Labor Strategy: Recruiting, Retaining great employees

April 6, 2016 -  By

Retain ’em with tech

Ben Collinsworth.

Ben Collinsworth.

Austin, Texas, is known as a tech hub—and that fact isn’t lost on Ben Collinsworth, CEO of Native Land Design, based there.

When it comes to foremen, account managers and other management roles, Collinsworth focuses on not hiring just anyone but hiring the best. He has an excellent pool of candidates for manager positions, thanks to the draw of the local economy and consolidation among other large landscape companies. To retain new hires at this level, he differentiates Native Land Design with a host of technology tools to make it a flexible, enjoyable place to work.

“A lot of people who come here say they do for the ease of working,” he says. “They were working at the Brickmans, ValleyCrests and TruGreens before. They want to have flexibility. They got into landscaping because they don’t want to be in an office all day.”

Everyone has Apple devices down to the foreman level. Managers have MacBook Pros or Airs and the office is outfitted with Wi-Fi, large display monitors and Apple TV to allow team members to easily share their devices with others to walk through job photos, for example.

“I think it’s a good investment in capital,” he says. “You interact with your device so much during the day.”

Other tools the company leverages include:

  • A file-sharing app similar to Dropbox that gives staff access to all their files at all times;
  • Evernote, a web-based, note-taking app. The company maintains a “notebook” for every client, which anyone in the company can access. It contains all the notes about a property, including the ability annotate photos and store them.
  • Aspire mobile landscape business software; and
  • Tapigo, a web and mobile app-based software, in which Collinsworth is an investor. It’s designed to help landscape maintenance companies manage the irrigation inspection process with ease.

“The purpose of it all is to give guys more chances to be on-site in front of clients,” Collinsworth says. “The technology we use gives them that option.”


Frank Mariani.

Frank Mariani.

Pay to play

Spring 2014 was a tipping point at Mariani Landscape in Lake Bluff, Ill.

“We were turning over a couple hundred people a year—do you know how much training was involved in that?” says Frank Mariani, CEO of Lake Bluff, Ill.-based Mariani Landscape. “It was demoralizing for our team.”

Going into the following season, Mariani management had a strategic planning session to consider its options—one of them was simply raising wages by a few dollars.
“A lot of our people felt there’s no way we could afford to do this,” Mariani says. “I said, ‘There’s no way we can afford not to do something.’”

The company gave the pay hike idea a try. It raised wages for entry-level laborers to the $12.50 per hour range.

“It worked,” Mariani says.

Turnover was about a quarter of the level it had been the year before.

There was a bottom line impact, but not as much as the team expected. An increase in productivity made up for some of the costs.

Mariani encourages other companies to consider this scenario, but only after considering other factors first.

“It’s not just money,” he says. “How is it to work at ABC Co.? Is it fun? Is it safe? Is it rewarding? Those are the things we have to sell,” he says, noting company culture continues to be a focus at Mariani Landscape.


Create a connected culture

Chris Joyce.

Chris Joyce.

Chris Joyce has always believed that the way to a successful business is through hiring good people and helping them succeed. He’s done his morning staff greeting since he started his company and had only one employee. And he does it today, now that the company has grown to well over a hundred team members.

It’s difficult to scale so many personal connections, but that doesn’t mean Joyce hasn’t found a way to try. The company requests personal information about every team member at its annual half-day orientation and kick-off meeting in the spring. Staff members are asked to update their personal information on a profile sheet, including their spouse’s name, anniversary, birthday, children’s names and more.

The human resources director stores the information in a database and sends Joyce a report every Friday afternoon with the following week’s birthdays, anniversaries and other highlights, so he can mention them to employees.

“It’s taken us awhile to get the system to where we are now, but now it’s routine,” he says. “It’s part of the whole romancing the employee thing. It’s one simple thing that helps people feel this is a great place to work.”

About the Author:

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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