When looking to cut business expenses, one area that would seem to present itself would be landscaping. Not only could you reduce the amount of plant, shrubbery, and lawn area expense, but other benefits may surface with reduced watering cycles, and less regular maintenance of the grounds.
That may work on a smaller scale at home, but it’s not such a good idea for business. In this tough economy, your curb appeal can say a lot about your business (or lack thereof). It’s the first impression kind of thing that can be hard to overcome once someone has graced your doorstep.
For those who don’t exercise good curb appeal in our area, they can become targets for Alan Wilser of T1 Earthcare, a residential and commercial landscaping service. Wilser, the owner, is ever vigilant of the appearance of commercial businesses in and around the Raleigh, NC area.
To Wilser, today’s business conditions represent a ‘target rich environment’. Not shy, he will approach a local business owner and offer some suggestions on how they can better manage their existing landscape needs, along with the notion that you can ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ your existing design into a better overall presentation.
I caught up with Wilser on-site at a local client and asked if we could spend some time together to talk about the pressure of running a small business, and how he competes in a market that I perceived to be oversaturated with vendors. You don’t have to spend much time around Wilser before the idea of better landscaping can be achieved without undue expense, and that T1 Earthcare are just the people to get you there.
His business sense has grown from experience, at a very young age. Wilser comes from a family of entrepreneurs and self-starters, and I found he would often make reference to whether or not something was being done in the “Wilser Way”.
Wilser has applied an organic business growth strategy to T1 Earthcare; in common terms, it’s the fine art of being self-funded. He makes an effort to maintain his own equipment, where practical, including the construction of some custom accessories for his equipment. He runs a lean ‘shop’ - where everything is worked on and stored - and manages his overhead with tight reins.
When I heard him describe the balancing act of hands-on landscaping work and running the business, not to mention a personal life with extensive volunteer commitments, I was curious how he seemed to manage it so well. A graduate of Appalachian State University, with a major in Construction, Wilser has applied the project management skills he honed during his three-year stint with a major construction firm. He also took a year off between Crowder Construction and starting T1 Earthcare, by serving in Nicaragua helping locals develop their businesses; this may account for his uncanny ability to do more with less.
At one point during our conversation, where the topics jumped around like a hummingbird hitting a rich flower garden, he was on his MacBook making sure the business end of things were running properly. His backpack and youthful appearance would have easily given people the idea he was a student studying for an exam – we were also just down the street from NC State University at a local coffeehouse. The atmosphere offered me the opportunity to ask about lead generation and how he goes about advertising and promoting his business, while in the field tending to his work.
Most of T1 Earthcare’s business seems to be referral. It’s not just from person to person. Wilser employs a Web site, blog, and contact form for prospects that are interested in their services. He also engages the broader brushstroke with his Service Magic relationship, to generate pre-qualified leads. This not only keeps a constant feed of opportunity coming his way, but also provisions a means for people to offer testimonials about his business.
When asked if he had made any mistakes in his business beyond what one would expect with growth, he pointed back to demand generation. At one point he tried door hangers; he still has leftover boxes in his garage. In his eyes, door hangers send the message you are desperate for business, and make it hard for the client to choose amongst so many others. To Wilser’s point, an email in our neighborhood seemed to validate his claim by asking how you choose a landscaper with so many people leaving leaflets at your door, or pinned to your mailbox post – they obviously were looking for a referral.
Wilser knows the kind of work that suits his business best. While talking, he took me through some of the incoming leads and email, citing those that would work well, and others that would be best for someone else. He has self-imposed limits on the kind of business he should take, in an effort to provide the best service and lead to a mutually beneficial relationship.
When asked about using an email newsletter and other social media marketing for contacting clients and prospects, he was uncertain how that would work well in his current model. He practices a true 1:1 marketing approach by sending individual emails to clients after each job; he will point out areas that need their attention as well as things they could do to improve or spruce-up their current landscape.
Growth may come from acquisition in the future. It’s clear he wants to see the company continue their current path of success. But he is also careful to note that he practices a very hands-on effort in what he does. While touring his client, he introduced me to his landscapers, and then would carefully hold a plant in his hand to explain why he chose that plant for this location. It’s this personal touch that has led to his early success. The question will become, how can he hold onto that personalization as he attempts to expand and add additional work in the future?