Jan. 1 2001 12:00 AM

by Julie Ferraro

Hiring quality employees that remain with the company for extended periods of time has become a challenge for most companies. This situation is exacerbated for most landscape companies by the fact that their business is dependent on the seasons. However, the majority of potential employees require year-round employment to support their families and pay their bills.

This problem not only involves the field employees, but it also applies to the sales and office staff. And these workers are the backbone of every landscape organization.

The importance of retaining qualified landscape architects/ designers, project managers, sales people, and clerical staff is vital to the smooth operation of any landscape business. Turnover equals expense, in the form of newspaper ads, training, and potential loss of sales or leads.

Existing customers prefer dealing with the same staff year after yearpeople who are familiar with their landscaping preferences and can anticipate their needs. A customer who sees a new face each time he visits, or must call and remind the company of his needs is a customer who may very well look elsewhere for an organization that will meet his requirements.

There are a number of ways landscape companies can retain their key employees. For the most part, it doesnt just come down to the amount on their paychecks. The atmosphere of the office must be positive and conducive to growth both individually and as a company. Management must provide organizational tools so each new project proceeds efficiently, from the signing of the contract to the final billing. And rules once made must be observed, not randomly enforced depending on an employees potentially sensitive temperament. The value of each employee and the job he performs must be frequently reaffirmed, in a variety of ways.

Office employees should be paid a competitive salary 52 weeks per year.
It is understood that many sales and design staff work excessive hours during the landscape season, and often there is an agreement that they will work fewer hours in the winter months. However, those who consistently put in 40 hours every week are no less vital to the companys success. Their value is in their knowledge of accounting, human resources, customer service, etc., and their initiative and their resourcefulness. If they work a few less hours each week during the off season, this is no reason to reduce their pay. Come springtime and the rush, they will step up and use their skills to meet every crisis, as well as keeping customers satisfied and the money flowing.

Most landscape companies offer their sales and design staff a commission for projects sold. The percentage of this commission should be clearly detailed, and easy to understand, and it should be paid promptly each month or quarter, according to the agreement.

It is customary for some landscape companies to offer their field employees bonuses based on the prompt, accurate completion of a project. It is a reward for these employees because the company is making their profit.

The office staff should not be ignored when bonuses are issued. They work just as hard to ensure the customers satisfaction; they make certain the contracts are accurate before being mailed (often catching errors that could cost the company hundreds or thousands of dollars). They send the billings out on time and assure any collection efforts are performed. In addition, they make certain that the OSHA regulations are enforced, employee meetings are organized, and payroll checks go out on time. Rewarding their efforts is key to maintaining company morale.

Landscape companies with a regular series of safety meetings and employee meetings often recognize their employees with small tokens of appreciation. Some include an Employee of the Month program. The office staff should be included in this mix.
The signing of an exceptionally large contract, for instance, might merit the sales staff a lunch or dinner at a local restaurant. Birthdays, anniversaries, or other special occasions might rate a balloon bouquet, greeting card, or floral arrangement, while illnesses or hospital stays should be acknowledged appropriately, showing the companys concern for the employees health.

Continuing Education
Every landscape company should strongly promote continuing training for its employees. If the need arises for office staff to learn a second language, as within a company that employs a large number of Hispanic employees, or to learn a new computer program, the training should be made available.
Landscape architects and salespeople can keep abreast of the latest trends in design by attending any of the numerous national conferences offered each year. Training to fulfill the requirements for the various licenses should be paid in full by the company. The weekends or evenings spent in these pursuits should be compensated by a morning or afternoon off, as the schedule allows, to show the companys appreciation for the employees extra efforts.

These may all sound like common sense suggestions, but all too often, in the crush of daily business, good intentions never get implemented. However, the importance of retaining valuable core staff members year-round cannot be allowed to fall by the wayside without negatively impacting the entire company.

Jan-Feb 2001