U.S. Lawns Hall of Fame member Mike Kirk knows what it takes to retain customers and employees. He’s had one customer for over 12 years and one manager for 14 years. Other employees have been with him 4 to 10 years. What’s his formula?
There are a number of factors, the largest being Mike’s sincere love of people, which drives the loyalty of his team and his customers alike. Mike summed it up this way: “They’re like family, that’s the way we operate. We love them; it’s truly a family atmosphere. We know them personally and know their families and try to provide a good career for them so they can take care of their families.”
Success = Industry Expertise + Careful Planning + The Right People
But it has also taken industry expertise along with the ability to surround himself with the right people to realize his measure of success.
With a degree and background in accounting, Mike is a self-confessed numbers guy and is all about planning. A part of U.S. Lawns family since 2002, he owns the Northeast Mississippi territory, and operates in perfect harmony with U.S. Lawns’ model, culture, systems and philosophies.
He is quick to credit his faith for being “blessed with a very dynamic team that shares our culture, believes in our culture, and understands the importance of taking care of our customers.”
But he leaves nothing to chance, starting with his selective hiring process to vet new applicants and ensure they’ll be a good fit. He will even pay a finder’s fee to any employee that introduces a new hire that works out well and stays on for at least 90 days.
Kirk said of building a successful business, “It’s kind of like eating an elephant. It’s one bite at a time, and that’s how you get there.”
Mike plans not only for the coming year, but also takes a longer view with a three year plan. He sets out the budgets and together with his team, lays out a roadmap for how they’re going to get where they want to go.
Mike involves everyone to some extent: his managers and even some crew leaders and gardeners. It’s all part of his culture, which he aptly refers to as a family culture.
Foster Individual Accountability
His experience has proven that by understanding what it will take to get there, and setting the goals to make it happen, everyone feels some responsibility for the company’s success. At the same time, they can each see a promising career path emerging. This is just one way Mike cultivates individual accountability, which is vital.
Kirk and his management team are quick to celebrate the things employees do well. They do routine performance evaluations with employees, and offer real incentives for exemplary behavior, safe practices, and going above and beyond for the customer.
There is even a monthly “All Star” award, based on standards that include: attendance and punctuality, conduct on the job site, being properly uniformed, weekly maintenance of trucks and equipment, turning in paperwork correctly every day, keeping log books up to date, housekeeping and grounds care at the shop, completion of nightly paperwork, making the 7:02 dispatch every morning, and avoiding GPS violations such as speeding or reckless driving.
Performance recordkeeping takes place on a whiteboard out in the shop that starts each month with everyone’s name on it. If an employee commits an infraction, their name is removed. Then at the first monthly safety meeting there is a drawing from all the names remaining on the board, which awards a $300 Visa card to the winner.
Treasure Family Above All Else
They also have employee and family activities; most recently, their annual family Christmas party. Mike finds it to be most well-received when they hold it at his home as opposed to a public venue.
They provide other events throughout the year, such as taking an afternoon off with pay, or setting up games and enjoying a cookout at the shop. According to Mike, “Our workdays are long, we get tired and run down, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day to take care of everything. But we’ve found if we’ll just take some time and invest back in the team and just truly show our appreciation to them, then when we work 12 and 13 hour days they’ll hang in with us and get the job done.”
It’s not uncommon for him to take a crew to lunch when he sees they’re doing a particularly good job. And even though salary is obviously integral to keeping the team happy, he’s actually had people leave for a higher paying job only to return because they missed their U.S. Lawns family so much.
Have High Expectations And Invest In Your Team
Although Kirk may have high expectations, he’s willing to invest in his team in many ways, and he understands it matters greatly for his employees to know how much they are appreciated. He’s also an exception to the norm, as one of the original franchisees to recognize the value of keeping his team employed and together, even during the off season–an act which promotes the culture of family, and also benefits customers by having an experienced crew ready to go at spring startup.
Mike has even been known to hire in the off season if he finds a candidate he doesn’t want to lose. In his words, “If we see a good person, we make an investment in them even during a time when we really don’t need them so we’ll have them when we do. It’s an investment that has paid off for us; we’ve found exceptional people by doing it.”
Now you may wonder how to keep a crew busy in the off season, but Mike has that covered too. It takes aggressive planning and good customer relationships. The long and short of it is, by working with customers each year to establish their annual landscaping budgets and then managing to perform under budget, the result is left over money at the year’s end–a surplus customers often choose to invest on recommended enhancements that can be accomplished during the off season.
Other ways Kirk ensures the wellbeing of his team is by utilizing the comprehensive training tools provided by U.S. Lawns Home Office and investing in his facilities, vehicles, on-site training and equipment. After all, as he so perfectly articulates it, “Our jobs are tough enough with good equipment.”
Make Sure They Know How Much You Appreciate Them
In the end, Mike’s greatest motivator for his team comes from this basic philosophy: “You show someone you appreciate what they do. I still personally hand out every paycheck and shake their hands and just let them know I appreciate what they do every day. I can build relationships with the customer and sell the work, but I’m just part of the process, I can’t do it without them, and I make sure they know that.”
His is a formula that’s tried and true, and U.S. Lawns is proud to count him among our own.