Sometimes the best thing a landscape company owner can do to solve a dilemma is to ask another landscaping guy.
Or ask six of them.
Imagine all seven owners in a room, talking about their finances, sharing how they do business, puzzling out problems and trading their best ideas.
It’s called The Growth Network, and it’s Level Green Landscaping’s industry peer group.
The owners of seven landscaping companies of similar size from across the country get together regularly to share, explore new ideas and learn from each other.
And once a year, they bring managers, too, so they can meet, mingle and learn together.
Transparency And Trust
The companies are from seven different states, so they don’t compete against each other. That creates an open atmosphere so owners can freely share financial information, business models and best practices. Conversations are transparent and confidential in an atmosphere of trust.
“Letting other people open up their books and ideas to you helps you examine how you do things,” says Doug Delano, co-owner of Level Green. “We’re always looking for ways to do our work a little better, more efficiently. Ultimately, it helps us deliver better service.
“It gives you a built-in board to bounce ideas off of, which helps when you’re making decisions,” Delano says. “It’s good to have outside critics in the same business you’re in.”
A Get-Together For Growth
The Growth Network includes Level Green Landscaping of Maryland; Native Land Design in Texas; Duke’s Landscape Management in New Jersey; Focal Pointe Outdoor Solutions in Illinois and Missouri; Greenscape, Inc. in North Carolina; Mike Ward Landscaping in Ohio and Conserve LandCare in California.
Company owners, managers and key employees from all seven companies meet each year for an education summit, attending workshops, listening to keynote speakers and networking with other staff who do the same jobs they do.
Topics range from the employment crisis and ways to find workers to the best ways to route jobs without wasting energy to communication strategies.
Landscaping equipment companies sign on as sponsors, including John Deere, Caterpillar and Toro. Representatives offer demonstrations of their latest equipment and share industry innovations.
Last year 100 people attended the event in St. Louis, including 20 from Level Green.
Swapping Stories, Keeping Secrets
It’s a learning opportunity unlike any other, says Michael Mayberry, Level Green’s chief technical officer, who attends the annual events.
“The uniqueness comes from the real life story swapping,” Mayberry says. “You can take a class or watch a video, but to have all these intelligent people in one place at one time discussing what they’re passionate about is really powerful.
“It’s like a master’s program of continuing education,” Mayberry says. “We all want to continue to learn.”
There’s a comfort level in talking to your counterpart in the same industry without the element of competition, he says.
“You get to talk with other people in your same position, about the challenges you face,” Mayberry says, “without giving away our secrets to our next door neighbors.”
While only manager level employees attend the events, the initiatives that come from the group filter down to affect everyone at the company, Mayberry says.
“We discover new ways of trying things,” he says. “That includes best practices that affect our crews and our customers.”
“I Love The Opportunity To Share”
The companies have formed a close relationship, Mayberry says. They plan to set up their booths together, in a group, at the next National Association of Landscape Professionals conference.
The peer group is facilitated by landscape industry consultant Bruce Wilson, who has been leading landscape industry peer groups since 2001. He’s the official peer group facilitator of the National Association of Landscape Professionals.
The Growth Network’s next annual gathering will be on Level Green's turf, in Washington DC, in early August.
In addition to the yearly gathering of managers from all seven companies, the company owners meet three times a year in person, and schedule conference calls once a month to share financial information, company updates and ideas.
“The peer group has been very beneficial to us,” Delano says. “I love the opportunity to share with other people. The more education people get, the better they perform, and the better service we provide.”