Landscape Associates' first lean training event targeted a troublesome Homeowner's Association (HOA) account that was routinely over budget. "We looked at labor, how we mowed, and what we used for equipment, and how we loaded and unloaded it," says Andrews. "We even analyzed where we parked our vehicles at the site. The exercise helped us reduce our labor cost by 20 percent.
"We've realized a couple of percentage points improvement in production and 10-percent improvement in inventory management just by reorganizing our tools in both the shop area and on our trucks," Andrews continues. "This is just the tip of the iceberg. Our goal is to standardize and document virtually every phase of our operation, from mulching and mowing to how crews plant trees and trim around them. If nothing else, practicing lean makes employees more aware of how they operate, and it forces a company to measure tasks. Generally speaking, people don't think in terms of doing something in the least wasteful way. With lean, they begin to think that way. It is a great journey."
GROWING A PORTFOLIO
This owner is not content working solely on the bottom line of his income statement. He also wants to grow sales and build a loyal customer base that appreciates value and is willing to pay for it. "We want to grow that part of our business where image is important to property owners," Andrews relates. "We want customers who want seasonal color and understand that pruning and other maintenance details are fundamental to keeping a property looking nice."
Andrews says that it takes more than word-of-mouth to grow a business or new service, especially if you're talking about the high-end commercial market. Getting new business in this market uncomfortably resembles a Catch 22 situation. You can't get the business without first having visible properties to show off.
"To get your foot in the door, you may have to become a little aggressive with your pricing," he emphasizes. "You never want to lose money on a property, but you may not be able to make your desired margin at first, either. Once you're in the door, you can develop those all-important relationships and become the problem-solver for the client, not unlike what I was doing early on in my career when I was a landscape maintenance consultant."
The bid package is also important when trying to obtain new commercial clients, Andrews adds. "We put together detailed specifications that spell out exactly what we're going to do. We also list references, include a history of our company, and, if appropriate, personalize the bid by pointing out current property issues."
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
No matter what market you're in, Andrews notes that all companies evolve; they usually grow and often alter their service offering and customer base to meet changing market conditions. His company is a case in point. The name, Landscape Associates, tells part of the story. Andrews' original intent was to develop strong relationships with subcontractors who would then become "associates." As time went on, providing in-house services seemed more appropriate and profitable for the company—and more to the liking of customers.
Growing the maintenance side of the business and recognizing that a franchise was not a good fit are all part of Landscape Associates' evolution. So, too, is the location. The company is situated right smack in the middle of a residential neighborhood that didn't exist when Andrews built his facility. "We built our office to look like a home, not thinking that we would one day be surrounded by homes," he explains. "It's not a big deal, though. In fact, we blend in nicely with the community and can still use our office landscape to illustrate our landscape design capability."
In addition to the office and warehouse, the property houses a neat shop facility and a structure for holding plant material, along with plenty of room to park three Isuzu cab-over trucks used for maintenance, and three International trucks operated by construction crews. Landscape Associates has a lengthy laundry list of other equipment, as well.