Landscape companies often operate on narrow profit margins and must contend with hurdles related to labor, regulations and growth. Some company owners choose to “wing it,” dealing with each issue as it arises. While that might work when times are good, those companies typically don’t weather the storm of market downturns or other calamities. Addressing challenges head on with well-thought-out plans is like investing in an insurance policy. To get started in your preparations, here are some common problems and potential solutions.
No. 1 Finding dependable employees
Year after year, many landscape contractors say recruiting reliable employees is their top challenge. Fewer people are viewing the landscape industry as a career option, and the seasonal nature of some positions makes them difficult to fill.
Solutions: Develop a year-round, multifaceted recruitment strategy. To fill seasonal positions, some landscape company owners turn to the H2B visa program. Targeting high school and college students is another option since their open summer schedules line up with the busiest months for lawn care and landscaping. Also, consider reaching out to veterans and service members who are transitioning to civilian life. They are known for their strong work ethic and often have skills that readily translate to the landscape industry. See dol.gov/vets for information about finding veterans in your area.
Recruit using a mix of low-tech and high-tech methods, including:
- Flyers: Hang these on the front door of your company’s office and around your community in places such as restaurants, grocery stores, colleges, high schools, apartment complexes, laundry mats, churches, fitness centers and gas stations.
- Signs: Put a “Help Wanted” sign in front of your facility and place similar, magnetized signs on company vehicles.
- Business cards: Use the back of your card to let people know you’re always looking for motivated employees.
- Relationships: Talk with counselors, advisers and instructors at local high schools, technical schools, community colleges and universities about your summer job opportunities. Share information with staff at your local chamber of commerce and economic-development agency as well.
- Your website: Make sure your website includes an employment section. Use this area to market your company to potential employees, and include an application they can fill in and submit electronically.
- Online job boards and social media: These are a must in today’s environment, especially if you want to attract young workers. Consider Monster, Craigslist, ZipRecruiter, CareerBuilder, SimplyHired, Indeed, LinkedIn and CareerArc Social Recruiting.
No. 2 Retaining top talent
Keeping your best employees can be as hard as finding them. Creating a career ladder is key to employee retention in any field, and this is where many lawn and landscape companies fall short. If your crew members defect to competitors for a slight increase in hourly wages, you have a problem within your company.
Solutions: Develop and post charts showing possible career paths. Include written criteria for advancing to each level.
Making employees feel connected and valued will build loyalty as well. Give employees opportunities to share feedback about issues ranging from safety to equipment purchases. If a customer complains, get your employee’s side of the story before coming to any conclusions. Because conflicts with supervisors can prompt employees to leave, create a system for employees to voice their concerns.
No. 3 Too few resources to properly manage the administrative side of the business
Many landscape companies operate businesses that are too lean administratively, often because owners don’t view office staff as directly bringing in revenue. But when e-mails and phone calls go unanswered and invoices aren’t handled properly, you lose income and profit.
Solutions: Talk to your office personnel and conduct customer surveys to determine whether your staff is the right size for your business. If your employees can’t complete tasks in an acceptable amount of time, find ways to help them work smarter (better accounting software, for instance) and/or expand your staff. If current workers only need help during a certain time of year, consider hiring a retiree or student (you could even create a business internship).
No. 4 Government regulations
Landscape companies must comply with a host of federal, state and local laws related to employment, safety, chemicals, equipment, the environment and more. Staying on top of these changing mandates takes a lot of time and effort, but the consequences of failing to do so can be costly.
Solutions: Join state and federal landscape associations, which usually have segments dedicated to keeping members informed about regulations and regulatory changes. They also offer an avenue for participating in lobbying efforts. Local business groups can help your company stay current with county and municipal ordinances.
Depending on the size of your company, it might make sense to designate one person to stay abreast of regulations and share findings with the management team.
No. 5 Marketing
You might think it’s enough to perfectly manicure lawns or create awe-inspiring landscapes, but it’s not, especially in competitive markets. If you want to grow your business, you have to build name recognition and make sure potential customers know about your work.
Solutions: Positive stories about local businesses are popular with media organizations. Get your name out in your community by writing press releases about your high-profile projects, community involvement, job creation and awards.
With consumers increasingly turning to the Internet to verify a company’s legitimacy and learn about its services, having a professional, up-to-date, mobile-friendly website is vital. Your site also needs to rank near the top of search results related to landscaping in your area. Get some estimates from firms that specialize in Web presence. You might be surprised by the affordability. Active social-media accounts are necessary, too, and should link to your website.
Employ low-tech strategies in marketing as well. Company vehicles and workers’ shirts should display your logo. Ask customers if you can place company signs on their properties for a certain period of time.
No. 6 Managing growth
If your marketing efforts are successful, you’ll need to avoid another pitfall: failure to understand rising overhead costs as your company grows. Company owners who add employees and equipment without carefully studying work volume and the effects on overhead costs are flying blind.
Solutions: While you’ll need to add employees and equipment, this should be a cautious balancing act. You must do quality work and complete projects on time, but you can’t afford to have employees and equipment sitting idle. When purchasing equipment, consider the costs of insurance, taxes and maintenance, which are in addition to the initial purchase price. Rent machines such as skid-steer loaders and mini-excavators if you only use them occasionally. Think about subcontracting and using temp agencies to cover extra work until you know it will be long-term.
Keeping costs in line with sales also means knowing your overhead at all times and using this information when setting prices. You might need to adjust prices to recoup additional overhead costs.
No. 7 Training
New hires typically join landscape companies during the busy season, when there’s little time for the plethora of training required by law and necessary to reduce the risks of accidents and poor-quality work. The results: dissatisfied customers, equipment damage, workers’ compensation claims, increased insurance premiums and possibly fines.
Solutions: Get your customers to sign contracts for maintenance and other projects in early spring, so you can get a handle on the number of employees you’ll need. Then hire additional workers who are available for training before they’re needed on jobsites. Make sure your training meets all federal, state and local requirements. For instance, you must train workers in a language they understand, and employees must receive hands-on training on each specific machine you’ll ask them to operate.
While in-person training is needed in some areas, many landscape companies are turning to online instruction to make certain types of training more efficient. With e-learning, you don’t have to get everyone together for training at one time (employees can even complete sessions at home) and training modules usually include exams, which fulfill requirements to document training and ensure it was understood. Several e-learning providers offer general workplace training as well as modules specific to the landscape industry.
You can also speed training by keeping ease of operation in mind when purchasing tools and equipment. A new type of trimmer head, for example, doesn’t require workers to cut line, wind it onto a spool or troubleshoot when line gets jammed inside the head. With the Oregon Gator® SpeedLoad™ Cutting System, workers pop open the trimmer head (no tools required), load a disk of pre-wound line and snap the trimmer head back together. New operators can complete the process in 20 seconds or less.
To learn more about the Oregon Gator® SpeedLoad™ Cutting System and watch a video demonstration, visit gatorspeedload.com.