You’ve heard the saying: As a business owner, you have to spend more time working on your business as opposed to just in it. Gene Grant Jr. has taken that tired cliché to heart, and is now managing his landscape design and maintenance company from the comfort of his home office more than 2,000 miles away.
Grant founded West Chicago-based Grant & Power Landscaping in 1978. He bought a vacation home in San Clemente, CA, roughly 10 years ago. As he found himself spending more time out west, Grant began transitioning his company to more of a management team approach that could function in his absence.
Today Grant lives permanently in San Clemente, paying visit to the West Chicago office about once a month. But he’s “online” every day, staying in touch with key managers, reviewing reports and strategizing. As Grant relates, “I’m truly a CEO who spends 100% of his time working on his business.”
YOU NEED STRONG MANAGERS
Grant is able to do that because he has strong leaders within his company whom he can count on. That’s not by accident. A registered landscape architect, Grant says the favorite part of his job is developing employees. He believes in giving people the room they need to become the best they can be. “I especially enjoy watching the young people in our organization grow, mature and develop themselves into leaders,” Grant says.
Of his company’s 30 year-round employees, Grant leans extra heavily on three people in particular.
Partner Jan-Gerrit Bouwman, an employee since 1998, is the company’s senior landscape architect and sales manager. He has a master’s degree in landscape architecture, plant ecology and vegetation science. A registered landscape architect in the state of Illinois, Bouwman is an active member of the American Society of Landscape Architects.
Partner Scott Hutchings has been with Grant & Power since 1994. He manages the snow, landscaping and maintenance operations, in addition to selling snow and commercial maintenance contracts. Hutchings is an Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (ICPI) Level 1 Certified Concrete Paver Installer.
Partner Sharon Zipse, an employee since 1995, now serves as CFO, managing the office, personnel and customer service. Zipse is active in the industry, too, having served on the Illinois Landscape Contractors Association awards committee.
STRONG SALESPEOPLE AREN’T GREEN
Grant realized the importance of leaning on others many years ago when he was still spearheading his company’s sales efforts. When he needed to bring on some additional sales help, Grant decided to resist the common urge to look for someone with Green Industry experience. Instead, he hired a sales pro from the auto industry.
“A lot of landscape contractors try to turn designers and architects into salespeople,” Grant says. “Inherently, though, designers are more analytical people—the opposite end of the spectrum from most sales professionals. So I decided to find a real sales pro and teach him about the landscaping business, as opposed to the other way around.”
The move proved to be a brilliant one. This veteran auto salesman sold double what the designer sold in the previous year.
Grant continues to use his designers and architects as reinforcements in the sales process. The sales rep visits the customer, takes photos (now videos) of the site, fills out the necessary paperwork, and brings it all back to the office where a designer puts a plan together. The sales rep then follows up with the customer to schedule another meeting. “It’s truly a team effort between sales and design where each party is focusing on what they do best,” Grant points out.
GOOD SYSTEMS PULL IT TOGETHER
By hiring salespeople from outside of the Green Industry, Grant was forced to take everything that was “in his head” from years of experience and put it into systems that employees could easily understand.