Watch this video and learn how to decide if you should run 1 man, 2 man, or 3 man lawn mowing crews.
This question is from Joshua.
“I’m getting to the point where I need to expand. I have about 45 residential lawns and five commercial accounts. I am wondering if I should invest in better equipment like 32 inch Scags and just run one man crews. With my current density, I can get about 10 to 12 lawns done a day by myself or 15 with a helper using 21 inch mowers.
Please help me understand the pros and cons of this. I always see single man crews with fertilization but never in lawn maintenance. I know a guy in my city who does 75 by himself because he has the right equipment and density. It seems like the money I save in labor would well cover the equipment cost. No accountability and morale would be an x-factor, but it seems like one man crews are more efficient and a better way to go. Your thoughts?”
My thought is no. You should not do one man crews. I’m certain of that. I do not think one man crews are the way to go. I think you should consider two man crews. I actually run three man crews at our company for residential, but I totally see why two man crews are better.
Here are some things to consider. You could build out a new crew with one man, but I don’t think the angle is to run one man crews. The reason for that is, if you just look at human behavior and how we operate, there’s a level of accountability that’s created with a team.
This is even for us as owners. If you happen to have a business partner, your business partner brings a level of accountability to what you get done, what you do, at least if you have any desire to be a performer and hold up your side of the deal within that business. You’re going to work a little bit harder and you’re going to do a little bit more because you’ve got a business partner.
If you have one person working by himself, short of being measured into job costing and GPS data, really they don’t have anybody to hold them accountable. The guy could make an excuse for being late, for example, the customer came out to talk to him. They don’t use that excuse if you have two people on the job.
Also, I think there’s some value in simply having somebody to work with. Working in isolation is not that exciting. Now, if you put two guys together that hate each other, that’s worse. But, if you put two guys together that work well together and sort of thrive off each other, they can motivate each other when they are tired.
When you think about stuff like that, teams are better. I really believe in the team concept in general. I think teams need to be small. I believe in teams outside of just talking about lawn mowing, lawn care, or landscape crews. I just don’t think a one person crew holds up over time. You may see a spike in the beginning and some benefit in the beginning but they don’t hold up.
I also believe that you can get very close to the same level of efficiency with a two man crew. For example, if one guy can do 10 properties, two guys should be able to do about 20. That’s my belief.
The third guy is where I think you start to see less efficiency and less production value. I think two tends to be the magic number, depending on what you’re doing. If you run a scenario where you actually mow and trim bushes and pull weeds and do a number of different things all at the same property, then I think you can get more efficiency out of three guys.
I also think if trained and managed properly, you can get efficiency out of three guys because you can have that third guy do extra things. If you have super tight density, the third guy can move on to the next lawn and just roll his mower, or take his weed eater or whatever down to the next property versus sitting in the truck.
Your business will evolve. What might work today, won’t work in five years or might not still be the best and most efficient approach. Think about these things.
It doesn’t matter if you have one guy or four guys on the property. At the end of the day, equipment matters. You could have one guy and give him the wrong equipment, he’s not going to be productive.
Equipment, doesn’t in my mind, play a factor here. Whether you have one guy or fifty guys, you still have to give them the most efficient equipment. Equipment is a non-factor in this conversation, in my mind.
Also, a lot of times you might look around at most marketplaces, there’s a tremendous number of guys out there that are the owners doing the work. The owner may get 75 jobs done a day, but he has different motivation than a guy that’s getting paid by the hour, maybe even by the job.
The owner has to do this if he wants to feed his five month old baby and his wife and keep up with the rent. He also in most cases can’t just walk away from this thing tomorrow and get another job down the street. That wouldn’t be in the best interest of him and his family.
Whereas, a guy that you’re paying x number of dollars an hour, or by the yard or whatever, he’s got all these options in many cases. He doesn’t have the pressure that the guy that owns the business has. For example, if he slacks off tomorrow, he could probably go get another job in this industry. There’s a great need for people.
I’m simply saying that the business owner is completely invested in his business. You probably won’t find another guy to hire to do those same 75 yards. If you do, he may not be able to maintain that number after 3 years and he is tired and burned out. Will that hold up over time is my question. I don’t think you want to build your business assuming that an employee can accomplish as much as an owner, where all the weight is on that guy’s shoulders.
The other thing that I think you need to think about is as the business scales, asset utilization becomes a challenge. If you’re going to run one man crews, you have to agree with me first and foremost that you could actually make a two man crew almost as efficient as a one man crew.
If you can buy into that, then asset utilization is an absolute consideration. For every additional crew that you start, you have to buy another truck, another truck, and more insurance. With that, you have greater risk. Meaning, for every additional truck you put on the road, there’s a higher probability that somebody’s going to have an accident or something will go wrong that may harm the business.
You start to think about things like that. How can you reduce the number of trucks on the road? How can you reduce the number of trucks you have to buy? How can you reduce the number of pieces of equipment you have to buy? And on, and on, and on.
Then, you start to realize that a two man or three man crew starts to make a little bit of sense. In my company, I think we’re at 40 trucks or something like that. I don’t know the exact number. Let’s say I had to go to all one man crews. Does that mean I need 120 trucks and 120 pieces of equipment?
Well that would be crazy and I’m not going to do that. I need some asset utilization because there’s a lot of hidden cost that comes with each additional truck and each set of equipment that I put on the road. I need to utilize my assets as efficiently as possible.
Also, I believe that one of the absolute biggest hindrances in growing any business is money. It’s cash flow. If you are ready to add another crew but you don’t have the money to buy a truck, the equipment, or all the other things that come with that, then it’s going to slow down the growth of your business. Asset utilization becomes critical as the business starts to scale.
Also I’m going to leave you with this one. If you build your business around one man crews, then you have the real risk of when one of your guys quits. You have a little less risk when you have two or three guys on a crew because if one guy doesn’t show, the other two can carry the slack. Maybe they finish at 6:00 normally, but now they finish at 9:00. But, at least the work got done. Or, maybe they don’t complete the jobs that night, but you take a couple properties from that crew and you spread them out among other crews. The work can still get done.
From the standpoint of service autopilot, the software company that I have, one of the things that I notice is that we have a set of customers that seem to have a level of peace in their life and in their business. Then we have a set of customers that the world is burning down around them every single day.
Everything is a disaster and the world is going to end at any given moment. That’s the basic take I have on how a group of our clients live their life. I understand it and I get it. The difference is, in most cases, how they manage their business. If you organize your business in such a way that you look at all the potential bottlenecks, you look at all the potential failure points and you say, how do I mitigate this risk, how do I eliminate this risk, that brings a level of calmness to your company and it brings a level of calmness to your life.
The reason I just said that to you is, imagine that you create your business around a lot of one man crews. Things happen all the time. When guys don’t show up, it screws with everything. Now you’re really screwing with your business. If you don’t have a guy show up, you’re scrambling and everything is a mess.
You have to reroute everything. You jeopardize customer service. And now, you’re screwing with your other employees because you’re having them take on the extra jobs. You’re having everybody scramble to help you get out of this bind which then makes your employees’ lives miserable as well. Everything they do for you becomes a burden because they are constantly helping you put out one more fire in your business because you’re not on top of your game.
Contrast that to a guy that has multiple crews with multiple people with backup people in place. If a guy doesn’t show, that’s ok because you have a backup plan. You already know what you’re going to do.
I guess that’s maybe one of the best arguments for not having a one man crew. What I see are, most successful clients have their stuff together. They have thought ahead and solved the potential problems. They’ve created backup plans.
When things go bad, and they go bad every single day, they can make quick changes and the world doesn’t fall apart on them. They don’t become stressed out. I think if you went with the one man crew, you’d create that. I think you’d constantly be in the state of scramble.
For that reason alone, don’t go with the one man crew. Go with two, and eventually you can reconsider everything and look at three. The way to do that to run a test. You measure it, you track times, you see how you perform, how much money you make per day per man when you’re doing a two man crew. Then, throw in a third man and see how they do.
Don’t just assume that they’re going to do everything right. Get out there and see what they are doing. Teach them how to be efficient. Take a look at density. If you sold a couple more yards, would that solve the efficiency problem the three man crew was facing?
You go through this set of questions and try to figure out why you can’t make three man as efficient as two, and you see if you can solve it.
If eventually you’ve asked yourself a series of 15 questions and nothing you’ve tried fixed the problem of efficiency, then you know.
Everything is a test. Everything is a trial. As your business evolves, you have to retest everything and that’s a lot of work. It’s hard but that’s how you create a highly profitable business. Two men, don’t go with one. Eventually test three and see if it works for your company. Periodically reevaluate as your company completely changes as you grown over time. Good luck.