Paige Moody loves the residential market, which makes up 80 percent of her revenues. She says it offers her the opportunity to be more creative. Also, she says she gets paid quicker.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF ARBOR ENTERPRISES.
When Paige Moody graduated from Virginia Tech in the 1980s, she recalls that an advisor told her that not only would she probably not make a lot of money in landscaping, but being a female in a male-dominated field would put her at a disadvantage.
So what, thought Moody at the time. She wasn't the least bit dissuaded, first working in nursery management and then in design. At the ripe old age of 28, she finally started her own landscape company. That was in 1991 and she hasn't looked back since. Her company, Arbor Enterprises - employing 26 and maintaining more than 100 properties in North Carolina's thriving Research Triangle region - now generates approximately $2 million in revenues annually. And it does that in spite of being 80 percent residential and 20 percent light commercial.
: Paige Moody
: Pittsboro, N.C.
: Research Triangle area
: Mowing, fertilization, weed
control, soil testing, seeding, aerating,
dethatching, pruning, mulching,
transplanting and sodding
Moody loves the residential market.
"You get more interaction, you get paid quicker. You have more flexibility and more creativity," she says. "I don't want to mow, blow and go. I want to go out and mow, blow and then I want to prune and weed-eat, put some plants in and work on the irrigation. I want to do some power washing, then build a retaining wall and then build a pond. I don't get in and out and go on to the next one. I want to come and stay. You can do that with residential."
By contrast, Moody finds that commercial properties too often are on a budget that doesn't leave much room for enhancements. But there are exceptions. Recently her firm installed more than $8,000 worth of tropical plants for color at The Carolina Inn on the campus of the University of North Carolina. The Inn wanted to make a special statement on its property for Mother's Day.
"That's a big day on campus and at The Carolina Inn. Even though it's a commercial client, The Carolina Inn is a really fun commercial client," shares Moody.
In starting up her business, Moody says she's never been too proud to ask for help. "I surrounded myself with extension agents and other business owners who had been in business for a while," she says. "Even now, if I have a question or don't know something, I have no problem at all asking somebody who is smarter than I am."
Prospects get tested
Moody believes that because employees are a reflection of the company, retention and training are critical. She goes to unusual lengths to engage employees in the company. Recently she gathered the employees together, pulled a wad of $20 bills out of her pocket and started fanning them around. She told them if one person could answer her question correctly, she would give everyone a $20 bill. "What is the chemical makeup of lime?" Finally, an employee responded "calcium carbonate," and Moody started handing out the $20 bills.
"I'm all about education," she adds.
Moody seeks to hire new employees who demonstrate that they care about the job. "If they tell me they want to take classes, then that's a good sign because it means they want to grow further in the field," she says.
Borrowing an idea she had read in a trade journal, Moody tests employee candidates by bringing them on for a day. Did they spend the day on their cell phone? Did they follow directions? Did they engage or did they wait to be told to do every single task? These are the things the crew supervisor is noting about the job candidate as the day progresses.
"If we don't hire them, I'll pay them for their time," Moody says.
When employees show up for work every day she wants them engaged in the day's tasks, and not bringing personal issues that affects their performance.
"If they're having issues, they need to talk to me about it before they get to work because I don't want them bringing it into work," says Moody. "I try to treat them the way I want to be treated, but the bottom line is we have to keep the wheels going. If they have something major, we talk about it and then get back to work."
Owner Paige Moody promises homeowners weed-free lawns that are attractively striped when they're mowed. Anything less is unacceptable.
Moody says in her market Baby Boomers don't want as much turf, whereas younger people want more. "The 20-somethings want as much play space as possible to keep their children home to play in the yard," she says, while her older clients want less grass and less responsibility in the yard. Even so they like ornamental plants. Container gardening is becoming more popular because it enables property owners to easily change the look of their environment, and can also provide food and flowers for picking, says Moody.
"When I started, we did maybe one pot," she says. "Now we install and take care of 250 to 300 containers a year. Container gardening is very hot, and herb gardening and vegetable gardening in containers is very hot."
Moody says she would like to use more organic-based turf care products, but her customers don't want to pay for them. Her company carefully follows defined best management practices for turf care, she says, and bases its programs on the results of soil testing.
Customers equate clean trucks with good service. Arbor Enterprises washes its trucks daily.
"If somebody has weeds in their yard, that's not acceptable to us," she says. "I want the grass striped. I don't want any dandelions in it. If we see problems, we're going to address them really fast before I get an email saying we've got a problem.
"I tell customers that there's always going to be somebody you can talk to, and you're not going to have to tell us twice to do something," says Moody. "We're going to make mistakes like everybody, but we're not going to make them over and over again."
When it comes to quality control, it's usually Moody's clients who ensure that. "My clients are like hawks," she says. "Most of our jobs are paid by the hour, so if clients ever see guys sitting around and doing nothing, we'd hear about it." Employees are not permitted to smoke on the job, and they can only use their cell phones can during their lunch break. She says that employees understand the rules and cooperate.
Setting a good example
Looking ahead, Moody prefers to stay in the $2 million annual revenue range. Her company markets through its website, but Moody is not especially keen on a social media presence. "We thought about doing a Facebook page, but decided that there was a better use of our time," she says. "I'd rather be in people's yards than on a computer."
Moody points out that when it comes to the image and future of the industry, she can only control her part of it. "We clean our trucks every week," she says. "We put in quality plant material. The best thing we can do as a small company is have a good appearance. All of my guys wear uniforms. If somebody's beard goes too far, I'll ask them to tighten it up because I want us to be professional and look professional when we're on a job."
Moody is currently serving a three-year term as a board member of the North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association. She's keen on certifications and association membership, not only for herself but for others as well.
"I'm trying to set a good example," she says. "Learn all you can. Encourage other people. Don't take shortcuts."
Moody sees Arbor Enterprises as her "retirement package." By keeping it professional and thriving, it will be attractive for the next owner. In the next several years, she says she would like to curtail her hours and concentrate on sales.
"I'd love to turn some of the paperwork over to the guys and let them handle more of the scheduling and the billing and let me focus on what I'm best at, which is selling and designing," she says. "There's a saying about working on your business, but not in your business. I'm working towards continuing to promote Arbor Enterprises so it will be here for a long time."
Carol Brzozowski, Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a frequent contributor to Turf magazine. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.