ACLS Inc. in Fresno, CA, is nearly two years into its rebranding effort, and thus far the management team has been very pleased with the results. Sales are beginning to grow in certain areas while profits are beginning to emerge in others. “We’ll take it wherever it’s coming these days,” says co-owner and CEO Tom De Lany. “I’m kind of like a gorilla running through the jungle saying, ‘Oh, here are some bananas.’”
There are thousands of other gorillas looking for those same bananas, though, which is why ACLS has put such an emphasis on branding and business development.
“We had several different companies all under one umbrella, but it got too confusing in the marketplace,” De Lany says. “We started the process of re-lettering our trucks in July, so everything is coming together and working very smoothly.”
ACLS Inc. is an amalgamation of the following companies owned by De Lany and partners Jack Murray and Carol Osborn:
- All Commercial Landscape Service (commercial maintenance)
- All Custom Landscape Service (design/build)
- Fresno Tree Service
- Certified Water Consulting (irrigation)
- Tractor Service (disking and flailing services on everything from 1-acre lots to hundreds of acres of open land)
“The design/build business went off a cliff a couple of years ago,” De Lany says. “Now we have six people in that division who are mainly going around with our maintenance crews looking for opportunities to do small landscape upgrades. It’s become job to job, though.”
ACLS’s tree division is another story. A second crew was put together in early fall due to a growing backlog of work. De Lany has been somewhat surprised by the average consumer’s willingness to continue investing in tree services—but he’s certainly not going to pass these bananas by. The company’s maintenance and irrigation divisions are also doing well.
Cleaning up the bottom line
The company’s bottom line is doing spectacularly, thanks to measures put in place a couple of years ago. “When the recession hit in 2009, our profit had dwindled down to around 2%,” De Lany recalls. “I knew something needed to be done.”
ACLS brought in a business consultant from Chicago to spend 10 weeks scrutinizing the company. At $17,000 a week, this was going to be a hefty expense. But De Lany felt good about it because the consultant guaranteed 3:1 on the bottom line.
“The first thing he did was plop an inch of paper on my desk and ask me if I was an idiot,” De Lany says with a chuckle. “It was over $40,000 in unbilled irrigation work. We’d grown very quickly and didn’t have enough controls in place. Crews were coming back from the field, but their work orders weren’t always getting into the flow of paperwork, and, ultimately, were never billed to the client.”
De Lany has since hired a CFO (chief financial officer) who works three days a week. Her salary has been a sizable addition to overhead, but has proven to be a good investment. “She’s amazing with systems,” De Lany says. “She’s refined job descriptions and developed all kinds of checklists. For example, when time cards come in, red flags are raised so the labor and materials are immediately billed out.”
The consultant had also helped expose how “fat in the field” ACLS was. The company has since downsized the majority of its crews, letting about 20 people go. “We’ve also created some systems and put all kinds of metrics in place to start tracking who is doing what, where equipment is going, and how much material is being put down,” De Lany says.
Separating the pros from average joes
With these controls now in place, and the bottom line back to an impressive 17%, De Lany says the company has been able to direct more money toward marketing and new business development. “Where a lot of other companies have hid under a rock, we’ve drawn our swords and said, ‘here we are,’” Delany says.