How to Make Money and Keep Customers Happy During a Labor Shortage

Lawn Labor Shortage

In this webinar hosted by Landscape Management, Jeffrey Scott, Landscape Management columnist and industry consultant, spoke to the challenges facing many landscape companies in regards to the current labor shortage. He, and his guest speakers, Ted Lucia, Chris Vadrani, and Taylor Olson, shared tips and strategies to recruit and retain employees while still running a profitable lawn and landscape business.

Jeffrey Scott

Jeffrey highlighted 4 metrics to run your business profitably in 2021:

  • Billable hours – This is the number one metric. Companies should ensure they have enough billable hours to recover overhead and make a profit.
  • Non billable hours – Non billable hours should not grow beyond yearly predictions. Companies should look at their history and get an average for billable hours they can depend on each month and over the course of a year.
  • Efficiency – Lawn care companies need to manage efficiency to produce more billable hours. 
  • Leverage – “Through put” the amount of gross profit you make for each billable hour. The higher the through put number, the higher the profit per hour. 

Ted Lucia

Jeffrey invited Ted Lucia of Lucia Landscaping in Detroit, MI to inform attendees on how his team is managing the labor shortage.

Q: How have you balanced labor and sales to make a profit this year?
A: Last year and this year have been difficult. As a leadership team we remember that what gets measured, gets done. We track our progress and provide feedback to our teams daily. Our teams love goal setting, they want to know if they’re winning or losing. We also track overtime. If you can sell more at the end of the year once your overhead has been recovered, that really helps with profit. 

Q: When you raise your prices, how well does your sales team get onboard?
A: Our sales team is really engaged. Rising pricing can be a tough pitch, but once they understand all the reasons why, they’re onboard. 

Q: Many companies have had issues with recruiting and maintaining good employees. How have you stayed on top of this challenge?
A: That’s become one of my favorite things to do. I love working with people. Recruiting and retaining have become big through our culture which is all about consistency. What you do to recruit an employee should also be how you retain an employee. There are three ways we recruit and retain employees. 

  • Attract – Make sure employees match the skill set you’re looking for. Make sure your brand represents your business and culture. We consider what opportunities we’re offering and if they’re on par with our competitors: pay, bonuses, benefits, etc. 
  • Strategize – Make job descriptions fun, track applicants, make sure employees are feeling the culture. Lawn companies should pre-qualify candidates, host job fairs, post on social media, and utilize employee referrals., We conduct zoom interviews and have a solid onboarding process with engaged trainers. 
  • Retain – We work just as hard at retaining employees as do recruiting them. We utilize morning dispatch to communicate with our teams and keep the culture consistent. We keep everyone up to date with events, schedule reviews, provide guidance, and show them opportunities. Lawn companies should make sure they’re listening to feedback. 

Q: As an owner, how much time do you spend attracting and retaining employees?
A: We have an amazing HR and marketing team that help with this, but it is a team effort. I spend 25-30% of my time working on recruiting and retaining employees.

Q: How many positions are on your HR team?
A: We have an HR administrator that manages HR and recruiting as well as a marketing coordinator that assists with recruiting. 

Chris Vadrani

Jeffrey then asked Chris Vadrani of Planted Earth Landscaping in Sykesville, MD to speak to his experience with managing supply chain delays and employee retention. 

Q: Did you experience long supply chain delays and how did you maintain high levels of service?
A: 2020 was a really great year for us. We were able to buy some inventory and plan ahead of the pandemic. We constantly communicated with our vendors, clients and the landscape architects to understand and set expectations. We had delays, but managed things well. It all comes down to communication.

Q: How are you balancing sales and labor during this shortage?
A: We have an HR department. Earlier this year we held a job fair. We landed 10-12 guys from that event which helped us get through the early spring madness. We are very engaged in retention. 

We sit down with our strategic team at the beginning of each year and budget what we want to do for the upcoming year. Every supervisor should generate a certain amount of revenue a year. For us it’s $150k a year per field service employee. We start there and work backwards for hiring. We also use this time to set our sales goals for the year. 

We manage our work as a team. When covid hit, we got creative and used our install team to help with the spring maintenance. That was a lightbulb moment for us. Now we have enhancement crews to help speed up the schedule.  

Q: What are some incentives you use to keep your team motivated?
A: We interact with our team all the time. We pay them at the top of the market and pay a lot of overtime. A few years ago, we started a “do good” program. We give tokens out to employees who are doing good work. Those can be redeemed for a number of different rewards at the end of the quarter or the end of the year. 

We also have monthly cook outs for the team which are really fun and we shut the company down one day a year and do a road trip with everyone. 

Q: What’s some advice you can give to our listeners to weather this labor shortage storm?
A: It’s about planning and consistency. We spend a lot of time planning for the what ifs and for the future. 

Taylor Olson

The final speaker was Taylor Olson, co-founder of Slingshot by WorkWave who answered questions on how his company is handling call center labor and service during the current labor market crisis. 

Q: You manage a large call center for pest control and lawn and landscape companies. What are the challenges you see in balancing labor and service?
A: It is a daily challenge. Call volume tends to ebb and flow throughout the day. The challenge is making sure you’re staffed appropriately for the trends and surges. You have to get your forecasting right and staff accordingly. 

We send texts every Sunday night telling our agents how excited we are to see them on Monday to reduce the number of no shows. Sometimes we send people door dash credits to incentivize them not to call in “sick”. We’ve had to be realistic about what the wage level needs to be. 

Q: What exactly does Slingshot do?
A: The simplest way to explain Slingshot is that we are a 24/7 365 sales and customer service team for lawn and pest control. We have a lawn call center that take only lawn calls. They are trained on how to sell it and how to handle typical customer needs. We represent your brand whenever you need us. We have a technology platform that puts that service on steroids. Our platform allows you to send your calls to Slingshot anytime you’re unavailable to take calls, texts, web chat, etc. All in the name of communicating with customers, quicker lead response and driving customer sales.

Q: So you started as an after hours service, but now you’re all hours?
A: We started as 24/7, 365. Myself and the other 2 co-founders were the company. We were taking the calls and covering all the shifts. We burned ourselves out a bit and decided to cut out the middle of the night shifts, but as our company grew, we went back to the 24/7, 365 service. We’ve found that there are agents who prefer to work in the middle of the night.

Q: Do you have agents answering calls overseas?
A: We haven’t offshored yet. We feel that when a customer calls a local company, they want to feel like they’re speaking to a local. 

The webinar ended with Taylor speaking to Slingshot’s value and the service they provide to lawn care and landscape companies.

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