The goal of Kyle Carlisle, owner and CEO/CFO of Carlisle Land Management in Sikeston, Missouri, is pretty simple. “The company that stands out; that brings a presence of professionalism to their market; that has the scale and approach to take lawn care to another level – I want to be that company.”
Through strategic planning and implementation, Carlisle and his wife and business partner, Jessica, are getting there.
With “explosive growth” over the last three years, they’ve invested in a 5-acre property, with a 3,000-square-foot building. It is located in a high-visibility location along the area’s main traffic route, Interstate 55. That’s a step up from their former 30,000-square-foot property and 1,200-square-foot building.
Carlisle Land Management LLC
Owners: Kyle Carlisle
Headquarters: Sikeston, Missouri
Employees: 9 peak season
Services: Mowing; shrub trimming; plant bed maintenance, fertilization, and mulching; sodding and seeding; tree planting; light hardscaping; irrigation system maintenance and installation; landscape design and installation; lawn fertilization and control product applications
“Our trucks and trailers are red and black, the school colors of the Sikeston Bulldogs,” says Carlisle. “We line them up along our fence for maximum drive-by impact. The new location also gives us easy access to our commercial clients within our industrial parks via the bypass road. So we’ve trimmed our travel time.”
A statistician at heart, travel time is just one element he’s tracking. Analysis has been part of the equation from the beginning. Carlisle was in the pre-sports medicine program at Three Rivers Community College in Poplar Bluff planning a career in physical therapy, and working at Home Depot to support his young family. A classmate, Logan Goldschmidt, was running a local lawn service and purchasing many of his supplies at Home Depot. When Goldschmidt decided to join the Air Force, he approached Carlisle about a potential buyout, offering his equipment along with a personal introduction and recommendation to the clients he’d established during his six years of business.
“As Michael E. Gerber would say, ‘I was a technician that had entrepreneurial seizure.’ I estimated the first year income potential at around $40,000 after covering the investment. So, we launched Carlisle Lawn Care and Landscaping in January of 2006,” Carlisle says. He wrapped his AAS and focused on the business. Jessica finished her business management degree, a great fit for the accounting, marketing and strategic support roles she fills in the company.
“When I first started, I thought that I could work myself to prosperity and worked six days a week. I woke up one day and realized that was the wrong path. My son was already 2 and my daughter 5 months old. Time was flying by and I was barely connecting with my family. Jessica and I set goals to create balance in our work, family, spiritual life and community involvement,” he says.
That required analysis on the business side, too. He’d been studying Dave Ramsey’s financial directives, Gerber’s book “The E Myth for Contractors” and the Tony Bass book “The Money Making Secrets of a Multi-Million $ Landscape Contractor.” They decided to focus on the maintenance side, delivering efficient, customer-sensitive service that would build relationships and develop life-long customers.
“We wanted the company to be a reflection of our core values and fulfill our vision for it. Our Mission Statement is: To provide professional, dedicated, efficient services, enhancing our clients’ properties by doing what we say we are going to do when we say we are going to do it. If we strive to be the best land management company in Southeast Missouri, we will become the biggest,” says Carlisle.
Though they’d been working in several different communities, part of their strategy to achieve balance was to pull back to just Sikeston at the end of the 2008 season. “We took a hit of a little over $100,000 in sales,” says Carlisle. “But it allowed us to increase our efficiency and profit percentages, as well as build stronger ties within the community which helped us develop new customers.”
One-stop service provider
The company now offers a wide range of landscape management services to both commercial and residential customers. The goal is to become a one-stop shop for exterior maintenance. The basic program includes mowing, shrub trimming and plant bed maintenance, fertilization and mulching. They also provide sodding and seeding and a special order tree planting program in the fall.
“We do some light hardscaping, which accounts for 4 to 5 percent of our business,” says Carlisle. “Our work with irrigation systems is 90 percent maintenance; 10 percent new installations. Landscape design and installation is very minor right now, though we see it as a potential growth area. We do provide a maintenance proposal with every new landscape installation.”
They have 187 clients using a combination of the services listed above, with the breakdown 90 percent maintenance, and the mix by client 60 percent commercial and 40 percent residential.
They recently established a lawn care division for lawn fertilization and control product applications, with 126 clients in that program.
“We have team members, not employees. An employee is someone who shows up for work, does their job and goes home. A team member is more like a sports player, a key part of the action focused on a common goal. I work on building relationships within our team with things like a rewarding lunch where we don’t talk business. When I need to take leadership, I’ll say I’m putting on my boss hat and address the issue,” Carlisle says.
Team numbers range from five to seven depending on the season and workflow. With Carlisle and Jessica, that brings the staff total to nine during peak season. Carlisle runs two-person maintenance crews, believing there’s equal accountability in the 50-50 split, even though one is designated team leader. If necessary for a large property, or if weather issues put them behind, two crews may work on one site. His fleet is designed for maximum efficiency with a low amount of equipment. All of his mowers are Exmark.
The crew for larger properties drives an F550 truck pulling an enclosed trailer equipped with two 72-inch Z-turn mowers and one 52-inch stand-on, as well as assorted pruning, edging, blowing tools and standard supplies.
The crew for smaller properties drives an F450 with a smaller enclosed trailer equipped with a 26-inch push mower, a 36-inch walk-behind and a 60-inch stand-on, along with the full assortment of smaller equipment.
The lawn and landscape crews drive F450 or F250 trucks pulling fully-equipped trailers, and the spray technician works alone, driving an Isuzu box truck equipped with a Z-Spray unit. Carlisle says, “It allows him to spray and fertilize at the same time. It’s a very efficient machine that serves us well.”
The company also uses the F450 with a smaller enclosed trailer for installation projects in landscape, hardscape or irrigation. Carlisle works with a part-time team member to handle those jobs. He uses his F150 for sales calls and client consultations.
Image and efficiency
Well aware of the importance of a professional image, Carlisle’s team members always have been appropriately uniformed. His trucks and equipment are clean and well maintained. The company-wide no smoking policy starts when the team member steps within the gates and ends when they leave at night. That’s no smoking on company property, a client’s property, during travel, at lunch or on break.
On the job, our team members wear hard hats, safety vests and gloves. We hold frequent safety talks on the big and little issues to keep it fresh and relevant. And we track our safety record. It’s served us well when shopping for insurance and in client presentations,” he says.
Carlisle does not use routing software. Instead, he’s done a time and motion study using a program called PocketClock from ExakTime. He says, “I believe in measuring it all, the time to travel, to mow with any of our lawn mowers, to trim with our string trimmers or edge with a steel blade edger.”
Each team member clocks in and out using an iPod Touch and the coding system Carlisle has worked out in PocketClock. The team leader is also tracked live time with the GPS component of the program. When the crew arrives back at company property, they sync the job site data which feeds directly into the master system.
“We’ve established what each step with each piece of equipment takes at each site,” says Carlisle. “We can compare each part of a site visit with the target averages we’ve reached and track down and correct any problems to insure we reach our target goals for profits.”
While Carlisle is looking at scheduling software programs and has tested a few, he’ll always use a magnetic scheduling board. “The board gives team members a visual of the workload that helps us forecast and plan our labor hours. So if they finish early in a neighborhood and have a job scheduled nearby the next day, they can work that stop in to save us time and money.”
Carlisle says, “We’ve been working four 10-hour days for almost three years now. Friday is the day off, giving them a three-day weekend most of the time. Friday is the rain day if we get behind. And sometimes they’ll have an option to work it if we have special projects we need to do. We weighed the pros and cons of the four-day week and decided we’d have a happier team if they could spend more time with their families and have enough money to enjoy it. So we set goals to make that happen.”
During the winter of 2012, the Carlisles did another analysis of their business. First they focused on the services needed in their market. “Then we determined the best way to deliver them,” he says. “We considered the operational factors of course, but also our appearance as a company and how we were going to approach new clients. As part of that, we made the name change to Carlisle Land Management LLC.”
Though many of the policies and procedures they identified were already in place, they wanted a little more fine-tuning. Last year they began consulting with Tony Bass, focusing especially on accountability.
“We’d had an employee handbook for quite a while, but our review showed it didn’t clearly have accountability built in. The upgraded version is now 75 pages and growing. It addresses all the issues, from our background, purpose and mission statements, to the uniform package, different pay rates and how to get a raise, career development, vacation, our services and systems on different properties, professional conduct, safety, drug testing, how to handle our equipment and supplies, even cell phone use while at work.”
Customer and community interaction
All these systems play a role when approaching a potential customer, especially a commercial account. In a recent presentation to a large company, Carlisle provided a detailed, 10-page proposal, a copy of his company’s employee manual, and a print-out of their safety record. “It definitely made us stand out from the crowd,” he says. “And the prospect became our customer.”
The level of communication with all customers is a strong point for Carlisle. He always prefers the face-to-face meeting for its relationship building component. But with everyone’s packed schedules and his tech-savvy clients, all options come into play. “We use phone calls, text messaging and emails,” he says. “I confirm any in-person or phone consultation decisions with a follow-up text or email. That way both our company and the client have a record of the details so it gets on the calendar and nothing is missed on either side.”
Along with networking through PLANET and other green-industry connections, he’s active in the Sikeston Chamber of Commerce, supports the booster clubs and multiple activities throughout the community. “We believe it’s important to give back to the community,” he says. “We’re providing pro bono weed control and fertilization on the local baseball fields. We’ve just undertaken pro bono pruning and maintenance of the 300 crepe myrtles our Rotary Club planted along a major road in town. They’ll be in full bloom along the route hundreds of visitors travel to the annual Sikeston Jaycees Bootheel Rodeo.”
Progress is ongoing
A major project now underway is establishing a website that gives the company an Internet presence that is compatible with their image and provides an easy-to-use interactive tool for their customers and potential customers.
Also under consideration is geographic expansion. “And one of our goals is to be debt free,” says Carlisle. “Though our local economy is improving, it’s not where it should be. The less money owed, the greater the advantage.”
This leads to his greatest challenge. “I love the hands-on, outdoor work,” he says. “But for our team to be properly equipped, trained, with jobs lined up, I need to work on the business, not in it. If I stay focused on my leadership role, our team members have work to do, our clients are happy, and our cash flow operates smoothly.”