November 29, 2023
Money, Money, Money

How to thrive in the new post-pandemic reality


Even as the pandemic fades into the distance, we’re still seeing the impact it had on the landscape industry. Many landscapers experienced record sales due to people being forced to stay home. But it was inevitable that this boom in backyard landscaping projects would eventually come to an end as restrictions eased and people resumed normal activities.

The COVID-19 spike in the industry as resulted in both positive and negative outcomes. On the positive side, unemployment rates have remained low, at less than five per cent. On the flipside, it has resulted in a shortage of skilled labour, making it challenging for business owners to meet demand. There has also been a considerable increase in wages due to this shortage.

The industry faced supply chain issues over the course of the pandemic, resulting in delays and difficulties in obtaining materials and equipment. These increases continue to put financial strain on businesses. And as the resale value of used equipment and vehicles has reached an all-time high, we’ve also seen the disappearance or suspension of manufacturers’ incentive programs.

Despite the significant increase in the cost of equipment, contractors are still purchasing. On the other hand, there has been a slow down in design/build work, as consumers are more cautious due to higher interest rates. This has led many contractors to close their business, either because they are tired, financially unstable, or unwilling to face the uncertain future. The increase in costs and decrease in sales has pinched profit margins, adding further strain to business owners. Mental health also remains a major concern for owners and staff, as the pressures and challenges of the landscape industry can take a toll on individuals.

The combination of all of these factors has created a mixed situation, with lots of opportunities for growth — as well as challenges to overcome.

Planning for the next 12 months

After doing my research, the conclusion I came to is that there is no firm consensus on what is going to happen in 2024. Some say interest rates will fall in the first quarter of 2024, for example, but there are many predictions, like a rise in unemployment, that have not materialized.

Light at the end of the tunnel

There’s some good news: while there is currently a shortage of skilled workers, we’re seeing better resumes and stronger candidates applying for work. There are still equipment and supply chain issues, but we’re seeing more vehicle and equipment stock on dealer lots and some incentives returning.

As we plan for next year, it’s important to remain adaptable and monitor the everchanging economic landscape in order to respond effectively. But there are certain strategies we can implement to help set us up for greater success amid these uncertain times.

First, in terms of sales, we must shift our focus toward selling work rather than simply taking orders for work. In the last few years, there has been so much work that we haven’t had to put much effort into selling it. Clients were happy to get on our schedule and pay whatever was quoted, rather than do much comparison shopping. That’s not the case anymore, so we’re going to have to put more effort into sales. Consider hiring a dedicated salesperson who can concentrate on sales and increasing revenue. When going after business, it’s also important to recognize that larger design/build projects still have a strong demand in the market. This is generally because that clientele is not relying on borrowed money (which is more expensive right now) to complete the project.

When it comes to operations, it’s recommended to double down on your company’s niche market rather than serving too many sector groups, as this can lead to a loss of focus, efficiency and effectiveness. Increasing your company’s emphasis on recurring revenue streams, such as annual maintenance and snow contracts, can contribute to the stability and profitability of the business. Efficiency should always be prioritized to improve the bottom-line profit.

Tightening up overhead expenses to match revenue is crucial. Focusing on 12-month maintenance and snow contracts is a great way to guarantee recurring revenue and provide stability. Creating a budget with different scenarios can help you prepare for various outcomes. For example, if you only hit half of your projected revenue, what action needs to be taken? Sell some equipment? Lay off staff? It’s important to have a plan in place in case budget numbers are not attained. These are tough conversations, but essential ones.

We recommend monitoring and managing cash flow on a weekly basis, which can help you be agile in your decision-making. An easy way to manage cash flow is to keep a close eye on accounts receivable, invoice on a weekly basis and deal with overdue accounts promptly. Properly attending to the small details is crucial to managing the overall financial health of the business.

Investing in workers is a key step to weathering the uncertainty. This can involve training programs, skills development and providing additional support to enhance your employees’ capabilities.

Looking into hiring temporary foreign workers may also be a viable solution to address labour shortages or skill gaps. It’s also critically important that you communicate with your staff, who may have their own concerns about the stability of their employment and the future. Ensuring they feel safe and secure in their employment can foster a more positive and productive work environment, as well as boost retention.

As a business owner, it’s crucial to prioritize mental and physical health during these uncertain times. Running a business has become more difficult than ever before, and seeking guidance from a mentor, joining a peer group or reaching out to an industry leader for help can be invaluable in navigating the upcoming economic cycle.


Grant HarrisonGrant Harrison operates Nextra Consulting with his wife Marla in Ingersoll, Ont. He has previously held management positions with Clintar, and Gelderman Landscape Services, and owned and operated Escapes Outdoor Living.