Jan. 28 2019 06:00 AM

The task of building a great reputation is as tough as landscape work itself. But the payoff for the effort can be spectacularly good.

The task of building a great reputation is as tough as landscape work itself. But the payoff for the effort can be spectacularly good.

It doesn’t show up on your company balance sheet. You can’t list it along with cash on hand or equipment owned when applying for a loan. Yet while it has no tangible value, your company’s reputation is by far its most valuable asset. Because, over time, having no reputation or a substandard reputation equals no business or a substandard business — and substandard profits.

Great reputations aren’t made overnight, nor easily. A reputation is the summation of everything you’ve said, done, delivered, performed, guaranteed and served to your clients month after month, year after year and on those special occasions when they really needed you to come through for them.

Sometimes, great reputations are earned virtually overnight like when you respond to a service call on a holiday weekend. The client’s main line is broken at the entry to his project site and water is gushing everywhere.

In 30 minutes, you’re there, and bam! problem solved. Or a client adds substantial change orders to a model site the day before the grand opening. You slam everything in under the lights, and the next morning, everything is perfect, just as though magical elves waved their wands and poof! it was accomplished.

More often, great reputations are earned steadily, built up bid by bid, visit by visit, job by job. You become the one that’s known as “the steady guy” — the guy who always, without fail, keeps the grass green, the flowers bright and the weeds controlled. You’re the guy who never misses a deadline for anything, who communicates well and at all the appropriate moments. And over time, because of all this, you’ve become the trusted source, the go-to MVP, the one that clients would bet their lives on.

Having a great reputation means you often win bids at better margins than your competition because your loyal clients know that going cheaper just isn’t worth the risk. Just as there are all sorts of different cars at different price points for different types of car buyers, so is it with landscapers. Your great reputation makes you the Volvo of safety, the Ford F-150 of dependability, the Ferrari of speediness. Your clients understand that, and they’re willing to pay a bit more to get your high level of service and quality.

A great reputation becomes a profit center for your business. Bids that aren’t negotiated down. Contracts that are quickly renewed. Time and again, strong reputations insert themselves into consideration at the very moments when deals are being struck and business is getting done. Over time, you may gain a 2, 3 or even a 5 percent pricing advantage over your competitors. Do the math on that over an entire career!

We might, over time, become complacent and start taking our reputations for granted. Caution is advised. Remember, your first few years in the industry when you were the new guy going up against the established proven guy? You don’t want to go back to that.

More than any other asset you have, a great reputation is the most fragile of all. It’s taken years to build, but it can be crushed in an instant. All it takes is one grossly negligent accident on a job site; or an abusively high-priced bid discovered through a competitive bidding process; or a job-site lie brought to light; or a blown deadline when your client put his faith in you; or consistently late or incomplete documentation.

It seems that on top of everything else we do, successful landscapers have to be hypervigilant guardians of their reputations, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. That seems harsh, but it’s what we signed up for when we grabbed our first hacksaw or the handles of our first mower and expected to build a profitable, durable name for ourselves and our companies.

The task of building a great reputation is as tough as landscape work itself. But the payoff for the effort can be spectacularly good.

Gary Horton, MBA, is CEO of Landscape Development Inc., a green industry leader for over 35 years with offices throughout California and Nevada. He can be reached at ghorton@landscapedevelopment.com.