Landscapers: Learn the Costly Difference Between Saving Money and Making It

Without a doubt, waste is rampant in the landscape industry and inefficiency should be stamped out wherever possible. However, many contractors get too focused on small, frugal decisions and this mentality can drive all kinds of bad decisions. In this article, we’ll show you why some of the most common attempts to ‘save a buck’ can end up costing and ultimately hurting, your business.


From Frugal to Smart

There are three types of people in the world:

  1. People who are not good with money (perhaps most of our industry!)
  2. Money savers (probably the rest of our industry)
  3. Money-makers — People who put their money to work for them (very few in our industry)

It should come as no surprise that the most successful people in business are typically Type 3 but with a strong streak of frugality driving the landscape industry, these types are too few and far between.

Case in point: Not long ago, many contractors thought those who spent $50-70 per month equipping foremen with cell phones were nuts. It was seen as an unnecessary expense that promoted distraction during work hours. But if reaching out to someone in real-time can save just one mistake a month, that alone pays for the phone many times over. Furthermore, mobile apps like lmnTime can help foremen track material usage, log time, optimize routes, track crews via GPs, push schedules and more. The time and cost savings that result from equipping teams with phones makes it a smart investment vs. an unnecessary cost.


The Real Cost of Owning & Sharing Equipment

For a long time, the way to make money was to buy equipment outright or pay it off as soon as possible. This stems from the way we account for expenses. Once equipment is fully depreciated, it no longer shows up as an expense. So, we feel like we’re making more money. Sometimes we are, but we’ll likely end up spending far more on repairs, fuel, and ultimately, lose revenue.

When a machine breaks down, productivity can drop anywhere from 50% to 300%. This lost revenue doesn’t show up in accounting so most landscape business owners don’t factor it into their decision making process. All they see is ‘no payments’. And because their profits are low (due to equipment shortages or frequent break downs), contractors don’t understand that an investment in new equipment will offset costs through increased speed, productivity and therefore, revenue.

The same applies to properly equipping trailers. Contractors mistakenly think they’re saving money by sharing tools and keeping them at the shop. However, when a crew member needs a tool that another crew has or someone forgets to put it in the trailer, time and money are lost in transit between sites or buying a new tool from a vendor.

Time is money and ensuring you have the equipment you need to get the job done will guarantee bigger profits.

Learn more about How to Leverage Landscape Equipment to Boost Your Bottom Line


When it comes to labor, you get what you don’t pay for

It’s a common misconception: Want to make more money? Minimize wages. This can be an effective strategy in highly structured environments such as Walmart or McDonald’s but out in the landscape industry, where you have 100 variables a day and very little structure, the result of cheaper people is typically poor performance.

A poor performing team leads to low profits which further reinforces the belief that you can’t ‘afford’ higher wages. Unfortunately, the cycle repeats itself until you arrive at a point where a booming industry offers too few opportunities for rewarding careers.

If you hire cheap, you won’t attract great people. Without great staff, you’ll be forever micro-managing and fixing mistakes. You might save a couple of bucks an hour in wages but you could lose $1,000 per week, or more, in potential revenue because your people don’t work productively and have no reason or motivation to improve.

By increasing wages a few dollars an hour, the investment will pay for itself in increased productivity and better quality work.


The Return on First Impressions

Whether it’s recruiting new staff or new customers, first impressions matter much more than you think.

The majority of customers will never see the inside of a landscaper’s office so that’s usually the last place owners will invest their hard earned dollars. But what kind of talent will they attract with a dingy trailer decorated with torn furniture and a port-a-potty outside? They may save a few thousand bucks a year on rent and furnishings but at what expense? A shabby, untidy workplace has a negative impact on employee recruitment, retention, productivity and ultimately, profit.

In his book The Employee Experience Advantage, author Jacob Morgan found that organizations that scored the highest in culture, technology, and physical environment had 4X higher average profits, 2X higher average revenues and 40% lower turnover.

Prospective customers are doing their research, online and offline. It’s critical they get a professional, consistent impression. If any of the statements below apply to your business, you’re likely losing sales.

  • Your website hasn’t been updated in 6 years.
  • The most recent batch of business cards was printed on your laser printer.
  • Your last Facebook post was weeks ago.
  • Your team’s uniforms have seen better days.

In order to compete for premium work, you’ll need to market yourself as a premium business. Set aside time and resources to ensure your marketing is up-to-date and in line with the quality of service you provide and you’ll start winning those big jobs.


You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

It’s no secret that most contractors come from non-business backgrounds and never had finances clearly explained. And when people lack knowledge on a subject, they tend to reduce risks and play it safe. Contractors will often choose the lean option on paper — not because they’re cheap — but because that’s the safest route. They focus on the numbers they can see on their financial statements versus those they can’t see, e.g. the revenue (or lost revenue) potential.

Software is a prime example of an expense that should be seen as an investment. Whether it’s accounting or business management software, the failure to adopt software can cost you thousands of dollars a year in revenue due to mismanaged accounts, billing mistakes and an overall inability to see the bigger picture. The lost opportunity isn’t quantifiable, so it’s easy to ignore.

Investing in software that will improve your business operations is only part of the solution. As your business grows, you need help making the transition from talented landscaper to great business owner so carving out time to absorb the knowledge and learn the skills will pay, in revenue and profit.

Imagine you went skydiving with no training; when would you be likely to pull your chute? Probably in the first few seconds after you left the plane. You don’t know what’s going to happen, how fast you’re going to fall, or whether your chute is even going to open, so you make the safest, most conservative decision you can. You pull that chute fast. And you survive, but your skydiving experience wasn’t very fun. The conservative approach got you down safely but eliminated the potential to have an amazing experience. But get the training on when to pull the chute and how to land, and you’ll not only survive, but you’ll make the most of the skydiving experience.

Moving past a frugal mentality will be challenging at first but the rewards will be worth the momentary discomfort. Scrimping on equipment, labor, marketing and training may save you money on paper but the hidden costs of doing business ‘on the cheap’ in these areas are bound to have a negative impact on your bottom line. When you know and understand you numbers, you can focus on where it makes sense to save and where you can invest for long-term profit.


Ps. Now that you’ve set goals for your sales and design staff, learn how to set goals for crew and foremen.

Disclaimer: The numbers used in this article are realistic averages but are intended for example purposes only.



Wishing you every success in boosting your bottom line,


Mark Bradley is the CEO of LMN. Dedicated to transforming talented landscapers into profitable business owners, LMN provides the business management software and training owners need to grow. To learn more about how you can start transforming your business, FREE, with the LMN software platform, visit www.golmn.com. Interested in attending an LMN workshop? Visit golmn.com/workshops/ to register for a workshop near you.


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Snow Contractors: Ready to Drive Profit This Season? (Best Practices)

Competition is ramping up in the snow industry. The number of companies getting into snow and ice removal is growing and the number and severity of these events is increasingly unpredictable With supply up and demand uncertain, your company is going to have to up its game to win in the snow industry.

In our travels across North America teaching snow + ice business workshops, we’ve met thousands of snow contractors. In this article we’ll share the six best practices for a profitable season that we discovered from the industry’s leaders.


Best Practice #1: Sell the Right Type of Jobs

Net and gross profit are tempting metrics to focus on, but they don’t tell the whole story. You can make good gross and net profits on labor rates in snow. Your true cost of labor is roughly half the billing rate so the margins look great. But don’t forget that labor is the single hardest factor to manage in snow. Turnover is high, availability is spotty, and the work is challenging.

In Practice: Successful companies target jobs that use less labor, more equipment, and more salt. Your margins may not look as strong but anytime you can increase job revenues with less people, you’re headed in the right direction.


Best Practice #2: Estimate and Sell Route Density

The more unbillable time you have, the smaller your margins. Even if you priced all your work for profit, if you have too much prep and drive time, you’ll have little leftover at the end of the year. When it comes to plow trucks and on-road equipment, you can’t underestimate the cost of this unbillable time, which includes:

  • Inspecting/prepping the equipment at the yard
  • Loading with salt
  • Driving to first site
  • Driving between subsequent sites
  • Refilling with salt (if necessary)
  • Driving back to the shop
  • Salt unload, cleanup, parking, paperwork

It’s not unusual to see a plow truck spend 40% of its time on ‘unbillable’ tasks. Though some of this time is necessary we want to make every effort to maximize billable time. Reducing drive time is one way to accomplish this.

In Practice: Estimate/sell for route density. Give your estimators/sales staff a means of estimating ‘on the road’. Drive to an area with current customers and bang out estimates for neighboring (non-customer) sites. Reach out and ask if it’s OK to drop off a proposal. By selling more work close to existing work, you’ll reduce your unbillable time and drive more profits—with less man hours.


Best Practice #3: Recover Your Equipment Costs

All too many contractors try to keep their staff ‘busy’ during the winter and apply the same logic to their equipment. However, staff get paid with a regular payroll cycle and it’s easy to forget the costs of trucks + equipment when estimating. Snow and ice are hard on equipment, causing more repair and wear vs. summer work.

In Practice: Learn the cost of your equipment and estimate for it. Even equipment you own still has a cost. Snow is going to beat your equipment up and like it or not, a day will come where it needs to be replaced. And don’t forget the cost of fuel, repairs, maintenance, and insurance. Your bids today must be covering those basic costs and ensuring you are saving for your next (replacement) piece.


Best Practice #4: Train and Enforce Efficiency

Our research shows that experienced snow operators can clear a lot up to 30% faster than inexperienced operators. Why? They have a better Plan of Attack for the site. They start in the right place, proceed through the site in a logical order and they minimize reversing or going over the same areas twice. Imagine if your entire operation could execute like your best operator…

In Practice: Start with site maps. Make sure every site has a clear site map that shows operators the areas they should plow and where they can pile. Add basic notes, tips or warnings to these maps. Then take your maps one step further. Sit and review the site maps with your best operator(s) before the snow falls. Identify the right Plan of Attack for each site and draw it on the map. Simple numbers (the order of operations) and arrows (the direction of pushes) is enough to increase efficiency in the newest of operators.

Savvy contractors are taking mapping to the next level and going mobile. Why print, handout, and maintain 15 maps when you can put one site map online and share it with everyone. No more lost maps, scrambling to get everyone the latest version or wasting time printing and assembling your maps into binders.


Best Practice #5: Calibrate and Manage Salt Use

Over-salting is far more common than most of us want to admit. But it happens, often. Crews want to do a good job and avoid getting called back but they don’t have any real method of measuring salt (unless your trucks are equipped with scales). So, they often over-salt.

In Practice: Calibrate your salters and give your crews salting targets in time (minutes) instead of pounds or tons. Simply weigh how much salt comes off your truck’s salters in 15 seconds and multiply that by 4 to get lbs/minute. Once you have that number, simply divide the number of pounds you estimate for your sites by your salt application rate (lbs/min) to get how long (in minutes) you should be salting the lot. Your times don’t have to be accurate to the second and will differ based on temperature and type of snow/ice. But giving your crews salt time guidelines can knock 10-20% off your salt use next year—and that’s money in the bank.


Best Practice #6: Increase Transparency and Accountability

Clients are tired of guessing who is going to do the best job, for the best price. Since we all ‘say’ we do the best work, clients simply go for price and hope for the best.

In Practice: Increase your communication with your clients during events and sell this communication when you’re bidding. Use e-blasts or Twitter to reach your clients to let them know of a coming weather system. Reach out again to update them on your response plan. Perhaps you email reports after every event – or even better – give clients live access to an app where they can check-in on the status of their own sites. If you want to get paid like a professional contractor, you’ll need to adopt the tools that show clients you’re worth the investment. If you charge a fair price and live up to your commitments, you’ll earn a client for life.

Bring on the snow days,


Mark Bradley is the CEO of LMN. Dedicated to transforming talented landscapers into profitable business owners, LMN provides the business management software and training owners need to grow. To learn more about how you can start transforming your business, FREE, with the LMN software platform, visit www.golmn.com. Interested in attending an LMN workshop? Visit https://golmn.com/workshops/ to register for a workshop near you.