Adding on a business line enabled landscape firm to branch out into new markets
It’s the age-old question for most businesses: How can you expand your customer base and grow your sales volume? For at least one Virginia landscape designer, the answer to that question was clear. Doug Robbins, president of Robbins Landscaping Inc. (RLI), added a new line of landscaping equipment and successfully adapted his services to meet his customers’ needs. Robbins, based in Richmond, had been a design and build landscaping company since its founding in 1989. Prior to 2002, the company had been creating customized outdoor living spaces, perfect for entertaining, relaxing or just escaping the everyday world. But Robbins saw the potential for more. “We wanted to get into the maintenance market,” Robbins said. “We were looking to run more of a multi-dimensional landscaping firm.”
PRODUCT/SERVICE: Lawn Design, Build, and Maintenance
AVG. GROWTH RATE: More than 15 percent annually
“When we wanted to accelerate our firm’s growth, we considered a variety of options: increasing market share with our existing product offerings; increasing consultant utilization; or offering additional products and services. In the end, we found a consultant who not only improved and reenergized our main facet of business, but also guided us to adding a whole new service line to the mix,” said Robbins. The consultant that ultimately helped Robbins to do just that was Tony Bass of Tony Bass Consulting and president of Super Lawn Trucks.
“For many small business owners, the enemy is time; that is, finding the time to do everything that has to be done in a manner that maximizes opportunities for growth,” noted Bass. “Big businesses employ specialists to hire, budget, forecast, market and perform all the other tasks required to survive and thrive in a competitive marketplace. Small business owners do not have that luxury. Even if the business succeeds, it fails to achieve its potential.” The pair took a good, hard look at the business from top to bottom and pinpointed a couple of areas where simple tweaks could dramatically increase operations, and profits.
“We had plenty of systems in place, but not everybody understood all the different components of each system and we were inconsistent in tracking and measuring our progress,” noted Robbins. Following guidelines and roadmaps laid out in Bass’s comprehensive Employee, Customer and Employee System handbooks, allowed the company to better organize its books in a clear and concise way and gave the management team an enhanced understanding of all the costs associated with the business. “Tony drove home the point that you need to build a business that works, with systems in place that allow different areas of the business to run efficiently. As a result, it has allowed me to focus on what I need to do to lead a successful company,” said Robbins. From sales and estimating strategies to newsletter content, these system improvements have allowed the company to reap a 15 percent annual increase in business.
After taking steps to fine-tune his company’s operations, Robbins was ready to grow and that meant extending his firm’s offerings. Knowing that the market for residential lawn and landscape services has an annual growth rate of more than 10 percent a year, adding a property management division seemed logical. “We were already providing the design and installation services, the maintenance aspect was a natural fit for us,” added Robbins.
Joining the Crowd
When he decided to enter the property management world, Robbins stepped into competition with dozens, if not more companies whose sole purpose was to provide those specific services – and many had been doing it for years. As he was first going to market his new service to his current crop of clients, he had to make sure that what he was offering was of top quality from the get go. “Expanding your business can be rewarding or a disaster of mammoth proportions, and knowing that the landscaping market is very large and highly competitive, we couldn’t afford to make a mistake.”
Three Big Additions
“While working with Tony, he introduced us to the Super Lawn Truck system and explained the benefits of adding them to our fleet,” noted Robbins. With the Super Lawn Truck, tasks that consume 568 hours per year can be completed in just 84 hours, leaving 484 free to serve additional clients. The trucks were a perfect fit from the start, offering the RLI team an enclosed mobile warehouse and a rolling billboard – attracting a lot of attention to the new line of business. “I can’t begin to tell you just how much these trucks have revolutionized the way I thought I would go about starting a property management line. They are neat, clean, safe and add to the professionalism within our company. The time and money saved with our three trucks has been the icing on the cake,” said Robbins.
A Sound Strategy
Robbins attributes the growth of his company not only to the Super Lawn Trucks, but also to a strategy of providing a wider variety of services while not abandoning the basics that got him to where he is today. “Working with Tony and having his expertise at the ready, being able to pick his brain and adopt his proven strategies was truly what made this a successful venture for us,” said Robbins. “Tony taught me to create tools that are useful and have the knowledge about why things work the way they do. “Profits were up 150 percent in the first year since adding the property management line, and now represent 27 percent of RLI’s overall business. According to Bass, “while an additional product or service will hopefully work for your business, you must work at making it a success. This includes exercising due diligence – research and evaluation. Planning done in the beginning is the best predictor of the outcome.”