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Maintenance is where it’s at

October 1, 2010 -  By

When things started going downhill with the economy, Earthworks, a Lillian, TX-based company, decided to be proactive. “You can’t fight the environment,” says Chris Lee, president. “You have to look at how you can turn what most people see as a negative into something positive.”

Lee says the more he looked at the situation his company was in, the more opportunity he began to see. He realized it was a chance to grow the maintenance end of his business. “Normally we wouldn’t have the resources to grow our maintenance base,” he says. “But suddenly we had that opportunity.”

At the time, the business was doing about 60% maintenance work and 30% installation/rehab. But when the economy turned, a lot of the extras, outside of maintenance, were starting to dry up. There was no new construction in the area. So Lee made the transition to growing the maintenance division in place of installations. Today, he’s closer to 70% maintenance and 20% installation/rehab. As people have started spending more this year, that maintenance base began increasing dramatically. Lee believes he’s in a great place. “We’re set up to not only maintain our business through the recession, but to explode once it’s over,” he says. At press time, the company was tracking for a little more than 20% growth. “We’re on target for bringing in $12.7 million if everything continues as planned,” Lee adds. “That’s actually a little ahead of where we thought we’d be.”

Besides the ability to adapt by growing the maintenance side, the company was also successful this year because it embraced its clients and their situation. “They were in financial difficulty and their budgets were tighter,” he says of his all-commercial clientele. “While some landscape companies got resentful and mad that their clients were bidding work, we tried to empathize with our clients’ situation. We got out there and talked to them about how we could help them through these tough times so they weren’t taking our jobs to bid. We started looking at ways we could re-negotiate contracts with clients who were really struggling. We embraced their situation and said ‘Let’s work together.’”

Along with that, many of Lee’s clients were doing things like sprinkler repairs or flower beds in-house to try and cut some costs. “We decided that instead of being mad, we’d look at it as the ‘new game,’” he explains. “It’s the way things are now. So we decided if they were going to do it in-house, we could help them do it right. We viewed it as another opportunity to solidify our base by creating good will. So we offered no-charge irrigation classes where we actually taught them what to do and bought them lunch. Ironically, the more education we gave, the more our clients realized it wasn’t so simple — there’s a lot of complexity to irrigation systems, and they wanted beautiful and colorful beds. So we actually found we got a lot of jobs back that way.”

Lee says he really believes the recession has ultimately made his business better. “We’re truly a better company today than we were at the end of 2008 because it was easy to make money then,” he says. “Now you really have to have a focus and a plan. The situation has forced us to adapt and it’s pushed us to get better. We will be a better company for the future because of what we’ve been through today.”

LM Staff

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