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Industry Insights

Reflecting on New England GROWS 2016

I recently had the pleasure of attending one of the US landscaping industry’s biggest annual trade shows, New England Grows. I had a great few days in sunny Boston and was impressed by some of the innovative services coming out of the area right now.

As I spoke with people over the course of the show, I recognized a familiar sentiment I hear from landscaping business owners here in Canada, and that's the desire to have a better handle on the management side of things.

It's a weak spot that's understandable. So many people get into this business because they have a great grasp on how to deliver the goods and they love the work. The time flies by ploughing through the projects, learning how to do it all. Great products and service result and the business grows. But then one day, they can wake up to realize they're running a business with dozens of employees and need help taking care of their people and getting on track to ensure the growth continues.

Business management skills tailored to the needs of landscapers are needed, and trade conferences and industry shows are the perfect opportunity for owners and managers to get a quick injection of professional development. NE Grows had a couple of great talks related to the all-important topics of staffing and sales, both from growth consultant Jason Cupp.

The first seminar, "How to get and retain employees," focused largely on company culture. Jason shared a quote from Hubspot that really resonated with me:

“Culture is to recruiting as product is to marketing.”

The point is really quite simple… We need to actively create a great place for people to work. A place that people can be excited to tell their friends and family about. Jason provided some quick tips for giving company culture a needed shot in the arm. Here are a few of the easiest ones to implement:

  • As the owner, use we, rather than me.

  • Show up on the job site. Bring water or treats.

  • Give your employees the opportunity to learn new things.

  • Have a company BBQ/picnic and invite your employees' families.

  • Praise your employees in public.

  • Publish your core values.

  • Do reviews – annually at a minimum.

  • Publish an employee handbook.

Jason's second session was on creating customer-centric sales strategies. Jason confirmed my own experience in speaking with small- to medium-sized landscapers over the years, that the majority (75-80%) of companies have a sales strategy that is focused on themselves and their own systems and processes, and not their customer. This is a surprising choice considering that a company will not last too long without customers. As Jason pointed out, every business is in in the "delivering-client- expectations business" and this needs to come out in how we deal with the people paying the invoices.

When we work with companies at Compass, we help them focus in on the right strategies and positioning in order get the results they're looking for in their marketing. I believe firmly in the approach we take, to first address who they are, truthfully… what they do, exactly… who they do it for, specifically… and why it matters, really. We find the benefits of establishing these fundamentals are company wide, and the common challenges of sales strategies, recruiting and employee retention become less daunting.

I look forward to seeing more business management info put out there that's relevant and accessible to the landscaping industry professionals. It's always great to see the small start-ups get what they need to grow into strong, successful companies!

Special mention to some vendors:

December 9, 2016