Dynamic Boston-area landscaper prospers by selecting clients that fit its A-list

JC Landscaping

President: Jon Crandall
Founded: 1996
Headquarters: Danvers, Mass.
Markets: Greater Boston area and across the North Shore
Services: Grounds management, landscape maintenance, landscape construction, lawn care programs, and snow & ice management
Employees: 10 to 15 in-season, about 140 snow season
Website: http://jclandscaping.com

For the past 16 years in business with his Danvers, Mass.-based company, JC Landscaping, Jon Crandall learned how to assemble an “A-team” of customers, convert his client base exclusively business to business and fine-tune his customer relationship marketing management.

Contrary to most landscapers’ strategies, Crandall believes in firing customers and turning down prospects that don’t fit his A-team criteria. “For us, an ‘A’ customer is one who fits certain guidelines that we have developed through the history of who we are able to service and work with at a level of excellence,” says Crandall. “Those guidelines may involve ideologies, expected delivery speed, hours of operation, number of days to settle a bill, property size, type of property, and why they value our service.”

Crandall believes all customers have a right to be an “A” for someone, but a prospect that fits one organization may not fit another. “Who was an ‘A’ client for us four years ago may not fit today,” he says. “We realize that if we tried to service everyone equally we wouldn’t be able to specialize for any of them. Identifying who values our service and who we enjoy doing business with the most has enabled us to focus and create clarity throughout the organization in terms of what our common goal is.”

Contrary to most landscapers’ strategies, Jon Crandall believes in firing customers and turning down prospects that don’t fit his A-team criteria, which may involve ideologies, expected delivery speed, hours of operation, number of days to settle a bill, property size, type of property, and why they value the service.

Time to say goodbye

Crandall cites examples of firing those customers who don’t fit his “A” list. Recently, he informed one of his customers that he had done everything with his customer’s best interest in mind, but believed the customer wasn’t reciprocating that value.

“The customer was trying to skate his way around a round of charges and was being very dishonest,” explains Crandall. “We decided it was best to terminate the relationship, so we informed the customer we would be happy to remove all balances from his account as long as he agreed to never do business with us again.”

Crandall’s customer agreed to those terms and hung up somewhat confused about what had just happened. While most landscapers would try to collect from or take the customer to small claims court under those circumstances, Crandall believed it was not entirely the customer’s fault.

“Since he didn’t choose us, but rather we chose him, we did not make a proper qualification for him as far as being a good fit for our company’s culture and core values,” admits Crandall. “Once it became obvious that we were not a good fit, it made sense to sever that relationship as soon as possible and replace him with a positive one.”

At first, Crandall admits, it was difficult to let go of some of his loyal and longstanding residential clients. But in the end, he recommended them to other landscapers that he knew would take good care of them. In most all instances, he found that they were just fine working with other landscapers.

Crandall began JC Landscaping in the early years by signing up 110 homeowners in the Peabody neighborhood where he grew up. By his 13th year in business, he decided to phase out residential accounts all together. Today, his customer base is 100 percent B2B. Approximately 90 percent of JC Landscaping’s services are maintenance, with the remaining 10 percent property enhancement. Its commercial mix is split evenly between office, retail and miscellaneous (i.e., assisted living, retirement villages, hospitals, government buildings).

Crandall started a related but separate company, JC Snow & Ice Management, six years ago. Client Brooksby Village in Peabody, Mass., is a challenging 90-acre site that requires shovelers and heavy equipment after a big snow.

For the past six years, the company has been building its snow removal services, operating it as a separate company, JC Snow & Ice Management. Opposite of most landscaping companies, JC’s peak employment season is winter when its summer employment of 10 to 15 employees can mushroom to 150 or more.

Creative marketing

JC Landscaping markets to a specific, selective clientele. It doesn’t try to be everything to everyone. That’s why it’s become adept at customer relationship marketing management. Its close ratio is higher than average because it has already identified its prospect as fitting service niche.

“Most of our marketing is conducted through cold calling and layering,” explains Crandall. “Once we target a prospect, we find out who the decision-maker is and try to setup an appointment.”

The JC Landscaping crew assembled with its maintenance truck fleet. This photo was used as part of a marketing campaign.

If the prospect initially won’t set up an appointment, the JC Landscaping marketing staff will send an email with information about its services or business or about some specific news item that relates to its services or business.

“Around winter it may be the long-term forecast from our outsourced meteorology firm,” says Crandall. “If that doesn’t work, we may send a gimmick mailing in a big box delivered by FedEx.” Crandall has learned that packages are more likely to be opened than a postcard or regular mailer that will probably end up in the trash. He also sends out proposals with a USB flash drive bearing his company’s logo and loaded with a short promotional video. The drive is the prospect’s to keep, regardless of whether a business relationship materializes.

When Crandall first started building his snow and ice removal company, he spent hours that summer driving around in an ice cream truck handing out ice cream wearing a heavily insulated snowplow operator’s suit and boots emblazoned with the company logo.

With its new headquarters in Danvers, Mass., JC Landscaping is strategically located within two minutes of four major highways. It provides service within a 20-mile radius of its headquarters. The 20-mile restriction is set to ensure a consistent service level, particularly during winter when speed of service is critical. It specifically markets to prospects that expect a very high level of service.

JC Landscaping has grown organically in the past six years. Its highest revenue year is projected to be 2012-2013; it was just under $3 million in 2011. Its customer base grew by 19 percent and it’s on track to expand by another 20 percent this year. The three-year growth plan is up to 78 percent.

Crandall attributes this success to aligning his company with outside resources such as entrepreneur groups, business coaches and a controller to better manage the company’s increasingly complex financials. Ten years ago he was introduced to Entrepreneurs Organization (EO) through a mentor. It’s a dynamic global network of more than 8,000 business owners in 40 countries. Crandall conducted his interview for this article while in Istanbul attending the EO University, offering one week of intense learning including strategic planning, sales and marketing, human resources and finance.

Looking forward, Crandall sees a bright future as his alters his role in his company, aligns it to meet what he expects to be dramatically shifting customer expectations and positions it to take advantage of new service opportunities.

“As an owner, my goal is to spend as much time as possible strategically planning out six months, one year, two years, five years, etc.,” says Crandall. Although he is still spending many hours working in the field, he is slowly peeling off some of his responsibilities as he makes new hires.

Crandall plans to expand outside of his company’s current geographic market through a traditional hub and spoke process. “We will do this organically at first and potentially have a franchise offering available in the next several years,” he explains. “We have just about completed our hub and will soon be working on our spokes.”

And with respect to the new breed of younger clients that Crandall continues to court: “I believe landscaping will come back with new expectations from the new generation of clients. I believe the days of vast green lawns are coming to an end with clients looking to be more socially responsible or forced to be through water conservation initiatives. I think this will bring about new types of xeriscaping installations. ”

For the past 20 years, Tom Crain, based in Akron, Ohio, has been reporting on the green industry. Reach him at tecrain@goingreenguy.com.