Not Just Another Number

How We Did It

  • Team approach to client management with clear, convenient flow of information from clients to crews
  • Horticulture experts act as primary point of contact
  • Develop one-, three- and five-year landscape plans to continually offer change
  • Formally recognize long-term clients
  • Develop relationships with individual property owners with HOAs and condo communities
  • Focus on training and best management practices to drive out waste and improve quality

When Bostonian Steve Pruchansky sold his furniture distribution business and retired to Florida, he had a feeling that boredom might set in after a while. He was right, and soon began looking for a business to invest in.

A business broker introduced Pruchansky to Linda Nelson, owner of Greenscapes of Southwest Florida. At that time (1991), Greenscapes was still a small company with just a couple of crews. Today it has more than 30, employing nearly 250 people during peak season.

The company has spent the past 20 years growing—and growing and growing. More recently, though, Pruchansky and Nelson have begun to adjust their priorities. "We've gone from a focus on quantity to a focus on quality," Nelson says.

Quality, of course, has always been central to the Greenscapes mission. However, the tight economy has compelled the owners to embrace a much broader commitment. Both Nelson and Pruchansky have come to realize that, in the highly competitive world of commercial landscape maintenance, attentive service and deep client relationships have become invaluable tools in the quest for customer retention.

New approach to client management

Greenscapes has adopted a team approach to client service. This ensures that each property is visited more often. Plus, clients enjoy the benefit of contact continuity.

Each Client Services Team has two leaders: a client services manager and an operations supervisor. The services manager acts as the client's primary contact, helping establish the vision for the property. All seven of Greenscapes' client services managers have horticulture backgrounds.

The seven operations supervisors, each of whom communicates directly with their respective client services manager, are in charge of executing the vision on each property. Each operations manager oversees roughly 30 to 50 employees. The number and size of crews vary greatly, as some of Greenscapes' larger accounts require massive on-site crews of eight or more people.

Crews are not the only personnel to regularly visit properties. Both the client services manager and operations supervisor also make frequent visits. This helps improve quality and ensure that any issues are handled promptly. Additionally, Nelson has worked diligently to restructure routes so that any given crew is never more than 10-20 minutes away from any of its properties.

Client services managers conduct monthly horticulture reviews, which go directly to the operations supervisors for implementation. Additionally, landscape audits are conducted annually, helping client services managers to work closely with clients to develop one-, three- and five-year landscape plans. Irrigation audits are conducted every two years.

Relationships that run deep

In commercial landscape maintenance, Pruchansky says it is no longer acceptable to simply provide great customer service. "You must enrich your client's landscape, constantly bringing them new ideas," Pruchansky adds. "People enjoy change in their landscapes—not in their service providers. Building relationships is the key to success."

In 2011, Greenscapes thanked 10-plus-year clients with a $500 "Gift of Appreciation." Client service managers were empowered to work with clients on how to spend that $500, such as by planting a new tree. These long-term clients were also presented with a plaque.

Greenscapes specializes in homeowner associations and condos. It's a challenge, Nelson points out, to ensure that the actual residents don't feel like just another number, or that service providers don't really care about them individually. Greenscapes has hired someone to specialize in catering to this constituency. The new employee hangs door tags on the individual homes and condos, inviting residents to let the company know if they have any questions or concerns.

Greenscapes has also launched a new division for smaller enhancement-type projects. "We're going for the 'you're my gardener' type of feel," Nelson relates. Additionally, a property analysis technician helps individual property owners establish effective integrated pest management (IPM) programs for their specific properties. The property analysis tech then works with the client service manager to ensure that the programs are implemented.

These tactics have proved to go a long way in deepening relationships and bolstering client loyalty. "When you have relationships with the individual homeowners, you simply have more voices on your side," Nelson points out.

Nelson's background in education goes a long way in strengthening relationships with the core constituency of property managers and HOA board members. She teaches various state-certified classes, such as "Right Plant, Right Place," to help clients earn CEUs (continuing education units) and maintain their professional licensing.

Keeping the machine well-oiled

Greenscapes emphasizes continuing education and training internally as well. For example, weekly training sessions are conducted with all teams. Some last five minutes while others take much longer. "At the end of each year, we prepare our training templates for the coming year," Pruchansky says. "We have found that the more we train, the better the end result. Repetition in training works."

Nelson has recently started a book club for all senior managers. "We read two self-help or management books a year," she tells. "We have breakfast together to discuss each book, talking about what we've learned and how it has affected us as both a team and as individuals. It is our conviction that the better the individuals, the better the team."

Greenscapes requires all managers to become Florida Certified Horticulture Professionals. Additionally, all supervisors and crew leaders must maintain BMP Certification in order to continue working at the company. BMP (best management practices) for Florida's Green Industries is offered through the University of Florida's extension office. It's a science-based program that identifies landscape management recommendations.

"We're a company that utilizes best management practices each and every day," Nelson says. For instance, fertilizer blends are based on soil samples, and irrigation sensors help deliver just the right amount of water. "We have truly embraced technology for the betterment of our clients' properties," Nelson says.

Greenscapes has also developed its own best management practices to improve efficiency and reduce waste. For instance, the company has switched from five 8-hour days to four 10-hour days. Nelson says this move, which wasn't met with nearly the employee resistance she'd envisioned, has helped save a considerable amount of money in the way of unbillable downtime.

Several other internal systems have been tweaked. For instance, all managers have company-issued smartphones, helping improve response times while reducing costly backtracking to properties. Conversion to a near paperless office is also underway. Email and scanners improve communication and reduce paper cost, and direct deposit is utilized for most employees' paychecks.

Greenscapes has also gotten a little more aggressive when it comes to new sales. "Our sales have grown over the past 20 years through referrals," Pruchansky points out. "Two years ago, though, we decided to add salesmen to our mix to further promote and market our company."

Even for companies the size of Greenscapes, it's important to continue generating new leads. Still, the focus is on quality over quantity—and making every client feel like they are the only client. As their brochure states: They are large enough to handle the biggest project, but small enough to respond to every need. That's the recipe Linda Nelson and Steve Pruchansky have been cooking up for 20 years.

 

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