Litton compares the dilemma landscape contractors often find themselves in to the inexperienced plumber. When asked to fix a leak under the sink, the plumber replies, "I can't fix that right now, I'm too busy mopping the floor."
Growing requires assistance—lots of it
By 2000 Jetstream was doing well, generating between $700,000 and $800,000 a year, but Litton thought the company could do better. After attending a Kevin Kehoe Masters in Management seminar in Atlanta that year, he set new revenue goals. In order to reach them, he would have to reduce his management load and spend more time marketing and selling his business.
Litton realized he couldn't truly grow until he hired someone in the office to handle the paperwork that would come with growth. Enter Shirley Norman. As Jetstream's controller, she worked only 20 hours a week at first, managing accounts payable/receivable, generating financial statements and starting job costing procedures. Her job has now evolved into a full-time position that involves a little bit of everything.
Norman is the administrative Jill of all Trades. Her presence gives the company president the freedom to fix leaks and sell more work. "I will say it again," says Litton. "One of the first things young, growing contractors must do is hire an administrative assistant before they think they need one, maybe even before they can truly afford one. By the time they see a need, a ton of work has already passed them by."
The same advice applies to a company's field operation. To grow as aggressively as he wants, Litton has trained a couple of operations managers, although one position is not filled at the moment. "Personally, I'm doing a little more mopping than I want to right now," Litton admits. "I've let my foremen know that before I hire from the outside, they have an opportunity to step up and become an operations manager if they demonstrate the willingness and organizational talent. If you can groom your own people for the job, you're better off than hiring an individual from the outside. That's just human nature."
"Raise your hand for third-party help," Litton continues. As a PLANET member, Jetstream last year took advantage of the association's Trailblazer mentoring program. Veteran PLANET member Tom Heaviland, CLP, president of Heaviland Enterprises in Vista, California, flew to Michigan for a day to share his years of experience.
"Tom's firm is all landscape maintenance, so we couldn't compare apples to apples," Litton explains. "Instead, we worked on developing a strategic plan and putting some core values and concepts in place, all of which are important for long-term growth. When I inquired about adding landscape maintenance to my operation, he showed me some names on his client list and I knew immediately that we had fewer opportunities here. It reaffirmed my commitment to continue doing what we do best."
Of the $1.3 million in sales Jetstream projects for this year, 70% will likely be generated from design/build projects and 30% from irrigation installation and service. Subcontracted work will account for approximately 10% of the total dollar amount.
Jetstream has been working on several impressive projects. One spectacular home has a huge Unilock brick patio, complete with an outside fireplace, fire pit, an entertainment bar with a granite countertop, along with a kitchen, among other amenities. Jetstream handled everything but the kitchen, in which case a subcontractor was brought in.
Litton drives by several other properties and then stops to show a landscape design to a customer. Litton meets a construction crew on another site and visits later with an irrigation foreman who has been with his company 11 years. All in a day's work, Litton says.
The last stop was at a half-finished condominium site. The large project was halted last summer after the builder went out of business overnight. "The builder took several small companies down with him," Litton relates. "Luckily, we're not among them. Instead of passing on the bad debt expense, we borrowed quite a bit to pay our suppliers. Things like this happen. The only protection a contractor has is to avoid putting all of his eggs in one basket. Our client mix is diversified, and we've learned over the years to grow our business on the backs of people who appreciate us."