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Archive for the ‘Next Level Network’ tag

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

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