Keys to Success

As I wind down my career, after a span of 60 years in the green industry, I reflect over all that time to see what I’ve learned and how I’ve benefited. How can I impart some of the wisdom I’ve gained from my experiences to others?

I’ve made lots of mistakes over this time period, and as I recall them, I’ll mention them. However, what I really hope is that someone out there will be able to pick out some thoughts that will help them in their business.

I think back to the beginning. It was 1967, and all I wanted to do was start a business for myself. I wanted to be my own boss; but more importantly, I needed to be able to support my family. It’s one thing to know the technical skills of your business—i.e., installing an irrigation system, laying sod, planting shrubs and trees—but learning the business end of the business is equally as important.

As my business grew and I began to employ a few people, I realized that not all people are the same. My work ethic was different from some of them, and it wasn’t long before I began to make changes. I realized that I could hire more people to do the same amount of work, or I could try to modify my employees’ outlook. In a competitive industry, there is no way you can just add more people; you would price yourself out of the market.

Once I had a small company going, I began to develop procedures to help us grow. Little did I realize that I was establishing a culture for this company. We needed to form some sort of mission statement, if only for our internal use. I needed to get everyone on board, thinking the same way about how to treat our clients and conduct our business.

It wasn’t an easy task, and it certainly didn’t happen in a day. I believe that every company, no matter how small or large, has a culture. However, once you’ve fostered that culture, you have to work on it, to see that it doesn’t change. It’s like dialing an old-fashioned radio: you dial in a station and try to get the strongest signal, but sometimes someone thinks he can get it stronger, so he moves the dial and gets a weaker signal, along with some static. First and foremost, you must get everyone in the company to buy into your vision; if you don’t, that one individual can poison others in the company.

Another thing I learned was that you have to be passionate about your business. If you like what you’re doing, that passion will come through. It is what will drive you and your company to a higher level. There’s an old saying, ‘Enthusiasm is contagious.’ When I started my business, I didn’t know if it would survive or fail. Quite frankly, I never even thought of failure. In retrospect, I realize that, when making an investment—both in time and money, good business practices require that you need to analyze both sides. You have to look at the upside and plan for growth, but you also need to look at the downside. What if your plan doesn’t work out? How much of an investment are you willing to make, and is there an exit strategy?

Probably the most important thing I did learn was integrity. I wanted to offer my potential clients a service, but I didn’t want to be a fly-by-night. I didn’t want to take anyone’s money without giving them value, so I made sure to deliver what we promised. We could not embellish on what we promised. More importantly, if we added some extra value, they were ahead of the game and, of course, we gained a more loyal following.

Keeping a client satisfied is more than just doing a good job for them; it requires a personal touch as well. As I look around our industry, I see CEOs and presidents of companies making visits to their clients. In other words, they just don’t leave it up to their field people, or their salespeople. The culture within these companies dictates that top management go out in the field and press the flesh.

However, too many times, I’ve seen landscape companies’ management sit in their offices, never once going out to talk to their customers. If they lose an account, it would never dawn on them that maybe, had they developed a more personal business relationship with that client, they wouldn’t have lost it.

In addition to working with our editorial people, my focus has been to talk to our clients, to interact with our readers. I wanted to find out what was happening in their world; how they see their businesses. By maintaining these personal business relationships, I developed an even more passionate drive. I loved what I was doing.

To sum all this up, sure, there are other business skills you need to incorporate into your business. However, to me, it is most important that we maintain a culture, that we develop an esprit de corps, a camaraderie, amongst our staff. And of course, have integrity.

It’s important that you believe that what you’re doing is right. Remember, to thine own self be true.