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Do What You Can to Prepare for the Variables

By Steve Rak II


The landscape business has many variables both internal and external. Sometimes these variables become roadblocks and sometimes they can be navigated around, over or through. But they exist and how we deal with them can be the difference between success and failure for our businesses.

Let's take the weather for instance; this is quite a big variable in our business. Think about it; if it's raining with thunder and lightning the factory is still manufacturing, the stores are still selling, the restaurants are still serving. We have to wait it out in the truck or just call it a day if it gets too soupy out.

Don't get me wrong, my crews work in the rain, but we can only work for so long before it gets counter-productive and dangerous. We don't mess around with lightning.

What about all of the moving parts of our businesses? Our trucks and equipment seem to always have some sort of issues, from flat tires to bent blades to broken hand tools. It's always something, and "something" usually means it's going to cost some cash to get it back up and running.

Then there's the workers' compensation costs, which are huge variables. Just ask someone who has had a major injury within their company. At one point I had an injury that took my workers' compensation costs from around $4,000 to $20,000 in one year. Our gross sales were around $350,000 at that point. I lost a bit of sleep over that one. I could go on and on about all of the variables we face in this industry, but there are way too many to list here.

So what are some measures we can take to help reduce the impact of the variables we face? First of all we can get educated. Take my workers' compensation example I mentioned above. When I got the bill stating that my cost was going to be $20,000, I uttered a few choice words, then I called a friend. I literally called a fellow landscape company owner for advice who I knew was very knowledgeable about workers' compensation claims. Her company had been through quite a few claims in the past, not because she or her workers were careless. But the company had been around long enough for things to have happened.

The short story here is that I talked to her several times over the next few weeks and I got tons of great advice. Unfortunately, I learned that I had done everything wrong with the current claim and I was stuck with it. However, I also learned a lot about what to do next time and I put everything that she told me into practice. That includes always (yes always) focusing on safety and minimizing injuries.

How about the weather? What is your policy? Do you even have one? Here are some ideas to help you out with this variable.

First off, no working when there is lightning. Second, it's always good to let your employees know what to do in case of inclement weather. They need some reference as to how long to wait it out, when to shut it down and when to call it a day when things become counter-productive. These can be job-specific or you can impliment a companywide policy. It's up to you and your team to determine what the procedures are going to be.

Then there are all the moving parts. You really need to have a preventative maintenance program in place and I know it's not easy to do. But, how easy is it to have to change a bald and now flat mower tire in the field? Think of the downtime and the lost revenue from that downtime. Identifying the bald tire and changing it before it goes flat can save you time and money in the long run.

Finally, there is attitude. Our attitude toward how we deal with variables can make a huge difference in how we manage those variables. Being in our business we have to expect these things to happen and getting all upset, angry and moody doesn't help matters. As business owners we have to face the fact that these variables are a part of our businesses. The more we prepare for them the better off we will be when they happen. Look at the variables as learning experiences, use them to make your organization stronger. Build systems to help manage the variables, get outside help if need be or ask a friend for advice. Chances are someone you know has already experienced what you are experiencing and a lot of times they will be willing to help out. Variables happen, how you deal with them is up to you.

The author is the owner of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, and a partner with his brother, Jeff, in Rak Consulting. Contact him at steve@sw-landscape.com.