Turf Magazine - March, 2012

SOUTH FEATURES

Tennessee Teamwork

Recruiting, ESOP program attracts and retains good employees for this Memphis company
By Carol Brzozowski

Michael Hatcher & Associates


President: Michael Hatcher
Founded: 1987
Headquarters: Memphis, Tenn.
Markets: The mid-South, including Shelby County, Memphis, Germantown and Collierville, Tenn., and DeSoto County, Miss.
Services: Landscape design, lawn care, pools, patios, lighting and irrigation
Employees: 70
Website: www.hatcherlandscape.com

It's difficult to pinpoint one factor that drives the success of Michael Hatcher & Associates in Memphis, Tenn.

It could be company president Michael Hatcher's recruitment efforts for the best managers. Perhaps it's his assertive marketing campaigns, or the comprehensive suite of services his company provides.

They're all ingredients in what's become a recipe for success for Hatcher, who started the company in 1987 as a three-person sole proprietorship, and grew it into a corporation with multiple divisions.

Michael Hatcher & Associates' services include landscape design, landscape care and maintenance, pools, patios, lighting and irrigation. With respect to landscape care and maintenance, the company offers a variety of options from mulching, mowing, pruning and leaf removal to chemical amendments and irrigation management. The company also offers a seven-step approach to weed control and fertilization.


High-end commercial and residential clients appreciate winter services such as leaf removal, weeding and grounds cleanups.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF MICHAEL HATCHER & ASSOCIATES.

Revenues

Michael Hatcher & Associates services the residential and commercial sectors, with residential clients providing up to 65 percent of the company's revenues. On the commercial side, jobs include a $900,000 contract with the Memphis International Airport, which took more than two years to finish.

"We only recognize revenue as it's produced," says Thatcher. "I could sell a $1 million job today and tell you that all of a sudden our commercial work is extraordinary and sales are extraordinarily high, but it may take me two years to implement that."

The landscape architects at Michael Hatcher & Associates are on staff strictly for design/build services, Hatcher says. "It's hardly measurable how much work we do in just designs," Hatcher says. "The landscape architects we have here are for those residential or commercial clients who want to have a one-stop shop where they can work with a designer who designs their backyard.

"That same designer will be there through the construction process, and our crews would build the project, and then horticultural services step right in on the tail end of that project and start to maintain it."

While the majority of revenues come from a landscape installation, Hatcher says, "When you look at it measured over time, it comes from the maintenance."


Josh Bush, commercial landscape management employee, loads site-delivered bulk mulch for application on a large commercial property.

Knowledge is power

One of the biggest challenges the company is facing is dealing with the bad decisions and mistakes of others as it relates to invasive species and other horticultural problems.

"We're fortunate to be in an area where we've got some great extension services, both from Mississippi State University and the University of Tennessee," says Hatcher. "They're helping and working with us to make sure they're staying current with whatever grasses or weed problems are coming in. We're staying involved with them.

"From a horticulture service standpoint, there have been a lot of designers and landscape architects who have brought in plant species from other parts of the country that just don't do well in our area and we're challenged in maintaining that. The designers in our industry have to be more educated. The same can be said of expectations for turfgrass and its applications."

Hiring personalities

The company currently has 70 employees, down from a high of 120.

When hiring, Hatcher looks for initiative and enthusiasm. "I don't hire just based on their talent, because we can teach the skills in our industry," he says. "I hire more on personalities. Different personalities obviously go in different positions, which is putting talent with function."

For midlevel management and foremen positions, he hires a lot of graduates from Mississippi State University, where he received a degree in landscape contracting.

"I hire landscape contractors, landscape architects and turf management and agronomy majors," he says. "I go through the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, picking and choosing. It's much like football coaches recruiting for a team. I follow these kids from their freshman and sophomore years all the way through college to stay in touch with them."

Hatcher speaks to classes and visits with students on campus. The internship program is another way for him to observe how students develop their skills in the field.

For employees in the labor pool, he uses e-Verification through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The company has an employee stock ownership program (ESOP), and employees are vested after three years. Employees also get paid time off, paid holidays and other perks.

"Through a lot of lean management, there have been a lot of cutbacks other companies have given up, but these are some of the things we've held onto because of our company's culture," says Hatcher.

Turfgrass Benefits


The Michael Hatcher & Associates' website points out that:
  • Turfgrass helps purify water entering underground aquifers because its root mass and soil microbes act as a filter to capture and break down pollutants.
  • Grass is estimated to trap some 12 million tons of dust and dirt from the air annually.
  • Grass is such an efficient carbon dioxide/oxygen converter that an area just 50 feet by 50 feet generates enough oxygen to meet the needs of a family of four.
  • Grass traps and holds rainfall better than most surfaces, thereby reducing water loss by runoff and enhancing the potential for groundwater recharge.
  • Researchers have calculated that the front lawns of just eight average houses provide the cooling effect of about 70 tons of air conditioning due to grass' own self-powered evapotranspiration system.

He notes that the ESOP has had a "tremendous impact" on the attitude of the employees, especially those in midlevel management and foreman positions because "they understand that it is part of their career path."

The company helps each em- ployee understand their individual career path, which includes benchmarks and expectations that need to be met to attain the next level. "The entry-level guys know they have to have a driver's license and be able to drive to be a foreman; and a foreman, in order to move up to a supervisor, has to have a skill set that is comparable to the knowledge of all aspects of landscape maintenance or landscape construction, depending on which division they're in," Hatcher explains.


Lawn Care Manager Joseph Steeleap, using a ride-on unit with computer calibration and pressure-regulating technology, applies a preemergent herbicide to a large commercial account.

Career paths

In 1996, Hatcher embraced the concept of a "career path" and recruited two of the best students he could find at Mississippi State University, creating a small team based on the mission statement: "Creative people, growing in a focused direction, setting the standard."

"We are creative people," Hatcher adds. "We are a company that's growing in a focused direction. I have a very open book management where we have sales and production goals, all the way down to the man-hours. We have a focused direction and expectations to meet. The goal of the company as a whole is to be the best provider of landscape services in our market, hence setting the standard."

The foundation of a good reputation

He knows that other companies use his company as a "benchmark". During the time of the real estate boom, local magazines would promote the fact that certain properties were landscaped by Michael Hatcher & Associates.

Hatcher has used a variety of marketing efforts to promote his company. In the late 1990s, he was a co-host on a local television show produced by a CBS affiliate that focused on mid-South gardens and aired each Saturday morning. Eventually, the program was revamped and produced by an outside source, but not without giving Hatcher and the other hosts a great deal of credibility.

These days, it's websites, Facebook and Twitter that convey the message about Michael Hatcher & Associates. But the most effective form of marketing has been the company's reputation, Hatcher notes.

Continued growth

"We're moving the company into a more sales-oriented organization, where we have business development positions in the company," Hatcher says. "We're going back not to cold sales calling, but we're using technology to target market and to have personal one-on-one face time with potential buyers."

The company plans to target its face-to-face networking presentations to entities such as botanical gardens, homeowners' associations and school administrators, offering its services as a property management company.

When it comes to equipment, the ability to service the equipment quickly when it breaks down is more important to Hatcher than who manufactured it. "I have two mechanics in my shop, and they are the most important people in my organization because they keep our equipment and trucks running," he says.

"It's not a matter of if it's going to break, but when it's going to break," he says. "Nothing costs me more than downtime."

As he looks to the future of his company, Hatcher sees continued opportunities.

"We've been in business for 27 years, and I've seen the life cycle of the company from when I was an owner/operator and I started hiring people, and now we're working with multiple levels of management," he says.

"We have in-house financial services with an in-house CPA, so the company has matured through both internal means and external means, which is how we're perceived in the market as an industry leader. I'm excited for the opportunities for us using the ESOP program to integrate other businesses. I'm looking at the opportunities that we have to buy up smaller companies and roll them up into our operation."

Future of the industry

As for what's to come in the industry, Hatcher says, "First of all, it's our responsibility to be a leader in water resource management.

"Water conservation is not as big in some markets as it is in other markets, but in the industry as a whole, changes will take place on how we manage, maintain and design landscapes.

"The water requirements we have for turf and for plantings are going to be scrutinized and challenged with the task of still having the design criteria of attractive landscapes but being able to be a better steward of our resources."

Hatcher recalls working for another company in the early 1980s that had done mass plantings of azaleas under large oak trees at Graceland. "The days are numbered for those types of designs and big sweeping beds of ornamental shrubbery because of the resources it takes to maintain them," says Hatcher. "Landscape design has to change. The trends have to change.

"Are we going to get away from turfgrass management? No. Everybody's going on about synthetic turf. I'm not going to knock that industry - there's a place for it - but it's not going to take away the turf. People are not going to be willing to give up turf."

Carol Brzozowski, Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a frequent contributor to Turf magazine. Contact her at brzozowski.carol@gmail.com.