The changing of seasons doesn’t slow down for anyone, no matter what challenges the past year brought to green industry professionals. Though many contractors are still catching up on work from the end of last season, new projects are already waiting for eager crews. To get the most out of a spring startup, it takes a solid amount of planning and preparation.
Get marketing moving
Before almost anything else, Christian Schloegel, owner of C&I Services in Chicago, and his team use the winter as a way to prepare the company’s marketing and outreach programs, long before the season is underway, he says. Materials for marketing projects take time to develop, and he likes to work with a designer to get the effect he’s after. He also makes certain that the company’s business cards accurately list the available services and have correct contact information. Even though those efforts aren’t put into use until around March, he gets the materials together earlier so he’s not fighting against deadlines with his designer and printer.
Updating company invoices and other client communication can pull in more revenue, he says. On the bottom of a bill sent out in winter, Schloegel includes a reminder for clients that March is coming up quickly, and that it’s the right time to schedule for spring cleanup or aeration.
“I think that half of our new snow removal clients that we get convert to landscape and maintenance customers from that,” he says. “It doesn’t cost you a dime to market to them because you already have them as a client. We just try to make them aware that we’re interested in providing services and giving them a quote for the upcoming year.”
It’s especially helpful to add onto any client communications toward the end of winter, as it can be tough to get clients thinking about spring when there’s still snow on the ground, he says.
Though DJ Aldrich, co-owner of Aldrich Landscape in Sylvania, Ohio, has mostly relied on word-of-mouth, his company has grown in the last few years and he’s expanded his marketing outreach. Getting media squared away early isn’t limited to just printed material, he says. About a month out from when he expects to do his first cleanup, Aldrich has his social media and digital ads set up, so those ads are reaching clients at the same time as any door hangers or other outreach programs he has in place.
“That way, they’re out on the internet for a little bit, so people have time to decide if they’re going into a new contract, or if they want to make a switch,” he says.
For digital ads, he says he focuses on specific services that he’d like to expand in the upcoming season and where his team excels, as the platforms allow for a more targeted approach.
Aldrich makes it a point to get additional letters and material in front of any client whose contract is running out, especially including information about the other services he offers that the client could be taking advantage of.
Getting closer to the season, Schloegel makes sure that all the equipment has been properly serviced so that things are ready to start moving by early spring, he says.
“We have our team go over all the equipment over the winter,” he says. “We try to go through the units and make sure that they’re greased up and ready to go.” They check filters, sharpen all blades, change oil and check hydraulic fluid. Regardless what jobs will be done first in the season, his team will have the equipment ready for it.
“I would call it an ‘every-point-inspection,’” Schloegel says. “We try to make sure everything’s taken care of.”
Shawn Sancinella, owner of Sanci’s Landscaping LLC in Reading, Pennsylvania, also takes stock of which pieces of equipment have consistently required repairs through the previous season and makes decisions about whether it’s just time to replace them instead.
“We’ll see what’s nickel-and-diming us and see if we need to trade something in or start a new lease,” Sancinella says. “I want to make sure it’s all ready to go.”
Equipment maintenance includes the company’s trailers, which are taken to the dealer for a professional inspection. For as much hard work as a trailer sees during the season, small issues can develop into larger problems without a close look. That service covers points such as checking the brakes and tires or a bent fender.
When working on maintenance for the trailers, Aldrich makes sure they get a fresh coat of paint. That helps protect against rust, as well as keeps them looking sharp while parked in front of clients’ lawns.
While there isn’t a specific person on staff that covers equipment service,Schloegel makes certain that every piece is checked at least once. Often, toward the end of the previous season, if equipment can be spared when it breaks in the field, it’s set aside to be handled in the downtime. He likes to be involved with his crew to stay up to date on repairs.
“During the end of the season, it can be kind of frantic,” he says. “Any sort of maintenance or repairs that need to be taken care of there, we try to have that done at the same time.”
It can be difficult to keep inventory, but Aldrich keeps common replacement parts and fluids on hand as he’s able. That makes maintenance work on equipment go more smoothly, even during the downtime between seasons. He decides what to keep in stock based on what he sees his crew going through regularly.
Keep in touch
One of the biggest season-opening jobs for Sancinella is reconnecting with each one of his clients, especially any new clients that have come on board in the last year, he says. Beyond just making them aware of the offered services, he takes the time to fill clients in on the company’s practices to build a relationship.
“I’ll make sure we’re still on for the season and let them know about anything new that we’re offering,” he says. “I just want to get a feel for how our clientele is going to be for the season.”
Keeping up with customers and work estimates keeps Tommy Cowett, technical service manager at GrowinGreen, Kernersville, North Carolina, and his team busy with about 15 estimates coming in per day, he says. GrowinGreen does radio, print and digital ads for its lawn care services, which are helping generate leads with commercial and residential clients as the weather warms up.
Keeping up with those leads and reconnecting with customers is a huge task and important to making sure the crews are able to work efficiently, which is why the company has an established set of steps for processing customers, he says. The company uses an estimate form that consolidates the different services that are offered, which makes it easier to keep everything in one place.
Once work has been ordered, the company uses a software platform to keep the customer’s information on hand for technicians. That helps technicians maintain an efficient route and provides capabilities for changes on the fly if necessary, getting in as many stops in a day as possible.
“Keeping a tight process makes it so efficient and simple,” Cowett says.
Every quarter, GrowinGreen does a day or so of training where vendors come in to go over product guidelines. Especially toward the start of the season, these training days are key to keeping both the sales team’s and technicians’ skills sharp on the company’s processes and software systems, Cowett says.
The beginning of the season is also a good time to refresh expectations for crew members beyond the actual lawn work, says Aldrich. He provides guidelines on interacting with customers and showing respect to other crew members, and then establishes rules for how to keep each other accountable to those standards. He also uses monthly bonuses based on the amount of work the crew takes on in that time to keep the teams motivated.
“We want to be the best,” he says. “We don’t want to have anybody slacking or falling behind, because you’re only as strong as your weakest link.”
Maintaining the crew’s energy throughout the busy first weeks of spring can be tough, but Sancinella makes it a priority to take care of his team, keeping their hours to a manageable level and not surprising them with extra work during an alreadyfull day, he says.
“You’re always going to have hiccups,” he says. “But they have a home life. Yeah, we may be working late here and there, but they know roughly when they’re going to get done.”
If things are running late or there’s extra work to be done, he heads out into the field himself to lend a hand. He’s also turned down clients in the past because it would stretch his crews thinner than he’d like for the team he had at the time.
“I believe if you take care of your employees, they’ll take care of you,” Sancinella says. “Especially as work is really busy at the beginning of the season, you rely on that relationship to keep things running.”
Schloegel works with his team to do a heavy amount of their landscape design work in the winter and lead-up to the season as well. Starting as early as January, he’ll “walk the property” with the client and designer, where they put together ideas for the design and discuss the best fit for the space. That gives his designer multiple weeks to bring a full layout to the client, and the job is ready to run before the weather begins to heat up.
“Besides any snow removal and maintenance obligations, that allows us to put our undivided attention to it,” he says.
The design work continues into the season, but having a lot of the work done early makes it easier to pick up new landscape projects while work is ongoing. Toward the end of the previous season, he pushes for clients looking for those jobs to consider using the downtime before the next March or April.
Build for efficiency
Before crews start heading out, Aldrich works with his routes to get the most efficient approach for his team, he says. He tries to pick up additional clients to improve his route density by doing his best to stand out as a company.
“I tell the guys, when we pull up to a house, to look at the four or five houses surrounding it,” he says. “We want to make sure this house looks the best out of these houses in the neighborhood.” Over time, neighbors start to notice, and ask the homeowner about the landscapers. “We’d start with one house in the spring and by mid-summer we’d have four or five right in a row.”
Even as Sancinella adds new accounts in the first weeks of the season, he keeps routes dense so that his team isn’t working extra hours to pick up one more client or so.
“I plan everything in one general area and have my crews work their way out to grab as many properties as they can in one sweep instead of bouncing back and forth,” he says.
It’s also a key time to educate clients on offered services and how they work together, especially when reconnecting for early-season services,Schloegel says.
“One of the biggest services we offer is aerating and overseeding,” he says. “Obviously, somebody has to do a spring cleanup before that. And usually after spring cleanup, you have to do mulch. So we try to sell as many things as we can for those full-service types of clients.”
When clients ask for a specific service, Schloegel often also provides a quote for all the services he recommends. Not only does that provide a guideline on how much those services would cost, but it shows how each service complements the next, he says. Occasionally, he’ll provide a flyer or graphic that outline what each service entails and how lawns typically benefit from them.
“It’s more profitable for us than having to take the trailer to more houses,” he says. “The less trailer time, the more money we can make and an even more competitive price we can offer.”
Aldrich is also planning to begin a monthly newsletter that provides updates on how the season is progressing, as well as reminders of other services that his company offers and when to begin scheduling them. The newsletter will include information about which services are picking up popularity, so clients can see what their neighbors are doing with their lawns.
“That way, we can pick up some extra work, and clients who may not know we offer a service can try it,” Aldrich says. “Even if they didn’t want it the previous year, they might because they see it getting more popular.”
The author is editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.