Joining forces

June 10, 2016 -  By
Pro Edge grew once its owner hurdled his reluctance to delegate responsibilities.

Pro Edge grew once its owner hurdled his reluctance to delegate responsibilities.

Tony Szczechowski has systemized and streamlined his Holland, Ohio-based company
and is positioned for long-term growth.

Learn how to become comfortable saying no. That’s the No. 1 piece of advice Tony Szczechowski has for other owners of landscape companies. After mastering this skill, the owner of Pro Edge Lawn Care near Toledo, Ohio, now serves fewer than half of the 200 clients it once did, but his company is more profitable than before.

“It’s OK to say no,” says Szczechowski. “You have to know what you’re good at and stick with it.”

Lessons like this have helped Szczechowski grow his $1.3-million dollar business, which started as the one-man operation Tony’s Lawn Care in 1999. The company rebranded as Pro Edge Lawn Care in 2007 and is now housed in a facility on 14 acres near Holland, Ohio.

He’s had to step out of his comfort zone and make some big changes to get there, but the moves have paid off in terms of profitability—and even some accolades.

Turning point

Szczechowski knew that implementing consistent systems and processes would be necessary for Pro Edge Lawn Care—which offers 80 percent landscape maintenance and snow management and 20 percent design/build services to a 70 percent commercial, 30 percent residential clientele—to become the professional, saleable company he envisioned. After eight months of calls from a company called LandOpt, he finally answered and heard the sales pitch. It was the opportunity he’d been waiting for. Szczechowski completed the application process, and Pro Edge Lawn Care became “powered by LandOpt” in July 2013.

“The main reason we joined at that time was so I could actually have a life outside of work and be there as a father, and to allow us to get to the point where things can run and I don’t have to be there,” says Szczechowski, who sought a better work-live balance after his second son was born in May 2013.

LandOpt offers contractors a proprietary business operating system aimed at improving profitability and growth. Working with businesses under a licensing agreement, LandOpt provides tools and processes to systemize many landscape company operations, including sales and marketing, human resources, operations and business management. LandOpt also sponsors annual meetings and events attended by green industry business executives.

So far, his plan has proved successful. Since joining LandOpt, Szczechowski has been able to work an average of five fewer hours each week. Because of LandOpt’s processes, he no longer performs the duties of account manager or office manager. He promoted two employees to serve as account managers and deal directly with clients, and he also hired an office manager.

“I no longer deal with the day-to-day operations—and I’m OK with that,” he says with a laugh.

Since joining LandOpt, Pro Edge Lawn Care’s employee roles are now defined, and everyone has a clear career path. LandOpt also encourages financial transparency. This year, Szczechowski opened the company’s financial plan to the staff, a move he never would have thought to make without LandOpt’s guidance, he says. This level of transparency gives his staff a behind-the-scenes view and aligns them with company goals, changes and advancements.

“The biggest benefit of this is team buy-in,” Szczechowski says. “We are actually showing our employees how they can impact the bottom line of this company.”

Adding design/build work for the first time was another big move.

LandOpt encourages its licensees to strive for a 50/50 mix of recurring revenue and project work. So in 2015, Szczechowski hired a project manager to run the new design/build department. He chose a 17-year hardscape industry veteran with the experience and know-how to manage the department and its crews. Szczechowski says that, so far, the design/build
segment has been a great addition.

“I’ve always understood that projects can be more profitable, but the recurring profitability of maintenance was always more attractive to me—you don’t have to go resell it every year,” Szczechowski says. “But if you have a good sales rep on board, projects help. You almost have to have both.”

When it came to clientele, Szczechowski was urged to take a hard look at who was most profitable. Pro Edge Lawn Care went from serving 200 clients to serving 71 “ideal clients,” as he calls them. The latter are primarily commercial maintenance accounts and residential design/build projects. On the commercial side, Szczechowski seeks out clients who understand that Pro Edge Lawn Care’s crews are the “professionals of the outdoor space.” They simply step back and let the pros handle the work. On the residential side, Szczechowski prefers high-end clients who enjoy spending time in—and money on—their outdoor spaces. The focus paid off. The company, which typically brought in $1 million in revenue, grew by $200,000 in its first year with Land Opt.

Letting go

The decision to join LandOpt improved nearly every part of Pro Edge Lawn Care, but not all aspects of the transition were easy. One of Szczechowski’s biggest challenges was relinquishing his responsibilities. With the help of a LandOpt success coach, he transitioned duties to his new managers and teams. He followed a timeline, but the process took longer than expected.

“A company my size should have been able to hand it all over in 18 months, but it took me about 30 months to give full rein to my team to do their jobs,” Szczechowski says.

Because of Pro Edge Lawn Care’s overall adherence to the LandOpt processes, the company was recognized with the President’s Award during LandOpt’s annual Principals Meeting and Success Celebration in Savannah, Ga., in February. Compared to the organization’s numbers-driven awards, LandOpt’s President’s Award criteria are qualitative. Pro Edge Lawn Care was recognized for its leadership, consistency and initiative.

“We are one of the smaller companies powered by LandOpt, and I think it was powerful for some of the larger companies to see a smaller company win the award,” Szczechowski says. “You have to put in the time and effort. LandOpt supplies the systems, (but) they are not going to implement themselves.”

Going forward, Szczechowski plans to focus on growing the design/build segment of his company. With his management and sales teams in place, he’s preparing for “explosive growth” with a goal to double revenue over the next five years.

“We feel we have the infrastructure in place and a great production team to make that vision a reality,” he says. “The future of Pro Edge is bright.”

Photo: Pro edge Lawn Care

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About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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