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Reconfigured in Pennsylvania due to COVID-19

April 9, 2020 -  By

“This is a whole new rollout,” Zech Strauser, president of Strauser Nature’s Helpers in Stroudsburg, Penn., says of the realignment of his crew.

The company provides 75 percent maintenance and 25 percent design/build services to an 80 percent commercial, 20 percent residential clientele.

Strauser shut down his company’s operation for two weeks to configure his team more efficiently. Although his company was considered an essential business, he saw those two weeks as a critical time to take a step back and do a reset.

Some of the policies and procedures his company has implemented include switching crews and managers to be more efficient with skills and to keep employees to only one person in a vehicle. Certain crews are to directly report to sites, meaning a crew leader drives the truck to the site and others meet at the job site.

For his stop-and-go sites, he’s rented trucks so each team member can go separately. He considered having crew members follow in their car, but he thought that was unprofessional. While crew leaders have stayed at the same property, some other team members have been rearranged.

“What I’m finding is it’s actually the way some of the things should have been set up,” he says.

Explaining the health and safety reasons behind the realignment, he says it’s “something someone couldn’t argue (against).”

There has been a small increase in financials for truck rentals and gas, but that’s about it. He has also reduced the number of hours crews are working instead of racking up hours in the spring, and he’s encouraging crews to prioritize.

“We’re going to be working a little less so we’re able to do things outside of work,” he says. “Get people home quicker. I want everyone to be with family a little more.”

This, too, will help with overhead.

He says he’s also going to see how this new configuration works, noting he might have to retool things as his plan is in action.

“You can put a plan out on paper, (but) you don’t know where all your shortcomings are,” he says.

And the jobs Strauser Nature’s Helpers are doing are more streamlined. Enhancement projects and spring flower plantings have been pushed back until late spring and early summer to focus on what he calls essential services such as mowing, weeding, drainage and irrigation.

“I believe we should be cognizant about that,” he says. “Are we doing everything? Or are we doing what I call highly essential services?”

Strauser says he probably didn’t pay as close attention as he should have to the monthly financials of his business. He says he’d set a yearly budget but wouldn’t take a deep dive into monthly performance. Now, that’s all changed, as he is going to make those 30-day budgets to “try to live by it.” And, financials, he says, were not the main focus as the COVID-19 virus started to unfold in his area.

“It’s 100 percent secondary the last two weeks,” he says. “We will be looking to that in April and May. Keeping morale of the team has been one of my primary focuses as an owner.”

If history repeats itself, Strauser says, it’s likely the green industry won’t feel the pinch until a little bit down the road, much like the economic downturn of the late 2000s.

“Our landscape company will never be what it was,” he says. “We will be better in many areas. We have to face things that we already should have been facing.”

Stepping up as a leader has been something Strauser says he takes pride in.

“I feel really honored and a new profound sense of leadership that I need to deliver,” he says. “I’ve been working hard at that and have pride in ownership and me leading the team through this time.”

He says he’s relished how his company’s culture is reflecting on the positivity and energy he’s putting into the business, and that’s radiating throughout his crew.

“Our team is becoming stronger and more connected,” he says. “Customers are responding to it on a positive level.”

Christina Herrick

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