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How Virginia Green Lawn Care is in growth mode

April 10, 2020 -  By
<strong>Next level</strong> Virginia Green Lawn Care has found some high-caliber hires outside the green industry. (Photo: Tony Ventouris)

Next level Virginia Green Lawn Care has found some high-caliber hires outside the green industry. (Photo: Tony Ventouris)

Gil Grattan is a veteran of the turf care industry. Prior to starting Richmond, Va.-based Virginia Green Lawn Care, he was a golf course superintendent and sold turf products to lawn care companies and golf courses for Regal Chemical in Atlanta.

Seeing lawn care companies at work inspired him to enter that side of the business. “When I was working at Regal, I enjoyed calling on lawn care companies, and I enjoyed the business model,” he says.

“The guys I was working with, they were fantastic and they helped me a lot when I was getting started.”

Grattan has been in business at his own company since 2004. In the last couple of years, Virginia Green Lawn Care has been in what he calls “growth mode,” opening a fifth location in 2019 and a sixth in March 2020. The company employs 210 associates and provides lawn care services to a 95 percent residential, 5 percent commercial customer base.

We caught up with Grattan as his company was in the early stages of responding to the coronavirus, adding contingency plans, spreading teams into staggered shifts, equipping office staff to work from home and providing phones with internet hot spots when necessary.

The company’s lawn care services are scheduled as normal as of press time. “I think the lawn care industry is fairly recession-proof,” Grattan says. “As people are home and on their lawns, I think we’ll see some opportunities.”

Here, Grattan shares some of the strategies that are helping expand his company.

Software solutions

The company delved into software to become more efficient in its routing and ensure that each truck’s routes are as dense as possible. The company is using Fleetmatics software to track idle time and gas usage by route. The routing module on Real Green Systems’ software has helped maximize route density.

Lawn in Virginia (Photo: Virginia Green Lawn Care)

Virginia Green Lawn Care is getting more efficient by measuring lawns online and selling and estimating over the phone. (Photo: Virginia Green Lawn Care)

Measuring lawns online using Sod Solutions, Go iLawn and Real Green System’s Measuring Assistant also has eliminated the need for technicians (known as service leaders within the company) to spend time and fuel to measure properties on-site.

Point-of-sale transactions are now the norm in the company, instead of in-person estimates. “When someone’s calling for an estimate, (we prefer) selling over the telephone versus ‘Hey, we’re going to be out there in two days.’ We want people to buy instantly,” Grattan says. The customer service managers now are equipped to sell over the phone.

Building new leaders

“We’re in such a growth mode that we’re spending a significant amount of money opening these branches and paying people to run them,” Grattan says.

The company has hired two newer roles, including a customer service manager to oversee inside customer service and a manager for the inside sales team.

While the company is growing in terms of volume, management is hoping to foster growth within its people by identifying up-and-coming managers for its new Future Leaders program.

“Instead of talking revenue and dollars per day or talking about lawn care all the time or products and services, we’re doing leadership training and development,” Grattan explains. “Yesterday, we had 30 people reading the Harvard Business Review book ‘On Managing People.’”

The Future Leaders program has been in place for about 18 months and includes regional team leaders (the team members who manage service leaders) and above. These team members complete leadership assessments such as DiSC and 360.

Technician spraying tree (Photo: Virginia Green Lawn Care)

Making moves Virginia Green has reduced turnover of its service technicians by 50 percent. (Photo: Virginia Green Lawn Care)

“It’s really helped our management team understand our employee base and understand each other,” Grattan says.

High-caliber hires

For some higher-level hires, Grattan has looked beyond the green industry.

“We’ve upped our game in hiring high-caliber people to help us grow,” Grattan says. “We need business experience more than just lawn care experience.”

The company’s COO is from NB Handy, a national wholesaler for the HVAC industry, and the company’s marketing director is from Capital One.

“Our long-term play is, to continue to grow, we’re willing to invest in our people and use our resources to do that,” Grattan says.

This includes developing the company’s 120 service leaders, through its new Service Leader Advancement Program. The program moves new hires through five levels: registered technician, territory manager, commercial territory manager, route manager and master technician. Service leaders spend six months at each level and are assessed to see if they’ve developed the skills required at each level before progressing.

Virginia Green implemented the program five years ago, and it has reduced turnover at the service leader level by 50 percent. The 120 service leaders are producing 15-20 percent more dollars per day than they were three years ago.

Buying smart

Although payroll has gone up with the company’s investment in people, Virginia Green’s product cost has come down.

Its product cost has gone from 15 percent of its gross revenue to 12.7 percent the last few years as it has increased product volumes and efficiencies.

“We’re leveraging our size and volume to reduce our costs,” Grattan says. The company purchases herbicides, fungicides and grass seed from TMI in Tangent, Ore., and fertilizer from Koch Industries and uses a batch mixing system to mix its liquid.

Peer to peer

Peer companies such as Fairway Green in Raleigh, N.C. and Turf Pride in Atlanta were instrumental in getting Virginia Green Lawn Care going, Grattan recalls. Since friends in the lawn care industry helped him start his company more than 15 years ago, he continues to network with lawn care peer groups where he can hash out business ideas and share thoughts.

He’s an active member of National Association of Landscape Professionals, proactive in working with Virginia’s delegates on legislation and serves on councils such as the Virginia Turfgrass Council. He also sits on the board of the Virginia Agribusiness Council.

Overall, Grattan appreciates the position that these strategies and new efficiencies have helped create for his company and his clients.

“I think we’ve learned this from our surveys and our customer base — we’re the experts, and I think they know that,” Grattan says. “They’re trusting us to take care of their properties.”

Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the managing editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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