February 15, 2009
Tony DiGiovanni CHT
LO Executive Director

Years ago my daughter had a nightmare. She was too frightened to go to back to sleep. After a number of unsuccessful attempts to console her, I finally told her that a nightmare was like watching TV and that all she had to do was change the channel. Surprisingly and remarkably it worked!

By making a choice to see things differently, it settled her down.

Last year, Jim Paluch gave me a book entitled Change the Way You See. The simple, but powerful, theme demonstrates that we have the ability to change the way we see things. So, here’s a reminder that we have the ability to change the way we see can be helpful and uplifting.

Last month many of us had a chance to listen to a North American-wide webinar entitled A Great Time to be in Business. Bob Wilton of Clintar Landscape Management commented that it was the best hour he had spent in a long time. Bill McKague of Gro-Bark said it was excellent. The webinar featured five of North America’s leading horticultural companies commenting on ways to succeed and thrive in any economy. You can download a copy of the webinar at
http://jphorizons.blogspot.com/. Thanks to Jim Paluch for organizing such a great event.

In summary:

Mark Hjelle of Brinkman (one of North America’s largest grounds maintenance companies at over 5,000 employees) began his talk with an excellent and inspirational quote from Winston Churchill.

“A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

There are opportunities to improve service and quality that will create better relationships with existing customers and attract new customers who are looking for better value.

There are opportunities to attract new talent to your organization and weed out those who may not be a good fit.

There are opportunities to focus on your business operations in order to improve your process and drive out waste.

There are opportunities to improve communication with existing staff and customers and to keep building your brand and team.

Mark also offered reminders to proactively manage your cash flow. In good times manage your profit and loss statement and in bad times manage your cash and receivables. Now is the time to reduce operating costs. “Use the scalpel, not the hatchet.”
Above all, he admonished all of us to “choose to be a leader.” See things positively. Be an optimist.

Blake Smith, from Christmas Décor, entitled his talk The Remarkable Client Experience. In an era of fewer clients who have more options, it is imperative that we do things that make us remarkable. His advice was to analyse your business from a perspective of the client’s experience. What are we doing now that is remarkable? What can we do to improve customer service and experiences? Focus on the client. Train everyone in the organization to do the same. “If you deliver a remarkable experience, your customers will be your fans and will refer you to others.”

It is a good idea to constantly evaluate service and develop processes to receive constant feedback. He also suggested that we should be more selective in targeting customers. Identify the right customer for your business. Offer more services to solidify customer relationships. Don’t make the mistake of many others, who pull back on marketing and communications. Spend more time on fewer clients. This is a good opportunity to get ahead when other companies are choosing to retract.

This is the Time When Great Companies are Made was the title for Jim McCutcheon’s talk. Jim is ceo of Highgrove Partners, one of North America’s top 50 landscape companies. Jim stressed the importance of leadership. Leaders are proactive, positive and empathetic.

Choose to communicate more with customers. Put yourself in their position and try for find ways to help them through their challenges.

Choose to mobilize and inspire your staff team. Look for ways to innovate and find new opportunities. A winning and fearless attitude is imperative.

When the City of Atlanta banned all landscape watering, Highgrove Partners found opportunities to offer “no water” plantings. They were also able to improve their irrigation business by finding a different way to do things. Be open and take action. Always look for ways to improve.

Stephen Hillenmeyer Landscape Services started in 1841. Stephen represents the fifth generation of his family to operate the company. I can only imagine the many cycles that the company has gone through. Stephen’s theme spoke to financial health.

Look at your customer base and determine your vulnerablity. Improve communications with them and find ways to offer value. Be careful with your receivables. In all economies, it is extremely important to know your “break even” point. Reduce your overhead costs. Look at all of your loans and make sure to communicate with your banker.  Know your financial limitations and develop contingency plans. Religiously manage your cash flow. Take positive action. Communicate frequently and honestly with all creditors.

Representing Canada

Jennifer Lemcke, ceo for Weedman USA, represented Canada. Jennifer made Canadians proud! Weedman has over 100,000 customers in Canada. It is a remarkable organization that has achieved amazing growth and success.

Jennifer’s message focused on The Power of Vision. A clear vision is essential for success. The vision provides clear direction for choosing action. It must be shared with everyone in the organization. Core values and company culture flow from the vision. The vision empowers employees to see success in their future. It helps them understand their role and motivates them to assist in achieving the vision.

Jennifer urged everyone to focus on employees and build a company culture where everyone’s job is to help each other succeed. Stay focused and committed to your culture. Live, breathe and communicate your core values.

Jennifer also talked about the negative affects of fear. In the year 2000, the Supreme Court of Canada gave municipalities the right to ban pesticides. Weedman reacted with shock and fear and went into crisis and survival mode. They momentarily lost sight of the company’s vision and growth flattened. By 2002, growth exploded and continues until today. What changed? The pesticide situation has become much worse, yet Weedman has returned to its original positive vision of growth. They regained their positive attitude. They are facing challenges head on. They are committed to growth. It is a time to change and flourish. It is a time for leadership, hope, choice and action.

Jennifer ended her session with two action-oriented questions. “What are we going to do to build our future?” “What are you going to do?

Great questions to ask in any economy.
Tony DiGiovanni may be reached at tonydigiovanni@landscapeontario.com.