“Quality service is harder to get than a quality product,” says Todd Reinhart. And that irks him. But Todd and Chad Reinhart are delivering top-notch customer service by transplanting Japan’s production management principles into their Midwestern landscaping business.
Todd and Chad Reinhart were born into the agriculture business, sons of a farmer and schoolteacher. Their father, Larry, expected them to help on the family farm in Bloomington, Illinois, and Todd says that’s how he and Chad developed confidence and their strong work ethic. “Growing up in an agricultural environment means you learn to make due with what you have. As kids we learned ingenuity, how to improvise, how to fix anything to get the job done.” Their mother, Ruth, stressed the value of education and planted in them the love of learning.
Todd started his lawn mowing business in junior high school, “mowing a few lawns on the weekend for a few dollars.” Ruth would drive Todd and his mower to his jobs, and wait while he finished each lawn. The business grew by word-of-mouth recommendation and soon Chad joined him. The brothers expanded their services to include grounds maintenance and snow removal, operating the business from the farm while earning their degrees from Illinois State University. Todd earned a bachelor’s in agri-business in 1992 and Chad got his bachelor’s degree in industrial technology in 1996.
After college, Todd and Chad grew Reinhart Grounds Maintenance into a full-time business. By 1993, Todd had revamped his business model and focused on commercial maintenance accounts such as hospitals, shopping malls and office parks. Reinhart added grounds maintenance services to the turf and snow maintenance menu, positioning themselves as a grounds and landscape management company.
In 2003 the Reinharts built a new 14,000-square-foot facility on four acres just across from the family farm. Their customer base grew, more employees were hired, and equipment and trucks began to fill up the space. But rapid growth, disorganization and duplication of efforts were giving away profits, and hard-working employees were losing time in the field. Todd sought a way to eliminate the company’s inefficiencies and their Ariens mower representative provided the solution.
East meets West
Ariens offers the “Working Smarter Training Challenge,” a one-year program that teaches the management principles known collectively as the Toyota Way. Sometimes referred to as ‘lean management,’ the lean system insists that all expenditures or resources (material, labor and time) must lead directly to value for a specific customer. Lean production processes are built on a culture of seeking continuous improvement, efficiency, minimizing of waste, and respect for people.
Every process is analyzed and simplified until it becomes a smooth-functioning standard procedure. Workers train to become competent with each task and are encouraged to change or improve standard methods, no matter how minor they appear. (One employee shaved two minutes off an application by changing where he parked his truck). Todd openly shares each job’s profits and losses with the employees so they can see how their part of the project impacts the company. The Reinharts immediately saw how the lean management principles would streamline their landscape business and give their workers opportunities to excel.
Reinhart employees usually work in teams of two and start the day by checking the magnetic job assignment whiteboard in the office. Below each job file are magnets with names and photos of each team member, pictures of their assigned truck, equipment, and examples of the materials required for the job. Anyone in the company can see at a glance which employees are on each job with which pieces of equipment.
The Reinhart shop layout also echoes the lean principles of minimizing waste and duplicated efforts. Tools are organized on the shop wall, labeled bins hold small supplies, and maintenance liquids are labeled and stacked in 5-gallon dispensers. All the Reinhart trucks are the same model to keep maintenance simple. At the end of the day, tools are returned to designated places, trucks are cleaned and equipment is ready for the next day’s jobs. This daily visual inventory process has eliminated repurchasing misplaced supplies.
Todd and Chad have developed their own operating software system that takes the pulse of the business. “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” Todd Reinhart says, and he measures everything. “What are we making on an hour of labor? Production service hours are where you make your money.”
The Reinharts’ lean management style goes much further than equipment organization. Todd strongly believes in a company culture that develops leadership potential in its workers. Todd and Chad like to hire what they call hard labor kids who probably grew up on a farm or in a working family and understand how to finish a job. New employees go through a structured training program that teaches application skills and the company culture. The Reinharts understand their field employees are the most visible representatives of their company and require their workers to adhere to strict rules of conduct – no smoking, no swearing, clean uniforms.
The brothers also teach new employees how to work smart, encouraging them to be innovative and share ideas with the rest of the company. “I want our guys to try new ideas in the field,” Todd says. His employees often mentor one another, trading ways to save time on a job and take advantage of the company policy that as soon as the week’s jobs are finished, they can go home to enjoy three-day weekends.
A large part of the Reinharts’ company culture is built on respect and the brothers lead by example. Both men know their strengths and readily hire the best experts they can find to give their customers ‘perfect-the-first-time’ service. Todd is passionate about business and he happily admits he’s “the biggest copycat there ever was,” with an insatiable appetite for information. Always keeping his eye out for ways to improve the company, he absorbs every conversation and mentally files away solutions for future challenges. Chad’s sense of design and technical ability balance the Reinhart office.
Todd and Chad’s plans for the next five years are ambitious. They feel the mid-size towns in Illinois are underserved and present opportunities for growth that will take advantage of their central location in Bloomington. Reinhart Grounds Maintenance purchased its first Weed Man franchise in 2002 and has opened two more territories in Peoria and Champaign-Urbana, Illinois. It seems their lean management policies are particularly well timed and will help them grow even in these lean times.