Five Steps to Increase Operational Efficiency in Your Landscape Business

Labor is the largest expense for almost all landscape operations. Your organizational skills and processes are important factors in your company’s efficiency in regard to your labor expense. I will outline five areas to increase operational efficiency in your landscape business. You can focus on these this year and I’ll explain why they are important to pay attention to.

First, let’s look at why “time is money” in the landscape profession. A simplified example shows:

If your company’s average year-end profit is:

  • 3% then 14.4 minutes of each 8 hour day is profit
  • 6% then 28.8 minutes of each 8 hour day is profit
  • 9% then 43.2 minutes of each 8 hour day is profit

This tally highlights the importance of minimizing or eliminating non-billable time and being as efficient as possible. Non- billable time is any time your crews are not working for and directly billing a customer. If you waste this precious profit time in a day, the entire day becomes unprofitable.

Cutting Out Non-billable Time

There are five areas or processes that you can focus on to minimize non-billable time and increase profitability in your operation.

  1. Track It
  • Start tracking any non-billable time through your accounting/payroll system. This can easily be implemented by creating a new expense account for non-billable time that can be tracked through most accounting packages such as QuickBooks™. Your crews will need to denote their non-billable time on their daily timesheets for this to work. Once you measure how much time is being recorded as non-billable, you can work to minimize it.
  1. Prescribe Times and Processes for AM and PM Shop Load/Unload
  • The foreperson is the only person punched in for morning loading and evening unloading to reduce overtime with crew people, unless an excessive amount of loading or unloading is required.
  • The end of the day is the most important time for tomorrow’s preparation. Allow no more than 30 minutes.
    • The truck and equipment should be fueled on the return to the shop at the end of the day.
    • The foreperson should review the day’s work and the next day’s assignments with you or your Manager.
    • The truck should be unloaded and then pre-loaded with everything for tomorrow’s job assignment and parked in its assigned spot.
  • Why is the end of day so important in reducing non-billable time?
    • It is critical that the crews arrive and are ready to roll by an assigned time in the morning. It establishes a momentum that will carry them throughout their day.
    • Crews hustle more in the afternoon to get these tasks done because it is the end of the day and they want to go home.
    • Crews return on a staggered basis in the afternoon, so there is less traffic in your yard and office.
  • The start of the day
    • The foreperson arrives at 6:45 AM, 15 minutes before the crews, for final prep, DOT pre-inspection, and final instructions.
    • All crew people arrive, are clocked in, and trucks roll out at 7:00 AM sharp.
    • This is a fast paced event. Everyone starts out the day with a sense of urgency. No hanging around sipping coffee. Start the day by setting a good example of how you want their day to go.
  1. Empower your staff by showing them the “Big Picture” with detailed and visible schedule boards.
  • The boards should include the jobs that the crews should complete that day, efficient geographic routing (start with the furthest site and work back towards your shop), budgeted man hours for each job, equipment and materials needed, etc.
  • Your entire staff (including the office) can easily see where everyone is going each day/week, who has what equipment, etc. This allows your forepersons to see their upcoming schedule, think ahead, and increase their efficiency
  • PROPER SCHEDULING + PROPER STAFFING = REDUCED OVERTIME + CLIENTS SERVICED WHEN PROMISED.
  1. Use enclosed trailers. Many of you have these, but for those who don’t here are some powerful reasons you should be considering them.
  • Reduce non-billable time because of less load/unload time each day because assigned equipment and tools are stored in their trailer and ready to go.
  • Reduce tool loss and equipment abuse since crews can be assigned tools and equipment for the year that they can secure and keep them out of the weather. Also great for winter storage.
  • Act as a large, mobile billboard advertisements for your company
  1. Job costing
  • This is the most important reporting you can use to ensure each job is profitable and your production rates in your estimating process are accurate. You should look at it weekly, but most definitely monthly.
  • Show your staff these reports on a regular and timely basis, and hold them accountable. Post the scores to create competition between crews. Be watchful of maintaining quality while you emphasize efficiency.
  • It is essential to keep it simple. I like to compare budget vs. actual man hours in maintenance, and I add budget vs. actual materials at cost in construction.

Everyone likes to work as efficiently as possible, whether you’re the owner or an employee. By focusing on the areas I’ve outlined, your staff will see that you have a solid, well thought out plan and schedule in place. You have implemented and communicated efficient processes on how you want things done. This will reduce everyone’s stress level, especially yours, and increase your profits from reduced non-billable time. Your stature with your staff will be elevated as you now run a well-oiled machine. Working smarter not harder is sometimes the name of the game. Make this Spring count!

About the Author 

Laurence Coronis is a business consultant and leadership coach focusing on profitability and bringing sustainability and organic practices into the Green Industry. With a B.S. in Plant Science from U.N.H., he founded Coronis Landscaping Inc., and in the 30 years of operation won numerous state and national awards, including a “Grand Prize for Landscape Excellence” from A.L.C.A. (now PLANET). Coronis Landscaping was named one of the top 100 landscape companies in the U.S. in 1999 by Landscape Management Magazine. After selling Coronis Landscaping to a national landscape company, Laurence stayed on as the Branch Manager. During the years of his leadership, his branch was consistently a top performer in customer retention and profitability. He has served on the Board of Directors and as President of N.H. Landscape Association and presently is on the Advisory Board for NOFA-OLC. He can be contacted at lsc@coronisconsulting.com or visit his website at www.coronisconsulting.com.

“It’s All About the People”

The quote in the title for this article is a comment made by Burt DeMarche of the Laurel Rock Company at a landscape association meeting, and it reminded me of the importance of taking care of your team. This really is the secret to achieving your competitive edge. After all, we all have the same equipment, skid steers, mowers, trucks, etc., (albeit different brands and condition) and similar supplies from our vendors. So the real difference is YOU and YOUR TEAM.

Employee Retention and Growth Is the Key

We all struggle to attract good team members, but we have to learn to focus more on how to retain the ones we have. A satisfied and happy staff will automatically attract more good recruits and act as positive representatives to your customers and the community at large. Turnover is disruptive to your entire operation and to the spirit of your company.

You’re Mainly a Coach, if Necessary a Boss

  1. Regard each staff member as an individual by acknowledging his or her unique strengths and limitations. Learn about and get to know each of your staff and what tasks will suit them in your operation.
  1. Train all of your staff, from day one, how to succeed with positive energy and attitude. All of us have experienced the first day on a new job and know that we go in on our first day excited and wanting to learn what to do. So make sure you take the time to train your new employees properly while maintaining their enthusiasm.
  1. Publicly praise your employees’ successes, no matter how small the success may be. Remember, “You get more with sugar, than you do with vinegar.” The number one item of importance in job satisfaction surveys is being appreciated for your efforts. Be sure not to include constructive criticism at the same time as praise. A good book to hone your skills is The One Minute Manager. It is a short read, but extremely helpful.
  1. Show your staff there is room for growth. If someone shows initiative, work together with that staff member to develop a plan and help him/her acquire the necessary skills to grow within your company. This is as simple as meeting with employees twice a year to review their performance and to guide them on developing skills or specifying the needed training to be able to grow within your company or in their position.
  1. Listen, listen, listen. Then respect what you hear and involve your employees in the success of the company. Include them when looking for new ideas, or trying to solve a specific problem. They may have a different perspective than you. When the staff is involved in the appropriate decision making processes they can make all the difference in helping companies move forward and adopt needed changes successfully. This, in turn, helps to empower them to be contributors to your team’s success and to keep thinking of new ideas because they know you are willing to listen.

Each day is so busy for you and trying to fit any more in seems impossible, but the way you lead your employees is the essence of your company. Your leadership defines your company culture and can be the recipe for your company’s success. We all know the struggle that occurs in the days and weeks after we unexpectedly lose a tenured and trained team member. So make time in every day to know, coach, listen to, and respect your team, because “It’s All About the People”!

About the Author

Laurence Coronis is a business consultant and leadership coach focusing on profitability and bringing sustainability and organic practices into the Green Industry. With a B.S. in Plant Science from U.N.H., he founded Coronis Landscaping Inc., and in the 30 years of operation won numerous state and national awards, including a “Grand Prize for Landscape Excellence” from A.L.C.A. (now PLANET). Coronis Landscaping was named one of the top 100 landscape companies in the U.S. in 1999 by Landscape Management Magazine. After selling Coronis Landscaping to a national landscape company, Laurence stayed on as the Branch Manager. During the years of his leadership, his branch was consistently a top performer in customer retention and profitability. He has served on the Board of Directors and as President of N.H. Landscape Association and presently is on the Advisory Board for NOFA-OLC. He can contacted at lsc@coronisconsulting.com or visit his website at www.coronisconsulting.com.

Budgeting – The Keystone to Success and Profitability

“How come my operation isn’t more profitable?” is usually the first question I hear from a new consulting client. Upon reviewing many operations, I am amazed that a majority of my new clients do not have an annual budget. Landscape professionals enjoy working outside and their least favorite thing to do is to spend time on the business side of their operation. Many work hard and hope things work out. Excuses abound: too busy, not good with numbers, fear of the unknown, etc.

Reflecting on my experience with my own company, I KNOW that my success and eventual profitable sale of my business was strongly based on the fact that I had a detailed budget and business plan. A business plan built by and communicated to key members of my management team. And budgeting is the keystone to a business plan. Here is why.

Continue reading

Hindsight Is 20/20: The Importance of Off-season Planning

end-of-season-planning-landscape-businessesRight about now most Green Industry professionals are burnt out. They can’t wait for the end of the busy season and are looking forward to enjoying a break. But the upcoming winter months are the most important time for you to plan and prepare for your future success. The old adage, “hindsight is 20/20” is true, but it requires that you turn around and look back at the year with your glasses on!

At the end of the season, off-season planning for landscaping businesses includes asking questions and evaluating your past year.

The off-season is the best time to assess what’s working and what’s not with your business, while your impressions of the year are still fresh. Taking time to review the year now will help you make important changes, plan ahead, and set new goals. But don’t do this in a vacuum. Build your goals with your team and communicate your vision for the upcoming season so that your entire team is committed to your company’s future success. Continue reading