Time To Get Personal

Tim Twomey, co-owner of Ground Hog Landscape Management in Mandeville, LA, feels a lot better about his young company than he did just a couple of years ago, in part because the New Orleans-area economy has been better. But the main reason for Twomey’s renewed confidence is his company’s well-designed strategy to generate leads and referrals, and retain the most precious of customers.

Ground Hog also has adopted a new mission statement that every single employee believes in: Passionate People, Outstanding Results. “I think people sometimes don’t set their goals high enough,” Twomey says. “Yes, goals have to be achievable, but they should also be big enough to drive you to do great things.”

Since joining the Working Smarter Training Challenge roughly one year ago, Ground Hog has been as driven as ever. “It has transformed my business,” Twomey relates. “We’ve created a culture where everyone is thinking about waste. We are better, leaner and meaner than ever before.”

Clearly define your target

Ground Hog Landscape Management is also more focused than ever before, placing maintenance, primarily upscale residential maintenance, at the core of its business model. Roughly 75% of Ground Hog’s sales now come from maintenance services. “We still do installation work, but only if we know we’ll also get that client’s ongoing maintenance business,” Twomey points out.

Three residential service levels have been developed:

  • Hog Chops – basic level of service that includes mowing, trimming, edging and cleanup
  • Hog Wild – bed-centric service that focuses on keeping beds clean and bursting with color (weeding, pruning, fertilizing, etc.)
  • Hog Heaven – premium level of service that includes everything mentioned in the first two levels, in addition to irrigation monitoring, seasonal color, mulch, insect and disease control, and tree and shrub fertilization.

Ground Hog Landscape Management has refined its marketing efforts in order to grow its upscale residential business. “We bought a mailing list of $250,000 homes and up,” Twomey explains. “Our goal is to service an area within 10 or 15 miles from our office, so we were able to narrow our list down to around 1,900 names. We sent out a couple of mailings this spring. We also wanted to target a new geographic area this year where we see some strong opportunity, so we sent the mailings to that zip code, too.”

Make a connection

Since Twomey’s strengths lie in operations, he put out a craigslist ad and landed a local marketing professional to help create the mailers. Twomey says he wanted a very professional look to them, and refused to incorporate any kind of “discount” such as a coupon. “We’re not a discount shop,” he relates.

Going forward, Twomey sees an opportunity to better personalize direct marketing efforts in order to stand out and make more of a connection with customers. He’s exploring the use of something called “personalized URLs” (PURLs) which place a customer’s name in a specially created URL, such as groundhoglandscaping.net/JohnDoe, for example. He’s also contemplating the inclusion of USB flash drives in direct mailings. The flash drives could include personalized videos, images and other multi-media.

“All of this starts with knowing who your target customer is, and who your top customers and prospects are,” Twomey reminds. “We are primarily focusing on our top 100 list right now.”

Grab the low-hanging fruit

Twomey and partner Dalton Fetters are personally focusing on sales for their young, growing company, which now employs between 12 and 15 people. Twomey spearheads new client acquisition and key client retention while Fetters ensures that crews are capitalizing on all of those $1,500 to $2,000 upsell opportunities on existing properties—which Twomey likes to refer to as “low-hanging fruit.”

Successfully nabbing that low-hanging fruit starts with a clear job description for your crew leaders. The job description for a landscape foreman at Ground Hog includes statements like:

  • “S/he is the ‘face’ of the company, and ensures that each and every customer is provided professional, courteous, superb customer service.”
  • “The Landscape Foreman is directly responsible for retaining each and every customer through the quality and professionalism of each and every crew member, on each and every visit.”
  • “The Landscape Foreman provides service to residential or commercial customers by making timely lawn/landscape applications, diagnosing and correcting lawn/landscaping problems through service calls and other customer communications, and selling/upselling services to new and/or existing customers, resulting in growth of the customer base.”

Toss the rotten fruit

On the other side of the coin, Ground Hog receptionists are trained to properly screen calls so Twomey doesn’t end up chasing less-than-desirable leads. They ask questions such as:

  • “Have you ever had a landscape service provider before?”
  • “Do you have landscape lighting?”
  • “Do you plant flowers?”
  • “Why did you call us?” as opposed to just “How did you hear about us?”

“By the time the lead is turned over to me, I know it’s a good opportunity for our company,” Twomey relates. “Then I follow up immediately with a phone call, and follow that up with a detailed email if the client prefers, or typically a site visit on larger jobs.”

No more excuses – get online

Ground Hog Landscape Management has changed quite a bit since Hurricane Katrina nearly put the company out of business in late 2005. So has the Green Industry in general. “Before Katrina,” Twomey relates, “if you could spell grass it seemed like you could make money in this business. Not now.”

The simplest, most influential thing a landscape contractor can do, Twomey says, is get a nice website. “There’s no excuse anymore. You shouldn’t have to apologize to a customer for not having a nice, educational website. You also need to spend time with search engine optimization (SEO) so customers can find your website. There are plenty of companies that can help you with that.”

As a revitalized landscaping company with a focus on upscale residential maintenance, Ground Hog Landscape Management is now looking to help its clients “create memories”. When you sell that concept, Twomey says, price becomes less of an issue.