Small Stuff, Big Benefits

What if I could convince you in 30 seconds that not every “big gain” requires a big initiative?

The lesson came from what seemed the unlikeliest of sources: a Salvation Army bell-ringer in 2016. That December day I scraped up my leftover change for a normal moment: crisp winter air, a pure silver bell, that cascade of copper-to-tin-can collisions. The man thanked me. I gave the obligatory, “You’re welcome,” smile. But… For whatever reason, I added a shrug and said, “I know it’s only a little bit.”

He laughed. “If a lot of people give a little bit, that’s a lotta bit!”

While the roots of that story are in generosity, the principle is bigger: small stuff can add up to big benefits. Reaching peak efficiency is a lot less like the dunk tank target at the fair some kid will eventually hit with the right throw and a lot more like the athlete getting a few seconds faster each month until they lead their world.

Below is a list of some such “small tweak” ideas. Some you knew. Some may not apply. Some are perfect for you! If nothing else, let them spark your #leadership #creativity early this week to think of other little gains to be had, both in this week and in the weeks ahead.

  • Opportunity Growth – Look for new services (or company divisions) you could add with minimal additional equipment or talent. Examples: Snow removal with mowing trucks; pond, pool, and pest control treatments by turf applicator teams; etc.
  • Specialization Crews – Declare certain crews as specialty crews and assign them as close to 100% of certain job types as possible – jobs that are either higher skill level or atypically expensive on materials – ex. turf treatments, irrigation, hardscape, etc.
  • Route Density – The cost of travel is in many ways unavoidable, but by giving crews a group of properties that are geographically close to one another – or, better, also close to one of your shops – you can reduce their daily percentage of unapplied labor.
  • Onsite Arrivals – One way around that travel cost is to recruit crews who live close to certain all-day, or all-week, job sites and have them report directly there to start the day. Only pay one team leader (or driver) for A.M. load, truck travel, and P.M. unload.
  • Fleet Lifecycle – Once your fleet surpasses its ideal lifecycle it becomes a “black hole”, sucking in repair parts and labor totally beyond your control. Keep an eye on aging and include a rotating replacement as part of your annual budget.
  • Blade Sharpening – Power mower manufacturers suggest blades need sharpening after 20 hours of mowing or blades can dull and lose as much as 15% efficiency. Plan on twice-a-week sharpening for all full-time mowing crews!
  • Posting Time Review – Ever burn manager hours with an employee arguing their paycheck was missing hours? Post hours (using a confidential system) a few days early. Now both parties are empowered to, and responsible for, catching errors early.
  • Team Rankings – In a toxic workplace this can turn into shame-/blame-culture, so be careful. When well-managed, though, a weekly team ranking fuels the best to want prove they are such, and it sparks camaraderie to mentor lower-performing crews. Nothing lifts your numbers as quickly as your teams lifting one another.
  • Team Rewards – Define a goal only attainable if a significant majority of your teams work together, and attach a reward big enough to motivate – though, preferably, that costs you as the owner less than missing the goal would cost you! (Caution: Goals that require 100% perfection can feel “rigged” and can drive bitterness. You want a demanding but winnable goal.)
  • Peer Groups/Consulting – Refuse to become the ceiling on the growth of your own company. Push yourself to keep getting better just like you push your managers and teams to do the same.
  • Successful Verticals – Is there a certain customer/property type where for some reason the numbers show you simply enjoy better success – close rate, retention, upsell purchasing, top profitability, etc.? Design a campaign to call it one of your “main verticals” (which it is!) and specifically target your efforts to grow therein.
  • Supply Chain Relationships – (Just as one example:) If you buy bulk salt from the local guy for $200/ton, you are overpaying. Figure out who they buy from, who that person buys from, etc., and see how far up the chain you can negotiate to buy it. We love the local guy, but less middle who need a cut means you get a better price.
  • “Economies of Scale” Discounts – At the same time, don’t buy products from 20 vendors; why would any of them give you the best price if they feel like a commodity to you? Make a plan to buy from just one to three vendors all season. Meet with the 20 to express that intention, to explain your projected need, to prove they “have what it takes” to be a primary partner, and to watch them compete on bids for your business. In general, when vendors can receive better unit counts they can give better unit costs.

David Rempfer is an Executive Consultant to the Landscape and Snow Removal Industries, including ASCA-C and SIMA-CSP accreditation. David currently serves management and ownership initiatives targeting business improvement and quality of life.