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LM150 2021: With a name like Caretaker, culture has to be good

June 25, 2021 -  By
Caretaker Landscape employees (Photo: Dominique Hypolite)

Employee development and growth is a key to Caretaker’s success. That investment has paid dividends in retention. (Photo: Dominique Hypolite)

Caretaker Landscape & Tree Management in Gilbert, Ariz., has built a company culture surrounded by training and professionalism, which, in turn, has fueled growth, says Matt White, CEO and owner. The company ranks No. 85 on this year’s LM150 list with a 2020 revenue of $28,712,000.

“Employee retention is critical for growth, and it’s critical for myriad different reasons,” he says. “Culture is probably the biggest. You get good people; you want to keep good people. You want to do as much as you can to make a very good home for them in a place where they’re going to spend most of their time.”

As White started to take over the company about 20 years ago from founder and Executive Vice President Susan Harris and President L. ‘Bud’ Stephenson, Jr., he realized poor employee retention was costly. For this reason, he says he emphasizes employee education because education breeds passionate employees who want to stick around. It’s even reflected in Caretaker’s core values, which are symbolized by the acronym CARE: caring, accountable, reputable, educated.

“We now have probably one of the most educated staff in the landscaping industry, with International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborists and tree climbers, Arizona Certified Landscape Professionals and Sustainable Landscape Management professionals,” White says. “That is only the beginning of our landscape-specific certifications, not to mention all of the higher education degrees we have across the company including MBAs, bachelor’s degrees and associate degrees.”

White says that investment in employees has fueled a passion and pride for the team at Caretaker Landscape & Tree Management, which provides maintenance, tree care, water management, design/build and snow and ice services for a primarily commercial clientele.

“You get people who are super excited about what they do and it spreads to other people and they become more proud of what they’re doing in the company they’re working for and the people they work with,” White says.

Promoting from within

White says part of the successful employee education program is having a leadership team with shared values and goals. It’s something COO and President Mark Wordley believes in and says is a way to reflect the company’s name as it relates to employees.

Caretaker Landscape puts an emphasis on employee training and certifications. (Photo: Dominique Hypolite)

Caretaker Landscape puts an emphasis on employee training and certifications. (Photo: Dominique Hypolite)

“We’re a family-owned company, and we pride ourselves on looking after our employees, and part of that looking after employees is giving them the opportunity for career growth,” he says. “We love to promote from within. That’s one of our core principles, and to be able to do that, you’ve got to have robust training programs, where you are willing to invest the time into developing the skills of the people that work for you.”

Wordley says he’s proud to see the positive company culture reflected in the personal growth of so many Caretaker Landscape employees.

“Some of the highest people that are in the company now, at the VP level, started in as an account manager working much lower in the organization,” Wordley says. “I’ve got a great person who started at the front desk, and now, she’s a director running continuous improvement. We’ve got lots of great examples where we’re actively seeking out the best skill sets for the staff that we’ve got in place, and then trying to not necessarily create jobs around those skill sets, but encouraging them to develop those skill sets in a positive way that impacts the company.”

Another part of Caretaker’s success is the emphasis leadership puts on frontline employees as the linchpin to Caretaker’s relationships with clients.

“The folks who are customer-facing are out there, whether it’s mowing the grass, installing trees, trimming landscape or whatever it is, they are the most important folks in the company because they’re the ones that are adding value to the client,” Wordley says.

From an operations standpoint, Caretaker retooled the company mindset about four years ago around supporting customer-facing crews in the field as they directly help the organization add value for customers and earn money for the organization. Wordley says this means understanding the vital role that crew members have to the overall success of the business.

“You start saying, ‘Guess what? The finance group, your sole existence is to support the folks in the field. And the continuous improvement group, your whole existence is to help all the other departments get better at helping the folks in the field,’” he says. “Let’s figure out how we can help those men and women to do their job better, faster, more efficiently, so that we get better customer satisfaction. Whether that’s purchasing or HR or anybody else, it starts to change your mindset.”

Growing pains

This past year was a challenge for many businesses, and it was no different for Caretaker Landscape & Tree Management, says Wordley. He and White worked together to understand the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on their business monthly.

“Generally, in businesses, you’re planning at least a year out,” he says. “The uncertainty from month to month meant that we needed to be very nimble. One minute, we had clients saying, ‘Shut everything down.’ The next minute, we had clients going, ‘Oh, we need double what you had before because we need to catch up, because things haven’t slowed down.’”

In the end, this meant Caretaker Landscape needed to hire more employees to help manage the increase in demand for services.

“It became quite apparent that 2020 was always a growth year for us in our budgeting, in our planning, in what we thought we could do,” Worldly says. “We decided that we were going to execute those plans, hire as much as we could and get ourselves into a position where we truly run the track of a growth company.”

White says with each of the company’s major revenue milestones — $5 million to $14 million, $14 million to $24 million and $24 million to $33 million — the company took time to refocus systems and operations to maintain momentum.

“Each one of those steps requires somewhat different management and somewhat different systems to support that volume of business,” he says. Wordley adds, “At each one of those jumps, we’ve generally taken a year or two to try to figure out and catch up the systems and processes and put more processes in place. As we got even bigger, it requires much more planning for the implementation of the new processes. The last thing you want to do is grow and not be equipped to handle the growth.”

Wordley says while Caretaker Landscape continues to grow, the focus remains on keeping that education-centric culture in place.

“We think we’ve got a pretty good recipe, and we’ve got a pretty good mousetrap to get good folks to come over and share the experience and grow with us,” he says. “Growth is clearly a goal. Undoubtedly, we can’t do that without having a great workforce, and we can’t have a great workforce if we don’t have a great environment.”

Keys to success

Caretaker Landscape and Tree Management’s Matt White, CEO and owner, and Mark Wordley, COO and president, share their keys to a successful business.

Mark Wordley:
1. Teamwork and focus on the customer.
2. Treat the company like it’s your own.
3. Focus on the top items that move the needle.
4. Remove obstacles for the team to allow them to be strategic.
5. Use technology to create KPIs and remove non-value-added activities.

Matt White:
1. Find the right people, empower them and treat them like family.
2. Stay focused (Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept) and be the best.
3. Have integrity in every encounter; do the right thing.
4. Be passionate, be educated and be proud.
5. Be accountable.
6. Find time to work on the business, not just in it.
7. Invest in technology.

This article is tagged with , , and posted in 0621, Featured, From the Magazine, LM150
Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University and has been in B2B publishing for seven years. She can be reached at cherrick@northcoastmedia.net.

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