Turf Magazine - January, 2013
Time to Ditch Your Handwritten Systems
In fixing his irrigation business, David Crary unleashed his entrepreneurial spirit
CEO: David Crary
Headquarters: St. Paul, Minn.
Revenues: About $1 million
Running a business, even a small family field service business, with paper and pencil these days doesn't cut it. The competition is too keen and margins are too tight for any owner to rely on yesterday's business management systems and technology.
Irrigation company owner and entrepreneur David Crary figured that out 15 years ago. He decided to do something about it, something that owners of other field service businesses can do, too. He streamlined his systems with software, field service management software that he developed himself. Over a period of several years, Crary developed and fine-tuned software that made his company's systems and field operations significantly more efficient and profitable. By 2002, with the launch of HindSite Software, he was ready to offer it to other owners. Small business owners in the green industry and a growing number of other industries now use this software, too.
A visit from a Sears repairman to repair a dryer was the inspiration David Crary needed to begin building a successful software system.
"I knew that my company was leaving money on the table," says Crary, who came up with HindSite after realizing that the systems he was using in his irrigation company, LMS Irrigation Systems, most of them relying upon handwritten documents (work orders, instructions, invoices, etc.) were inefficient and wasteful.
Crary knew that much of the fault lay in faulty and/or illegible job data resulting from paper-and-pencil systems. Try as he could, he couldn't get his systems to generate the cash that he was sure the level of his services deserved. The realization drove him crazy. Then, watching how easy it was for a Sears repairman to provide the services and parts - and, here's the best part, collect the money - for repairing a dryer at his home, he got the "aah hah" idea that eventually turned his irrigation business in a more profitable direction.
"What that Sears technician did and what we were doing as a company were very similar, but our systems in comparison to theirs were slower, messier and not nearly as efficient," says Crary. "I thought to myself, why not develop a system like that?"
And so it goes in the landscape industry, somebody - and usually not a big, smart corporate type but a work-a-day guy or gal - gets fed up over a particular task they regularly do, and comes up with a practical tool or idea to simplify their task and alleviate their frustration.
Of course, it's never as simple as they think it will be. Even so, they keep at it and, when needed, get some help. Eventually they come up with a better and more efficient way to perform the task. Crary worked for more than four years and enlisted the technical assistance of Vertical Systems Inc., based in Eden Prairie, Minn., in the process of developing The HindSite Solution
Simply explained, HindSite Software replaces the papers and clipboards used in the field with a system accessible via smartphones, iPads (and other tablets) or Netbooks. Technicians keep track of their scheduling and billing using a system in constant communication with the office. The system makes it easier to manage customer data, schedule and route crews, collect data in the field and bill in minutes, not days or weeks.
HindSite Releases Go iLawn Integration
This past October HindSite Software released a new integration with Go iLawn to their field service industry customers. The integration enables HindSite customers to leverage the power of Go iLawn to measure properties from within the software field service management software.
The new integration gives field service businesses (lawn care, mowing/maintenance, snow & ice management, etc.) property measurement tools to use without ever stepping foot on the property. The square footage and perimeter of a yard, flower bed, parking lot or mulch bed can be measured, saved and accessed from within the HindSite field service software solution.
HindSite and Go iLawn announced a strategic partnership this past July and spent several months beta testing the mobile measurement integration before making the announcement.
"A typical contractor doesn't give enough thought to how data flows through their business," says Crary. "But understanding how data flows within your business is vital to using technology effectively and growing a profitable business.
"Owners have to know how to analyze the data flow to eliminate redundancy in their processes. These include contact management, billing and management reports, scheduling and routing and field management. Eliminating wasted effort and time is how they'll save money and get rid of a lot of the stress that comes with running their businesses day to day," he adds.
Some owners think they've solved their field management inefficiencies by using GPS. But that's just part of the solution, says Crary. They would improve their operations even more with a fully integrated system that reduces the time that their field technicians, as one small example, spend typing in addresses. Tracked over the course of an entire service season, daily losses of five minutes here or 10 minutes there result in a significant lost amount of revenue, he points out. Why allow it when there are solutions to fixing it, he asks?
"I ran an irrigation business for 22 years and I knew I was losing money at every turn until I began using technology, specifically software to streamline processes," says Crary. "I was able to do more with a lot less. That freed up my time so that I could work on my business, and not in it."
Users say that reporting from the field (including recording payments) is more more accurate with mobile devices rather than clipboards.
IMAGES COURTESY OF HINDSITE SOFTWARE.
Three years ago Crary sold LMS Irrigation Systems, serving clients in Minneapolis and St. Paul market. He spends his time now sharing his experiences and working to improve and promote HindSite, which is now used by contractors across the country and Canada.
"Improving the HindSite product is an ongoing and challenging task because our goal is make it the premier operating software solution of the green industry. He is pleased with the direction it is heading, including the recent endorsement with US Lawns choosing the software solution as its sole field service software. While Crary initially envisioned it as something to help him improve his irrigation operation, it's now used by small businesses as diverse as lawn care to HVAC to medical equipment maintainers to pet fence installers.
And, of course, Crary and his staff are continually working to strengthen and broaden their system's training and support. This is vital. There is great variation in the systems that field service business owners use, and many of their systems are inefficient and out-of-date.
Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. He's been a researcher, writer and speaker in the industry for the past 28 years. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.