Landscape business owners, like the owners of any business in any industry, must make tough calls. It comes with the territory. Often these calls involve employees. While it may be easy for owners to release problem employees, most will agonize over cutting loose longtime, loyal employees. Or even asking them to lesser positions within their companies.

This is the root of the dilemma facing an acquaintance and landscape business owner that I will call Joe. He asked me not to use his real name for reasons you will understand as you read on.

Joe’s a large man, maybe 6-foot-2, just north of 220 pounds with a big, round face and a thick crop of once-dark hair that’s now mostly gray. I’ve known Joe for more than 20 years and have the highest regard for his work ethic, honesty and generosity. His company provides about any landscape service you can imagine, but is best known within its mid-East service area for the beautiful landscapes its designers and field crews provide homeowners. He and his wife grew their company over the course of more than 25 years. They didn’t do it alone; they hired talented managers, especially designers/salespeople and construction supervisors.

They also raised a family with one of their three children, an adult son, now managing a division within the company. He’s being groomed to take over the company. This is a huge responsibility, as the company, with five separate divisions, remains a multimillion dollar operation in spite of taking a hit in its design/build business because of the loss manufacturing jobs in its markets..

His dilemma may be similar to that facing many of you: what to do next with the company? He realizes that whatever he and his wife decide will affect their son and some of their employees, including some longtime, key employees. The fact is they have too much design/build managerial talent to support the amount of jobs and landscape makeovers they’re getting.

This is not something Joe spent a lot of time thinking about prior to the collapse of the housing market and the 2008 recession, but he’s thinking about it now. He and his wife are scrutinizing each division within the company to see where it would be best to put capital and how to position employees in 2012 to keep the company profitable. Not unexpectedly, as they pour over the company’s financials and build next year’s budget, they’re reviewing the company’s greatest expense: employee wages, including managers and supervisors.

They’ll have to make a decision sooner rather than later about whether the company can afford to keep some of its higher-paid employees, at least in their present positions. Should they reassign them to lesser positions within the company, replacing other employees? Or, do they let them go?

One or the other of these options may be unavoidable, says Joe. Markets change; they expand, stagnate or contract. He and his wife realize they must adapt and redirect the company and its mix of services to best meet the demands of the new economic reality in the market they serve.

Joe and his wife have had to make lots of tough calls as they built their landscape company, but these might be the toughest of all, says Joe.

New Faces, New Voices

This is the third month you’ve seen my mug gracing this page. Many of you are probably wondering who I am. My name is Ron Hall, and I joined the magazine as editor-in-chief in July. As you can tell from my photograph, I’ve racked up my share of miles meeting with and talking to landscape business owners and sharing their knowledge and successes in other fine industry publications.

After more than 27 years covering the green industry, I’m thrilled to death to be a part of the Turf magazine family and working with other talented editors, such as Amy Hill and Brooke Rockwell, people that most of you loyal Turf readers already know.

You’ll see two other new faces in this issue, people that know what makes the landscape/lawn service industry tick and will be sharing some fantastic profit-building strategies with you each month.

Check out Rick Cuddihe’s monthly “Contractors’ Corner” column on page A6. Rick’s career in the industry spans more than 30 years, and few people know more about commercial mowers, mowing and the business of property maintenance than he does.

Also, you don’t want to miss Nicole Wisniewski’s “Unfinished Business” column that is debuting on page C16 of this issue. Nicole’s passion for the industry is why she’s earned more national green industry reporting and writing honors than any other journalist in the business this past decade.

Stay tuned; we’ll have more exciting announcements in our December issue.

Ron Hall
To comment, contact Ron at [email protected]