February 15, 2012
By Phil Charal
LO President

phil charal Many years ago, as a young lad, with a variety of work experience in retail, bars, restaurants and construction, I was struggling to determine a career path.

I spent a summer between university semesters working with a friend who was studying landscape architecture and engaged in various landscape and garden maintenance work in the GTA. Not only did I earn enough money to carry me through the remainder of the year, but I was also impressed with the business and enjoyed the hard work, not to mention the great tan that went with it.

This experience brought me to the realization that I wanted to launch my own company in the landscape industry. One of the first steps I thought I should take was to meet with my father and announce the fantastic news of my future endeavour.

His reaction was not quite what I was hoping for. My father was an engineer by training and very keen on me pursuing a career in property development, construction or finance. He felt that this career would support a comfortable and enhanced lifestyle. When we met and I told him of my plans to enter the landscape industry, he looked me straight in the eye, as he would often do when he was annoyed, and said, “Let me get this straight son. Are you telling me that you want to be in a business that is equipment intensive, seasonal and totally dependent upon the weather? You live in Canada, not southern California. We are lucky if we get four or five months of good weather in this barren wasteland. How can you make a living running a business in a six-month season? You went to university to do this?”

I have modified what my father actually said, because our editor would not print it, but you can imagine his reaction. He eventually came round, once he realized I was determined to pursue landscaping as my chosen career path, and became quite supportive.

Now, having been in this business for 30 years, I can look back and appreciate my father’s concerns. This past year my firm lost close to three weeks of production due to rainy weather. I know it was more than a challenge for the growers and garden centres as well, given the vital importance of spring sales. The saving grace was the pay back in weather in November and December and a lot of hard work from our team; otherwise I am sure we would have been destined for an unprofitable year.

It is not easy being a business owner. It does not matter what goes wrong, whether the problems are weather, accidents, or clients not paying their bills, it is ultimately your problem to solve. It is so very lonely at the top when things do not go as planned.

As passionate as we all are about our businesses, we are in one of the most difficult industries in which to be financially successful. Despite that, I know for a fact that with good forward planning and organization, all companies can make reasonable profits and support a good standard of living.

Many years ago, during my first five years in business, I attended a three-day seminar sponsored by LO, which involved an in-depth session on understanding the finances of your business. Bob Tubby, our past president, also attended.

We were all asked to bring our financial statements. These were used to determine our break even points and what was required to turn a profit. It was the most productive three days in business that I have ever spent. Understanding your financial statements and relating them to your budgets is a must. In order to run a good business to make money, it is absolutely essential to know your sales revenue, cost of sales and overhead needs.

Bob and I still get together every once in a while to compare our percentage numbers and to make sure they are where they need to be.

I am writing about this issue because it is vital for you to understand that your association wants you to be prosperous and is here to support and assist you with all that is required to run a good, solid business.

I strongly suggest that if you have not already taken the Prosperity Partners Program (http://bit.ly/prospartners), that you do so before the start of the 2012 season. The next seminars on Feb. 16, or Mar. 7, both at the the home office in Milton, should not be missed, especially for members who have been in business for less than five years. This seminar is an eye-opener to help you figure out how to create a great business team.

Other great programs are those run by The Landscape Management Network, which provide tools, systems and education for the landscape contractor and maintenance operators. These programs provide business management calendars and detail the tasks that provide the best return on investment for your precious time. Attendees take away systems critical for success and growth in the landscape industry and ideas and framework to ensure you spend more time planning and less time fixing problems.

Make a difference in your career path. I know we are all busy, but I am more than confident that these programs will greatly improve your ability to operate a successful business and enhance your life for years to come.

Don’t miss this opportunity!!!
Phil Charal may be reached at pcharal@landscapeontario.com.