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Archive for the ‘on the road’ Category

Celebrating 53rd place

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Editor’s note: This is a report from Student Career Days by L&L intern and Cleveland Community College hort student Daniel Steffancin.

I didn’t win any of my events.

The best result I had at PLANET’s Student Career Days was in Arboriculture Techniques, taking lucky spot 13 with my awesome partner in the event, Anthony Angelotta. High five us, because we are stoked that we accomplished and earned that placement!

In a culture that celebrates number ones, with the number twos on down beating themselves up over it because they didn’t win, why should I be ecstatic over being number thirteen? Hell, let’s look at my being satisfied with placing 53rd in Weed and Turf ID, while we’re at it.

I think I have an ability to recognize and acknowledge the outstanding work and talents of my colleagues and admire it and celebrate it instead of resenting it. I have no direct control over their skills, only my own. I’m still a student, and even though I will have a degree by the end of the year, I’ll still be one, though my class room will change. It will be the workplace, because school can only provide me with so much, and my career will provide for me plenty of opportunity to improve my skills. I don’t know everything and someone please shake me if I ever claim that I do, because without learning new skills, techniques, information, and perspectives, I will have stopped caring at that point.

So, let’s not forget that I placed 17th in Plant Problem Diagnosis. My Tri-C classmate Amanda Bostick placed an awesome 5th! Amanda is the top 5th student from a PLANET accredited program of recognizing and knowing treatment for plant diseases and pests such as Sudden Oak Death and Bag Worms. I think she’s amazing. She was my study partner for this event and I can’t be happier she kicked my behind in it. She is probably responsible for me getting 17th place. She helped me along and drilled me every chance she got. Amanda, if you are reading this, thank you!

So let me now contradict my previous statement and beat myself up a little bit for placing 37th in Woody Ornamental ID. I did second guess myself and change 3 of my correct answers to 3 incorrect ones. What possessed me to do that?

What will I learn from that?

I need to relax and be confident in my gut instinct and take time to have fun and take it all in. Would it hurt to stop and smell the roses, or should I say, star magnolia that I did smell during the competition? And while I am doling out greeting card style advice, would it hurt for those number ones to stop and do the same?


April 2nd, 2012 at 12:38 pm

Why it matters: Next Level University

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Representatives from Next Level companies met for breakfast roundtables to discuss strategies for employee recruiting, retention and, here, market economic trends.

I spent a few days last week in Atlanta today for Next Level University, the annual gathering of the members of the Next Level Network.

The owners (and top employees) from the group’s companies get together once a year for a development meeting. This year, Jim McCutcheon and the team at HighGrove Partners hosted.

Next Level formed about 10 years ago as a way for large regional companies to network and learn from each other. The members – firms like Mariani Landscape, Enviroscapes, Pacific Landscape Management and others – are all stand-outs in their own right.

But here’s why it makes sense for someone like Frank Mariani to spend a week away from his office right before the season starts and be a part of a group like Next Level.

  1. They can do more together than they can apart. Companies of the same size tend to go through the same problems, and the owners can learn a lot from each other. The decisions each owner has to make every day probably aren’t brand new to the industry.
  2. They have buying power. The don’t share budgets for mowers or trucks, but they can pool their money to pony up for a few high-end speakers, training for their managers and retaining Jenn Buck as an exclusive recruiter.
  3. They keep each other honest. After three days, the employees go home and the owners stick around to compare financials. They take a candid look at each others’ business and ask tough questions about operations and financials. Unlike a banker or board of advisers, these owners know the right questions to ask of another owner.

Many industry consultants offer peer groups – this one just happens to involve some of the industry’s best companies. But there’s no reason you can’t start your own, with other landscapers or other small business owners.

The point is that you seek out other smart people who are going through – or already have gone through – the same things you and your business are. Don’t reinvent the wheel – it’s already there. Just work on making it better.


February 27th, 2012 at 12:09 pm

The cheese walk

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Every property that you service – from a small residential installation to a Class A commercial property – has a cheese walk.

The cheese walk is where the homeowner walks her dogs, what the property manger sees when he looks out his window, where the executives (the big cheeses) park and walk into the building.

It’s the part of the property that is the most-seen by the most-important person.

I heard the term from Jim McCutcheon, owner of HighGrove Partners in Austell, Ga. His crews visit the cheese walk on some properties as many as 20 times a week.

“We have to understand our properties to that level,” he said. “If we screw up the cheese walk, we’re done.”


February 22nd, 2012 at 3:32 pm

9 guiding principles

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Before Next Level University got started yesterday, I sat down with Gary Mallory, owner of Heads Up Landscaping in Albuquerque, N.M.

Gary has played in more than 1,000 basketball games and coached more than 600, and told me he runs his company like he does his teams.

Here are his nine guiding team principles:

  1. Have fun
  2. The team’s goals are more important than the individual’s.
  3. Never quit. Never give up. If things are tough, stopping isn’t going to make them any easier.
  4. Don’t blame the ref. They may not do a good job, but it’s not their fault if you lose. It’s your own.
  5. Know your role and master it. You may not be the star shooter, but you still play an important role in the team’s success.
  6. The team needs to know the big picture. “Adults shouldn’t work their asses off and not know where they are,” Mallory said.
  7. Be tough on your teammates, but don’t throw anyone under the bus.
  8. Cheating is losing.
  9. Be quick, but don’t hurry.


February 21st, 2012 at 12:16 pm

L&L on the road: Atlanta

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I’m on the road this week in Atlanta for Next Level University, the annual development meeting for the Next Level Network.

Before the meetings got started yesterday, I met up with David Bell, the owner at Lifescapes in Marietta, Ga.

Over a cup of coffee, he gave me a quick run down of his market conditions here in the southeast, and what he’s hoping to accomplish in 2012.

David’s company does mostly high-end residential maintenance (about 80 percent) and the rest design/build. With 11 crews headquartered in the city’s northern suburbs, he brings in about $2.5 million a year.

Last year, he rebounded from the recession and grew about nine percent. This year, he hopes to build on that and grow another 10 percent. The downturn in 2010 and 2011 forced him to become leaner and more efficient, which he says put him in the catbird seat for 2012.

He’ll do that, he says, thanks to a new focus on SEO marketing that has beefed up his list of leads. It’s also forced him to implement some more qualification questions that his office staff ask prospective clients.

He’s also brought on a landscape architect in house to bolster his design/build services for his existing client base.

He’s not banking on city’s exurbs boosting their spending – those “homes” are mostly still graded lots with survey stakes in the clay. Georgia ranks fourth in the nation for the rate of homes in foreclosure, behind only Nevada, California and Arizona.

Those foreclosures have put a lot of downward pressure on market prices in the Atlanta region. Coupled with raising costs for fuel, that makes for a very competitive market.

But Bell’s still looking at acquisitions, and is confident his niche of the residential market will stabilize through 2012.


February 21st, 2012 at 9:42 am