Green Industry Pros: Can you tell me about yourselves and your business?
James Jakobsen: We went to the same high school together in Edmonds, Wash., so we've known each other for a while now, and we were both attracted to the green industry even at a young age. We saw a ton of opportunity and room for growth, so we teamed up early to focus on landscape maintenance.
Peter Roberts: Early on, we knew this was a large industry but also very fragmented, and we wanted to be different. We were full residential, maintenance and design/build, and it wasn’t until later that we morphed into commercial landscape maintenance. We wanted to revolutionize the business, so we developed a fully subcontracted model. They’re technicians and are good at what they do, and we can sell and do the client management because we’ve learned over the past 15 years how to perfect that client relationship and the vendor relationships.
Green Industry Pros: Can you talk to me about how you’ve achieved significant growth in your business the past several years?
Jakobsen: Once we honed in the model and wanted to run with it, we hired our first sales guy, and he’s actually still with us after eight to nine years. We started building the pipeline and going for it. We perfected the CARE model, which stands for communicate effectively, a sense of urgency, relationship building and easy to work with. That’s how we approach vendors and clients, and that’s helped grow the business. We’ve also really focused on account management, a piece I believe many landscapers are missing. So, we focus on sales and management, and our crews can worry about the mowers. About two years ago, we sold our first franchise.
Roberts: James and I always wanted to scale it nationally, so we grew two corporate branches, one in Portland and one in Denver, and that was kind of seeding the marketing for us. A year or so later, we sold our first franchise, and we’re at 22 open locations (as of 2022), and we’re looking to expand to 50 by the end of 2023.
Green Industry Pros: Can you talk to me about some of the challenges you encountered along the way and how you overcame them?
Roberts: There’s been lots of challenges. Labor is tough to manage, so we always learn to adapt and evolve and try to become better. When it was about the labor and the equipment, we decided to subcontract it. We got hit very hard with the recession, and that was when we were really focused on residential, and we lost 80 percent of our business. So, we decided to focus and streamline on commercial maintenance clients. We've learned through mistakes that we've made and learned how to make ourselves better and improve ourselves.
Green Industry Pros: And what were some of those mistakes that you learned from?
Roberts: One of them is how we communicate with people with our vendors, with our employees, with our franchisees. When you start as an owner/operator like James and me, it’s a lot easier to communicate when there’s only a handful of people. As you grow and expand and you have more people, learning different types of communication is important. I don’t know if that’s a mistake, but more a learning experience.
Green Industry Pros: And what advice would you give to those just starting out in the green industry?
Jakobsen: One of our core values is valuing the sweat, which is basically showing these guys respect and not pointing fingers at them and yelling at them. It’s showing them that we care about them honestly, and we want them to be part of the bigger team that we're building. Another core value is GSD, or getting stuff done, and so focusing on that and knowing the difference between getting stuff done and being busy.
Roberts: If someone is walking around a property and pointing fingers and getting angry, that’s the kind of stuff that creates conflicts and that can ruin relationships, so we always train everyone in our system that we need to go in with full respect for everybody. We also have always had mentors and people that we can talk to. It’s important to always have an outside perspective that you can brainstorm with. Finally, we learned that sales aren’t always going to come to you. So, always be out there and selling. In the commercial industry, they’re not going to come knocking down your door. You have to go get it.