Survival Mode

Bryan Buero of Detroit-area Trio Outdoor Maintenance is surviving the recession by deploying marketing strategies that focus on high-end residential customer retention.

Bryan Buero prefers to be in the field, but is learning how to balance that with the need to manage his growing business.
Bryan Buero prefers to be in the field, but is learning how to balance that with the need to manage his growing business.

Operating in the highly depressed Detroit area, Trio Outdoor Maintenance in Mount Clemens, MI, took a loss in 2007. On a positive note, the amount of business coming from commercial accounts had shifted from 50% to just over 60%, which is right where Buero likes to see it. But on the flipside, residential business was getting harder to retain—at least the type Trio Outdoor Maintenance had been pursuing.

Targeting the Right Residential

“We had to change our demographics in terms of household income,” Buero tells. “Over the years, we’d gotten a lot of work from the $45-$50k income bracket. But when the economy slipped, this market tightened up big time. So in 2008 we started putting a plan together to go after the $65-$70k bracket.”

The plan was initiated in 2009, which included some obvious tweaks to the direct marketing effort in terms of households targeted. Additionally, Trio Outdoor Maintenance amped up the spotlight on its refined value proposition.

“We wanted to offer more of a personalized service, providing pretty much anything a customer could ask us to do,” Buero relates. The strategy has worked, and Trio’s residential business is growing again.

“Offering more services on a property has allowed us to really shine in the way of customer service,” Buero points out. “Referrals are now coming in faster than ever. If you want to grow your residential business on referrals, you need customers who give you the opportunity to provide great service—and appreciate it when you do.”

Offering more services on a property has also allowed Trio Outdoor Maintenance to drive revenue, as opposed to just their maintenance truck. “Our drive time has really gone down,” Buero says. “When we drive to a property, we’re spending more time there and billing more hours. So we’re not only increasing sales, but also profits. That makes me feel a lot more comfortable.”

Empowering the Team to Step Up

Buero is also a lot more comfortable with his team—largely due to changes he has made, not just his employees.

“When we shifted our focus to the higher-income homeowners, I knew that the caliber of my employees had to change,” Buero says. “I got involved in the Michigan Green Industry Association (MGIA), PLANET and TCIA. I enrolled in a couple of landscape design courses at Macomb Community College.

“Then I took myself out of the office and went back into the field to train my guys,” Buero continues. “Certain employees have certain skills, and I couldn’t see that sitting back in my office. I needed to get out there to see what was going on. We’ve really created an educational component to our company, and it’s helped tremendously.”

Catering to a more affluent clientele has forced the Trio team to really step up its game. Buero says that, traditionally, the higher-income homeowner didn’t pay much attention to what his landscape maintenance provider was doing. “Nowadays,” Buero says, “these customers spend a lot more time at home, and pay really close attention to what is and isn’t getting done. I need my employees to be able to talk with customers and provide educated answers.”

Providing talented employees with the training and motivation to excel was an important step in getting Trio Outdoor Maintenance back on track. Buero has also made a concerted effort to change the way employees view their jobs. “It took some time, but I finally got the point across that I do not pay my employees—our customers pay them,” Buero says.

Appealing to Today’s Consumers

Even though the company’s new focus on higher-end consumers has helped kick-start referrals, Buero still feels strongly that, in today’s market, you have to actively look for new customers. “Consumers are more educated today; they know what they want before you show up to give them an estimate,” Buero says. “You have six seconds to tell them what they want to hear.”

As an owner in the field, Buero now “takes his office with him” to accommodate today’s consumers. He purchased a smartphone so he could have unlimited Internet access. From there he got involved with GoToMyPC so he could access files on his computer back at the office.

“Customers really like that,” Buero says, adding that it’s a lot less expensive than paying office staff to look all of that information up for him. “Now I have just one administrative person who handles all of the hard paperwork. And she’s working off of much more accurate information because she’s getting it directly from me in the field.”

“In the field” is where Bryan Buero prefers to be, and it’s where his customers and employees gain the most from him. This strategy has helped his company earn a second chance, and Trio Outdoor Maintenance plans to make the most of it.

Through August of last year, total sales were already at 2009 year-end levels; tree care was up 12%, landscape maintenance up 8%, lawn care up 3%. From August through December, maintenance remained steady while lawn care continued to increase. Tree care revenue dipped a bit.

Also in late-2010, Trio Outdoor Maintenance won a Gold Level Award from PLANET’s annual Safety Recognition Awards Program. “This year we have plans to continue our growth trend by hiring a salesperson,” Buero says. “I also plan to obtain the designation of CLP (now known as Landscape Industry Certified Manager) through PLANET, in addition to becoming an ISA Certified Arborist.”