October 31, 2018

Do consultants make landscaping greener?

The costs and benefits of consultants, from one landscape contractor’s experience  


Editor’s note: George Urvari and his partner Peter Guinane, operate Oriole Landscaping in Toronto, Ont., a design/build company generating $6.5 million in annual revenue.

About 15 years ago, Oriole hired its first small business consulting company. We spent about $35,000, which seemed very expensive at the time. Ironically, we did not really know what we were looking for, or which problems were most urgent. After about three weeks, we received a big report. I would say we learned a lot — or in other words, were made aware of our potential and our problems, but were not given specific solutions or tools to solve them. We learned about the 1,200 accountabilities of every business, and started on the process of figuring out who does what, and when.  Our business was going through enormous uncontrolled growth at the time, and it was chaotic, to say the least. The money was well spent and it made us wiser, but there was no direct impact on the bottom line or on improving our dysfunction.
About 10 years ago, Oriole hired a landscape business consultant after hearing his presentation at Congress. We brought him in to speak to our entire company about CHANGE at my golf club. This was the beginning of a massive restructuring campaign to change our people, our culture and our processes. We then signed up for a 52-week challenge, which was a mandatory, company-wide weekly lesson plan. The cost of this was about $13,000 +++.

What I mean by plus-plus-plus was that all our staff dedicated an hour each week to training. So let’s say 30 people at $20 per hour, or $600 per day, plus the cost of not working those hours — so double that and we are at a minimum of $1,200 x 52 weeks and it’s $62,400. Money well spent. It’s actually even more expensive when you factor in travel time to get to our meetings during productive business hours.

The training actually changed our people, our culture and our processes, as promised. There are positive people and there are negative people. Over the course of the year, we cleared out 50 per cent of our employees. With the help of our positive staff, the morale and spirit of the company improved.

When it came to cultural changes, we all learned that most changes are slow, but as long as there is continual change things improve. When you look back in the mirror five to 10 years later, the improvements are incredible. Staff thinking is more open and less skeptical.

Regarding processes, you can only make improvements if you have great processes and they can only happen if the people and cultural changes happen. We implemented 5S, Nine Types of Waste, The Five Whys, Kaizen and smarter, faster decision making.
Proof is in the pudding.  Our company is better run, better organized, and runs smoother with happier, better-paid employees. In fact, I am writing this article while sitting in a 10,000 sq. ft. Spanish villa overlooking the Mediterranean Sea and things back at Oriole are just fine ... I could have never achieved this without consultants.

About seven years ago we hired a marketing consultant, with the goal of not increasing, but improving, the quality of our customers. I am told our website is fantastic. This company helped us develop a screening process, so we do not waste time on dead-end leads, while reinforcing our brand. Our company motto — to turn every customer into a raving fan — has largely been possible because of all the consultants we have hired in the past.
Finally, about eight years ago we subscribed to an online software interface for landscape companies, which has helped a ton. Although this company does not do consulting, they provide a fantastic two-day mini-MBA course. I have had the privilege of teaching this course all over North America, helping contractors implement the ideas in their businesses with great results. 

Most of us started our companies not as business graduates, but as tradespeople. Consultants are a great way to get your business education on-the-job, because self learning is very expensive.

Interestingly, when I started my business what I really wanted to do was to teach, mentor and most of all help people. In landscaping, I help people have a great experience, create gardens that appreciate and make spaces that are useful. In my upcoming retirement years, I will be doing the same thing as a consultant myself — not just working on landscapes, but helping others to realize their full potential as business owners.