Beautiful Designs, Rock-Solid Systems

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.

“I could look at a property when putting an estimate together and say, ‘We have to add 20 hours for cleaning up materials,’” Grant relates. But less-seasoned employees can’t be expected to make those instant judgments, so Grant assigned time-quantitative, per-unit/square-foot/linear square-foot values to everything that has to be done on a project. That way, all the salesperson has to do is measure and perform a little math.

Soon Grant realized that systems could be applied to more than just production. “If it can be measured and tracked, you can turn it into a quantitative system,” Grant points out. “And as long as employees follow that system, things should work out well.”

Grant says anything that can be tracked is put into a spreadsheet. Past and present values are entered and analyzed, allowing this self-described “spreadsheet junkie” to monitor trends and forecast what might happen in the future.

Grant actually worked with a software developer to design his own software. “I couldn’t find anything on the market that would do exactly what I wanted,” Grant says. “It was expensive, but has paid off.” Now Grant can look online and see each sale rep’s closing ratio, jobs that were bid on, discounts allowed, profit and loss for each job, and so on.

STEADY MARKETING KEEPS NEW JOBS COMING IN

Grant also diligently tracks marketing efforts, which has become increasingly important in this challenging economy. “We track every single dollar we spend,” Grant says. “We’ve been spending nearly 2.4 times what we’d spent in 2008 per dollar in sales.”

Grant & Power’s marketing campaign includes:
• Direct mail postcards to highly targeted areas and demographics
• WGN radio ads and live reads
• Ads in high-end magazines
• Local home shows
• A variety of customer retention and referral strategies, including coupons and gift certificates
• A variety of warranty programs

Grant says he’s witnessed a dramatic shift in how consumers shop for landscaping services. That’s why he’s spending less on Yellow Page advertising than he ever has. Instead, he’s directing about 1% of sales toward the Internet in the way of pay-per-click advertising and the company’s own website, grantandpower.com.

Charity work is also important. “I believe in reciprocity,” Grant says. “If you do something for somebody else, it will come back in one way or another.” Grant & Power’s charitable projects include:
• Operation Support Our Troops
• Green Care For Troops
• Jubilee Village (women’s home)
• American Cancer Society
• Kelly Hutchings Memorial Fund to help benefit Cystic Fibrosis
• Christ Church of Oakbrook Project Serve
• Central DuPage Hospital

GRANT & POWER’S NEXT 30 YEARS

As Gene Grant Jr. reflects on his first 30 years in business, he’s proud of the company he’s built, but most importantly, he’s proud of the people who’ve helped him build it. Grant & Power Landscaping employs numerous college-educated professionals and certified technicians. Through continuous people development and systems management, the company looks to continue staying on top of trends as an industry leader.

“This year has been challenging, as will next year,” Grant says. “We’re down a bit, just like everybody else. But we will continue to focus on our opportunities.”

For the past several years, one of those opportunities has been outdoor living spaces and kitchens, etc. Now Grant & Power has set its sights on the green movement, offering products that are more environmentally friendly such as native plants, rain gardens, rain barrels and permeable pavers.

“Turn on CNBC or just about any other channel and all you hear people talking about is green,” Grant says. “We feel like, being in the Green Industry, we have to be a leader in this movement.”

As a registered landscape architect, certifiable spreadsheet junkie and fervent entrepreneur, Grant has rarely been one to follow.

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