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.
This video explains why using the right lawn care equipment can maximize your potential and bring in more profit.
This morning as you think about your business, are you putting the right equipment on the right properties? When you bid the job, are you bidding it taking into account the right production costs because you’re using the correct equipment? Are you selling work that’s bigger than you should be doing right now because you don’t have the appropriate equipment?
When do you recommend buying lawn care equipment for your company?
I generally recommend that you wait until the very last minute to buy new equipment. That allows you to keep the money in the bank until the last minute. There’s a number of reasons behind that. If I need a big piece of equipment, I could buy that a week before I need it or a couple of days before I need it. So many companies and so many owners get excited by a new piece of equipment so they buy it months in advance. Generally, this is not a good idea for a whole number of different reasons.
“I own a landscape company. When is the best time to buy lawn equipment?”
The question is, what is the best time of year to buy new equipment?
I personally like December. I like December for a whole bunch of reasons. One, it’s at the very end of the year. You can group all of your equipment purchases into one time period. Which, clearly means you have to project into next year and say, “Okay. How much are we going to grow? How much equipment are we going to need?” This requires some understanding of what’s happened in the last couple of years, along with some planning as to what you expect will happen next year, based on your marketing strategy and how much marketing you will be doing. Then also, understanding what’s happened in the past so that you can make those projections.
From that, you then say, “Okay. I think we’re going to need about this many trucks, this much equipment. Then, you group all of your purchasing, as best you can, for the year into that one time period. You go negotiate your purchase. Because, you’re buying in volume, you have more buying power, you can get a better deal. Then, what you can do from there because you timed this in December and you spent the money, at the last minute in December, you can write it off on your taxes for the current tax year.
Depreciation comes into play and things of that sort. But, you get to take the tax deduction in this year versus if you buy in January and spend the money now, you don’t get any tax benefits until the following March. For that reason, I like the buying power. I like that it forces you to think through what’s going to happen in the next calendar to do some planning. That’s important. To have several things in your business that force you to thinking and planning, that’s good. This does that. Then, the tax deduction is a big one.
Those are my very simple, basic reasons for why I think December is the best time to do it. But, the big take away is, how can you group as much of your purchasing into one time period, where you are doing all of your buying at one time? Probably all of your buying from one vendor, unless we’re talking about chemicals and such. I’m talking strictly equipment in this scenario. How can you buy all of that from one vendor and get the very best deal possible?
Is the cool lawn mower a friend recommended, the best mower for my lawn care business?
When I was at GIE in Louisville, Kentucky, I was reminded that you really don’t want to buy the cool lawn mower. What I mean by that is, walking through GIE, I’m reminded how many different brands there are and how many manufacturers there are selling walk-behinds and riders. There are Skagg and Toro and Exmark and those are just my local brands.