Moore uses snow removal as an example: “For contractors in the snowbelt, removing snow has been very profitable. Unfortunately, it can also be unpredictable for both clients and contractors. Since the current economy doesn’t give anyone the luxury of taking risks, many of our clients want to amortize fixed snow contracts over 12 months rather than signing up for a per-push agreement. They know what their snow removal costs will be, and it’s good for us, too. Yes, we’re taking the home run out of the equation, but we can plug a definite number into our budget.”
“Question everything, and valuate and re-evaluate everything you’re doing,” Horn relates. “On one property, for example, we mowed vast expanses of turf with a large, out-front rider, but recently changed to a 12-foot wide-area mower that cuts our mowing time in half. You can always become more efficient. That goes for the type of equipment you use to routing strategies and reducing other direct and indirect expenses.”
Increase Your Marketing Budget
Terracare Associates doubled its sales force this year in an effort to increase its top line and be in position to grow when the market improves. “You want to be in front of everyone else,” Horn explains. “You don’t want to play catch up.”
Present a Professional Image
As Moore points out, customers still want value, but at a lower price point. They want licensed and trained professionals on their properties. “Delivering value and settling for lower profit margins are mutually exclusive,” he emphasizes. “We expect to maintain our profitability in 2011, which will allow us to continue to train and take care of our employees and provide the value our customers expect.”
Both Horn and Moore point out how important it is to continue to participate in community service projects. “The community needs your support now more than ever,” they emphasize. “Give and it will come back tenfold.”
When implemented correctly, right-sizing crews can prove to be the quickest way to make a dramatic impact on a maintenance division’s bottom line. Here are some things to consider.
Big crews are often less efficient. With a five-man crew, you might have one guy mowing, two trimming, and two edging and blowing. But with that many guys, it’s harder to pinpoint where any inefficiencies are. When one guy is is mowing, one is trimming, and one is edging and blowing, you can go directly to the source when a certain task doesn’t get completed within the allotted time. It’s all about accountability. Furthermore, smaller crews will result in less tripping over one another on the job, and less dollars down the drain via windshield time.
Sometimes two crews are better than one. If you have a three-man crew assigned to small or medium-sized properties, you could make it a two-man crew. Then, take that third guy and put him solo on your smaller properties that require less than one man-hour to complete. If implemented correctly with smart job sequencing, this could result in big efficiency gains.
Small crews can still handle big jobs. I know what you’re thinking: Smaller crews can’t handle jobs that require 25 to 30 man-hours. You’re probably right. But why not have two small crews gang up on that big property? Could two crews show up bright and early to knock out the mowing? Then, one crew heads off to another property while the second crew sticks around to trim and blow? Explore your options and talk it over with the client.
Overcoming staff resistance. There’s a good chance that your employees will become a bit uneasy when you suggest the downsizing of crews. Call a company meeting at a relaxed venue, such as a company picnic, to introduce the concept. Explain the rationale. Explain how it will help make the company more competitive. Tie it all back to how it benefits the employees because they’ll have more job security—if they continue doing a good job—and can eventually make more money.