Staples of Stability

Paul Barbour’s grandmother always told him, “Use what you’ve got to get what you need.” So when his job as an electronic engineer was outsourced to Mexico, he used what he had to start building a new career.

What Paul had was the love and support of his family, some lawn equipment and an old pickup truck. What he now needed were a few customers, a little luck and a lot of patience. “We survived those early years through perseverance, flexibility and God’s grace,” Paul says.

That was 1995. Today, The Yard Barbours in Elizabethtown, IN, has blossomed into a full-service landscape company that cares for both residential and commercial properties throughout southern Indiana and beyond. Sales have grown 90% this year to $1.9 million. “Growth in 2009 was even greater than that,” Paul remarks. In fact, back in 2006, sales were just $200,000.

Paul and his family remain a tight-knit group, each with their own area of expertise and responsibility, and each owning a percentage of the company. They’ve successfully grown the business by focusing on three prerequisites to sustainable growth: a balanced portfolio of clients, consistent customer retention and new lead-generation programs, and an overwhelming sense of pride and passion that filters down through each employee. “These days,” Paul says, “people want to do business with stable companies.”

Small Commercial to Big Commercial

The Yard Barbours provides maintenance, lawn care, installation, irrigation and snow removal services to a pretty even mix of commercial and residential clients, although revenue is skewing more toward commercial accounts every year. Paul says offering new services has helped spark sales growth.

Much of the recent growth can be attributed to an expansion into larger commercial markets. “Our hometown is small, so we’ve had to look at other avenues,” Paul points out. “Now we’re looking at working on a statewide basis. We feel comfortable that we could run an operation like this out of our current 2,500-square-foot facility in Elizabethtown, but we’re also looking at securing a second facility that’s a little closer to the bulk of our commercial maintenance work.”

The Yard Barbours started out by maintaining smaller commercial properties such as banks and funeral homes. Then, through word of mouth, they began picking up residential work. There are few jobs the company will automatically turn away. “We’ve always been willing to go where the market takes us,” says Paul’s daughter Andrea Barbour.

A few years ago, the market began taking The Yard Barbours toward industrial complex maintenance. When those types of inquiries started coming in, Paul and wife Nancy sat down with son Matt to determine if this was something he really wanted to do as a career. He said it was.

Taking care of these bigger commercial properties was going to take a whole new level of commitment. “Getting to the next level always entails money,” Paul says. “One February we sat down as a family to figure out how we could afford to invest in some newer, bigger equipment. We decided to offer a pay-in-advance discount to certain clients, and used some of that money to buy the equipment we needed to take on the new accounts.”

Keys to Customer Retention

A pivotal moment in the company’s history happened when a bank The Yard Barbours had been servicing decided that it no longer wanted to use several smaller maintenance contractors; they wanted one contractor that would service all of its locations. “We had to go with them to different cities we weren’t operating in,” Nancy tells. “It was a risk, but helped us grow our sales a lot.”

A willingness to take risks and go the extra mile are why The Yard Barbours enjoys a high customer retention rate. In fact, 90% of all customers have been with the company for at least four years, while 75% have stuck with the company for at least nine years.

Prompt client care is a big reason why. One of The Yard Barbours owners, together with the crew leader, walks through a project with the customer before that project begins, and then follows up regularly with the customer throughout the project. In addition, at least two meetings typically take place between the customer and one of the owners.

Accessibility is very important. “Giving clients a cell phone number to call has a tremendous effect,” Nancy says. “We give our clients a number for both Paul and Matt. There have been times where Matt is on the phone at 11:30 p.m. talking about irrigation.”

Perhaps the biggest factor aiding in client retention is simply the level of quality The Yard Barbours provides. “Our clients know that we have strict employment standards and training processes,” Matt points out. “This gives the client a level of comfort in knowing who is on their property.” (See “Instilling Pride in Employees” at end of article.)

Consistency Raises Awareness

Customer retention aside, the Barbour family remains vigilant with respect to generating new sales leads. “We’re always looking for new customers,” Matt says. “We’ve begun advertising more in the local paper so people know we’re out there. You have to consistently stay in front of today’s consumer.”

Roughly 30% of new clients come from referrals, while 70% come from a variety of advertising methods. “We’ve created a unified advertising campaign using multiple outlets:, Facebook, local newspapers, radio, TV and direct marketing,” says Andrea, who spearheads the company’s marketing efforts. The Yard Barbours is also known to display in local parades and at local home and garden shows.

Consistency is the key, Andrea points out. “The different elements we pull into our advertising—the color yellow, our mascot ‘Bubba’—must be the same across all media. That’s how you build awareness.”

The company’s marketing campaign has definitely helped build awareness over the years. “We launched the ‘Spot Bubba’ contest two years ago, giving away $25 restaurant gift cards to people who called in when they saw our crews,” Andrea says. “The goal was to get people looking for us. It was funny, after a while some people would call in saying they saw one of our crews somewhere, but really it was another company’s crew. That’s OK, because that means people are thinking ‘Yard Barbours’ when they’re thinking ‘landscaping and lawn maintenance’.”

The Barbour family has also had success in raising awareness among potential employees. A job fair held in early spring typically draws upwards of 150 applicants. The company also accepts applications every Tuesday after 1 p.m.

“We ask a lot of our employees, but try to give a lot in return,” Matt says. “We start everyone out as seasonal,” adds Andrea. “But they always have the opportunity to go year-round. We let them know that, once their foot is in the door here, it’s really up to them if they want to make this a career.”

“We feel very blessed,” Nancy concludes. “A company is only as good as its weakest employee. We try to provide great training, and we try to instill the idea that, ‘This isn’t just a job you do when you can’t find another job.’ We are all educated and take great pride in what we do, and want our employees to share in that pride. That’s why we invest in their training and certification.”

Everyone at The Yard Barbours has a lot to be proud of these days, as does Paul’s grandmother. The Barbour family certainly has made the most of that “use what you’ve got to get what you need” philosophy she taught them. Now they’ve got a near $2 million business with plenty of room for further growth.

Instilling Pride in Employees

The Yard Barbours creates roughly 20 seasonal jobs every spring, and prefers to fill them with local talent. Applicants must be at least 18 years old with a valid Indiana driver’s license, and must pass both a background check and drug test.

Once hired, training and development are ongoing for all employees. That includes off-season, company-sponsored training and certification courses to help employees attain chemical applicator licenses, hardscape/paver installation certification, leadership and management courses, design courses, irrigation training, outdoor lighting, and more. Each employee meets with the owners to discuss their future goals. A plan is developed to help guide an employee from “new hire” to their desired position.

“We strive to end the ‘I am just mowing grass’ mentality,” Paul Barbour says. “We want our employees to view themselves as Green Industry professionals. Therefore we publically recognize their hard work and certifications by advertising these achievements in the area’s Business Connection Report.

Here are some other ways The Yard Barbours keeps employees passionate:

Jobs of the Week. At the end of each week, company owners do walk-throughs of all the jobs that were completed. Two jobs from the landscape division and two more from the maintenance and lawn care division are chosen as “Jobs of the Week”. These are projects that demonstrated keen attention to detail, excellence in service and quality. The crews that worked on the jobs are recognized during the following Monday morning meeting, and each crew member is awarded points that can be redeemed for paid vacation days.

Company Picnics, Peer Recognition. Company picnics are held each July for employees and their families. Food and entertainment is provided, but here is where the magic really happens: The personal achievements of each employee is recognized in front of the entire group. “By recognizing the important contributions each employee makes in front of their friends and family, we hope to promote employee pride and job ownership,” Paul says.

Leadership Dinner. Each December a Leadership Dinner for supervisors and crew leaders is held. “It’s an opportunity for us to specifically recognize, encourage and congratulate our leadership team for their hard work and dedication,” Paul says.