Senske Lawn & Tree Care saw the 2009 recession coming a mile away. By taking proactive steps to sharpen operations, improve sales/marketing efforts and create a culture of accountability, this $20 million company made ’09 its most profitable year ever—despite a recession-triggered sales decrease.
Now the company is back to growing again. “We have launched an aggressive management training and recruiting process to bring talented people into our organization,” says president Chris Senske.
Senske operates seven branches in three states: Washington (Spokane, Yakima, Kennewick), Idaho (Boise, Coeur D’Alene), Utah (Salt Lake City, Ogden). The markets of Boise and Salt Lake City had already begun showing signs of softening in 2007 before completely tanking in 2008.
“We knew we needed to get sharper in all of our processes so we didn’t take such a big financial hit during the recession,” Senske says. “In late-2007 we began the 52-week Working Smarter Training Challenge from JP Horizons. By working on lean management throughout the company, the Senske team is finding ways to work smarter and more efficiently.”
Getting Crews Out Sooner
The first big area the company tackled was getting crews out on the road faster in the morning. “Right off the bat we saved a ton of non-productive time,” Senske relates. “It used to take well over an hour to get a crew going, but now that’s down to a half hour. Crews also get to that first job much earlier. So we’re saving a lot on overtime, and typically can get another job or two done each day.”
“Awareness was the first step to improving this,” says Tom Perkes, corporate and marketing communications manager. “(Lawn) technicians are good people who want to do the best job possible. Making them aware of the potential cost-savings was all that was needed to get them to make improvements on their own.
“Creating a routine came second,” Perkes continues. “Before standard work was created, our technicians all did things differently. This caused confusion, and in many cases a doubling of efforts.
“Ending the day is also very important. We often created obstacles for our morning routine by finishing the previous day inefficiently. When we created an end-of-day routine, we added several steps that would make the mornings a lot easier. At first we were worried about shifting our morning time to the afternoon, but doing so has actually helped us reduce downtime in both areas.”
Cut Marketing That Doesn’t Work
Customer communication and sales/marketing efforts have also been a focal point of the past couple of years. “We’ve been pushing very hard to communicate with our customers any way we can,” Senske tells.
“Our motto is ‘Every 1 Counts’, which means that every customer, dollar and employee are important. We are trying to spoil our customers with great service, great service calls, and by asking them how we are doing every step of the way. Online surveys after service calls and emails requesting feedback are part of improving communication.”
Phone book advertising has also undergone the test of lean management and working smarter. Senske Lawn & Tree Care began using a different phone number for each book, learning valuable lessons about where leads were really coming from. “We removed ourselves from three books because the cost per lead was upwards of $380, which was an unacceptable ROI,” Perkes says. “Doing that is saving us more than $30,000 per year.”
The actual marketing message Senske Lawn & Tree Care is using has not changed, because it has worked for years. “We create a fun, safe place to work and play—something people can take pride in,” Senske points out.
Back to Growing
The Senske management team has also worked hard to create a fun, safe place for employees to work—and take pride in. “The No. 1 key to our growth and expansion over the years has been the ability to hire great people with the same commitment to quality service that we have,” Senske says.
Making sure employees get the recognition they deserve for a job well-done has also been key. “Accountability is the new buzzword around our business,” Senske says. “We want to help employees establish goals, and then evaluate how they are doing along the way.”
Senske Lawn & Tree Care experienced normal customer retention last year, but the acquisition of new customers has still been a bit soft. “We’re holding our own, but it’s not strong growth yet,” Senske relates. “As the economy stabilizes and consumers get their feet back under them, I expect lawn care to continue being a growing, profitable business.”
Landscape maintenance services are also starting to grow. Senske Lawn & Tree Care expects a much more significant contribution from both tree pruning and tree pest management going forward as the company places more internal focus on this area of the business.
“I can’t over-emphasize how important commitment is to making growth happen,” Senske says. “Expansion and continued growth is simply the result of a plan to grow. Then, sacrifice, not being afraid of some hard work, and the willingness to try new things are incredibly important to a growth culture.”