Staying Relevant in "Smartsville"
Established firm keeps focus on clients' needs in North Carolina
Greenscape employees volunteered this past April at the Marbles Kids Museum in Raleigh. The museum says that its goal is to let "kids get back to the serious business of being kids ... laughing, playing and learning."
PHOTOS COURTESY OF GREENSCAPE.
Daniel Currin asks himself a question that every business owner should ask: Why does my business matter to the market? Inherent in the response is the blueprint for remaining relevant and competitive.
Currin is president of Greenscape, a business started by his father Michael in 1979 in Holly Springs, N.C. His father remains CEO of the company. Greenscape provides residential and commercial landscape services in the Research Triangle area and also operates a Weed Man franchise in Wilmington.
The Research Triangle area of North Carolina, spreading across 13 counties, is home to more than 1.5 million residents and 170 companies involved with a range of technologies, including advanced medical care, biotechnology, defense technologies, nanoscale technologies and pharmaceuticals, to name a few. This incredible concentration of tech companies, centered in Research Triangle Park, (also sometimes referred to as "Smartsville" is the largest research park in the world.
President Daniel Currin, left, with his father, Michael, who founded Greenscape Inc. in 1979 and remains company CEO.
"Does the marketplace understand why they need us and are we providing that value?" Currin asks rhetorically. "When we stop asking ourselves that question, we become irrelevant. If Greenscape is doing the same thing everybody else is doing, we're doing nothing special. We start to limit our opportunities."
Currin says a company must define what competitive value it brings to the market. It can approach the market as a low-cost provider or as a company that provides the highest quality or as a company that strives to consistently deliver the best in customer service. It cannot do all three.
: Daniel Currin
: Holly Springs, N.C.
: Research Triangle area
: Maintenance, design/
build, Weed Man lawn care
National competitors have a hold on being a low-cost provider, he says, adding that smaller operators are good at being high-quality providers because they have more control. For his part, Currin has tried to build Greenscape's niche around providing a high level of customer service.
His company does that by endeavoring to understand client needs better than competitors.
"We want to be driven by what they want, need and desire versus what we want to do," Currin says. "That's carried us through as we've expanded to lawn care. We're very price-competitive, but we're not the cheapest."
Currin points out that his is a "very commodity-driven market" and his company's goal is to provide a quality product with "excellent" customer service by "doing what we say we're going to do, make it right, stand behind the products, take care of the customer and provide value. People are investing money on a monthly basis into maintaining the property and want to get a return on that."
Currin says when his father started the business, it was driven out of his passion for design/build. He kept the values that made the business a success and put his own stamp upon it to change its future direction.
"The horticultural side of the business is highly respected, but not a huge passion of mine," he says. "The commercial maintenance side of the business has made a lot more sense to me. It's where I've had better relationships and enjoyed more of the projects that I've done."
Daniel Currin seeks employees that have a love for the green industry and maintain a postitive attitude.
The shift focused on the recurring revenue found in maintenance and lawn care, Currin says, adding that his father saw value in that, which was the impetus for getting into the Weed Man franchise.
"A huge part of our philosophy is understanding what the customer wants from a scope and quality perspective, but then also from a budget perspective and then trying to design a solution that will fit that," Currin says. "One of the real benefits of design/build is that you tie all three of those things together and try to come up with the best outcome versus just taking one or two of those things and not paying attention to what it costs somebody or only being focused on costs and not on maximizing the quality of the product that's being delivered for the cost."
While the company's new direction focused on recurring revenue, "the thing we've held onto is remembering our roots in design/build and using that as a competitive edge in the marketplace," Currin points out.
For the residential sector, the Weed Man division offers customers in the Triangle and Wilmington areas services such as lawn fertilization; weed, insect and disease control, and lawn aeration and seeding.
Greenscape offers two management packages that include pruning; bed maintenance; lawn fertilization; weed, insect, and disease control; and application of essential oils to maintain tree health.
The company's Cottage Package is for homeowners who require basic lawn and landscape care at a lower price point and may want to mow their own grass, while the full-service Estate Package includes weekly visits with mowing and edging.
Commercial services, the company's primary focus, include plant care, pruning, shrub care, irrigation service, lawn care, mulching and a flower program with twice-a-year change-outs.
"If maintenance is just a line item in your budget to control costs and you keep it as cheap as possible, we're probably not the best company for you," he says. "But if landscaping is an area you're investing in and expecting a return out of it by attracting more people to your property and increasing its value from a corporate standpoint, we're a good fit."
Greenscape uses customer surveys to gauge customer satisfaction and to improve its services. The company endeavors to get input from as many of its customers that it can each quarter. Providing top-quality service is its edge.
Hiring on attitude
Greenscape employs 150 people. "If we can find that person who has a love for the industry and has that positive attitude, then we work really hard to invest in them, train and develop them and show them career opportunities and as we grow, give them additional opportunities," says Currin.
Finding and retaining entry-level crew positions is the company's biggest internal challenge. The company, which uses the H2B program, struggles with a high turnover rate on entry-level positions. Currin says finding different solutions to that problem is part of his company's strategic plan.
"We've also been very fortunate to have a lot of growth in the last couple of years," Currin says. "We're always in need of crew guys to rotate in on our current crew if we have a labor need or if we've been expanding and we're trying to increase capacity."
Currin is an advocate of the idea of a landscape contractors' license similar to that of a general contractor's license in the construction industry.
"It's about protecting the consumer from a bad situation from the 'dandelion companies', which come up in the spring and go away in the fall," he says. "The quality of the work per se is fine, but it's just that the consumer is not protected a lot of times. People don't have insurance, they're operating under unsafe practices, not following OSHA rules and taking on a lot of liability."
Also, the products used may not be of the highest value, Currin adds.
"The industry has worked a lot on this," he says. "We've already put an irrigation contractor's license in place. Just sticking pipes in the ground and turning the water on is not what the industry is about. It's about conserving water, using it wisely to protect the landscape investment. The license has been very positive in North Carolina from the consumer perspective and from the industry perspective. It's helped with continuing education and requirements and has raised the level of the industry and the folks doing the work."
A similar landscape contracting license would apply primarily to the construction side of the business, but also addresses the maintenance in that it would protect the environment in the use of pesticides and fertilizers, Currin says.
"When there are problems, the consumer would have somewhere to go to say this isn't right and the industry would have the ability to regulate and manage itself," Currin says of the licensure.
Daniel Currin loves the commercial maintenance side of the business. He says it's where he's had better relationships and enjoyed more of the projects that he's done.
He says a bill to create such a license has been put into place by the North Carolina Green Industry Council with the support of other state industry associations, but has yet to be voted on.
In Currin's company, quality control is addressed through customer surveys; the company aims to get input from every customer on a quarterly basis. A Net Promoter Score on a scale of one to 10 is used to assess whether a customer would be willing to make a referral.
Greenscape installed and continues to maintain this living wall at Cameron Village.
"If we have a problem, we look to see if it's an individual problem or one that we might be having across the board," Currin says. "When we hear back from customers on a monthly basis, we get some ideas of places where we can target our quality. That's not just good for the quality of the landscape, but also the ease of working with us."
Company representatives also will do walk-throughs on projects and maintenance jobs for self-assessments.
"We quality judge a certain amount of our projects on a monthly basis and one of the field managers will quality control and score that project for that crew," says Currin. The crews get a ranking of where their projects are falling. Photos are taken of projects and they are compared to one another so one crew can see how another crew addressed a job site.
"Everyone gets into their different crew trucks and goes out to their project and guys are doing a good job, working hard and trying to take care of their customer, but their perspective is only their perspective and they don't see many of the other projects," Currin points out, adding it helps to expand employees' mindsets and improve quality control.
Like many contractors now, Currin seeks to use products that are proven and reliable, generating the results customers want without over-applying them.
"It's not just an environmental concern, it's also a huge cost concern," he says. "Why would we blanket-apply something and spend all of the money to do that versus spot-treating the problem and doing it at a lower cost, which is improving our bottom line."
He says while he would "love" to use more organics, "a huge part of that is going to have to be driven by the marketplace in regards to the customers. They're either going to be able to accept more weeds than they had in the past and not so much that golf course-like yard or be willing to pay much more than they have in the past to get the results they wanted with a product that isn't as low in cost as some of the proven products out there."
Vendor relationships are just as important to Currin as client and employee relationships.
"We have a great relationship with John Deere and we run a lot of their mowers on our maintenance crews and use some of their compact construction equipment on our landscape construction side," he says, adding the company also sources fertilizers, plant material and other products from John Deere.
The company also uses Stihl blowers, edgers and trimmers.
One of the trends that Currin is noting in the local commercial sector is a large effort in renovating old properties to attract customers, which includes refreshing the landscaping.
"A lot of shopping centers were built 20-plus years ago and they have worn out, both aesthetically and in the internal space," he says. "They're right in the middle of these key densely-populated areas that you can't build in anymore, so there's been a huge reinvestment in these facelift projects to get tenants in. We help renovate that and match that new look to make it look like the place was built yesterday even though it's been there for 20-some years."
In the residential sector, people are downsizing their living spaces, with Baby Boomers moving out of single-family homes and into condos or townhouses.
"For the townhome communities, the landscape is a very important selling feature and a quality of life feature and why people live there, so we are seeing that trend as well," Currin notes.
This season, Currin plans to open a third location for Weed Man services to complement the existing two in the Triangle area.
"We have operated them under one umbrella and one location was considered a satellite location where we dispatched vehicles and people from and now we're turning that into an actual branch where it has the revenue targets, profit goals and all of the resources it needs to stand alone," he says. "We believe it's big enough to handle one more branch."
Currin hopes to take his company to $20 million in five years.
"One target we always have is an expansion rate of 15 percent a year. That means we would double the company every five years in size," he says. "I don't know that the marketplace or our skills dictate our ability to hit that goal. It's going to be having the people and leadership in place to execute that plan."
To ensure that growth, that will entail putting the right people in place and training them to oversee their own branches and business units, Currin says.
Carol Brzozowski, Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a frequent contributor to Turf magazine. Contact her at email@example.com.