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How Maple Hill Lawn & Garden Created Success With Technology

By Mansi AnejaSeptember 1, 2020

When he started working in the lawn and landscape industry in high school, Robert (Bobby) White  catered to about a dozen jobs every week. Now, 10 years after establishing Maple Hill Lawn & Garden with his wife, Lauren, the company has about 350 clients, including residential and commercial.

"We work really, really well together," Bobby says of working with his wife. "She certainly has her forte and I have mine. I think that’s because we have found what departments we work best in; we tend to stick just to that. She's technically majority owner. She is the boss. Without her doing all that she's done and continues to do, the business wouldn't be anywhere close to what it is now," he added.

Based in Accokeek, Maryland, this landscaper couple starts the day around 4 a.m. Bobby reaches the office before the vehicles start to lineup at 6.30 a.m.

Before using GPS tracking, life was a big mystery. We did the best we could with paper documentation, but there was a lot of chance for error and dishonesty.

"This is where the crews get their checklists for the day, get everything fueled up and make sure they have the tools they need. The trucks keep about a 40-mile radius of the shop. A residential crew could have 20 stops throughout the day. And a commercial crew might go out to one job for the entire day," he added.

While the crew goes out and about taking care of jobs, Bobby focusses on sending quotes to new customers, while Lauren manages the fleet tracking tools and marketing for the business from her home office. “Lauren brought me out of the dark ages,” Bobby says of Maple Hills’s transition into using fleet tracking technology to manage their growing business.

When asked about life before fleet tracking solution, Bobby says, "Well, it was a big mystery. A lot of it was crossing your fingers and hoping to goodness that the bottom line panned out the way you wanted it at the end of each day, month, and then the year. We did the best we could with paper documentation, but there was a lot of chance for error and dishonesty."

Verizon Connect spoke to Bobby about Maple Hill Lawn & Garden’s journey as a business and how they created a successful business in this competitive market. Here are the excerpts of our interview.

Q. Tell us more about your business and your crew.

A. We maintain about 350 residential clients in about three dozen commercial locations. Depending upon the season, we have about half a dozen employees all the way up to 15 in the peak season.

Being on the East Coast the bulk of our season kicks off early March, and then things ramp up towards the end of November, early December. That's when all our vehicles are being used. In the wintertime, things get leaner, and we start relying upon winter works, like snow removal. So, most of our fleet will go on a hiatus during the wintertime and then the four-wheel drive vehicles come out for winter work.

Q. Give us an example of a typical manhour or cost leakage. And how you fixed that.

A. Let's say a client flags down a crew member and asks him or her to prune a bush, the crew member wants to please the client and typically does it. At $45 per man hour, those little extra stops start to add up. We discovered those stops were often the reason the crew were out an extra hour or two or taking extra time between stops. We were giving away service to please the client, but we couldn't go back with any kind of record-keeping and properly bill it. Before Verizon Connect, we had to start making a rule across the board that no work was performed unless it was authorized from the office. It's certainly a good standard operating procedure to have, but it caused some contention with our crew. Now, with the foreman documenting the service, we can go back to the client since we have GPS data backing us up.

Q. How has the technology given you a competitive edge?

A. The more you can remove human intervention, the less chance of error. Once we started using digital software for keeping account of our client base and for scheduling, we didn’t have to rely on memory to track commercial and residential client jobs. Unlike some of our competitors, we arrive on time because there's a computer somewhere with a calendar that has scheduled it to make sure it happens. We live and die by the schedule, and now we don't have lag time. We show up when we say we're going to show up.

Q. When you implemented Verizon Connect technology, what was the reaction from your staff? How did you manage this change for them?

A. We definitely made it known to our crew. We have an alert set that tells us if the vehicle idles for five minutes or longer, and it differentiates between park and drive. We had an instance of a new crew member who left the truck idle for an hour and a half. In our industry, when something like this happens it makes us wonder if the crew was performing additional work while that truck was idling. We sent our foreman out to look at neighboring properties to see if anybody besides our customer had a recent lawn cut. Upon investigating, we did not get a clear answer from the person in question. So, we had to let go of this person. The next morning, we had a little bit of a heart to heart with everyone just to remind them that all the trucks are being watched and monitored. We haven't had a problem like that since.

It saves me time and I get to go home on time at the end of the day. There's definitely more peace of mind.

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Q. How has technology helped improve your customer service and retention

A. Our customers don’t want to call and find out when their grass is going to get cut. We like to advertise that our services are "set it and forget it." And on the commercial side, it's not even so much about the cost: these customers need their lawns mowed regularity, or they are faced with fines. When a residential customer calls the office to know when their service is going to take place, we’re able to determine where the truck is at the moment, refer to the job sheets and give them a specific ETA, which improves their experience. So, there's definitely more peace of mind.

I can't tell you how many times I get a call about whether a residential lawn cut took place from a tenant who may live abroad or be traveling. I used to have to drive across town to verify and take a picture. Now, I can see where truck number 10 was at that time, the house address and how long they were there, when they pulled up and when they left. I can screenshot that and send it to the client for documentation. It saves me time and I get to go home on time at the end of the day.

Q. How has Reveal from Verizon Connect helped you deal with customers?

A. Wintertime is especially important. When it comes to snow removal service, the customer has often already been quoted a fixed price. We must monitor hours to make sure it’s taking as long as we quoted or going over.

Our word that a job is getting done isn't sufficient. Our GPS tracking now shows when and which vehicle was on site. That’s important because if you’re billing an hourly rate for your vehicle to be in motion, you must document its time. There is also winter work that is billed per visit, not per hour, making productivity crucial.

If I need to show proof and documentation that truck number eight arrived at the shopping center, I can show exactly when it pulled in using the technology.  Verizon Connect doesn’t just show the zip code the vehicle is in, it gives us almost to the foot of where that truck is.

Q. Do you use the technology to monitor harsh braking?

A. Yes. On one of the big trucks that we use, the brake jobs are very expensive, and we had a driver who was incredibly hard on the truck. If you start seeing a repeated offense, that's somebody who's abusing the vehicle. We kept noting these incidents on that driver’s records and it probably saved us a lot of rear-end accidents. What's so great is that the timing is live, and I can make a phone call to the driver moments after a harsh braking event occurs.

By using Verizon Connect to know where our trucks are at any given moment, we've saved approximately $100,000 in labor.

Q. Are you able to quantify the impact of GPS technology? Can you share an example?

A. Maple Hill was one of the three companies nationwide that were selected to install fleet tracking technology through Lawn and Landscape magazine’s “Turnaround Tour”. We got the Reveal fleet tracking system installed in our vehicles. The Harvest Group, Lawn and Landscape Consulting or Harvesters as they like to be called, assess and offer suggestions to improve lawn and landscape businesses. So, The Harvesters came out to go through the books of Maple Hill and found that our pricing was spot on. Our client retention and success rate in signing new clients were both excellent. But we still weren't hitting the profit margin that they wanted us to be at.

Using Verizon Connect Reveal, we found out it was related to our time cards at the shop. When the crew would clock out, there was often a half hour to an hour and a half discrepancy. We discovered there was about $12,000 a month in unaccounted labor time, on billable or non-billable hours. Additionally, using Verizon Connect to know where our trucks are at any given moment, we’ve saved approximately $100,000 in labor.

We can now afford to pay our crew members a lot more—in fact, higher than most of the competing companies in the area. Technology adoption did not come naturally to Maple Hill. Before Maple Hill’s vehicles were equipped with Verizon Connect’s fleet tracking solution, Bobby said, he was very apprehensive about using such a solution. After almost a year of using it he says, “it helps me go home on time and spend more time with my family.”

Lauren, Bobby and their four children, the youngest being 18 months and the oldest seven, love to go camping with all the gear packed in their trailer. We asked if Bobby had some advice for the new entrants in the industry and he said, "know your costs. And in our case, our costs, which we thought we had under wraps, were labor-based, and we needed the data from Verizon Connect to fully understand them. You must absolutely know your costs to be in this business, because that's the only way you know if you're doing well."

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Mansi Aneja

As Verizon Connect Content Strategist, Mansi's mission is to create content that helps on-the-go business owners and fleet managers realize the benefits of digital transformation to drive their business forward, keep their teams productive and safe, and provide outstanding customer service. Have a story about digital transformation in your business or a tip that could help other fleet managers? Email Mansi at - [email protected]


Tags: Customer Service, Cost control, Field management

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