Benefits of Mentoring from Experienced Landscape Pros
By Sheryl Jackson
When Scott Myatt, president of Myatt Landscaping, had a chance to bid on a mentoring session with Frank Mariani of Mariani Landscape, he didn’t hesitate.
“Frank has such a great reputation in the industry, and he and his team are such great people that we knew we could learn a lot from him,” Myatt says. Although Myatt has 24 years’ experience in the landscape industry, he is always trying to learn more, he says.
The mentoring session with Mariani and other experienced landscape professionals were part of an auction to raise funds for National Association of Landscape Professional’s Industry Growth Initiative. Winners were given the choice of having the mentor visit their location or going to the mentor’s company to view operations.
Teaching & Learning Go Hand-in-Hand
Mariani is no stranger to mentoring, having served in the Trailblazer Mentor Program for NALP as well as offering his time outside of formal mentor programs. “People get a lot out of visiting other companies, so it made sense to offer sessions as a fundraising tool,” he says. “This approach is a win-win because the winners gain valuable advice and the funds support an important program for our industry.”
Bob Grover, president of Pacific Landscape Management, offered a two-day session to support the IGI fundraising effort. “A peer group of 10 people representing five or six companies came to my location to view the entire operation,” he explains. He and his team spent time explaining their operation and answering questions.
As an entrepreneur, we all have challenges, but it is much easier to learn how someone else overcame those challenges and replicate those processes, Grover says. He has also been part of the Trailblazer program for over 10 years and says that he usually learns something from the people he mentors.
“In this most recent visit, I learned that one company used an “off-shore” design vendor to complete design work for enhancement ideas very cost effectively,” Grover says. “I also discovered that another company was working with long-term H2B employees to help them get their Green Card. We are looking into both ideas for our company.”
Becoming Lifelong Learners
A strategy to use social media to recruit new employees was an idea that Jim McCutcheon, CEO of Highgrove Partners, picked up from the group visiting his company for a mentoring session. “It is important to be a lifelong learner and our industry is unique in our willingness to share ideas with each other,” he points out. “Back in the day that I was just starting my business and trying to figure out how to run the business, I would call other landscape professionals who allowed me to learn from them.”
These sessions with other business owners were important because McCutcheon says he not only found solutions to the challenges he knew that had, but also to issues he didn’t recognize. “I’m a believer in ‘rob and duplicate’ to help everyone in the industry be successful.”
McCutcheon is another long-time mentor as a Trailblazer and informally. When other company owners and their teams visit, he usually begins with a dinner the evening before to discuss the next day’s schedule. “Over the course of the next day, my senior leaders meet with the different members of the visiting company,” he explains. “The schedule is designed to fit their needs, but we often divide into groups that focus on specific roles such as customer service, finance, sales and operations.”
Prior to the visit, McCutcheon asks for the owner to send him financial information such as the profit and loss statement, and the balance sheet if the owner is comfortable sharing it. Asking for financial information as well as goals and core values of the company allows him to tailor conversations to the company.
“I often find that many owners have a fragmented understanding of their core values and goals, and how it relates to their business’ financial success,” McCutcheon says. “I ask about sales closing rates and prices – and often tell them to raise their prices because they are undervaluing their services.”
“Groups that visit us are often most interested in our maintenance operations, which is a major focus of our company,” Mariani says. “We roll out 75 crews each morning, so visitors are here at 6 a.m. to see how we handle that many crews and equipment.” Once the crews have left for the day, Mariani’s visitors sit in on sales or other meetings and are welcome to ask questions to learn more about his company’s process.
“We are restructuring our maintenance division, so I was most interested in learning how Mariani Landscape’s maintenance operation is structured,” Myatt says. Looking at organizational charts and learning how a better organized maintenance group sets up his company for growth through enhancement sales, better interaction with customers and more ‘touches’ with our clients, was eye-opening, he explains. “I know our reorganization will take time, but with this template, we will be able to move more quickly and set it up right.”
“I am a proponent for mentoring and being mentored, but it is only one step that a landscape professional can take to continue learning and improving the business,” McCutcheon says. “I encourage everyone to join a peer group, which is the next evolution of mentoring.” Benefits of a peer group include a larger number of people with whom to discuss challenges and share ideas, he says. “More importantly, you are held accountable for the actions you say that you will take before the next meeting,” he says. “As owners, we are rarely held accountable within our own company, but a peer group provides that sense of responsibility to follow through on plans.”