Using subcontracting to find success

April 1, 2016 -  By

Anne Phillips

Phillips’ business centers around a unique staffing model and environmentalism.


Anne Phillips is proud of her maintenance crew. They’re unmatched by her competitors, attests the owner of Go Green Gardeners, a design/build and maintenance firm in Van Nuys, Calif.

“They seem to really care about what they do,” she says. “I don’t have to worry about whether or not they really are where they say they are going to be or if they spend as much time as they said they are going to on a project.”

“They” are a group of developmentally disabled adults who work for her under an arrangement with a nonprofit organization. Phillips has leaned on this staffing model for about five years.

A couple days a week, she runs a crew of three to four developmentally disabled people, supervised by a job coach without a disability who drives the truck and acts as a foreman.

Go Green Gardeners, serving almost entirely residential customers, offers about 85 percent design/build services. The rest of the business is split among irrigation, lawn care and maintenance. Phillips expects to hit $500,000 in revenue in 2016.

Like many landscape company owners, Phillips has struggled to retain a productive workforce. But the former investment industry executive has been resourceful. In addition to her unique maintenance crews, she leans heavily on subcontractors. She’s parlayed her MBA and skills she learned in her first career into her role as CEO of a small business. And along the way, she picked up a gig contributing to the Huffington Post.

“A lot of the time in the landscaping business, because people don’t have a business background, they’re missing a little bit about how you need to operate in business,” she says. “Working at the Capital Group, the first thing I did out of college, gave me a very good work ethic and how to behave professionally.”

Her business motto is quite simple: “We make sure we do what we say we’re going to do for the price and time we say we’re going to do it.”

Outsourcing model

Go Green Gardeners was born in 2008 as a DBA of Paradise Contained— a retail garden store Phillips opened in 1998. She’s since shuttered it to focus on the landscaping business.
“I found myself always strolling around nurseries on the weekend,” she says of finding her second career. “I thought, ‘Well, where do I like to spend my free time? If I could plan my work around that, what would I do?’ That’s when I started thinking I wanted to do something with plants and designs.”

So Phillips opened the retail store. Through her connections there, she picked up design jobs and launched Go Green Gardeners. The name is a testament to the company’s environmentalism. It offers the option of electric-only maintenance services and uses only organic fertilizers and no pesticides.

Phillips says it was apparent early on that subcontracting was the best route for her design/build installations.

Currently, she has two employees: a project manager and an administrative person. She has two subcontracted crews she works with regularly and is looking to expand to others if it’s the right fit.

“Those crews don’t get paid on the hour; they get paid based on the job,” she says. “It’s up to them to get it done.”

This model has been more successful than hiring hourly employees, she says, but building those relationships wasn’t easy. Her partners need to be concerned with both efficiency and quality to ensure client satisfaction.

“You have to find people who take pride in their work,” she says.

Subcontracting also requires a lot of oversight. The client’s contract is with Go Green. So, the company closely manages, and is on-site for, each project to ensure satisfactory work.

Go Green finds success leaning on subcontractors for all of its design/build + installation work.

Go Green finds success leaning on subcontractors for all of its design/build + installation work.

Traditional subcontracting works for installations, but Phillips outsources maintenance work to Villa Esperanza Services, a nonprofit service for developmentally disabled adults. Before enlisting the group’s employment services, Phillips was a volunteer who taught gardening at its Pasadena location.

In addition to supplying the crew, job coach, equipment and insurance, the agency pays the workers directly. Go Green is invoiced monthly.

Phillips would like to expand her relationship with Villa Esperanza, but growth is limited to the number of job coaches it can find and retain.

“There’s enough people interested in landscaping that are developmentally disabled,” Phillips says. “The struggle is finding job coaches to run the crews.”

Staying in the know

Customers are compelled to call Phillips for reasons beyond her atypical employment model. Her company is known for its expertise on California’s water conservation rebate program.

“We were doing it before a lot of other people were,” she says. “That’s what people call us to do.”

Phillips also gets name recognition for contributing to the Huffington Post. About seven years ago, Editor-in-Chief Arianna Huffington offered her the gig after they met in an elevator.

Amid her dispatches on landscaping trends, Phillips monitors the state of the industry to stay ahead of the curve—even when her business is fine, she says. For example, she’s been prodding her customers about underground drip systems. Her research shows them growing rapidly in countries like Australia and Israel. She also tracks the economy so its ups and downs aren’t blindsiding.

A Wall Street Journal subscription keeps her in the know.

But no matter how many subscriptions she renews or trade shows she attends, Phillips says nothing beats what she learns from her clients.
“More than anything, people are going to tell you what they need and what they’re looking for,” she says.

Photos: Go Green Gardeners

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