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‘Fired Up’ landscape companies

November 24, 2012 -  By

It’s been said time and again that there’s more joy to be had in life’s simple things than its big things. A mere smile, thank you or compliment can go a long way in making people feel valued and in generating positive results.

And if that’s true in life, the same can be said for life on the job.

Whether it’s through targeted incentives or by creating fun work environments, some companies are finding that there are many ways to motivate employees—ways far more meaningful, creative and effective than the traditional Christmas bonus.

“Some of the more powerful rewards are not financial,” says Phil Harwood of Pro-Motion Consulting. “They affect your morale. People want to grow and have an opportunity, so you have to create an environment where people feel valued for what they’re doing.”

Here’s a look at four Green Industry employers who have taken creative measures to show their workers they’re valued. And they’re seeing results. ▶ ▶

NaturaLawn of America hosts an annual pumpkin carving contest for its employees.

NaturaLawn of America hosts an annual pumpkin carving contest for its employees.

Fired up about teamwork

Company: NaturaLawn of America

Headquarters: Frederick, Md.

2011 revenue: $38 million

The whole staff dresses up as elves. It’s goofy. It’s funny as hell. We got on the front page of the newspaper last year.”

Such is life at NaturaLawn of America headquarters, where the focus is on teamwork and creating a positive work environment every day at the office.

Above, NaturaLawn founder, president and CEO Phil Catron was describing the company’s annual holiday ice melt giveaway, when its staffers dole out free ice melt to local businesses downtown.

It’s just one example of the efforts NaturaLawn takes to make work fun and its employees feel like family. The activities and perks hardly stop there. The company gives its corporate staff an annual $5,000 ownership credit toward the purchase of a NaturaLawn of America franchise and gives out turkeys at the holidays.

It closes the office early for pizza and movie parties, ponies up for soup on drab, dreary days and hosts monthly birthday parties. It takes trips to the theater, holds an annual pumpkin-carving contest and goes for carriage rides downtown.

Cal Ripken Jr. speaks at NaturaLawn’s annual conference .

Cal Ripken Jr. speaks at NaturaLawn’s annual conference .

The long-term impact of its incentives is hard to estimate, Catron says, but the immediate impact is clear. “They motivate employees and keep them looking forward to the next time,” he says.

In offering its perks and activities, NaturaLawn has no goal other than to create a memorable work experience. But if generating profits isn’t the aim, that doesn’t mean the company doesn’t benefit.

“I suppose you could track the benefits somewhat by looking at the average length of employment here—eight to 10 years,” Catron says. “You could track it by looking at the number of people who come in even though they may not be feeling well. The way people come in early or stay late, even knowing they don’t have to.

“You could track it by the numerous comments we receive from vendors indicating that they are impressed by the way we all seem to actually enjoy working together,” he continues. “That’s what is important and meaningful.”

The pinnacle of NaturaLawn’s events is the company’s annual two-day awards banquet and conference. It takes place in downtown Frederick, and NaturaLawn puts both its local staff and employees from its three corporate-owned franchises up at a local hotel for the event.

Catron says he’s not sure which of its incentives generates the most positive results from a business standpoint, “but from a personal growth perspective, the motivational speakers at our conferences have the largest impact, especially the ones who can deliver a secular message with spiritual overtones,” Catron says. “These types of presentations speak to the heart and that is where life changes are made.”

The enthusiasm that results from treating its employees well trickles down to customers. “When you treat your staff like they’re No. 1, they’ll treat the customer that way, and the customer will reward you by giving you repeated business,” says Catron. “A lot of people don’t think of that as being part of your brand, but it’s a big part of it.”

NaturaLawn’s perks don’t come cheap. It spends about $50,000 year on extracurriculars, including its annual meeting. Nevertheless, “it’s money well spent,” Catron says. “The staff works very, very hard, and they work together. Everybody here takes the mental tenant of ‘let’s solve the problem and get the job done.’”

Fired up about Safety

Company: ValleyCrest Cos.

Headquarters: Calabasas, Calif.

2011 revenue: $850 million

ValleyCrest leaders congratulate truck giveaway winners Jose Carillo.

ValleyCrest leaders congratulate truck giveaway winners Jose Carillo.

Ten years ago, ValleyCrest Cos.’ insurance and workers’ comp claims rose to an uncomfortable level. Its annual insurance costs were approaching tens of millions of dollars. To stop the bleeding, ValleyCrest hired Senior Vice President Mike Dingman to establish loss control programs.

“I volunteered to come up with a plan to get our costs back under control,” Dingman says. “All we did was get everybody focused and try some new things.”

Those “new things” involved centralizing its safety programs in 2002-2003 and managing them all from its corporate offices. The move enabled ValleyCrest to set up a much more focused department that handles safety standards uniformly for all its offices throughout the country.

As part of the initiative, ValleyCrest CFO Andy Mandell threw out the idea of having a truck giveaway to inspire field workers to ramp up their safety efforts on the job. The results were overwhelming.

“The first year, the results were dramatically greater than we ever expected,” Dingman says. Claims dropped by more than 20 percent, and “not only did the safety message step up tenfold, the reaction of the employees that the company would actually do something like that for them was a morale booster,” Dingman says. “It affected people’s overall happiness about their jobs, and it trickled down into the field.”

In the 10 years since the truck giveaway program launched, ValleyCrest’s insurance claims have plummeted by more than 50 percent and safety has become a major part of company culture. In tracking the program’s results in annual surveys, employees routinely rank safety and the company’s concern for employees in the 98th or 99th percentile—giving it the No. 1 rating at the company.

“That means 99 percent of employees across the entire company say the company cares about them personally. And that’s a direct result of our focusing on safety,” Dingman says.

For its field workers to be eligible for the truck giveaway, ValleyCrest branches must meet metrics, based on incidents per 100 employees. In 2012, more than 4,000 ValleyCrest field workers across the country had safety records stellar enough to make them eligible for the truck giveaway. That’s a lot of workers, especially considering the company raffles off five trucks—one for each of its safety regions.

But ValleyCrest hosts the truck giveaway at its National Safety Day celebration each July, and those who don’t win the grand prize are eligible to win other prizes, such as TVs, barbecues and bikes.

The day celebrates the efforts of ValleyCrest’s field workers. “If they aren’t engaged and don’t want to help in the safety process, the program would never be successful,” Dingman says.

ValleyCrest spends between $300,000 and $400,000 on its National Safety Day. If that sounds like a lot, “the amount we spend on producing that day has paid off much more in literal savings—in terms of claim dollars,” Dingman says. “Over the past 10 years, it’s been in the millions that we’ve saved as a result our safety initiatives. And each year the number of claims has gone down.”

ValleyCrest’s ultimate goal is to have zero workers’ comp claims and a healthy workforce. “It’s our job to make sure the employees go home with the same number of toes and fingers that they came in with,” Dingman says. LM

Fired up about profitability

Company: Lakewood Landscape Group

Headquarters: Dothan, Ala.

2011 revenue: $900,000

Kyle Faulk, left, and his brother, Grant, say their new bonus program has motivated their workers.

Kyle Faulk, left, and his brother, Grant, say their new bonus program has motivated their workers.

The guys behind Lakewood Landscape Group wanted to motivate their workers but weren’t sure how. So they turned to consultant Jason Cupp for help.

Cupp devised a plan that Lakewood implemented in April—a bonus incentive program based on gross margin. Every month 2012 shows a year-over-year increase in gross margin over 2011, Lakewood workers get a bonus check.

“Every employee plays a role in the accountability of gross margin, and we wanted to make sure everybody participated in the benefits of that,” says Grant Faulk, who owns the company with his twin brother, Kyle.

The Faulks distribute the incentive checks monthly “so they can feel it and taste it every month,” Faulk says.

The program has revitalized and invigorated Lakewood’s workers. “Our employees have more of a self evaluation of themselves and their own efficiency than they had in the past,” Faulk observes. “They’re seeing how they can really play a role in getting the work done for less.”

The company is showing results in virtually every aspect of the business. Workers are reducing the time they spend filling up at the gas station, they’re taking shorter routes to jobs to conserve time and fuel, and they’re not forgetting anything back at the office anymore.

Although Faulk can’t estimate dollar amounts just yet, he anticipates the end of the year will show significant savings in fuel and labor costs. “If you can save one crew from having to drive over to this customer’s yard 20 minutes away because you’re right there, that saves money immediately,” he says.

The monthly bonus checks average $135 per worker, and Faulk estimates his workers have pocketed a total of $10,000 in gross margin bonus checks since the program launched. It’s indicative of the positive change in gross margin Lakewood has seen so far this year.

“We tell them upfront it’s not guaranteed,” Faulk says. “It all depends on the year-over-year comparison.” That said, there’s been only one month since April workers didn’t get a bonus check.

That the bonus program’s producing positive results is undeniable. Most notably, Lakewood’s crews are thinking globally now, promoting the company’s services across the board instead of focusing strictly on their own responsibilities.

“We’ve seen communication among different crew leaders, and the customer service is getting better. As a result, our customer retention is going to be higher,” Faulk says. “I also feel like everybody has taken a little bit more ownership, a

‘This is our company’ mentality. They’re thinking more about what everybody else is doing in relation to each other.”

Another twist to the gross margin bonus program: Workers who are late more than three times in a month aren’t eligible for that month’s bonus. Since the program started, Lakewood’s seen a 66 percent jump in on-time arrivals.

Not only are workers showing up on time, working more efficiently and problem solving on the job, they also feel valued.

Consequently, “I think we’ll see when the whole season’s behind us that customers’ needs will be met more thoroughly,” Faulk says. “We’re starting to see a bump in customers, and that’s what it’s all about. If we provide better customer service, that’s the end goal, and to make our employees feel part of a team.

“No matter what,” Faulk continues, “we’ll always have something to incentivize them. Whether it’s this way or another way, we won’t go back, that’s for sure.” LM

Fired up about wellness

Company: Gachina Landscape Management

Headquarters: Menlo Park, Calif.

2011 revenue: $20.3 million

At Gachina Landscape Management, motivation begins within. More specifically, it begins with the Viva Gachina wellness program.

“We advocate living a life that revolves around health, vitality and energy,” says Gachina Director of Human Resources Denise Ritch. “If we’re feeling that way while we’re working, we’re going to be more productive, more positive and make a greater contribution to our teams.”

Gachina Landscape Management safety workers are led in morning stretches.

Gachina Landscape Management safety workers are led in morning stretches.

Gachina began making health-oriented changes around the office in 2007. Providing healthy dietary alternatives was a big part of the initiative in the beginning, and it still is. Instead of offering doughnuts at morning meetings, the company provides yogurt, fruit, bran muffins and granola bars. At lunch, the company offers salads and vegetarian options.

Gachina’s wellness movement began with its health-conscious safety officer, Santiago Martinez, who in 2007 rallied Gachina staff to participate in a breast cancer walk. The following year, the company made a more formal commitment to health on the job when it partnered with the Santa Clara County Health Department to implement a walking club, a stretching program and most instrumentally, a “soda-free summer,” in which employees committed to abstaining from soda all season.

The initiative was so successful that Gachina has not offered soda at a company event since, opting instead for juice and water. “It’s important,” Ritch says, “because when people are feeling good they’re full of energy, they’re more productive, they’re more creative.”

And Gachina has observed all of those things among its workers. Ritch says the growing number of employees partaking in the wellness offerings each year proves they’re working.

Gachina also has a training room where in the winter employees hold weekly exercise classes. And every morning before work, field workers are led in 10 minutes of stretching as a safeguard against injury.

The workouts act as a de-stressor, Ritch says, and employees at Gachina’s branches are catching on, too.

If energizing its workers and ensuring their well being are at the program’s core, Gachina also advocates its wellness program for the impact it has outside its office walls.

“At Gachina, we’re very much a family organization,” Ritch says. “It has a family feel. We want to promote healthy lifestyles, because we want our people to be healthy at work and at home for their families.”

Photos: Naturalawn of America; Lakewood Landscape Group; ValleyCrest Landscape Co.; Gachina Landscape Management

About the Author:

Geraci is a freelance writer based in Cleveland. She has worked as a professional journalist for more than 15 years, including six years as a writer for the Chicago Tribune. A graduate of Allegheny College and Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Geraci began her career as an editor at a newswire service in Washington, D.C., where she edited and distributed press releases from the White House and congressional leaders. She went on to become the community news reporter at the Jackson Hole Guide newspaper, winning two national feature writing awards. Her other experience includes working as a book editor in Chicago and as a professor of business communications at Cleveland State University.

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