This is part two in a two-part series. Click here to read part one.
Tim Lindgren, president of Lindgren Landscape in Fort Collins, Colorado, says he already made it to where he wanted to be with the company 15 years ago.
“The only reason we have ever grown all these years is because we’d get someone who we really like, and we wanted to keep them and we’ve got to find a place for them to continue to grow within the company,” he says. “I’ve been content revenue-wise for forever, but we are growing to keep people employed.”
Because of this need to keep growing at a steady pace, Lindgren has encountered a couple of pain points due to their increasing size.
Finding and keeping the right employees
The number one problem Lindgren says he is facing right now is labor. Like many other landscaping companies, it is hard to find employees who are willing to do hard labor in a seasonal position.
“To get people to come here and stick it out for the entire season, there’s just too much job hopping,” he says. “They haven’t kept a job for more than two months. It’s really tough getting people who are willing to work hard and stick it out during the hot season.”
The company says it doesn’t have any issues finding designers and project managers. It is the laborers that are hard to find. So far, Lindgren says Indeed has been their number one source for employees.
“Indeed is probably the number one place we advertise, but we also pay our employees if they’ll bring somebody in who ends up working; they’ll get a $200 check if they bring someone to us and we end up hiring them and they stay,” he says.
Because Lindgren Landscape has a culture that values honesty and integrity, it takes great care in who it hires.
“We don’t hire just anybody,” Lindgren says. “They go through a pretty good screening process. We drug test every single hire before they come in here, which is really tough in Colorado since pot is legal. I am not a fan of (drugs) in any way shape or form. So, we monitor it even though our ops manager say it makes hiring even that more difficult.”
Lindgren acknowledges that his zero-tolerance policy toward drugs shrinks an already small labor pool, but he refuses to have employees operating heavy equipment and working around homeowners and their children while under the influence.
“We have had a handful of employees this year that we would have hired on the spot had they passed their drug test and they didn’t,” he says. “We’re not going to budge on that. I want sober people. Clean people.”
Because of this dire need for workers, Lindgren Landscape participated in the H-2B worker program for the first time this year.
Lindgren says there was definitely a learning curve, as after they applied for eight visas they received a call in March and then flew down to Tucson, Arizona, crossed the border and went to a hiring fair to recruit their workers.
He says the primary reason he had never used the program before was because he wanted homeowners to be able to communicate with anybody on the jobsite.
“That communication has always been a big deal to me, but I’ve listened for five years to our operations managers who do all the hiring tell me how ‘I can’t meet that (production budget) because I can’t get the guys here to do it. You guys can sell all the work you want, but I can’t get enough people to build it.’ So about a year ago, we said ‘Alright, we’re going to try it and we’re going to see how it goes and take a risk.’”
It was indeed a risk, as there is never a guarantee that a landscaper will receive the visas that they need, no matter how long they’ve been using the program. Yet despite the volatile nature of H-2B, Lindgren says that he does intend to use it again next year in order to help his operations managers.
“I just want to supplement,” he says. “I don’t want to count on it.”
Lindgren Landscape says it is able to retain its current employees due to good pay and its company culture.
“It is important to us that they have a life outside of work and we don’t want to drive them where they’re here longer than they need to be,” Lindgren says. “We want them to go home with their families.”
Aside from encouraging a work-life balance for its employees, Lindgren Landscape also hosts a couple fun events a year from taking workers and their families to a Rockies game to playing paintball to having a variety of food trucks come out for a summer feast.
Another one of the growth issues that the company is working to correct is quality and efficiency. Lindgren has noted that according to their efficiency report, they are down by a significant number compared to last year.
In response, he has started traveling out to jobsites to document where they are lacking.
“I’m encouraged because we’re profitable,” he says. “We’re doing well, but we could be doing so much better once we start changing these things.”
One element the company is trying to buckle down on is charging for change orders because previously, clients weren’t being charged for work outside of the original contracts.
Lindgren says they are also working on choosing a central form of communication, as currently some foremen will text while others call and another group prefers email.
“We have a good chain of command, but we’re not following it well right now,” he says. “People are going outside of their lane and communicating around other people. It doesn’t work, and it’s hard getting people to respond to them.”
Another way the company works to maintain quality is by finding the right customers. Lindgren uses a vetting process to determine if a client is a right fit for them.
“The whole time they’re interviewing us, we’re interviewing them because they have to be willing to pay for a design,” Lindgren says. “If they’re willing to pay to have a design, that means that they’re invested and not just looking for some cookie cutter type design.”
Aside from being willing to pay for a design, Lindgren says potential customers also need to trust them as the experts and have the desire to pay for something that is custom and well-made.
Once they have contracted with a customer, they will work through any issues that come up, but Lindgren has no problem cutting ties with potential clients prior to signing a contract.
“We’ll learn about them during the design phase and determine it’s not worth the heartache,” Lindgren says. “We see signs of people that are going to be too high maintenance or maybe not trustworthy or what have you, are in over their head financially and can’t really afford what we’re trying to do. So, we do gracefully dismiss clients prior to construction.”
After a job is finished, Lindgren Landscape tends not to handle the maintenance side for residential projects unless it’s a full scope maintenance package.
“When someone sees us out maintaining a neighborhood and all we do is mowing but there are weeds in a bed, it makes us look bad,” Lindgren says. “So, we want complete control of the quality of the project.”
Keys to success
As for what are his keys to success, Lindgren says his faith is his number one key to success.
“There has been lots and lots of prayer for God’s wisdom and direction,” he says. “I think we have a lot of people who are like-minded and pray for this company. I think it’s a huge part of our growth.”
Work-life balance is the second key to success he lists.
“Finding a good work-life balance is really important to longevity,” Lindgren says. “If you are working 24/7, you don’t have good balance at home. It’s not sustainable and that goes for you and everybody that works for you.”
His last key to success is to keep your company’s debt low, as you never know when the next recession is coming. Lindgren says that starting out, they rented all of their equipment for the first couple of years in business, as his wife is extremely conservative financially. They would buy a piece of equipment only when it no longer made financial sense to rent it.
“If we can’t afford it, if we can’t pay for it, we don’t buy,” Lindgren says. “We will still get loans, but if we had to pay off every single loan in any given time, we could do it. That’s our goal to always be able to pay off any debt that we have and to never get upside down.”
If he had to start all over, Lindgren says there is a lot that he would do the same, including surrounding himself with good, high-quality people.
Lindgren also offers the motto of “Hire slowly, fire quickly.” While the vetting process may take longer, he says it’s worth it if it means you end up hiring a quality person. Keeping bad apples for an extended period of time can damage company culture.