Employee Retention Vital to Success


Good employees the key

Shayne Newman says employees can be trained to install beautiful landscapes like this one. He’s hiring on attitude.

During Shayne Newman’s freshman year of college his father asked him what he planned to do for a summer job.

“Without thinking too much,” Newman says he responded, “I’ll mow lawns.” His father co-signed a loan to help him buy a 10-year-old truck and a 36-inch mower. He began mowing in the summer of 1987, and continued mowing on weekends into fall and started up again the following spring.

YardApes, Inc.

Headquarters: New Milford, Conn.
President: Shayne Newman, CLP, CLT
Founded: 1990
Market: Northwest Connecticut
Services: Landscape design and installation, hardscape design and installation, lawn maintenance, organic-based fertilization and weed control, and full gardening and horticultural services.
Employees: 25
Community Service: Organizes the Bob Rasor Memorial Golf Tournament; Green Care Troops; participated in PLANET’s Day of Service; and the 2011 Remembrance & Renewal and Legislative Day on the Hill
Website: www.yardapes.org

Mowing and landscaping paid his tuition at the University of Connecticut, leading to a finance degree and, in 1990, the incorporation of his landscape company, YardApes. Today, his company, with 25 employees, offers a range of landscape services to high-end residential and commercial properties in northwest Connecticut.

Employees make the company successful

Newman says his employees, many of them H-2B seasonal workers, are a big part of the company’s success. They are valuable members of his team (his “Apes”), and he wants to keep them on the team. Understandably, most of them do, returning each year.

“Employee retention is critical, just as critical as keeping good customers. A revolving door of employees compromises client comfort and trust. We couldn’t provide that with confidence with significant employee turnover,” says Newman.

The company provides them with ongoing incentives and recognizes them for jobs well done.

“We want to see them learn and grow. We acknowledge that growth with Ape of the Month awards and an Ape of the Year award, which is voted on by both employees and clients,” he explains.

“I realize the landscape industry is not a high-paying job for laborers, so we come up with creative ways we can reward employees, let them know that they’re valued and make them feel special when we can’t afford to bump up their pay. We do a lot of things that keep the job interesting and fun,” says Newman.

In addition to an annual company picnic, YardApes hosts a monthly field trip, rewarding those who have demonstrated a perfect safety record. Outings have included bowling, amusement parks or something as simple as gathering at a local pub. The outings offer a chance to get together outside of work and bond. Families are often included.

This project consisted of a koi pond and waterfall with an outdoor grill installed by YardApes. The company handles design/build and lawn maintenance services, but will also do any job a customer asks them to, whether it be painting a deck, fixing a roof or replacing a gutter.

What’s in a name?

Shayne Newman named his company from a nickname one of his college friends and co-workers gave to his nieces and nephews.
“We thought it would be cool, so we started calling ourselves ‘yard apes’ as we were mowing lawns, and then when I graduated I decided to use that as a real business name,” he says.
It turned out to be a good call. He attributes part of his company’s success to its easy-to-remember name.
“I had started out as a marketing major in college before changing to finance. I understood the value of name recognition. However, a name will only get you so far. Understanding employee needs and client needs is essential,” says Newman.

Work in progress on the walkway that YardApes installed for a playground during 2010 PLANET Day of Service project. Shayne Newman serves on the public relations committee for PLANET and believes that giving back to the community is important.

The company has a defined training program called Ape Achievement. It’s a career ladder achievement chart mounted in the shop with different opportunities and skills that employees can accomplish. One side of the chart lists the skills with employees’ names, so every employee can see what they’ve accomplished.

On the most important quality in a potential employee, Newman says, “Attitude is the key. As long as somebody has the attitude and loves the type of work we’re doing, they’re going to be passionate about it. We can train them to give them the skills they need.”

YardApes’ employees and some of their children volunteered their time to work on a PLANET Day of Service project, which included landscaping at a local park that is running out of funds and needed help with getting the grounds back in shape.

YardApes also participates in community service projects.

“We donate our time to enhance and revitalize our town’s civic venues. We make it a priority to give back. Those efforts embody the spirit of our company,” says Newman.

He views it as a team-building experience for employees, who aren’t paid for their time. He notes that the company has nearly 100 percent participation except for employees with prior commitments.

Relationships, relationships, relationships

“What has helped make our company successful is the client relationships, employee relationships, relationships with community,” says Newman. “We do as much as we can, and as efficiently and well as we can for our clients. We like to say that we’re a full-service company for our clients.

“While we provide lawn mowing, spring and fall cleanups and an organic-based fertilization program, what we do different from a lot of companies in our area is estate management. It’s basically gardening services because it’s a little more than the ‘mow and blow’ type guys.”

YardApes has crews educated in plants and integrated pest management. The crews visit properties weekly to weed, prune, scout for insect problems and treat with pesticides if necessary.

YardApes mows 250 lots a week, about 20 of which are treated for common insect problems such as cinch bugs and grubs.

Beefing up the business

Newman is always seeking ways to change up his business to make the most of everyone’s skills, including his own.

“I’m a landscape designer, and in years past I’ve done a lot of the design work myself, but I realize as the company is growing that’s probably not the best use of my time, even though I love it,” he says. “It can take up a good chunk of my day.”

His company now subcontracts design services, charging an upfront fee to the client that is applied to the cost of the job if YardApes is chosen for the project.

“We do landscape design, outdoor kitchens, ponds and waterfalls, walkways and patios,” says Newman. “Because we do so much maintenance, our designs are heavily geared toward ease of maintenance.”

Looking ahead in the industry

Like many landscape contractors, Newman finds his greatest challenge is maintaining sales in a tough economic climate. “More than ever, it’s a priority that we exceed our client’s expectations,” he says. “We provide our clients with as many services as they can benefit from. We sell enhancements. This is a huge untapped market. It’s better for us to upsell an existing client.” The strong presence his company maintains through community service and its easily recognized brand helps.

Newman’s five-year plan is to see the company become a “well-oiled machine, insofar as systems are in place enabling employee growth. Then I’ll have the freedom to choose what I want to do. I won’t feel like I have to have a hand in every aspect of the business. It’s important that we all operate in and play to our strengths. That applies to me, too.”

“Attitude is the key … We can train them to give them the skills they need.” -Shayne Newman

Defined values set the tone

YardApes has two defined sets of company values – one for clients, one set for employees. They’re posted in the company office and on its website.

“The two sets are the same except with equipment handling. We always strive to operate from a place of honesty and integrity. Client trust and employee trust naturally follows. Company values are important,” says owner and founder Shayne Newman.

Customer service: “We treat all clients and their property with respect, as we know without them we would not have a job. We will clear client belongings prior to work and replace them when done. We work as a team to accomplish our tasks with the quality and efficiency to meet or exceed client expectations. From entering client property to leaving customer property, we will focus on the job and not be interrupted by phone or other influences.

“Before leaving client property, we will take a moment to look at it to ensure it meets our quality. We continuously explore new ways to improve client satisfaction. We ask what clients expect from us. We acknowledge client requests promptly. We take pride in our appearance and the appearance of our equipment.”

Respect: “We treat others as we would like to be treated. We listen and focus without interruption. We acknowledge other points of view without judgment in action, words or tone. We ask questions if we disagree or do not understand. We treat the equipment as if it were our own.”

Integrity: “We only make agreements we intend to keep. We act upon our agreements to the best of our ability. When we can’t keep our agreements, we communicate honestly to those who need to know. When we see a mistake being made, we respectfully communicate it to the person. We admit when we made a mistake. We take responsibility for our own actions and the quality of our work (no blame or excuses) and look at how we do things for a solution.”

Newman turned to a consultant to help his company create its values.

“It’s something that helps us understand we’re all in this together and we treat each other with respect, we treat the equipment with respect, and we treat our clients with respect,” he says.

As for the industry, Newman predicts technology will significantly change how landscape contractors operate.

“To be ahead of the curve, you have to be open to applying new technology,” he says. “Software innovations alone have changed our operations. iPad and iPhone have changed how we interact with clients. We need to be respectful of clients’ busy schedules and communicate with them accordingly. Sometimes that’s a short email, sometimes that’s face time. Clients don’t want to be just numbers, but they also need the space to communicate their needs to us on the go. It’s about balance. It’s about adapting.”

Newman says, “What we’re really trying to do is make our customers’ lives as simple as possible, help them connect with nature and try to be as invisible as possible.” Clients want to come home from a busy day’s work and see a beautiful lawn, get a bill that’s easy to read and pay and rely on a company that will fix its mistakes, he adds.

Newman admits he’s concerned about the industry’s reputation.

“I feel like our industry gets a bad rap,” he says. “People think just anybody can throw a lawn mower in the back of a pickup truck and call themselves a landscaper, but there are a lot of landscape companies that are much more than that.

“There’s a lot more to know in this industry as far as plants, insects and everything that goes into landscape design, taking care of lawns and plants. I think it’s a great industry,” he adds. “Something I have a big vision that someday I can make a difference for this industry and not just for my company and that people will start to realize that landscapers really are very knowledgeable and are professionals.”

To that end, the best companies keep their vehicles clean and neat and employees wear uniforms and are given training, Newman says.

“The more business owners can license their business, that’s critical,” he says. “We must act like professionals in every aspect of the business.”

Carol Brzozowski resides in Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has written extensively about environmental issues for more than a decade. She can be reached at Brozozowski@aol.com.