A Beautiful Idea
A roundtable discussion opened Roger Myers' eyes to the need to broaden his Ohio firm's scope
American Beauty Landscaping, Inc., the winner of numerous design awards, now offers a full palette of landscape services in three eastern Ohio counties, as well as two counties in western Pennsylvania.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF AMERICAN BEAUTY LANDSCAPING.
American Beauty Landscaping, Inc.
Owner: Roger Myers
Headquarters: Boardman, Ohio; satellite operation in Sharon, Pa.
Markets: Three counties in Ohio, two counties in Pennsylvania
Services: Landscape, hardscape, water feature and irrigation system design and installation; mowing; grounds maintenance; lawn care programs; landscape maintenance; seasonal color; water feature maintenance; irrigation system maintenance; and commercial snow and ice removal
Employees: 49 during the peak season of 2012
"ALCA made me do it," says Roger Myers. "Networking during the roundtable format at national ALCA (now Planet
) meetings was the driving force that got me into maintenance." After operating a successful design/build firm in Boardman, Ohio, for more than 20 years, discussion during the 2002 roundtable was an eye-opener for the owner of American Beauty Landscaping. "As everyone introduced themselves, their company and what they did, it was obvious that those in maintenance were larger than those of us focusing entirely on design/build."
That insight was confirmed during the 2003 roundtables. "No matter how well I was progressing - and we'd had a great year - the companies also doing maintenance were out-progressing me. Simply stated, they were growing larger faster in both size and profitability."
The tipping point occurred shortly after that conference, as Myers began working with his attorney on succession planning. "After we discussed what the company did and what the financials were, he told me I'd have a much bigger company if I did maintenance, too. His reasoning made sense. Design is much more personal. The faith and trust in design/build goes with the designer. In maintenance, others carry out the goals you've established, building that faith and trust in the company, rather than an individual. That's why a company is worth more with the maintenance component."
Owner Roger Myers credits peer input for his decision to add property maintenance and lawn care to compliment his design/build services.
Myers called a staff meeting and announced they'd be launching a full service maintenance division to serve both residential and commercial clients. Then he dug in to make that happen. "We jumped in with both feet," he says, "Even including irrigation services for all and snow and ice removal for commercial clients."
Though the setup and implementation were daunting, the building blocks were set in stone. The maintenance division would incorporate the principles already established: combining skilled personnel with cutting-edge technology and top-of-the line tools, equipment, machinery and products to deliver superior quality services in a professional manner.
While Myers was able to transition some personnel from construction to maintenance, he quickly learned that a different skill set was required for most positions and developed a specialized maintenance division. Working primarily as two-person crews, some are dedicated to mowing, while others are dedicated to lawn care and landscape applications, irrigation or horticultural services at varying levels of expertise. Crews are dedicated to specific sites, and service visits vary from multiple days each week, to weekly, monthly or even seasonally. Larger clients may require two or three crews for mowing or horticultural services. Myers says, "All work is done in-house in both departments, unless services of a registered or certified specialist, such as an electrician, are required for safety and efficiency."
Tapping into input from state and national peers, he established a structured protocol for interaction within and between the divisions. A project manager oversees a design/build project until work is completed, then hands it off to the maintenance department. The maintenance department also generates clients through a dedicated sales force. A designated account manager oversees all the crews required to maintain a site as contracted. That manager makes a "care call," connecting with the client, either in person or by phone, at least once a month during the growing season.
Scenes of properties featuring the company's design/build and maintenance work turn the company's enclosed trailers into "traveling billboards."
Myers says, "In about seven years the maintenance division equaled what it had taken me over 20 years to develop in design/build. Granted our reputation was established and we had the support system in place. The two divisions now run about 50/50, even though we've more than doubled our best output achieved in design/build prior to adding maintenance."
As well as expansion of their three-county client base within Ohio, the company is developing a satellite operation in Sharon, Pa., bringing tools, equipment, materials and staff closer to the two-county area they're targeting for growth in that state.
"The driving force is always to make ourselves better, so we really stress education," says Myers. He's tapped into that personally, taking advantage of the educational seminars and networking offered by PLANET and the Ohio Landscape Association (OLA) and seeking information through trade publications and other print and online resources. He's also established educational requirements for his staff. "Employees need to learn more to be able to contribute more to qualify for promotions and higher wages," he says.
He points to the quality of the OLA educational programs and promotion of the profession, noting the "very strong presence" of the state association and its members within the landscape industry nationally.
Keeping this mature, spring-blooming wisteria under control is just one of the many services that Myers' team provides in maintaining this beautiful residential property in eastern Ohio.
Myers cites the evaluation and critique of peers provided through the OLA Landscape Ohio! Landscape Enhancement Awards Program process as a tool for continual improvement. "We value that feedback and always learn from it," he says. "That makes earning peer recognition through an Honor or Merit Award even more meaningful to us. The OLA does an excellent job of the awards event and promoting the award winners. We do refer to our award-winning projects to promote the company and it does make an impact. We feel it's most beneficial in-house, encouraging the drive for perfection within our staff."
Another step toward continual improvement began in February of 2012 when American Beauty Landscaping joined the LandOpt Contractor Network. Myers says, "My expertise is in the art and architecture of design and the enhancement of the beauty of the environment, not the business side. This six-year commitment taps into that business expertise in everything from operational systems to marketing and human resources with the focus not only on doing the job, but making money doing it. It also expands our peer network though meetings with the other LandOpt contactors."
Roger Myers says his talent is "in the art and architecture of design." He credits the decision to join the LandOpt network and its support in helping him to improve on the business end of landscaping.
Myers defines the first year as a process of examination to identify and clean out bad habits and change structures for operational efficiency. He says, "Some processes are fine-tuning. For example, our staff has done the AVA (Activity Vector Analysis), a behavioral assessment system to assist us in personnel assignments and hiring. The most time-consuming task has been transitioning our accounting to their system."
LandOpt's operation is 100 percent computerized. While American Beauty had standardized their formulas and figures for estimating and bidding, they'd not brought the process online. Switching to the computerized format makes the process more predictable, dependable and profitable, according to Myers. "It puts the focus on the figures. We know we're not going to get all the jobs. This shows us we don't want them all. It's tough for the business owner to walk away from work, but in some bidding situations, if you're the winner, you're the loser."
The mild winter of 2011/2012, meant little work and little snow removal revenue for American Beauty. While they had some construction projects to generate funds, cash flow was tight. During the LandOpt contractors' winter meeting, Myers found the others offering snow removals were doing well due to seasonal or multiyear contracts with preset monthly payments. Myers says, "We found out how that was offered, initiated the process and had little resistance to it. So we applied it to the green side of our work, writing up a multiyear agreement with a set percentage increase locked in and a fixed payment spread equally over 12 months. Our clients appreciate having a predictable monthly amount rather than seasonal highs and lows. That's been the biggest change in the way we approach the business. While it seems so simple, it's greatly improved our cash flow."
Myers notes they'd always asked for a percentage of the money upfront for construction projects, but invoiced maintenance accounts when the work was completed. "LandOpt pointed us to a more business-savvy strategy. We're purchasing the materials and paying the personnel upfront in preparation to do the work that each client is requesting. We have the right to receive revenue for that; thus we need to invoice upfront."
Most of the company's crews are specialized, focusing either on installation or maintenance. Here an install crew uses a crane to lift a landscape feature over a wall.
We are professionals
Myers opts for enclosed trailers, though the price is roughly double that of an open trailer. While touting the theft prevention component and greater efficiency with tools, equipment, and supplies neatly stashed onboard, he considers its advertising role the greatest advantage. "It's a traveling billboard that we design to the max," he says. "The entire trailer is wrapped with a scene of a property that we've designed and maintain, along with a catchy phrase, such as 'Landscaping for Life.' Each trailer features a different property. Those trailers are parked at sites in areas we're proud to work in. Each neighbor or business owner viewing them is either a client or a potential client. That's more targeted than standard billboards or TV advertising, with the cost minimal when amortized over the five- to 10-year life of the trailer."
American Beauty's headquarters reinforces its professional image. Design/build customers are invited there to review their plan with the designer in a professional setting with none of the distractions at the client's site. They enter a reception area where photos of the company's 140 award-winning projects line the walls and a flat-screen TV projects a 15-minute loop showing samples of its work. All this sets the tone for their one-on-one consultation with the designer.
The Internet is another arena to display professionalism, so the company is in the process of upgrading tits website and maintains a Facebook presence.
Those that initiate contact with the company always are asked, "How did you hear about us?" so the various methods of outreach can be tracked and evaluated.
"Never say 'I'm just a'," says Myers. "It minimizes the importance of what you do. Whether you're a designer, installation specialist or maintenance specialist, you are engaged in a profession that enhances the environment and improves peoples' lives. That mindset is reflected in how you operate your business, either settling for OK results or pursuing the continual improvement that leads to success."
Suz Trusty is a partner with her husband, Steve, in Trusty & Associates, Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has been involved in the green industry for over 40 years. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.