Happy spring. As you gear up for the season, there's no doubt that hiring is on your mind, maybe even keeping you awake at night. While we can't wave a magic wand and solve the nation's labor challenges, the show must go on. Spring is here and in today's episode, we're going to hear seven landscape leaders share their best recruiting and retention secrets. Plus, we're going to hear from an actual landscape employee who changed jobs and why money wasn't their number one motivator for doing so.
Hey, it's Jack Jostes, and welcome to The Landscaper's Guide. Now, before we hear these seven leaders share their recruiting secrets, I want to invite you to my next live webinar; The Landscaper's Ultimate Guide To Recruiting on March 24th. In this live interactive webinar, I'm going to be sharing in greater detail some of the things I'm going to share in this podcast episode, that'll help you fill open positions this spring, including real case studies of actual landscapers implementing what we're going to be sharing. So register online at landscapersguide.com/events, or see our show notes for a quick link to that registration page.
Now, right out of the gate, would it be okay if we talked about money? It's the main reason employees work places, but it certainly is not the only reason they work at places. And later on, we're going to hear from an actual landscaper about what caused them to switch, but hate the money is absolutely important and you can't be way off on your compensation. Last year, I interviewed Nate Fetig, the general manager at Alpine Gardens, a multi-million dollar commercial and residential landscape company in Colorado. He was struggling to fill some key positions for months and he took action. Big, bold action.
Increase Your Wages 30%! - Nate Fetig, Alpine Gardens
Yeah, for the last several years, it's been hard to hire, but it seemed like this spring, the applicant pool just dried up. We weren't getting any applications and so then I took it upon myself to go look at what other jobs we're offering, not even necessarily in our industry, just in our area. And I decided we need to raise our starting wage to be competitive and attractive.
And by how much?
We raised every current employee's wrote wage by around 30%.
And, and so, did you notice an increase in response to your online ads for positions?
Yeah, almost immediately. We went and we posted a laborer position and in three days we had 16, 18 applications when the week before we got none.
So how do you find a 30% increase in labor? Did that day, did you also go to your customers and say, "Hey, good news everyone."
No, we understood as a business decision that we couldn't go to our clients that had already signed a contract and make our problem their problem in that instance. But that day I can tell you that we went into our estimating system and adjusted our crew average wage by 30%. So the only time we had was our current backlog, that we were going to eat a small bit of margin.
So not only did you increase the wages of your current people and the new hires, but you also adjusted promptly in your cost of goods.
So what kind of reaction came from the other side of the market? The customer.
Honestly, we didn't notice a slowdown at all.
Hell yeah. Nate Woohoo. Increase the wages for your current team and what you're offering in your new positions and then increase your rates. Love it Nate, keep up the good work. While increasing your wages and then your rates with your clients may seem like an obvious decision. Many landscape companies are afraid to do it, but like Nate shared, when you're delivering the quality that you're promising in your marketing and you have the reviews and the ratings that they have and your clients trust you, most of them will understand why you're increasing your rates. But if you're not delivering that quality and your retention isn't very strong, that's probably an area to focus on first.
Offer Paid Internships To People From Outside the Green Industry - Monique Allen, Garden Continuum
This next idea may not be so obvious. It comes from Monique Allen who runs The Garden Continuum, a landscape company out in Massachusetts. And she's also the author of Stop Landscaping, Start Life-Scaping. She's been a guest on the podcast. She's been a panelist at some of my events. She's somebody you should follow because she has a lot of great ideas. And one of the things that she realized during the last couple years is that the stress of the pandemic and the shutdowns and all kinds of things led a lot of people who had different careers up until that point to really crave working in nature.
Monique offered paid internships to people with no prior green industry experience. And here's how it went. Well, before we dig into what didn't work, tell me more. Was this internship a paid internship? Was it... Yeah. So is it a paid internship and what range of people did this? Was it high school kids? Was it retired nurses? Was it-
Nope. It was a lot of self-employed people who got ousted from their self-employment. People who did weddings, people who worked in restaurants, people who did work that already gave them flexibility, but COVID, kind of, crushed. So that would everybody with the exception of two that I hired were over 30. And one of the people that I hired was a sound engineer for theater and he just had nothing to do. And he's already a hands-on guy and his mother loved to garden and he remembered gardening with her.
He was phenomenal. He was actually so great. He did his 90 day internship, got an awesome gig for some theater. Back to back theater shows happening in Rhode Island and then said to me, "Hey, next summer, Excuse me, for the fall." He said, "I'd really like to come back next summer, because the theater just goes dormant in the summer." So I have somebody who would want to come back and I don't think he ever would've thought of gardening. And I would've never thought to talk to somebody in the sound engineering world.
Monique and I ended up having a really great hour long conversation that I edited into two podcast episodes. So I definitely recommend that you check those out in the show notes because Monique started talking about how she sees herself as a gardener of people. And she has a employee experience manager. You got to hear the interview to find out how that's working. And that reminds me of my next guest, which is my client, Ken and Patrick, from Local Roots in Pennsylvania. And they talked about how having a safe space for their employees and taking care of their emotional needs actually led them and contributes to them having a waitlist. Yes, they have an employee waitlist.
Come on. Don't bullshit me
No, really they do. And here's what they said is one of the key reasons that they have a waitlist.
Create A “Safe Space” For Your Employees + Train Them Really Well - Kenn and Patrick, Local Roots
Jack, if I could just touch on something as well, that's very serious at our company is just the concept of health and wellness and mental health. I think that's something that's been neglected a ton, especially in our industry and in just construction and the trades in general. Now it takes a lot to get certain people to talk about those things. You're not sharing everyone's business on the draw or off the draw up when you first meet someone. But the more you can create that relationship with your employees as a vulnerability or to say things like, "It's okay to not be well right now. And I'm here to listen to you or we have resources for you to talk about that stuff. It's not taboo. It's not strange. It's not weak to do this." You see a look again, like something turned on in their brains to say that says like, "I've never had an employer normalize this, let alone some... Or I've never had a family member normalize this, let alone an employer that normalizes this.
And I bring up mental health like it's very normal because it is a normal thing. And so you know the employees who come to work knowing it's a safe space and we're not just saying, "It's a safe space now rub some dirt in it and get over it." We're saying "It's a safe space. What do you need from us?" like, "Is there anything that we could possibly do in your job to make it healthier, better? Is something in your home not going super well that we need to know about that is coming into your work?" That's okay. We just need to know that it's not your job that's doing that. And so that's a human aspect that we could talk about all day, but unless you're really in tune with that and man, it sucks the energy out of you to do that.
I'm not going to lie, but it is the most valuable thing because humans are humans. They are not machines. They're not tools. Everyone has a heart. Everyone has a brain that struggles. And so it's really that's, I think, a core concept of the health of our company. And when you say at our place, "Have a good day, we so appreciate you being here." That's sincere. And you'll hear that back. All of our team members will say that same exact thing back to us and then share that to other hires, which then creates this funnel inwards, like, "Who doesn't want to work for a company that has those vibes?" Right? So that's the more intangible way.
Now hearing about employees' emotions and all these things, and core values may seem like a bunch of BS when we've got construction to do. But the fact is, like Patrick said, humans are humans and they have feelings and they want to have a relationship with you that's beyond just the grind of doing the work, but they also want to have fun. So in this next clip, we interview Wade Martin from Martin Landscapes who in his peak season has around 80 full-time people. And here's what he has to say about how he created a game out of their core values and why he sees it as a key piece of their retention.
Gamify Your Company Core Values To Engage + Retain Employees - Wade Martin, Martin Landscape
One big thing that we have, Jack, is... This idea came to me. I'm very creative. I like to think outside the box. We have poker chips, we call them culture coins. They have our core values on them; passion, pride, teamwork and relationships. These culture coins have a dollar or value on them. $5, $10 and $20. At the end of every month, we make it a game. The teams turn them in. We have flat screen TVs at both of our branches on the wall and we have a game. We see who's leading with the culture coins. They can get these coins for safety, they can get these coins for production, they can get these coins for being a good Samaritan. Just being a good person, doing something for somebody else. They can get awarded in a good way.
I keep some in my truck as well and I hand them out when I see things going well. I think nine times out of 10 people see the bad things in a person, we try to see the good and go from there. So one of the things they can buy with the culture coins is they can buy Martin landscape swag, they can buy leather boots, they can buy khaki pants, they can buy a day off, a paid day off.
Yeah. I'm an avid fisherman. If they want to go fishing with me, they can do it. They can buy lunch for their team. They can buy dinner with the owner, which is myself. There's just a bunch of things. So we got creative on that. We ask them, "Hey, what are some of the things that you guys want, you girls want?"
Because it's not about us, it's about them at the end of the day. What do they want? And they said a paid day off, things like that. So we added it. We didn't necessarily have that on there, but I said, "Hey, let's do it. They've earned it." So I think you have to reward people on what they earn, but the culture coins are a huge hit for our company. It wasn't at first, but the more we talk about it, the more we hand those chips out. You'll see these guys at the end of the day before they go home, looking at the board, "Oh man, you're leading, you've got this, you've got that." And I think internally, you learn a lot about a person. So when you see a team leader, he takes those chips and he buys lunch for his team. It really shows that he cares about not just himself, but everybody on that team. Just, you learn from other people as well. So the culture coin has been a huge, huge hit here.
Core values may seem complicated, but really, they're just an extension of you, the owner. What's important to you and how you treat other people. That's really root of core values. And you, the owner and what kind of person you are, is absolutely essential to recruiting and retaining key people. Let's hear from Kevin. He's an employee at Cornerstone Partners horticultural Services Company in Illinois. And he's going to share some of his experience about what led him beyond money to choose to work for Cornerstone.
Do Great Employees Value The Integrity Of The Owner?
Turks story. So going into what I was saying earlier about putting your best foot forward and doing what you say to your clients and backing your client representatives. My decision to change employers was solely based on compensation. My number one reason for coming here was Turk's story. His business approach in honest work, Turk sold himself.
Kevin, you said you researched that before we even met on Voyager Chicago, that Voyager article.
Accept Online Job Applications Through Your Website - Beth McGinty, McGinty Bros.
As you can see, great employees like Kevin are using the internet to evaluate their potential employers. Just as much as your potential customers are evaluating you before they contact you for an estimate. So once you're standing out, you've got to make it really easy for potential employees to apply online, to open positions through your website. Here's an interview with Beth McGinty from The McGinty Brothers, about how within just a few months of launching their website, they started getting applications for positions that they weren't getting any applicants for in the past.
And it's only February. We launched the site in December and you're already ranking on Google for all these things. We had immediate growth. Beth, tell us what are some of the results that have happened for you from a recruiting standpoint with the website?
I'd say one of the biggest ones is we have a couple jobs that are just really on the website. And in previous years, I really would never see a response. And in the last two weeks, since they've been posted, I've gotten more responses than I had in the last five years. Field labor can be a little difficult to find. Some standard job boards really are more for office type or administrative type work and not necessarily field work. So having it on your website should be a benefit and should help previous years. I never really got a response, but since launching the new website and having the job postings up there, I'm seeing a great uptick in that. And more people are calling and saying, "Oh, I saw this job ad on your website." So it's definitely just in the last two weeks, I've noticed a big difference. So it's great.
You might be thinking "Jack, this is great. It works in Georgia, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Georgia, but this won't work with my market. This won't work with my labor pool and this definitely won't work in Texas." Well, here's what Casey Down and Ennis Texas has to say about employer branding.
What I didn't realize is the huge impact on our branding that the website was having or not having and being found by.... You're not going to go work somewhere and you pull up their website and it looks like a roadside, something that will be here this month and probably gone the next. You want to work for a substantial company that has benefits that are going to be there and there's potential room for growth and learning and personal growth and can help you achieve your personal goals.
And so once we realized that and built the new sides more than one of our hires, since that fact had said, "Yeah, I went to your website, everything looked great. And we have links on there. You can fill out an application, you can email it to the proper person. You can click on our careers page. And it shows a picture of our team and then positions that are available."
And they click that position. And then they read, "Oh, I've got to be able to lift 50 pounds and I've got to work out with my son and ah, might not be a good fit." That person doesn't call us. Wonderful. I didn't have to interview that person because we put that information out there. What we're looking for very specifically, and if it doesn't fit, then hey, move along. If it does, great, give us a call.
So if it works in Texas, do you think this stuff will apply to where you are and whatever market you're in? I don't know. My hunch is yes, that the humans in your state and local market are very similar to the other humans we've talked to in the Midwest, the Northeast, the South, and even Texas. But if you're currently getting zero applicants to your position, if you're losing revenue because you're turning work away, because you're not staffed enough and you're currently recruiting like you were two years ago, then you've got to come to our live webinar, The landscaper's Ultimate Guide To Recruiting course launch on March 24th.
In this live webinar, we'll be sharing how recruiting has changed in the last two years and what you need to change now to get a response. We'll be sharing how to write compelling job advertisements and where to post them. Should you post on Facebook, Jobs and Craigslist and indeed. And how do you do that in an organized way that actually gets a response and The Landscaper's Ultimate Recruiting framework that my clients are using around the country to fill their bench with new job applicants?
This presentation is based on my personal experience of having grown my staff by over 150% over the last five years and having attracted over 1000 job applicants through my website, using the same framework that I'm now implementing with my clients. So join me. And if you're one of the first 11 registrants, I'll personally review your recruiting page, your careers page of your website, and live in the webinar. So, in any case you're going to come, you're going to need a lot of ideas and instant feedback that you can implement this season to attract great people to your team. Register online at ramblingjackson.com/events, or see the show notes for a link to the registration page. My name's Jack Jostes. Thanks so much for checking out The Landscaper's Guide. And I look forward to talking to you in the next episode.