier or working later (avoid mid-day).
 
OP
GardenGal

GardenGal

LawnSite Member
Thanks! I am well aware of breaking it up when weather is extreme. It was NEVER a problem in the last X years we did this (even when we had a lot of employees). In fact, the guy that tried to take it was doing 1/4 at a time.

I agree with just keeping it professional, short and sweet. I am logging it though in my records as why they were fired in case anything happens. A lawyer friend said if they try to spread rumors, it's slander and bla bla. Hopefully, given that they are a church, they will accept this and move on peacefully. They can hire the guy that tried to take it last year, imo.

Our contract is an estimate of work that would be performed and the price list. Each month, we record what was completed and the date, price. The only thing on the estimate that says anything about time limits is that both parties have 3 days to cancel from the date of acceptance.

I worded it this way...

Business Name
My name
address
Date

Recipient Name
Address

Dear Rec:

We regret to inform you that your agreement with "us" is being terminated, effective this date. We are a small, family-owned company that pride ourselves on integrity and loyalty; we strive to deliver the best service to each one of our customers. Unfortunately, we are unable to continue to provide "rec" and its members with the service they deserve due to unpreventable circumstances.

We have enclosed a final invoice for all work rendered up to this date. Please remit payment as soon as possible. If you have any questions, you may reach me at "business phone".

We wish you luck in the future.

God bless.

Sincerely

Me



----

Thank you again. It is nice to have a place to vent where people actually understand.

It's interesting because we usually don't do contracts unless it's for a new landscape that's going to cost a lot and we need to secure payment for materials and make sure they will pay when complete. This one was just made up for the church so they could vote on it. Other clients don't have agreements or anything. I read that contracts will either make or break you - that a lot of people don't want to sign them. That businesses and such require them because someone else votes or decides who to hire, but homeowners typically don't do it.

Does everyone here use contracts for annual maintenance (cuts, clean ups, etc) or do they just verbally agree on the work to be done and prices?

And here is another question for you guys- okay so we started out as a nursery - retail & wholesale. Then home depot and lowes moved in and we stopped and did landscaping/maintenance. Now I want to get back into the growing part and do away with the install part. Does anyone else here grow their own plants and landscape or does everyone buy them from a nursery/garden center?

I run into a lot of people that wish I would re-open the garden center and a lot of restaurants want us to grow vegetables for them to buy from us. So, ultimately that's what we want to do - is supply the other 500 landscapers in the area with plants and materials. But then the question is - do people really buy out other landscapers? I've had 3 people ask to buy me out but I am afraid of what they will offer. I mean seriously, realistically they can just go ask my customers to take over. So do I just say, give me XX for the equipment and nothing for the customer list even though it's been the same for 30+ years? That's something I have been seriously considering the last few weeks. So any opinions on this would be helpful, too. I can post in a separate thread if it's not relevant here.
 

hort101

LawnSite Fanatic
Location
S.E. New England
And here is another question for you guys- okay so we started out as a nursery - retail & wholesale. Then home depot and lowes moved in and we stopped and did landscaping/maintenance. Now I want to get back into the growing part and do away with the install part. Does anyone else here grow their own plants and landscape or does everyone buy them from a nursery/garden center?

I run into a lot of people that wish I would re-open the garden center and a lot of restaurants want us to grow vegetables for them to buy from us. So, ultimately that's what we want to do - is supply the other 500 landscapers in the area with plants and materials. But then the question is - do people really buy out other landscapers? I've had 3 people ask to buy me out but I am afraid of what they will offer. I mean seriously, realistically they can just go ask my customers to take over. So do I just say, give me XX for the equipment and nothing for the customer list even though it's been the same for 30+ years? That's something I have been seriously considering the last few weeks. So any opinions on this would be helpful, too. I can post in a separate thread if it's not relevant here.
These are good ideas if you grow your own stuff you have control and no middle man! You can start some new threads on these ideas I'm sure you'll get plenty of responseThumbs Up:)
 

Rockbridge Lawn Care LLC

LawnSite Bronze Member
Location
Central Maryland
I would spend a considerable amount of time in Home Depot and Lowes on their pricing for plants/trees/shrubs. In my area the big box stores buy in whole sale and retail them from local nurseries. So my question is then can you be profitable at whole sale selling prices? Landscapers are going to be looking for whole sale as well. If you expect to be profitable at retail then your in a very tuff market against the big box stores.

NEXT thing I would research is who is your competition is. HOW many acres of plants do they have? Can you compete with them?

I source out all materials/plants because I'm profitable on the install/mowing and up charge materials.

What would you sell your business for? If you don't have a number then your not ready to sell.... just yet.... Typically when you sell the new owner will have to "win" your client's loyalty back. But if your getting out of mowing then you got to let it go. business is business... most business take over sales are valued at the equipment value...very little on the client base as that is highly subjective to value and turn over predictions.

I do/require written agreements/contracts for my commercial properties and any property that poses a business liability risk should they not pay (rental properties mainly). If they shy away from a contract then they expect to get things (many) for free and I have no problem not wanting their business at this present time for my business.

How or what you require as written sale for is your own business risk assessment for that job/service etc. However, I generally advise that if it's not written down and signed then don't expect to get paid when it hits the fan

the cemetery near me seems like a revolving 4 day process, by the time they get to the back they start on the front again
 
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Todd73

LawnSite Silver Member
Location
Florida
Does everyone here use contracts for annual maintenance (cuts, clean ups, etc) or do they just verbally agree on the work to be done and prices?

Only real contract I have is with my HOA to maintain the common grounds. However, everything else is in writing: estimates, customer agreements for residentials, etc.
 

DIYOKC

LawnSite Member
I agree with RockBridge Lawn Care, the big box store buys in bulk, making it difficult to compete with them. Note I didnt say impossible, but difficult. Distinguish yourself from them by offering unique plants not offered by them and market yourself that way. Help educate the customer on how to take care of plants, this is head/shoulders above what the folks in the garden center of the big box store can do.

The situation with the cemetry is also difficult. Without the manpower, you are taking too long and are doing it out of a sense of loyalty, and missing out on other opportunities. This is now your company, not your late parents, (no disrespect here), prices and customers change. While I can appreciate the loyalty, the guy where I buy gas has no problem charging me more when gas goes up. This is a business, prices increase. Dont do business with people that can't afford you. You will be working just to work, you want to work to profit! Jeff
 

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