October 1, 2016
Jeremy Miller
Jeremy Miller

Growth and culture

When Jeremy Miller began providing marketing advice to a friend in the landscaping industry in the early 2000s, he had no idea of the amazing opportunities the green profession had to offer. A web developer at that time, Miller eventually joined Houston Landscapes in Vancouver, B.C. full-time, and became its sole owner in 2006. Following years of rapid growth — the company appeared on Profit 500 magazine’s fastest-growing Canadian companies list in 2013 — Miller is now focused on making Houston Landscapes one of the best places to work in the industry. Employee Joseph Hough recommended Miller for
this column.

Why is company culture so important?

The construction industry can be ruthless. Maintaining an employee-first culture, in my opinion, is quite simple. You focus on employees first, you provide a work environment where they enjoy what they’re doing, who they’re doing it with, and respect who they’re doing it for— our clients and me as their employer. Then, by their nature, they are going to do a better job, which provides customers what they expect from both quality and service standpoints. The result is going to be profit.

Culture is such an all encompassing word, but it’s the most important thing that needs to be maintained during growth. To me, it means the little things. When a customer is struggling with six bags of groceries, it’s okay to offer to help. Sure, that takes away 10 minutes of production, but it’s worth its weight in gold.

Houston Landscapes grew fast. Why did you work to contain that growth?

I do a lot of forecasting and it’s interesting because there are growth periods where it is mathematically impossible to make money. If you’re a one-man show and you’re doing the quoting and you’re the foreman and you have a truck and you’re working out of your home, you’re going to make what you’re making. There’s a point where you grow to two crews and you can try to keep managing the second, but your business starts to suffer. As soon as you grow to three, you’re not going to be able to be foreman on each crew. And so you’ve got to project-manage and start overseeing at least one of your crews, and you’re also going to have to start doing three times as many estimates and three times more invoices and all of that kind of stuff, and so you’re probably going to have to add a bookkeeper at that point. All of a sudden, you need to pay yourself and a bookkeeper, and let’s say those three crews are comprised of 10 people — are those three crews going to generate enough gross profit to be able to pay you, your truck that’s not out there working anymore, new trucks that you’ve got for each crew and the bookkeeper? Likely, not. You’re probably going to need to get to four crews and 14 staff members or something like that. And then that crunch happens again a few more moments along the way, where you have to expand the overhead to be able to manage the business properly, or you won’t be able to provide the kind of service your customers are expecting to receive.

How do you attract quality employees?

By maintaining our strong company culture, we feel like we have been able to develop a buzz within the industry that Houston Landscapes is one of the best places to work. We do all the basics like benefits packages and we pay for any out-of-job training that makes sense for both the customer and the company. We’ll cover not only the cost of educational courses, but we’ll also pay for their time to be at the course. All of those things have costs of course, but paying for education is a no-brainer because the result is a more skilled employee, and the employee is going to be happy because he had the opportunity to advance his skills while being compensated for his time.
If you have a question to suggest, or a mentor to recommend, please e-mail editor@landscapetrades.com.