When you live in Wisconsin only a few miles from Green Bay, a few things are constant. You can expect cold and snow during the winter months, and somewhere in your closet will be green and yellow jersey just waiting for a road trip to a Packer game. Gerry Andrews, owner of Landscape Associates in DePere, is no exception.
A native Wisconsinite, he's accustomed to the cold winters, although he doesn't plow snow. Andrews is also a Packer fan—win, lose or draw. In the meantime, he runs a hearty full-service design/build landscape management business, fielding three construction and three maintenance crews.
Maintenance accounts for only 20 percent of Landscape Associates' annual revenue, but look for that to change. This contractor is maneuvering to offset the effects a housing downturn has had on his design/build business. Furthermore, says Andrews, landscape maintenance is renewable and slightly more stable than construction.
LEARNING THE ROPES
Andrews graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1974 with a degree in landscape architecture. He worked six years for the Girl Scouts of America designing camps before returning to Madison for a second degree in horticulture. He then spent more than eight years working for two Wisconsin landscape contractors, later going out on his own as a property maintenance consultant.
"I worked out of our garage as a stay-at-home dad," Andrews recalls. "It was a perfect situation since my wife Deb had a career going at an area hospital. My consultant work, though, gradually drew me back into landscape contracting full time as customers wanted me to do more than just advise them on how to maintain their properties."
Andrews purchased some land in 1994 and built an office and warehouse. For the next 10 years, business grew steadily, with Andrews designing and building landscapes, and later maintaining them, primarily for high-end residential clients.
"In landscape design, and also maintenance, you're solving peoples problems," Andrews points out. "That's what I like most about working in this profession. What I don't like is the seasonality, which makes it difficult to pay a living wage, and the commodity label that is attached to maintenance and lawn care." The soft-spoken owner grimaces a bit when he mentions "lawn care." He purchased a lawn care franchise a few years ago, thinking it would be a way to offer customers full service. He's getting out of the business, though, after struggling to get beyond the 800-customer mark.
"In our best year with lawn care, we brought in approximately $200,000," Andrews relates. "The lawn care business has many of the same challenges that maintenance does. Customers don't distinguish between services and service providers, and it's very competitive. Lawn care also has a small selling window, during which you need to be very aggressive. I'm not comfortable selling that way, so the business truly wasn't a good match for our company."
CUTTING OUT WASTE
Nonetheless, Andrews still believes in the natural synergy between lawn care and lawn maintenance. Today, though, his focus is to grow the high-end commercial segment of his market and, as previously mentioned, to add more landscape maintenance customers. He's also concentrating on driving waste out of his operation. "I don't think I'm exaggerating when I say that maintenance departments operate at no better than 75 percent of their capability," says Andrews. "In other words, there is 25 percent waste that can be driven out of most operations, ours included."
He attacked the waste dilemma last year by signing up for the JP Horizons "Working Smarter Training Challenge," a 52-week intensive training program on developing lean management skills. "Lean is about mapping out standards and procedures, but it's also about empowering employees," Andrews emphasizes. "When employees participate in kaizen events and other lean strategy meetings, they are learning to do things their way and not Gerry's way. They are making the important decisions about how to reduce waste."