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Seth’s Cut: How the green industry is proving durability

June 30, 2021 -  By
Photo: Seth Jones

Seth Jones

In this issue, we celebrate our annual LM150 list, ranking by revenue the top 150 landscape companies in America. Now in its 13th year, the list, sponsored by our friends at Aspire Software, sets a record at a total of $12.6 billion in revenue.

A common theme we wanted to have in this year’s coverage of the LM150 was 1) getting companies to share how a strong culture helped them prosper in what was a strange year and 2) general tips companies of all sizes could use. I hope you’ll find both of these themes helpful within your business.

One of the interviews I did for the section was with Chenmark Partner James Higgins. The company came in at No. 43 on the list, with a revenue of $50 million. Based in Portland, Maine, Chenmark is a family-owned company (James, his wife, Trish, and brother Palmer) that acquires businesses and utilizes the Higgins’ expertise in finance to strengthen the companies with the intention of owning and operating them indefinitely. The landscaping industry was where Chenmark got its start, and two-thirds of its businesses are in that market.

I asked Higgins what it was about this industry that drew them in. “Durability,” he told me. “Part of that is related to the core services being offered. Grass is going to grow, snow is going to fall. That’s basic. Beyond that, for a lot of the companies in the industry, what you find are very deep and long-lasting customer relationships. There’s the opportunity, when you’re on a customer’s property, caring for it and treating it like it was your own … that can build a very valuable relationship. That’s very appealing to us.”

Durable is a great word for this industry. Only 150 companies are featured on this list, but this list is just one of the many ways we like to celebrate what is clearly a durable industry that continues to thrive and provide for so many, our team included. Congratulations to the LM150, and continued success to you all!

5 Tips from James Higgins, partner, Chenmark

1. Get your books in order

The better you understand your financial and operational data, the more likely you are to be successful on purpose, instead of by accident. If you are organized and disciplined about collecting and reviewing it, the information your business produces will tell you where to invest more, where to look to correct mistakes and how to allocate your time as a leader.  

2. Focus on the full employee experience

Employees are the most important part of any business. Therefore, it’s crucial for any successful business to have a fully developed strategy for each part of the employee experience. Including the outreach to a new candidate, onboarding and training and reviews and incentives, each step is an opportunity to differentiate your business from the competition. 

3. Sweat the details and get the little things right

Our No. 1 core value is to Chase Better Every Day, but this doesn’t mean pursuing some transformational silver bullet.
Instead, it’s about buying into the ethos that success in small business is the sum of tremendous amounts of small decisions made well, every day. As Admiral William McRaven likes to say, “If you can’t do the little things right, you will never do the big things right.” 

4. Understand the relationship between cost and value

In any business, profit isn’t just a measure of success for the current period; it also represents capital that can be reinvested into the business to fund future growth and expansion. Every incremental dollar of current spending has a substantial opportunity cost, and it is crucial that the business gets good value for the dollars that
are spent. This means being frugal but not cheap.

5. Mistakes

Make mistakes, own them, fix them and share the learning. We all make mistakes, but it’s the ability to turn them into a learning opportunity for you and your team, rather than simply brushing them aside, that can make all the difference. 

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 19 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

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