Mulch Ado About Nothing

It's fun to criticize, but much more constructive to empathize.

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In landscape maintenance, detail is what separates the good companies from the mediocre. Detail matters with respect to tasks such as mowing and pruning, along with crew appearance, estimating, billing and collection, and client communication. If you want to build an impeccable reputation and grow a profitable maintenance division, you have to master the details.

This issue we're featuring a wonderful family-based company from Oklahoma that has done just that. The Nesslers don't really do anything fancy. But to steal one of the lamest business clichés of all time, they always execute their blocking and tackling. They have a nose for the details.

Speaking of details, I want to reflect back on our last issue that came out the week or so before Christmas. In it we'd featured our annual Hidden Gems list of fast-growing, “unknown” companies. Every time I'd received a Facebook or Twitter notification when one of these 25 companies shared this news with their followers, I couldn't help but smile. I knew that the recognition meant a lot to them. The positive feedback they receive from their friends and peers is uplifting to me.

It's not just about the national recognition, though. The leaders of those 25 companies spent a lot of time sharing a lot of insights into how they've achieved recent success. They shared these insights to help you, their fellow readers and landscaping industry peers. Somewhere along the path of entrepreneurship, another landscape company probably helped them. Now they are doing well for themselves and want to pay it forward. Hopefully when you read something from a peer that helps you in your business, you take the time to reach out to them and thank them.

Sometimes the feedback I personally receive isn’t so uplifting. On the cover of that same issue, I'd utilized a photo showing a young fella' mowing some heavy growth in early springtime. A couple of readers—no doubt successful maintenance contractors with a keen eye for detail themselves—eagerly called me to point out what they’d discovered: clippings being discharged into a mulched shrub bed. Generally speaking, that is not a wise thing to do; the operator is probably going to upset either the customer or his boss (extra labor hours cleaning out the bed!).

I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, though. Maybe the crew was going to re-mulch that day, so the mower operator was actually saving on cleanup time by not having to blow clippings out of the street. Maybe that’s a stretch, but I’m granting benefit of the doubt. In my mind, there was enough doubt that I went forward with the photo because it was a pretty cool photo—and the operator even had his ROPS in the correct position, not to mention the discharge guard. It’s pretty rare to get real-life photos where all of the safety protocols are in order.

Going forward I will continue to do the best I can to avoid giving the impression that I’m endorsing unprofessional, unsafe or idiotic practices. Please call me out (preferably through a public comment on our website and/or Facebook page) when I fail. But once in a great while, also consider granting some benefit of the doubt. That said, I’m just the silly editor of a magazine you don’t pay for. When it comes to your employees, though, you should ALWAYS give them the benefit of the doubt.