With a U.S. workforce of nearly one million and more than 600,000 businesses, the nation’s landscaping industry is showing strong growth in 2021, reporting annual revenues of a massive $105.1 billion. There is no doubt, the landscaping space is currently ripe with career opportunity.
The current demand for landscape services, while positive, has also caused a backlog of projects—and accompanying stress—for many landscape business owners. While some new owners may be unaware of the complexities of the business, even seasoned veterans can find themselves frustrated by an increasing imbalance between labor duties, management responsibilities, and personal time. While this latter dynamic has always existed, it’s magnified when business is booming. But how do you get out from behind the mower to behind a desk? Is it even the right move for you?
After graduating high school together in Washington state, we decided to get into the landscaping industry, working with residential and commercial properties. It quickly became apparent to us that landscaping business owners would benefit from someone to help connect them with potential clients since they were split between management responsibilities and labor duties. So we started ManageMowed, to create connections between landscape businesses and commercial clients in their local area.
For us, the hardest part of transitioning to landscape management was learning the process of finding clients and managing those relationships. There’s a huge difference between mowing one lawn versus managing thousands of lawns, and that was hard to wrap our heads around for a while.
In 2008, the recession hit hard and we lost a large portion of our residential business. It took time, but we were able to dig ourselves out and have bounced back. Since then, we’ve focused solely on managing commercial properties.
Today, our company consists of account managers and franchisees who are directly responsible for communicating the needs of property owners to the landscape companies and ensuring the work is completed in a timely fashion. Without the need for equipment or prior landscaping experience, ManageMowed landscape managers focus primarily on building relationships within their community.
As a result, we have some unique insights into the role of commercial landscape management. In our experience—from the perspective of both landscape business managers and hands-on professionals—here are four things to consider when thinking about a career move into landscape company management.
1. What does it take to be a landscape manager?
Landscape managers are the main point of contact between their clients and their landscaping vendors or crews. As the title goes, you’ll be managing people and spaces—not doing the labor itself. While landscape managers are responsible for bringing in new clients, you don’t need to be a seasoned, born-and-bred salesperson to be successful at the position. You simply need to be able to articulate to your clients the need for tidy landscaping and clean walkways.
Every business needs curb appeal, including gas stations, restaurants, shopping centers, and more. According a recent consumer survey, an incredible 95% of consumers said the outside appearance of a business influenced their decision on where to shop. Furthermore, more than half of consumers avoided a store because it appeared unkempt or dirty from the street. Messy and poorly maintained landscaping clearly impacts the bottom line. In fact, 70% of first-time consumer sales are attributed to enticing curb appeal.
Although landscaping experience is not required to be a landscape manager, it doesn’t hurt to have prior knowledge of the industry. You’ll be better equipped to direct your vendors and crews on how to solve problems and find the right landscaping solutions for each project.
2. What qualities make the best managers?
Successful managers are able to balance between focusing on overseeing landscapes or projects, managing teams, and growing their client base. There are several different skills that can help make a landscape manager more successful in his/her role.
The first quality that successful managers possess is having the technical skills required to facilitate business. For us, this refers to being able to operate the technology behind booking jobs, scheduling vendors, and creating project invoices; however, other companies may require more in-depth technical skills.
Besides understanding the processes behind the job, successful landscape managers also have strong interpersonal skills that allow them to communicate effectively with both clients and vendors. Being able to communicate openly and honestly with clients about their needs, and with vendors about what you need from them, creates a sense of trust and credibility.
At ManageMowed, we also live by the motto, “Respect the Sweat,” which means always treating landscaping crews with the utmost respect for their services. Managers who were previously part of a hands-on team often understand the time and physical effort it takes to maintain a business’ landscaping.
Finally, successful managers often have the drive to grow their client base. They’re looking for businesses in their local community who may need help managing their landscapes and working with them to create a new client relationship.
3. How hard is it to transition from crew member to manager?
While moving to a manager role will relieve some of the physical strain of landscape labor, making the transition is not always seamless. It involves a substantial mindset and lifestyle change that can be jarring to some people. White collar jobs, such as a landscape maintenance manager, often involve a transition out of the field and into an office setting. There are new subtleties and office politics to navigate. While working hard and doing a good job help you succeed in the daily grind of landscaping, in a management role you’ll need to focus on individually creating “value” for an organization.
In other words, out in the field, your job is to focus on making sure the landscaping is the best or better than your competitors to succeed. That’s how you win business and build a larger client base. In landscape management, you’ll need to really hone in on those relationship building skills and create a sense of trust between you and your clients to grow your business. You accomplish that by getting their requests done as soon as possible, staying on schedule, and demonstrating that they are a priority.
4. What about management versus ownership?
There are some extreme highs and lows associated with owning your own business. However, if you play your cards right, it can be incredibly rewarding. Business ownership comes with the freedom to control the direction your company grows. You also have the flexibility to choose when you work and when you’d like to spend time with your loved ones—something that, unfortunately, many don’t get to experience.
Nonetheless, it can also come with enormous stress. As a business owner, it’s all on you to create success for your business and that can be overwhelming at times. When you first start your business, you may be putting in extra hours of work to oversee new employees or be overwhelmed with labor duties when shorthanded. There’s also the considerable financial risk that comes with business ownership, and there’s never a guarantee your business will turn a profit.
As a manager, you don’t have as large a personal stake in the business. You can work hard for the properties you manage when you’re on the clock, and go home at the end of the day. However, you won’t have the opportunity to see as much flexibility in your work hours or feel the personal satisfaction that comes with owning your own business. Regardless, you may still find it a better fit for your lifestyle.
Whether you’re looking to own your own landscape business or manage landscapes, the green industry is booming. With demand for landscape services stronger than ever, it’s a great time to contemplate what’s next for your career.
Roberts and Jakobsen are the Co-founders of ManageMowed, a leading commercial landscape management franchise with locations in Washington, California, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Missouri.
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