Scale up your business by ‘trimming the fat’

September 18, 2019 -  By
Landscape design photo (Photo: Frontiers Landscape Architecture)

LEAN MACHINE By finding small ways to eliminate inefficiencies, Frontiers Landscape Architecture has managed to scale up. (Photo: Frontiers Landscape Architecture)

In 2016, Doug Taylor found his company at a revenue plateau. But instead of achieving growth by scaling up, the president of Frontiers Landscape Architecture in Georgetown, Ontario, did the opposite. He went from a staff of 18 down to a more manageable group of 12 and focused on operating in a leaner, more efficient way. Frontiers Landscape Architecture has since nearly doubled its revenue, growing from $1.5 million to $2.8 million in just two years.

“The traditional idea of growing is scaling up — doing more of what you’re already doing,” says Taylor, whose design/build firm serves an 80 percent residential, 20 percent commercial clientele. “We have always been a small, lean business, and we saw scaling up as something that would make it difficult to keep our standards.”

In addition to a staff overhaul, Taylor revamped three main areas of his business with a goal of getting more work done in a faster, smarter way.

“For us, everything boils down to time — if we can get it done faster, then we can move on to the next job,” he says. “If we can get two jobs done in the time it used to take us to do one, we are effectively doubling our revenue.”

Equipment

In the past, Taylor’s crews operated standard-sized construction equipment. But he found that it was often difficult to access residential backyards with these large machines, and his employees would spend too much time doing work by hand. Taylor invested in miniature skid-steers and excavators that easily fit through gates and other tight areas.

“We used to need four or five guys digging a patio by hand,” Taylor says. “We can now do that with two guys in half the time.”

Taylor purchased a vacuum clamp, which allows his crews to move heavy stones and pavers with ease. He also switched to cordless power tools, which eliminate the hazard of cords running through a job site and the need for access to an outlet, making crew members safer and more efficient.

“Like many in the industry, we are battling a labor shortage,” Taylor says. “We have exploited any innovations and gadgets that we can find.”

Subcontractors

As a smaller company with smaller projects, Taylor’s crews would complete the majority of each job themselves. But as Frontiers Landscape Architecture has grown, Taylor has embraced the use of subcontractors, which allows his crews to focus only on what they do best. While electrical work, gas work and pool installations used to always be subbed out, Taylor now also outsources concrete and asphalt work, large-scale tree work, irrigation and complex masonry projects. He also doubles up where he can — for example, if the asphalt contractor also can excavate the site, Taylor’s crews can use that time to perform more profitable tasks.

“With larger, higher-caliber projects comes a higher expectation of the quality of work, so we rely on specialty sub trades that are excellent at what they do,” Taylor says. “We have also found that we can increase revenue because, since we aren’t providing that product to the client ourselves, we are able to pivot and make revenue elsewhere.”

Materials

Like he does with advancements in equipment, Taylor seeks out advancements in materials that make the work quicker and easier for his crews. He has embraced the new technology that makes stones lighter and easier to maneuver. New hidden clips and fastener systems make retaining walls quicker to construct. The vacuum clamp has “opened a lot of doors” for using heavier patio stones that were too cumbersome before.

“Manufacturers and suppliers are doing a good job innovating and creating materials that take a fraction of the time to install,” Taylor says. “Most cost more, but the material price is passed on to the client. We use half the time installing it, and then we can go on to another task.

“You would think that investing in equipment and tools is against the rationale of staying lean, but it’s more about staying efficient,” he adds. “It’s a mental hurdle to get over, and you have to take the big picture into account. Doing all of this was how we were able to shrink our staff and almost double our revenue.”

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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