Tony Massey: Growing a people business
|By Kristin Smith-Ely|
By focusing on team members Tony Massey has helped build Massey Services into one of the fastest growing pest management and lawn care businesses in the Southeast.
If someone were to ask you what your company does, you might answer with “lawn care, pest prevention and irrigation.” And while all those offerings are true for Massey Services, if you were to ask its president, Tony Massey, that question, you would get a different response.
That’s because Massey knows that owning a green industry business takes more than the mere ability to perform certain jobs. It takes people who can do those jobs well and customers who want their services. That philosophy has guided the team member training programs at Massey Services and has even led to new areas of business.
“We are not an irrigation business, a lawn care business or a pest business — we are a people business. Our product is people, and with that you get all the various factors that come with people,” says Massey.
That understanding has helped make the Orlando, Florida-based company grow from a $3.9 million operation in 1985 with four locations to a $248 million company in 2018 with 145 offices.
Following what he knew
Massey may not have planned to end up working for a pest management and lawn care company, but the industry wasn’t completely foreign to him. While attending high school in Memphis, Tennessee, he would spend summers as a termite technician for his father, Harvey L. Massey at Terminix.
His father had held senior management positions for both Orkin and Terminix, but it wasn’t until Massey entered college at the University of Alabama that his father decided to purchase a well-established family-owned pest control and lawn care business in Orlando, Walker Chemical and Exterminating Company.
When Massey graduated with a degree in corporate finance and investment management, he wasn’t sure where he wanted to go, he just knew he didn’t want to work for a bank. He made the decision in December 1989 to join his father in the family business and started at Massey Services.
“I had gained a lot of experience in the pest business while I was working during the summer months and I loved it. That’s why I decided to join the company after I graduated,” Massey recalls.
When his father bought the company, its focus was pests, termites and lawn care. “We had never intended to be in the lawn business, but we decided to stay in it,” Massey says.
In 1987 the family renamed the company Massey Services. The name was changed because as Massey puts it, “At that time (as well as today) ‘chemical’ was not a great word to have attached to your name.”
The family also changed the name of the lawn care side of the business to GreenUP Landscape Services.
The company expanded into irrigation maintenance in 2006 as “an attempt at that time to help control another aspect of landscapes,” Massey says.
At the time, Massey says, Florida was experiencing a drought, immediately followed by periods of too much rain. It was a no-brainer, he says, to offer irrigation services to some of the company’s existing customers to help them control their lawn’s watering needs.
Looking back, Massey says it took a little while for the company to become adept at irrigation. “I will tell you we weren’t very proficient at it for about three years. We did basic irrigation repair, but we really didn’t understand everything about it until about three years in, when we got beyond basic and reached intermediate,” he says, but “about five years in, we knew everything about irrigation, and we were a full service irrigation company.”
The company discovered through its various irrigation projects throughout Florida that the state was highly regulated at the local level. This made things complicated, so the company worked to help change that. “There were anywhere between 50 to 70 requirements, and we tried to consolidate all of those at the state level and receive statewide licensing by testing and so forth,” Massey says. And they succeeded.
Around 2015, Florida passed legislation creating a state test for irrigation contractors. Massey Services played a big role in getting the state to set up the certification. “In fact, our company couldn’t take the test for a couple of years because we wrote the first one,” he says, laughingly. “We had a couple of people who couldn’t become certified because they wrote the test!”
Continuing to expand
The four service centers that made up Massey Services in 1985 were in the Florida cities of Cocoa Beach, Daytona, Fort Pierce and Orlando. The company now has 2,100 team members at 145 branches in seven states, including Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, South Carolina, North Carolina and Oklahoma, performing termite and pest services. Lawn care is offered in Florida, Louisiana and most recently, Georgia. Irrigation services are currently only offered in Florida. The company plans on expanding its lawn care services into Texas within the next year and has many more expansion plans.
The firm’s marketing approach is integrated and includes “traditional media” (television and radio), direct mail and digital marketing with a strong customer referral program. Team members also sell additional services to customers.
The company’s marketing strategy includes being prepared to change campaigns at any moment to respond to changing conditions, like promoting irrigation programs during dry periods. “What worked great for us last year might not be good for us this year,” Massey adds.
Acquisitions are also part of Massey Services’ growth strategy. It mainly aims to enter new markets versus trying to acquire companies within the same market. Most of these acquisitions are made in states where the company already does business.
“For the immediate future, we are a southeast United States company, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a great market for a lot of our services in the New England area or the Midwest area,” says Massey.
Around 250 people work in the Orlando headquarters office, including Massey and the rest of the leadership team. The Orlando office is also the hub of the company’s technical and training programs.
“We have different technical directors in charge of all the technical matters and the training for each segment of our business; for instance, we have one person for our pest business, another for our termite business, another for lawn and another for irrigation. One person is totally dedicated to each business from a technical and training standpoint,” notes Massey.
Snapshot: Massey Services
Headquarters: Orlando, Florida
No. of locations: 145
No. of employees: 2,100
Locations: Oklahoma, Georgia, Texas, Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina
Annual revenue: $248 million (2018)
An emphasis on training
Why so much emphasis on training? Massey explains, “Customers who hire a lawn care company have a high expectation on the appearance of their lawn. If it doesn’t look they way they expect it to, they’re going to let us know about it.”
The concerns from customers was one of the reasons the company got into the irrigation business in the first place. Landscape specialists didn’t like hearing customers complain about or blame the company for dry spots and other conditions that weren’t caused by nor were treatable by Massey Services. By entering the irrigation business, it was be better equipped to address those sorts of problems when they arose.
“In the lawn care business the first thing you have to do is have incredible communication with your customers,” says Massey. “Too many times in the past we had people who wanted to avoid customers because they were concerned about getting asked about something they can’t control or didn’t know the answer to. We’ve established a culture of embracing that communication by educating our people.”
Reducing cancellations is another area Massey Services focuses on. “The best way to do that, as we’ve seen it, is, don’t have team member turnover in lawn specialists.’”
Massey estimates it takes at least a year to fully train a lawn specialist. “They have to see every season of what’s going on and understand why it’s happening and become familiar with what could and should be occurring on a landscape, from the lawn, to the irrigation, to the trees and shrubs.”
That training, he says, is paramount to reducing team member turnover. “If you want to retain your people, you’ve got to continue to coach, you’ve got to continue to train, you’ve got to continue to develop. It keeps them abreast of things that could be and should be happening.”
Massey Services put in place a comprehensive initial training program for new hires, which takes three weeks to complete. The program can be done in the office or online. But it doesn’t stop there. “We call everyone in once a year for a two-and-a-half-day meeting for classroom instruction as well,” Massey says.
Landscape specialists are required a minimum of one hour of training per week. A full day of classroom training is held quarterly for the lawn and irrigation teams.
That’s still not all. Once a year the company has what it calls a “Rodeo,” which Massey describes as “a full day of bringing everybody in to get back to basics, back to understanding what we are in business to do and why.”
In a nutshell, continuous training is a high priority. “Training is the foundation of everything,” says Massey. “It stops the turnover of our people and allows them to develop better communication skills and strengths, because if they have the necessary knowledge, they’ll be able to better communicate with our customers.”
That’s a big deal because it reduces cancellations, and Massey says, “If you can stop the cancellations in a lawn care business, you’re going to grow it.”
Loyal to the cause
This December, Tony Massey will mark his 30th year with the company. It was 1989 when he started as a manager trainee, and he’s worked his way up to several positions between then and now, becoming president in 2006. He certainly learned many lessons along the way, and was fortunate to have a good teacher.
“I was blessed with having an incredible mentor in the business, my father,” he says. “Not only just by being there as a father figure but by really teaching me business lessons.”
Becoming president of the company was never a guarantee. He had to earn it. “There was a clear understanding from the start that this is a business, and if you grow and develop into the role, you can have it; if not, someone else will,” he says.
His father, who remains chairman and CEO, shared with him the definition of discipline at an early age, which he defines as, “You make yourself do what you ought to do when you ought to do it, whether you want to do it or not.”
In other words, when you’ve got to make that difficult phone call you don’t want to make, do it first and get it off your plate, he says, or you’ll dread it the rest of the day.
With that discipline comes an incredible work ethic, which Massey applies to his job. He constantly reminds himself, “No matter how tired you are, don’t go home yet. You’ve got something to finish.”
He also emphasized the importance of “being good for people and not to people.” He explains, “People have issues, concerns and problems, and you have to be empathetic to those things, but you also need to remember that if you are good to people too often, that’s not going to help them grow and develop into who they should become.”
This tack might not earn you as many friends as the alternative, but Massey says, if you have the right group of people and the right culture, “they’ll respect you for holding them accountable and making those decisions instead of dreading them.”
Massey also strives to build the business in a way that isn’t centered around him. “I jokingly tell people, ‘I am not looking for anyone to be loyal to me, I am looking for them to be loyal to the cause.’” Judging by the longevity of Massey Services’ team members, there appears to be some loyalty. Some have been employed with the company 30 years, and the entire executive team has been in place more than 12 years. Turnover is 10 percent at the managerial level and less than 30 percent company-wide.
Massey has many great words of wisdom, and I wish I could list them all. Yet another adage he follows is this: “I believe in both good luck and bad luck, and so I plan accordingly.”
And in the business of lawn care and pest management, planning is everything. “We are not at the mercy of a product rolling off the assembly line — we can impact and change our product daily,” Massey says.
When people get sick, trucks break down, equipment doesn’t arrive on time or something else unexpected occurs, what do you do? Conversely, if something is working well, how do you maintain it? Questions like these are rolling around in Massey’s brain all of the time.
“Execution is everything,” he says. “It’s not strategizing, it’s not planning, it’s not having an incredibly-laid-out battle plan — it’s the execution, and if you can get everyone executing on the little things and doing that on a consistent basis, you’ll grow your business and have satisfied customers.” He adds, “With the right people, along with motivation and training, you can really change something and change it quickly if you put in the effort.”
The business of people might not be for everybody, but it seems that Massey has found a good fit.
The author is editor-in-chief of Irrigation & Green Industry and can be reached at email@example.com.
A giving side
The Harvey and Carol Massey Foundation, named after the Massey family, is the philanthropical arm of Massey Services. The Foundation was established to further and solidify Massey Services’ long-term commitment and mission of being a contributing member to its community and industry. The foundation supports health services, education and the arts and has donated millions of dollars toward various causes mainly in the communities it serves and for team members.