2020 has been a year like no other. All landscaping businesses have contended with the complexities of operating in a pandemic, including working remotely, shifting to virtual vs. face-to-face meetings, and struggling with the continuing labor shortage.
For many of these challenges, technology is a welcome solution.
That’s the case for Marty Grunder, president and CEO of Grunder Landscaping Co. (GLC) and The Grow Group, based in Dayton, Ohio. He says it’s all about pushing quality up and costs down.
“That should be the goal of every company in America,” Grunder says, pointing to Wall Street darlings Tesla, Apple, and Amazon as examples of companies leveraging technology. “How can you ‘Amazon your business,’ if you will?”
Grunder and operators like him are doing so by tapping their landscape business management software and third-party technologies to work smarter than they ever have before—this year and beyond.
Among the most prevalent challenges of the year for landscape companies was the transition to remote work, according to Mark Tipton, CEO of Aspire Software.
“A lot of businesses have had to adjust to working from home, and a lot of management teams have struggled,” he says, noting the benefits of having a cloud-based system are difficult to overstate when it comes to dealing with a remote workforce. “I can’t tell you how many clients have told us they don’t think they would have managed (working remotely) nearly as well prior to being on Aspire. Having that one system that everybody is looking at is very impactful.”
Count Grunder as one of those clients. His company went live with Aspire in January. When the state issued stay-at-home orders in March, the team went to an all-remote office environment nearly overnight.
“The fact that all our systems were automated made the transition super smooth,” Grunder says. Take the schedule board, for example. Prior to Aspire, the company manually updated a whiteboard in the office. Grunder surmises they would have had to recreate it in Excel to get through the spring office closure. Instead, the team’s leaders could easily access and view the schedule in Aspire, discuss it, and move things around as needed. “It was amazing,” Grunder says.
Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management (PLM) in Hillsboro, Ore., is another Aspire user. He plans to take advantage of the cloud-based software and its remote work capabilities to help his company achieve its aggressive expansion plans. Next season PLM is adding two satellite locations, which it hopes to turn into full branches eventually.
“Having systems throughout your organization makes it easier to expand without adding more administrative personnel or needing to have administrative personnel at the branch,” he says. “As soon as we get past COVID, every indication is things will return (to normal), and we’re very excited about that. Our teams and our systems are ready.”
Another challenge posed by the pandemic is having to host team and client meetings online rather than in person.
“Staying connected with customers has been interesting and challenging,” Grover says. “We’re a people-to-people business. Most of our relationship-building and retention efforts are based on seeing people in person.”
That changed this year with the advent of social distancing requirements, but companies like PLM have adapted by using video conferencing software like Zoom and Microsoft Teams for internal meetings, client meetings, and even happy hours.
“We still can’t wait to get back to engaging in real human interactions, but having the ability to share screens and see each other, that’s going to be a takeaway,” Grover says. “Why spend a lot of time in the car going to meetings when you can do it on Zoom? We’re learning to become more efficient.”
Grunder agrees. “I didn’t even know how to Zoom in February,” he says. “Now I’m good at it, and so is our team. I think a lot of that (technology use) is going to stay. You do learn something in the struggle.”
Even with high unemployment numbers nationwide, attracting workers remains a challenge for landscape companies. Grunder says he doesn’t expect that to change anytime soon, which is why he’s focusing on technology as a labor attraction and retention tool.
“Having a company where young people want to work because mundane tasks are easy, that’s what you want,” he says. “Putting pieces of paper in front of 23-year-old employees is only going to drive them away.”
Because of the ongoing labor shortage, the ability to do more with fewer workers is a key focus for most landscapers, Tipton says. Aspire helps meet that challenge by making it easy to manage direct labor, ensuring crews are sticking to budgeted hours and limiting indirect time. It also helps account managers use their time better, increasing the amount of work they can oversee.
Another creative way Aspire is helping landscape companies solve their labor challenges is with an integration called Pay OnDemand, which allows clients’ employees the ability to get paid when they want—or need—versus waiting for a traditional pay day.
“When you have an advantage like that, it can make a big difference in your workforce,” Tipton says. “Our customers feel it has made a huge impact on their ability to recruit and retain.”
As landscape professionals look to 2021, they’re optimistic, although uncertainty looms. Again, software and systems will provide the answer to many of their obstacles.
“I think 2021 will be a good year for technology investment,” Tipton says. “Money is still cheap and companies are positive. They’re having a good end of the year here in 2020, even though it got off to a rough start.”
Integrations and partnerships are a trend for software companies like Aspire.
“They bring a new level of value to landscape contractors,” Tipton says, noting Aspire is now integrating with vendors on the purchasing side like LandscapeHub, among others.
Grunder looks forward to implementing FleetSharp, the GPS tracking solution that integrates with Aspire, which will help eliminate manual fleet reporting for the GLC team.
As Grover’s team moves into new markets, he anticipates his team will use the Aspire CRM more than in the past. And he’s excited to see how the payroll and accounting integrations PLM uses within Aspire will help the company scale without adding overhead staff.
Tipton also says Aspire customers can expect better forecasting and reporting capabilities enabled by artificial intelligence in 2021. Finally, he says customers will see a more robust support offering via the company’s Client Success Team next year.
Although technology is not the “be all, end all,” Grunder says, it behooves companies to embrace it and “wrap their companies around it.”
“Running a company without technology is like driving a car without a dashboard,” he says. “You might get where you’re going, but how slow is the journey going to be?”
At Aspire, we understand that when you’re running a landscape company, it’s important to have the right tools for the job. That’s why we’ve developed an all-in-one, cloud-based solution with the functionality you need to keep your entire business running smoothly—and profitably. If you’re ready to take your company to the next level, contact us today!
Need help finding the right business management software? Download this helpful buyer’s guide to learn everything you need to know before selecting a solution, from initial research to final decision.
For other tips for achieving consistent and sustainable growth, read our article, "5 Simple Strategies to Grow Your Landscaping Business."
If you enjoyed this blog post, you might also want to read, "8 Ways Business Management Software Can Boost the Profits of Your Landscaping Business."