Watch this video and learn from Jonathan’s experience what size lawn crew to use and why.
What size lawn crew do you use and why have you always done it that way?
To answer the question, it’s important to know that we’re about 95% residential and 5% commercial. We started as commercial and shifted to residential. Along the way, we have tried all kinds of different crew sizes. It’s also important to know that we know who our ideal client is and what the size of their property is. We only go after the kind of client that is our ideal and we ignore everything else in our market.
We have everything in our market from small commercial to very large commercial; from very small residential, 7,000 gross square feet and less, all the way up to multi-acre residential properties and estates. It’s also critical to understand that what we have found best works for us, and it’s different for every company, is that each tech and each crew are charged with their own activity.
Mowing crews mow, trimming crews trim, spray techs spray, pest control does pest control, irrigators do irrigation. They don’t cross over. They’re trained in their area of expertise. That’s really important to know. When we go mow, we send our mowing teams in. And, when it’s time to prune the brushes or shrubs, a different crew comes in. There are some efficiencies lost from doing it that way, but we believe from testing and trying things that there are huge efficiencies gained. That’s important to understand to understand my answer.
For residential mowing crews, the ideal for us is three based on property size. We have tried four and we didn’t gain much. We’ve run four at times when we’re in what I’d describe as an emergency due to weather. You do get more done, but the efficiency isn’t there and your per man hour, your hourly man rate comes down. We have also tested two. Two is actually more efficient than three for smaller residential, but then you get into a new issue and that is asset utilization…trucks, equipment and such. Then you have insurance and safety risk, opportunity costs, and all these other factors to consider.
For us, at this size, three is better than two because of management, the way we pay, and all these other factors. If I was starting over and I was a small business again, then two is what I would run. I would run two man mowing crews. Again, you have to understand what kind of business we are and what market we’re serving and know that we go after the clients that we want, not the properties that are available to us. We are able to say we want properties of this size and not properties of another size. If our crews had to maintain acreage, one acre plus properties, and then they spend the other half of their day mowing properties under 15,000 square feet, the business wouldn’t work out so well.
If our irrigators had to do certain activities for one half of the day and a different activity for the rest of the day, that would completely change the decisions that we make. We’ve not always done it this way. We started out as commercial. On most of our original commercial accounts we were running four man crews. Then we realized that it made more sense on our warehouse properties that required a different service level to just run a two man crew.
We had a Scag, maybe a 61 inch rider, a 21 inch mower, a couple of weed eaters, and we realized that it’s more efficient to take some equipment off the truck and send just two men out to do this. On our bigger commercial properties we have found four man crews made more sense. We never did commercial properties that took more than a full day. Our biggest properties would be a one day job with four men on the job.
It’s a different animal when you are dealing with commercial properties that could require 16 to 20 people on the job site. That’s not what I’m talking about. We tend to cater more towards the smaller properties. As a result, our crew size can be smaller.
For bush trimming, we’ve tested everything from two men all the way to four men. Two without question generates the most production, the most profitability. Production was the wrong word to use, you can get more pure production of four people versus two, but when you look at what matters, which is how much money you’re generating per man hour, two is more efficient. Sometimes we have to sacrifice the margin to get all the work done and add a third person, but at the end of the day, two is more efficient.
That’s not where we started. That was a realization in the last three years or so, and that’s where we’re at now.
For spray techs, commercial or residential, it depends. When you are out spraying commercial properties, pulling a lot of hose, it oftentimes makes sense to put two men on that job. When you’re doing small residential, one man is perfectly acceptable as a spray tech. The same is with pest control. Irrigation oftentimes we find that one man makes perfect sense, but for many reasons a lot of times, we run a two man team for irrigation. Again, it depends on if are we doing commercial or residential, what’s going on, what’s happening, and what’s our backlog? Backlog has a lot to do with how big the crew is that we’re running right now.
In a perfect world, we would have completely consistent demand, meaning that our backlog would never grow too large. That would allow us to constantly maintain that sweet spot of profit margin, meaning that we’re running the perfect crew size. But at times we are forced to go against what we know is best and add an additional person to an irrigation crew, to a lawn care crew, to a maintenance crew, just because we have to deal with demand. We have to keep our level of customer service.
Profit is sacrificed a bit, but we continue to maintain our reputation and continue to maintain the level of customer service that we’ve promised our clients. These are example considerations. And yes, it has absolutely evolved over the years, and it will continue to evolve as our company continues to evolve.
How do you know what the optimal lawn care crew size is? In this video, Jonathan gives you some factors to consider whether you are just starting out or simply trying to become more efficient.
What factors go into determining the best lawn care crew size for your company?
I believe it’s really important to know that as your company changes, your crew size will change. A company that’s just getting started that has 1 crew and grows to 2 to 4 crews will change just as a company that has 10 crews and grows to 20 to 40 crews.
How important is having the right crew size to running a successful operation?
It’s one of the core elements. We are in the business of selling time. Our number one line item on our profit and loss statements is labor. Labor, it’s either efficient or inefficient. One of the big factors in determining if it’s efficient or inefficient is the size of the crew. There are a number of different factors that go into a crew, but the crew size directly affects how productive we are. It affects how efficient we are and if we’re achieving our target man hour rate.
My plumber may be missing out on big profits of 150k a year. Hear how to avoid making the same mistake.
Hello! The other day we had a plumber out at our home and the reason is, we got a new grill and we have a gas line coming out of our home. I know it’s a super easy thing to do, but the line from the grill wouldn’t fit onto the line from the house. I didn’t want to mess with it. One, because I didn’t really have time, and two, because it’s natural gas, so I thought we’d just have the plumber out.
We called the plumber and he came out. Actually it was two guys, and they had a $135 minimum to come do the job, which was fine, and it probably took them 10 or 15 minutes to do the work. They fixed it. All was done and then the guy went out to the truck, actually both of the guy’s went out to the truck, and they were writing up the paperwork. I tried to give him my credit card before he even went to the truck, he’s like, “No, no problem. I’ll go write up the paperwork. I’ll come back in.”
I’m in my house about 10 minutes and I walk out to the truck and he’s legitimately out there writing up the paperwork. He’s got a calculator. He’s adding things up. He’s filling out all of the paperwork by hand. I stand around for a few minutes and then I finally just walk back in the house. Then he follows me in and then I give him the credit card, and he charges the credit card, and then we chit-chat for just a second. Great guy, great company, no complaints.
I estimate at an absolute minimum they spent 15 minutes between the time that they finished the job, filled out the paperwork, came back in, charged my card, etc. You get the idea. Plus there were two. If you could imagine, and these guys bill at $120 an hour. I don’t know if it’s $120 an hour for two or $120 an hour each. I’m not even sure, but if you do the math and we’ve done a number of videos on this, and it’s about non-billable time. That non-productive time. This is why a lot of companies do not make very good money, or they can’t figure out why they’re not making more money, or it’s why they don’t think their business is very good.
Let me give you the example math on this. He wasted 15 minutes at my job. For simplicity I’m just going to call it 15 man minutes. It should really be 15 minutes times two guys but let’s just keep this really simple. He wasted 15 minutes at my house. Let’s say through the course of the day, he wastes 15 minutes three more times, so he wastes a total of 1 hour for the whole day, and this is being really conservative. They bill $120 an hour, so in other words, had they not wasted an hour and they did one extra job, and they billed that one extra job at $120, that would have been $120 in profit to the company because all the other money they earned I’m assuming already covered the expenses, the over head, paying the technicians, etc. Generally when you save wasted time, it almost all goes to the bottom line unless you’re losing money in your company. But, let’s just keep it simple. It almost all goes to the bottom line. That $120 would have been profit.
Now imagine the owner of this company were to make an extra $120 per day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year. I believe that’s $30,000. I believe that’s correct. If my math is wrong, the point still is valid. That’s an extra 30,000 off this one crew of two guys. Now imagine if he has 5 trucks running around and all 5 trucks are wasting 1 hour a day that could be billed at $120 an hour, the owner’s not taking home $150,000 a year in additional pay that he could be taking if he just fixed the problem of 1 hour of wasted time.
This is a perfect example of waste, and this waste happens in every way. How you fuel the trucks. How you maintain the equipment. How they load their trucks in the morning. You can just go down the list and there’s just tons of this waste. How fast they get out of the yard in the morning. I can go on, and on. Are they doing everything on paper and they’re not using mobiles? Maybe they’re not wasting as much time on filling out an invoice. We don’t do that. We bill back at the office. Maybe the waste is happening when they’re writing down start and stop times. Maybe it’s happening when they’re writing notes. Maybe it’s happening when they’re filling out paperwork for chemicals or writing notes that they leave on the door. A lot of this stuff could be automated or simplified in some way.
What I have found is you want to go through every single aspect of your company. Everything that’s happening. Watch your team. What are they doing? You look for the waste and then you work on that. When you fix that, and then you re-bill that time because now you don’t have to go hire a lot of new employees, you can sell that time to the customer, almost all that money is profit that comes back to you.
Hopefully the analogy makes sense and the example makes sense. This is why it’s so incredibly important to be thinking this way and working on these things. I hope you’ll apply it in your business.
If you are wanting your crews to improve their quality out in the field, watch this video.
The question is, how can I get my techs and my crews to up their quality level?
I’ve heard different versions of this question many times. At the end of the day it all comes down to training. But, it’s also about communication. What I believe you want to be doing, is going over with your crews and your techs every single morning, any new notes that you’ve put on their route sheets or their mobiles.
I personally like the concept of standing out at the gate, at the yard, or however you operate, and as your crews leave your facility, I would assume if you’re a bigger company they’re staggered, you’re going over very quickly with any changes to the schedule. Anything that’s changed. Anything you need to tell them about, or your manager, or somebody’s doing this, and then they’re pointing out notes. Notes such as, “This client was unhappy about this last time.” “This client asked if you could please do this.” This client said, “While you’re there, could you please check on this?” You can do this very quick.
If you’ve done it right in your software system or from your software system on your printed route sheets or work orders, you can have this highlighted or notated, and you just run through it very quickly. This is a communication thing. You’ve got to literally talk to each of your techs, your teams, your crews about this. Just make sure it’s crystal clear. It only take a few extra minutes, but it results in a higher level of quality, what would be a better level of customer service, fewer redo’s, fewer call backs. It just saves money and it builds your reputation so that all of your marketing works so much better.
Then on top of that, I would highly recommend pictures. If there’s a problem, if there’s a complaint, or if there’s an accident, something safety related, there’s pictures taken of everything. Then those pictures are talked about. Depending on the software system you’re using, you can have that picture attached to a job so it shows up on the mobile. If you’re using mobiles or if they’re using paper, you could print out those pictures. Who cares if it costs you a little bit of extra money to print in color, because it’s worth so much more to you in terms of being great. Terms of doing a really good job with high quality and excellent customer service because again, that makes all of your marketing work so much better. It earns you so many referrals. A little bit of money spent on paper and ink to produce a much higher level of service, has so many major benefits in term of revenue and profits down stream. Print that stuff out stand out there and talk to them about it.
Meet them in the field. Show up at the job unexpected and point things out. Show up unexpected and walk the property with the team. Show up unexpected and show them how to do a better job performing whatever the service is. Show up unexpected with a tech and say, “Hey, last week when you diagnosed whatever brown spot and it wasn’t, it was actually grubs, here’s what you look for,” and you go through that stuff with the team.
It requires lots of training. Lots of in person communication. Lots of in field communication. Lots of showing up at the job site and getting your hands dirty and showing the team, “Here’s how we do it,” and setting that example. Then showing them best practices. Watching what they’re doing, analyzing and saying, “Hey, have you tried this? Hey, have you considered this? Maybe you can do it this way and you’ll save yourself some time and you’ll get home earlier. Maybe if you do it this way, the three times you had to go back to other jobs last week, could have been eliminated because you could have got it right the first time.”
You’re thinking through the actions that are happening with the team and you’re think of ways to take steps out of the process or add steps to the process to either improve and make them even better or to subtract, meaning take away things that are negative that they’re doing that again will make your quality, your customer service, and everything else so much better.
In the end, make your team a lot happier because they’re getting home faster, they’re not pissed that you just had them go back to a property again. All of these things go together, work together to build a really great company and to get your teams, your techs and your crews to do what it is that you want them to do.