Marty's Turf: How to Run a Successful Landscaping Business in 2015

​Marty's Turf is a monthly column written by Green Industry Consultant and Grunder Landscaping Company CEO Marty Grunder. Have questions for Marty or an idea for an upcoming column? Leave us a comment below. 

​​Hello everyone! I hope your spring is busy and prosperous, ours at Grunder Landscaping Co. sure is. We are seeing activity and sales at a level we have not seen since 2008. For all of us 'growing' companies, its been a nice change after the challenges of the years gone by. Like all businesses, there are changes. I know that three short years ago, most of our efforts and struggles centered on finding the work. Now, we are experiencing the challenge of finding the workers! There is never a dull moment in the green industry. I will tell you though, I know entrepreneurs in all walks of life, and al​​​l of them have challenges and things they have to overcome. A positive, can-do attitude can help you overcome a lot. So, as we venture into the 2015 landscaping season, what can you do to help have the best, most prosperous, stress-free year? I want to share 3 things I see as 'trends'.

Be clear about what a win looks like for your team for 2015.

First of all, any notion you have that your teams are trying to purposely make mistakes and affect your profitability should be cast aside. I am licensed to say that for many of my years, I erroneously looked for someone to blame for all my problems. When I finally realized that the person most responsible for my problems was me, I improved tremendously as a leader. The first job of a leader is to cast vision, and to provide the operation direction. Your people can't help you win, if you don't tell them what a win looks like, so you need to be the painter of that picture. If you are stuck, then just answer this question: What needs to happen between now and the end of the year, for us to have a winning year? If you have a profit level in mind, go backwards and write out what needs to be done to get there. How many clients do you have to serve?  How are you going to serve them? How are you going to attract new ones? Spend some time thinking about your future and get an idea of what you want to accomplish and start sharing your plans with your team.

Be clear about what's in store for your team if you win in 2015.  

The toughest part about running a business is motivating your team. Your team will not be motivated by helping the company's owner buy a new boat or house. Instead, seeing a career path, if they succeed at their current job, will motivate them. Your team will be motivated by getting a raise for helping the company reach a level of profitability not attained before. Your team will be motivated by being given responsibility and by receiving training and education. While free sodas, pizza, and deep sea fishing trips are all nice, what today's modern worker wants, in my opinion, is the feeling of being included. Companies that share information actually are not jeopardizing their future by revealing secrets; they are instead helping their teams better understand where everyone is going and how their contribution affects the outcome. I see companies all the time that have key people leave to start their own business, because us business owners make everything look so easy. Companies that talk about the good and the bad with their teams help their folks understand the whole picture and help them see that running a business isn't easy. It's important that your employees know that together you can be successful, but apart, you might not be. Get your team together and ask them what they like and don't like. Ask them what motivates them. Yep, the tough questions, and you might not like some of the answers. However, if you listen, you can and will improve your organization.

Listen to the Customer.  

When was the last time you asked your clients about their unmet wants? Dale Carnegie said, 'when you take an interest in others, they take an interest in you'. A good example listening to the customer happened to us recently when our Gravely representative, Keith Darding, came to our shop and did some personal one-on-one training with our mowing teams and our fleet manager. How do you think that went over? How important to think we felt? Its spring, but Keith still found the time to come see us and help us, because Keith has vision and that brings us back to the second point, 'Be clear about what a win looks like for your team in 2015'. Keith knows if he keep us happy, and if we know how to use the equipment properly, we'll never buy another brand of mower and we'll make more money. Keith knows that relationships matter. I can't tell you how many landscapers I know that run a particular brand of mower, more so because of the service they received than the mower itself. Think about that, because it can be applied to the clients that we as landscapers work with as well. Listen to that customer. Be 'everything' to a select few, rather than trying to be everything to everyone.  Get to know your clients, have a dialog with them, truly listen and adjust your business accordingly and you will win.

Look, there are a lot of new things going on in the ever-changing landscaping industry.  However, the more things change, the more they stay the same in terms of what you need to do to make your business successful. Being clear about what a win looks like, showing your team what's in it for them if you win, and listening to the customer are all things we can focus on now. Smart business owners are never asleep at the wheel, they are always looking for ways to improve, but they also never loose sight of the basics and focus on those constantly. ​

I'm going to go mow my lawn for therapy now. I push-mow the front yard and my son rides on the glorious Gravely 60" Pro-Turn in the back! 

Gravely® Atlas JSV Wins Landscape and Irrigation’s Twenty for 2015 New Product Award

Landscape and Irrigation announced its selections for the "Twenty for 2015" new product awards this week, and the Gravely Atlas JSV took home the prize in the UTV category.

 

The Twenty for 2015 new product awards recognize products in the commercial landscape and irrigation markets. Products were judged by the Green Media editorial staff based on innovation, marketability and application within the market.

"Development plans began on the JSV with our past experience and involvement in the UTV category," said Director of the Gravely Brand Bill Engler. "We understood that a market exists for a jobsite-specific vehicle that fits the needs of the contractor, so we ceased the production of our UTV, the Trekker, and decided to partner with an OEM to bring together their expertise of the UTV industry and our knowledge of the needs of the landscaping industry. The partnership allowed us to develop the ultimate work vehicle."​

 

The Atlas JSV was launched on Sept. 22, 2014, with contractors getting their first look at the vehicle during the 2014 GIE + Expo in Louisville, K.Y. that October.

"Through our experience with our previous UTV, our customers were telling us they needed a vehicle to hold up the rigors of a landscape contractor," Engler added. "That led us to perform market study groups all over the country. We learned that there are many vehicles that can do work, but they are also trying to be everything to everyone. No one had a vehicle specifically designed and targeted to the jobsite." ​

Throughout development with the Polaris team, Gravely was able to do just that, and has successfully designed a vehicle that can support landscape contractors who work all day, every day. The Atlas MX-18 JobBox sets it apart. The 48.2-inch by 57-inch by 11.4-inch box can accommodate a standard pallet with the tailgate closed and has a capacity of 1,250 pounds. The machine also has a 1,900-pound payload and a 2,000-pound towing capacity. In addition, it's rugged exterior with dual headlights and ample interior, with seating room for three or six adults, makes it the perfect complement to any jobsite.

Interested in learning more? Visit www.gravelyatlas.com to see our vehicle's specs and request a demo.

Landscape and Irrigation remains the independent voice of the industries for which it is named, and reaches decision makers throughout the landscape and irrigation markets - including contractors, landscape architects, professional grounds managers, and irrigation and water management companies. Landscape and Irrigation is published by Green Media, a division of EPG Media and Specialty Information, Plymouth, Minn. For more information, visit www.landscapeirrigation.com.

Gravely® Landscapes and Beautifies Harbor House Domestic Abuse Shelter as part of NALP Day of Service

National grassroots event organizes thousands in landscaping industry for day of volunteering

In celebration of Earth Day, Gravely® took part in the National Association of Landscape Professionals' (NALP) Day of Service Event.

Ariens Company employees, in partnership with Vande Hey Landscaping, worked to improve the curb appeal of the Harbor House in Appleton, Wis. During the event, volunteers from both companies volunteered by spreading mulch, planting trees and flowers and pulling weeds. More than $6,500 in materials and labor was donated.

NALP's Day of Service event is a grassroots event that gives professionals in the landscape industry an opportunity to plan, organize, and carry-out volunteer service projects that benefit their communities. In 2014, approximately 89 projects were completed in 24 states, and more than 2,200 volunteers participated. Over $400,000 in time and services was donated to local communities.

"This project was very important to us as members of the green industry, and we were excited to be able to celebrate Earth Day while helping out a great local organization, Harbor House Domestic Abuse Services," said Ariens Company Director of Gravely Brand Bill Engler. "Beautifying the area and the community is important for the neighborhood as well as the people that live here."

For more information, and to see a map of other NALP Day of Service projects that took place across the country, visit: https://www.planetdayofservice.org/. Videos and photos from last year's event can be found on Flickr and YouTube.

Established in 1984 as a program of the Outagamie County Department of Human Services, Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs began as a grassroots organization offering a safe shelter and basic crisis services to women and children hurt by domestic abuse. Today, the Harbor House is an integrated and supportive community, surrounding women and children with a comprehensive range of program options.

The building is perched alongside a long road, making it the perfect subject for a landscaping renovation. Employees from the Ariens Company re-landscaped three areas along the building's façade over a span of six hours. 

Gravely® Sponsors PLANET Student Career Days - Event Provides Insight into Green Industry Jobs

Gravely® is supporting 2015 Student Career Days as a Silver Sponsor for the ninth consecutive year. The annual competition and networking event for students enrolled in green industry programs from colleges and universities across the country is organized by PLANET, the Professional Landscape Network. More than 850 students are expected to participate in this year's event which will be held at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, N.C. from March 12 to 15.

"Student Career days provides a fantastic environment for mentoring and an exchange of ideas between students and green industry professionals, said Ariens Company Director of Commercial Sales Bill Engler. "The event is intense and fast-paced, leaving you feeling energized about the future of the business. We're happy to have the opportunity to get to know the next generation that will be leading our industry."

Students will compete in more than 20 different events that include tree climbing, paver/hardscape installation, wood construction, plant identification, sales presentation, exterior/interior design, irrigation troubleshooting, personnel management, and small engine repair.

Gravely will sponsor the truck and trailer event, as well as the sales event.  In the truck and trailer event, a team of students are given the opportunity to load a Gravely mower on a trailer and then drive an obstacle with the loaded vehicle. For the sales event, students must sell a landscape design project to clients. Both events provide a simulation of what it might be like to work in the green industry.

Ariens Vice President of Engineering and Quality Jim Masters Looks Forward to 2015 Lawn and Garden Season

Jim Masters joined the Ariens Company just over a year ago and is bringing more than 30 years of new product development, demonstrated innovation, and world-wide engineering experience from such established industries as automotive, aerospace, military and commercial environments.  He now holds the position of Vice President of Ariens Engineering and Quality.

We sat down with Jim to discuss his role at Ariens and how he makes sure Gravely equipment lives up to the quality standards the brand is known for.

Gravely: Can you please describe the quality standards set in place at the Ariens Company, and the quality process that is used when manufacturing machines?

Masters: This is a very involved question, and depending on the detail – could take one to two sentences or require a novel.  Something that differentiates us from our competitors is that Ariens quality embeds its discipline at each initial stage of product and process conception, revision/modification and certainly design.  With an alignment of the quality discipline under engineering, we have assured ourselves that our quality eyes are focused properly throughout the product's construction and assembly, and furthermore, throughout each and every product's lifespan. We also work very hard to incorporate the voice of our customers into these quality and design efforts.  We have found over the years that where the blade hits the turf – that's where the real experiences surface.

Of course, assuring that our products are manufactured to specific requirements remains our utmost priority; however, almost equally as important for us is that our quality vision and long standing culture is embedded into our designs and processes.  Having this type of early involvement by our quality team assures us and our customers that at every stage, and at every level, we have a significant member of that team focusing totally on the Ariens quality experience.  It's the way it should be, but very few actually do it.

Gravely: You're in charge of engineering for new product development. Can you talk about how you've restructured your team and what it means for the future?

Masters: Of course!  We have recently restructured our technical talent base into two discrete functions: one that is dedicated to the product line itself (Engineering Platform Management), and another that is responsible for the technology (Engineering Centers of Excellence [CoEs]).  This concentration has and will continue to produce more products more efficiently, as well as turbo-charge our innovation efforts – all to provide even better results to our customers.

The organization is in full swing now at the Ariens Company, and has made exceptional strides not only by improving our new product development efficiency, but by now providing a continuous stream of new solutions and ideas in a timely manner. It's very exciting.

Gravely: Describe your vision and philosophy on new product development.

Masters: This is simple-- lead! I believe we really do understand the landscape commercial market, as well as all of the other markets we provide products and solutions for. I also believe that we are now properly aligned to take advantage of this knowledge, to continue to ask the right questions, reach the right field environments to get the feedback we need to continue our understanding, and then to produce what I feel are both evolutionary and revolutionary new products. This is a very exciting time for me, and I believe for the Ariens Company, as well. Stay tuned – I guarantee you some exciting stuff is in the near future.

Gravely: What goals do you have for "critical to quality" projects? Can you describe what some of those projects are?

Masters: Here at Ariens, we have fairly detailed methods to ascertain a "critical to quality" (CTQ) product.  We have mechanisms and triggers in place throughout multiple disciplines (i.e.: sales, dealer channel, customer service, end users, etc.) where issues can and are reported – and depending on the internal trigger criteria established in each of these areas, a CTQ will be generated.  There isn't one issue, when brought to the attention of any of these groups, that doesn't get surfaced in some way or another for review and understanding.  It is very important for us to keep all of these channels open and to encourage both internal and external feedback on our products. 

Once an issue does trigger a CTQ, it gets classified into one of three alerts. A red CTQ alert demands a team on the issue immediately. These may pertain to equipment that is down or has become non-functional for some reason, or may involve a safety or operational concern.  Red CTQ's are very rare at Ariens.  The next level is a yellow CTQ, which gets submitted to the proper engineering platform manger and is then assigned to the appropriate technical team (with other representation from the company as needed). 

These are entered and tracked on real time internal electronic dashboards and are available for Ariens employees to view at any time.  The boards contain just what the CTQ/concern is, what is being done to resolve it and when we expect to have it solved forever.  The last alert level contains the rest, which are issues that have not triggered a red or yellow CTQ, but are still of significant importance to the company.  These are reviewed in detail when we perform a product enhancement, or are evaluating a product or product line.  Of course, my goal is zero CTQ's, and that is why I personally review every potential and current CTQ.

Gravely: What are you most excited about for this upcoming lawn and garden season?

Masters: Everything! I don't know how not to be. Every season is exciting, isn't it? It's another chance to get our equipment out into the field, performing to and hopefully beyond our expectations. It's also another opportunity to get in touch with our dealers and end users to continue to even better understand their real world perspectives of living and working with our equipment over time. Best of all, it's another chance to spend quality time with our customers, and to honestly enjoy the satisfaction of our combined efforts during the off season. 

What is there not to be excited about every year?  Not only is spring traditionally celebrated across the country as a desired seasonal time change, but for Ariens, spring is much more than that. It's a very special time indeed.  Just this year we will have launched the new Atlas JSV, a totally different type of 4-wheel workhorse that is specifically designed for the commercial and professional customer. Currently, we are launching the Gravely ZTX, with a whole new look and some very impressive upgraded functions that I am anxious and excited for our customers to see and experience.  We're looking forward to this lawn and garden season!