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Landscaping growth challenge: All about people
David Rountree | October 7, 2015
Watched over by a saint, this waterfall and garden features plantings both submerged in and surrounding the pond. RGMI does plenty of heavy lifting in its construction, installation and snow-removal operations but also has opportunities, as in this job, to show off its eye for design.

Watched over by a saint, this waterfall and garden features plantings both submerged in and surrounding the pond. RGMI does plenty of heavy lifting in its construction, installation and snow-removal operations but also has opportunities, as in this job, to show off its eye for design.
Photo: Reinhart Grounds Maintenance

With an exclusively commercial clientele throughout its 23 years in business, Reinhart Grounds Maintenance Inc. () has had ample opportunity to flex its heavy-duty capabilities; but only, its owners say, because it has competent equipment operators.

Two decades- also have given RGMI the chance to show off its greener skills, which again the owners attribute to the know-how and performance of the people working on that side of the business.

The ongoing maintenance of trees, shrubs and other plantings sprinkled liberally throughout the lawns, beds and innumerable planters stretching across all those corporate, institutional and retail customers’ properties … well, it’s plenty to say grace over.

And there’s lots more to manage: In addition to landscape design/build, there’s a hefty snow and ice management operation (hefty to the tune of as much as $600,000 in annual revenue, depending on the weather), porter services (mostly surrounding retail and corporate office properties whose landscapes are maintained by RGMI), enhancement services (which include, among many other things, an offer to replace existing landscapes with better ones), Weed Man franchises (much more about that below) and irrigation services.

RGMI, as it happens, was a Total Frauengruenden/Case Construction Equipment 2009 Landscaper of the Year Finalist.

Clearly, the company hasn’t been resting on its laurels these past six years. For one thing, it’s bigger. RGMI’s 2015 revenue will probably total about $3.2 million.

From the ground up

Todd Reinhart, who founded and owns the business with his brother, Chad, helped build today’s operations from a thriving grass-cutting enterprise Chad started during high school.

Todd Reinhart

Todd Reinhart

“Seriously,” Todd says, “I was in college when he started it and by the time I got involved, Chad was swamped with customers.”

Eventually, they would put aside not only all those lawns but residential work altogether, finding the most valuable opportunities in and around Bloomington, Illinois, were on the commercial side of the landscaping business.

It was in 1992, when Todd graduated with a bachelor’s degree in agri-business and Chad finished high school, that the brothers devoted themselves fully to the idea that they were going to run a business together, Reinhart Grounds Maintenance (albeit while Chad earned a degree in construction management from his older brother’s alma mater, Illinois State University).

From day one, a time Todd Reinhart characterizes as “the peanut-butter-and-jelly years,” the brothers recognized RGMI’s ability to grow depended on developing the wherewithal – especially the human wherewithal – to compete successfully for bigger and better jobs.

Today, after nearly a quarter-century as an independent business owner, Todd Reinhart (who spoke for both brothers in a recent telephone interview) has never been more convinced that RGMI’s future rests on keeping good people coming in the door.

“That challenge has become about as important as bringing in new work,” he says. “We could probably do another $300,000 (in annual revenue) if we could maintain the staff.”

Considering paths to growth

Given the Reinhart brothers’ decision to purchase their first Weed Man USA franchise back in 2002, in their home turf of greater Bloomington naturally, one might question whether, 10 years in, the company’s organic growth had begun to lag. The answer is no.

There was a wholly practical reason to grow through the franchises: RGMI had been subbing out fertilizer, weed and pest management services and wasn’t happy with the results. Weed Man had a good reputation, then as now, and specialized in precisely those services the company wasn’t doing in-house.

Today, the Reinhart brothers and their partners own six territories. After many years of working closely with the seller of those franchises, Oshawa, Ontario-based , Todd is a believer. But, while he could serve as a great spokesperson for Weed Man, particularly as he lists the franchisor’s management practices, many of which RGMI has customized to fit its entire operation, Reinhart is quick to return to the issue of people.

The move to Weed Man worked wonders on that front, too, he says.

If a company is going to attract young people in college or even those still in high school, it has to promise them at least the chance to grow with the business, Reinhart said. And the chance to get a franchise of their own, in partnership with RGMI, can lead to their getting many other territories on their own someday.

Indeed, it already has. And Reinhart – with all due respect to other partners in other territories – loves to talk about the years before Josh Fromme became his and Chad’s partner in their first Weed Man franchise.

Whether at a shopping center site or public right-of-way, RGMI’s major hydro-seeding and sod-installation capabilities speak to its comprehensive oversight of all landscaping elements of large commercial projects. Land clearing as well as rough and final grading services complement that, as seen here.

Whether at a shopping center site or public right-of-way, RGMI’s major hydro-seeding and sod-installation capabilities speak to its comprehensive oversight of all landscaping elements of large commercial projects. Land clearing as well as rough and final grading services complement that, as seen here.
Photo: Reinhart Grounds Maintenance

“Here’s a young man who came to work with us while he was in college,” Reinhart says of Fromme. “The more we got to know him, the more we knew his character lined up great with our culture and our ethics.” Fromme had always been open about his goal of owning his own business eventually.

Revenues from the partnership, of which Fromme owns one-third, have grown consistently. Fromme runs the business.

“Between 2002 and 2004, we were side by side with him,” Reinhart says, “but our involvement now is minute. We’re really just a sounding board for Josh.”

Not every person Reinhart hopes to see advance into management at RGMI is going to be interested in, or suited for, Weed Man operations. He simply needs managers in every part of the business.

Unfortunately, he needs them yesterday. He brags excitedly about his current staff but acknowledges that, “if I could go back and do it again, I’d have three or four more managers ready to go – today.”

When it comes to searching for them, he says, “we’ve gone guerrilla – putting up yard signs, sending information to schools, a little bit of everything.”

Diversification and due diligence

Not surprisingly, Reinhart would shed his Weed Man operations in a millisecond if they weren’t good business. Only a reputable, thriving company is going to attract young people to the landscaping business, Reinhart says, and Weed Man revenue makes an important contribution to RGMI’s overall performance.

Weed Man USA’s chief operations officer, Jennifer Lemcke, is as quick to praise Todd and Chad Reinhart as they are to endorse the franchisor. Not all businesspeople are as astute as the brothers, Lemcke says, and she cautions landscapers to be as methodical as RGMI in diversifying their core businesses.

Companies that tiptoe into offering new services often discover that, “ultimately, maybe 10 or 12 customers ask for it, so it becomes a distraction – and a loss leader – rather than a revenue stream,” Lemcke said. “The opportunity must represent a true source of recurring revenue.”

The landscaping industry is special in so many ways, she says, and not just because of the challenge of getting young people interested in careers in the field.

“Landscapers are in love with landscaping,” she says, “and that’s awesome. But so many landscaping businesses are highly dependent on the owner – so much so that if the owner becomes less engaged, the business begins to decline.”

Building management systems, standardizing processes and hiring the managers to execute them is the only realistic way to succeed in diversifying, Lemcke says.

“The landscaping business is contract driven,” she adds, and the owner or owners can’t give all those accounts the individual attention they require. With the right systems in place, however, they can measure their performance comprehensively and make higher-level management decisions accordingly.

Contract work with large institutional customers drives RGMI. Those key accounts are managed systematically but individually, with an eye toward maintaining strong relationships lasting many years.

Contract work with large institutional customers drives RGMI. Those key accounts are managed systematically but individually, with an eye toward maintaining strong relationships lasting many years.
Photo: Reinhart Grounds Maintenance

The reason Todd Reinhart has succeeded in operating and growing his franchise territories, she says, are those Weed Man USA systems he decided to adopt throughout his business.

“We focus on data management, customer service, understanding the numbers and what they mean to your bottom line,” Lemcke said. “Our franchisees benefit from that structure and it helps them in their day-to-day business. Branding is important, but you have to do those things that will acquire customers.”

The Reinhart brothers’ ability to manage the company’s expansion administratively – “building the systems,” Todd says – while executing well on contracts in the field, has kept them in the game.

“It’s our people,” he says. “You can’t do that without having the right people in place.”

Todd doesn’t pay lip service to employees by patting them on the back. He simply acknowledges as a cold, hard business reality that RGMI would never have succeeded as a landscape contractor without somehow managing to attract and keep good people.

Accomplishing that, he says, is probably the greatest overall challenge for the green industry – an industry, as Lemcke could have predicted, both he and Chad love.

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