Think back 10, 15, even 20 years ... to the days when cell phones were unique and refueling your fleet didn’t require a second mortgage. Competition was keen back then, although not as keen as it is today. And insurance, although necessary and costly, wasn’t becoming prohibitively expensive.
Some people define the 1980s and 1990s as the “good ole days.” Those were the days before mergers and large acquisitions irrevocably changed the business landscape, before the American workforce seemingly abandoned the service industries for greener pastures, and before Mother Nature threw a temperature tantrum that raised awareness about potential global warming.
Yes, change is inevitable, and how an industry responds to these changes is a fairly good indicator of what’s in store for the next couple of decades.
The bar has been raised
Bill Gordon, owner of Signature Landscape in Olathe, KS, has been in business 20 years. “One of the biggest changes is the competition,” says Gordon, whose company primarily does commercial grounds maintenance and enhancements. “Years ago, if you put out a good product—with good lines, beautiful flowers and lots of detail pruning—you could easily differentiate yourself from the competition. Today, though, competition is much stronger and, like other companies, we have had to figure out ways to stay ahead of the competition. In other words, we’re striving to learn faster than they are.”
To stay ahead of competitors, Gordon has honed the bidding process. He has also determined where his company’s strength lies, and focuses on those strengths and his people. “People are so important today, in large part because good people are at a premium,” Gordon adds. “Successful owners make a concerted effort to hire individuals who have strengths they don’t have and who can build careers with their companies.”
Gordon goes on to say that in the early 90’s, labor was “somewhat” available. Then the supply dwindled until Hispanic workers became more prominent. “Of course, change is in the wind and none of us know how things will be five years from now,” he emphasizes.
Among other industry trends, Gordon sees a positive change in perception. “Over the past 15 years, the public perception of our industry as a whole has changed significantly. Our industry was once viewed as a poor man’s way to make a few dollars mowing grass. Today, I believe the green industry is viewed with respect, drawing bright young people with college degrees and a desire to build a career working with plants and people.”
COMBATING RISING COSTS
“The biggest change I’ve seen is the cost of doing business, which requires companies to look for more efficient ways to conduct business,” reports Dan Standley, owner of Dan’s Landscaping & Lawn Care Inc. in Terrytown, LA. “One of the biggest costs is fuel. We recently installed an active GPS system that saves us money in several ways.” In business for 27 years, Standley says the new system displays efficient vs. inefficient routes, monitors vehicle idling time, and overall saves fuel, time and wear on the engine.
“We sell time and cannot afford to have that time siphoned off by employees who are not working as efficiently as they can,” Standley adds. “The GPS also allow us to locate our trucks in real time via the Internet, which allows us to keep tabs on speed limit violators. The same system will help find a stolen truck. Even though the monthly per-unit cost is $33, it saves us 10-15% on insurance and, as mentioned, reduces fuel costs and wasted time.”
Technological advances have improved operations in countless other ways. Thirty-year industry veteran Burt Blanton, owner of Super Green Lawn Care in Springfield, MO, no longer has to push a fertilizer spreader on large properties. “Ride-on units save incredible amounts of time and energy,” he emphasizes. “I can do three acres in 20 minutes with just one spreader.”