Brad Terrell is thankful that his company, A Cut Above Landscape Management based in Columbus, GA, was never really impacted by the economic slowdown; a nearby military base helped to strengthen the local economy. Business has continued to tick right along—even on the installation side. In fact, Terrell says company sales have shifted from 80/20 (maintenance/installation) to 70/30.
“We’ve always been focused on large commercial maintenance work,” Terrell points out. “The recession did hamper the installation business for a few years, so we ended up competing against many more contractors for maintenance contracts. We decided to focus more on installation when others weren’t as focused on it.
“We hired a landscape designer to help bring in more installation business,” Terrell continues. “We also hired one of our competitors who basically got tired of running his own company. But he still loved landscaping and sales. It has worked out really well.”
Wide mix of maintenance
Maintenance is still the company’s primary revenue generator, though. Diversity has been key. A Cut Above Landscape Management services commercial office and retail properties, apartment complexes, property managers, industrial sites, HOAs, universities and other institutions, government entities, and around 200 high-end residential properties.
Residential Maintenance. Terrell says he doesn’t aggressively pursue residential clients; word of mouth does it all. “Our ideal residential client is a high-level professional,” Terrell explains. “They have a really nice home, maybe even an estate, and are busy running their lives. They want a quality lawn service but don’t want to worry about any of the details.We might not even see or talk to these customers more than a few times a year, so they depend on us to manage the details for them and to solve problems in a proactive manner.” The bonus is that these types of clients often lead to larger commercial contracts. For example, servicing a hospital CEO’s property could lead to the opportunity to service the hospital itself.
Government Maintenance. This has historically been a “lowest bidder, year by year” business. Terrell and his management team are trying to change that. “We try to educate customers and point out how a longer-term (i.e. five-year) contract can actually help save the municipality money,” Terrell says. “We also talk about how an RFP (request for proposal) can be better than a simple ‘lowest bid’ scenario.” With a full-blown proposal, the municipality can get a better look at what a contractor is going to be doing over the course of the contract and how it will benefit the municipality.
A Cut Above does highway mowing, in addition to standard mowing and maintenance on several area parks.
Contracts that protect and preserve
Terrell is vigilant when it comes to contract terms for other commercial clients as well, not to mention residential accounts. The seasonality of the landscaping business is especially in play in places like Georgia and Alabama where there is no snow-removal season.
The mowing season starts in April or May and runs through October. Then it’s onto November pine straw applications and leaf cleanups. But come late-November, it’s relatively quiet through the end of February.
That’s why Terrell not only prorates contracts, but also auto-renews them. That means the price which customers pay for his services is spread out evenly over a 12-month period. Then, at the end of the 12-month period, the contract is automatically renewed for another 12 months unless the client tells Terrell that they want to cancel; A Cut Above could also decide to cancel.
“Generally speaking, our customers have been receptive to it,” Terrell relates. “It’s pretty rare for a client to want to go year by year and scrutinize everything. So it has worked out very well. I’m kind of surprised that more contractors aren’t doing it.”