Communication, Connections to the Community, and Other Keys to Success with Caleb and Brittany Auman of Auman Landscape
Husband and wife power-duo Caleb and Brittany Auman have both been in the landscape industry for many years, and they have picked up a few tricks of the trade along the way to share with other landscaping companies. Based in Carroll, Ohio, the team brings two decades of experience between them and have grown a following on social media for their candor and transparency (and often humorous) approach to owning and operating their landscape business. From solving communication problems to finding star employees through community relationships, here are some insights and advice from Auman Landscape LLC.
Q: [LMN] What was your journey into the lawn care/landscape business?
Caleb: I'm 20 years into the green industry now. In high school, I started working for my neighbor’s lawn care business. As soon as I could legally drive, I started my own lawn care business. I wanted to get more into landscape design and landscape construction and decided to attend classes at Columbus State Community College in Columbus Ohio. While attending classes there I was operating my company and learning a lot of lessons the hard way (while still not realizing some lessons until much later).
In 2009, my company finally crashed. Around the same time, Brittany and I had started dating and we decided she would start a new company and I would work for her. There is so much more to this story we’ll will have to be for another day. Currently, we have four full-time field staff with Brittany and I run the office and sales. We no longer provide lawn care and we focus on design/build work and commercial stormwater drainage.
Brittany: I’ve been in and out of the industry for 16 years now! My start in this was all the way back in high school. My senior project was to re-do the landscaping at the school entrance. I learned I really loved working in this field and seeing the completed project. Despite my interest in the industry, I wasn’t sure if I would be able to make a career out of it so I continued my initial plans to go to college and earn a marketing degree. Four years later with a college degree, I found myself miserable in the “office” jobs I had acquired. Caleb and I were dating at this time and we decided it was time for me to go full time with the company. The rest is history!
Q: [LMN] Who has been the biggest influence in your life and career?
Caleb: One of the biggest blessings in my life are the many people I’ve been so fortunate to have to learn from and study from, especially my father and my professors at college.
Brittany: There have been a lot of people who have influenced me throughout my life. My biggest influencer, however, has been Caleb (my husband). He encouraged me to quit the office jobs I hated and do what I loved. He’s the reason I am here now, and if it weren’t for him I probably never would have had the courage to leave my other job.
Q: What are some of the biggest business lessons you've learned along the way and why?
Caleb: I had to learn the hard way knowing the numbers of your business is the most important. I think this is one area where I wish we had started with LMN sooner. It makes working with numbers simpler and easier to manage in one place and has had an incredible impact on our business.
Brittany: My biggest lesson I think often comes from a situation we were in about eight years ago. Because of a miscommunication between what was on our signed contract and what the client interpreted we found ourselves in a lawsuit. We learned a lot about the importance of a good and complete contract. Everything needs to be in writing and communicated well.
My biggest takeaways from this are:
Q: [LMN] What is your "go-to" social media platform and how do you best reach your audience and potential landscape customers?
Caleb & Brittany: Our go-to platform for potential customers is Facebook. We have ads running based on the season and we have some strong support within the community who will recommend us on all of the community pages. Early on in the business, you would find us at every trade association meeting, referral group, chamber event, etc. Our goal was to be known as the “go-to” landscaping company you could count on to show up on time and finish a well-built project. This is the goal, we believe, is one we have achieved.
For contractors and industry-related things, we use Instagram. Instagram is quick, fun, and easy. Our industry has such a strong presence on Instagram. We never would’ve dreamed we would talk with people in New York, Florida, Michigan, etc. daily.
Q: What is your process for hiring a strong team?
Caleb & Brittany: Our best leads for employees have been coming from people we know and have connections within the community. Our interview process will typically start with a phone call and ask a few basic questions (i.e. Are you currently employed? Can you drive? What experience do you have?). If we feel like they could be a good fit we will have them meet us at our shop and fill out a questionnaire about their experience. I have a form listing all of the equipment we own and the different tasks we perform. They fill it out based on their experience (None, Some, Expert). From there they can ask questions, we will talk about what we do, and discuss payment terms. If they make it through that round, lastly they will meet our crew and work on a 2-week probationary period. I will try to move them around the company on different jobs to work with everyone. This will see who they are most compatible with, what types of jobs they may be better at, and just get a good opinion of the new hire from everyone on our team.
Our outlined hiring process is in a “perfect world.” Sometimes in reality we are really busy and we fall into the “grab a shirt and go” mentality. Hiring is hard. Hiring good people is even harder. The more organized you are the better quality team members you will have.
Hiring TIP from Brittany: I’ve learned so much about hiring people over the last 10 years, and my last piece of advice is: When you find a good one...take care of them. If you take care of your people, they will take care of you.
After finding those “good ones” on your team, it’s another step for business owners to find ways to keep their employees motivated and encouraged even during the long days or slower seasons. For the Aumans, this means creating an enjoyable work environment and placing emphasis on mechanizing the tasks their field staff have to perform to ease labor.
Q: [LMN] What about outsourcing? Are there any areas you outsource for your landscape business?
Brittany: I have an accountant to go over our books and make sure it all makes sense. I’ve learned to hire out what I am not great at and what I don’t like to do. This is definitely one of those things. Almost everything else is in-house.
Q: [LMN] Who are your top three suppliers and why?
Caleb & Brittany: We use Semco Stone for our hardscape materials. The reason we started using them last year was because of the customer service they provide. Another company we use is Unilock.
Our planting material comes from Acorn Farms. We have a more local nursery, but they do not have the inventory or variety Acorn Farms has so we have moved our orders to them.
Q: [LMN] Do you have a favorite podcast? What have you been listening to in your free time?
Caleb: Green Industry Podcast, Dan Carlin Hardcore History, How I Built This, Joe Rogan, Jordan Peterson, Tim Ferris, The Way I Heard by Mike Rowe to name a few. I love podcasts!
Brittany: I’m not listening to any particular podcast at the moment. I did sign up for MasterClass and it occupies the little free time I do have and I love it!
Q: [LMN] How has LMN helped you in your landscape business so far? What is your biggest takeaway?
Brittany: LMN gave us a real budget. We always had budgetary numbers, but there was a lot of +/- in that budget. Once we created our LMN budget we knew what we needed to produce down to the penny. It gave us a goal to achieve and *we hit our goals the first year with LMN*. The budget allowed me to check our numbers monthly to see how we were doing. I would compare our hours worked against my estimate, our material costs, fuel costs, etc.. Based on our actual vs. estimated numbers I was able to figure out what changes needed to be made to meet our goals for the year.
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