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100 years and going strong – Insights from Harder Services Inc

October 29, 2020

In this episode of the Green Industry Perspectives Podcast, Ty Deemer welcomes Jack Harder to the show! Jack is the general manager of Harder Services Inc located in New York. Jack spends his time on the show sharing how Harder Services honors their rich 100-year tradition, while continually pushing themselves to embrace modern best practices. He goes into detail in how they prioritize communication and accountability while emphasizing the importance of making data-driven decisions. 

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On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Harder Services has grown and adapted since 1922.
  • How to effectivley track your accounts receivable.
  • An easy way to follow up with overdue invoices.
  • How Harder Services prioritizes communication.

Links to love

Full Transcript:

Ty Deemer:
You are listening to The Green Industry Perspectives podcast, presented by SingleOps, a podcast created for green industry professionals looking for best practices, tactics and tips on running their tree care or landscape business.

All right, everyone. Welcome back to Green Industry Perspectives. Today we get the really cool opportunity to welcome Jack Harder onto the show. Jack is the general manager at Harder Services located in New York. Jack, welcome to the show.

Jack Harder:
Hey, how you doing? Glad to be here.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, absolutely. So, Jack, I know you have listened to the show before and to stay on theme, we always like to ask the same question to provide some immediate value for our audience. Jack, in your experience what are the top three things or common threads that have made your business Harder Services successful over the years?

Jack Harder:
Yeah, definitely. Love the show. I would say top three things would be communication, accountability and reliability. And you can stretch those any which way but for us, a big part of communication is being in touch with our customers, letting them know about scheduling issues and being forthcoming with them when things come up. People appreciate the honesty if you call somebody and tell them listen, I know we were going to try to get there today, the weather, etc. rather than surprising people in an unpleasant way. Accountability, making sure that everybody up and down the chain understands their responsibilities and they can accomplish what they need to accomplish. And reliability, one thing we say around here all the time is do what you say and say what you do. It ties back into communication but if you tell somebody that you’re going to be at their house for an estimate at a certain time, they’re relying on you. Their time is important too. So, you want to show the customers that respect. So, those three things help us to be successful.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, that’s all really awesome stuff and I’m sure we can dive into those a little bit more as we go on with the show. We always like to ask our guests kind of just to share their background about not only themselves but also their business just so the listeners out there can really understand your perspective and where you’re coming from. So, would you just kind of describe how you got into the industry and where you are today with it?

Jack Harder:
Sure. Me personally, I got a summer job years ago, long, long, long time ago working for a golf course near my parents’ house. And I had a lot of friends that went into the caddy yard. I tried it and I just didn’t really like sitting around doing nothing and waiting to get picked. So, I got a job working with the grounds crew and I loved it. It was early mornings but I was done by early afternoon and on the beach by 2:30, 3 o’clock some days where my friends were sitting there waiting to get picked until four in the afternoon. So, I really enjoyed working outdoors. I learned a lot of the equipment. That was really my first experience in landscaping. I kind of transitioned from there to working for our company during summers in college, working on our install crew in New York City and that was an interesting experience. I learned a lot about plants and about construction sites in general, how the industry works from working with one of our older crew foremen who knowing that I was the son of one of the owners and our direct boss was my uncle, he kind of would introduce me to people and introduce me to the supervisors on the job site and I got a lot of insight into how construction sites worked and that helped kind of guide some of my interest in our install projects later on.

I graduated from college with a degree in marketing and business law and I kind of thought this would be a stepping stone to finding a job, doing something else and I quickly realized that the types of businesses that I was interviewing with were not anywhere close to outdoors. It would have been a lot of indoor. At that time, everything was cubicles and it didn’t appeal to me. So, after a couple of months and conversation with my dad, he basically said look, if you want to stay, I have a position for you. I think you’d be really helpful here, bring a young back and a young mind and help us out. So, I took advantage of the opportunity and there have been a lot of things that have fallen in my lap. A small business like this, everybody wears many hats and one of them has been basically to take what was at the time a 90-year-old business, what was? 86, 87-year-old business and shove it into the 21st century. And that’s one thing that’s been kind of like an underlying theme to my career here is how can we take the same results which is being successful and happy customers and achieve it using a better way, a newer way, improving our technologies and improving our processes. So, it’s been a long road.

Somewhere along the way, I kind of, there was a fork in the road and I took it and started looking more on the tree side. Became a certified arborist, utility arborist, municipal arborist, track credential, embraced more the TCIA, for example, and the ISA as organizations that I helped to drive my education and my career. So, I still work in landscaping a lot but I would say I consider myself more of a tree professional at this point doing consultation and selling work that’s more tree related than landscaping. But our company does landscaping, maintenance, tree care and IPM and I’m involved at least a bit in all of that. So, very happy where I am right now. I think we’ve achieved a lot in the last 20 years. I started in 2004. So, approaching 20 years. But it’s been a lot of fun and I’ve certainly been able to stay outside as much as I want which is I realized way back then that was something I wanted to do and I’m happy I’ve been able to find a successful career staying outside.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, that’s awesome stuff, Jack. I think you took the right fork in the road for you. That’s for sure. Just you kind of mentioned it but can you go and do a little level deeper of Harder Services as a 98-year-old business. What all types of services do you offer and just some of the successes y’all have had over the years?

Jack Harder:
Sure. Business was started in 1922 by my great-grandfather. I had an opportunity to sit down my grandfather. He is 91, still around, not as involved in the business as he was years ago but he still pops into the office and checks on us from time to time. But I had an opportunity to sit down with him a few years ago and really more or less interview him about what he remembers of his father. The business got started as an extermination company with I believe it was rat poison. My great-grandfather worked on the docks in New York harbor and had an opportunity to purchase a lot of this product that went unclaimed and he started a business and picked up earned some success as an extermination company and built it from there. And it wasn’t until my grandfather graduated from Purdue in the 50s and basically came back from college and a stint in the army and said we’re going to get into the tree business. And since then, we’ve basically shed the exterminator division of the company in the early 90s when pretty much everything was getting banned and it was like a kind of a red flag kind of industry and we focused on tree care and kind of branched off into landscaping which they kind of go hand in hand. There’s plenty of businesses that are concentrating on one or the other.

But we’ve embraced being able to offer landscape installation and maintenance services, tree care, utility, municipal, residential, commercial, integrated pest management and plant health care and all four of those things can all lead into each other. So, we have a good spread of customers where we’ll install their whole landscaping for them, we’ll maintain it for them, we’ll treat their trees and shrubs if they get any kind of invasive pests and if there’s large shade trees on the property, we can prune them. So, we take great pride being able to say to our customers look, every time somebody comes to service your property, they’re going to have a Harder shirt on. We’re not going to sub out this or that and surprise you with something. We don’t actually do what we did in 1922 anymore which I think it’s kind of funny but the fact that it was just a gradual shift over a number of decades and we have a good formula that works for us now.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, that’s awesome. Like I mentioned before we hopped on the call, I follow y’all on social media and one thing that I love, Jill posted it a few weeks ago, I think it was your great-granddad’s business card from back in the day. That was really cool.

Jack Harder:
I think my dad said he found that at my grandparents’ house. I think he had like five or six of them and there’s all kinds of crazy stuff and I try to, that was like I mentioned earlier, one of the many hats that I’ve put on. This was one I put on myself years ago was I guess social media coordinator which in various industries that that’s a position in and of itself. But taking Facebook and Instagram and the Google business page and claiming it or setting it up. I try to post a lot of that stuff and sometimes I get a little too busy for it. But I have loads of pictures. I mean for a while you couldn’t open a file cabinet in this office or clean off a shelf without finding old black and white pictures of—I think this one right here behind me is our yard. That’s a view of like right across our yard. Those trucks are 1930s. I forget the make and model of them but I do like to try to shoot some of that stuff out because it’s a cool throwback. I actually discovered I think it was a few years ago, I had I had no idea at the time that my grandfather had basically like a catalog arborist supply company. I think they had it going for maybe six or seven years so not that long but I have the catalog. It was the Harder Arborist Supply Company. Like you would go to another website or another store to buy a saddle or buy a pole saw or something like that. People bought them from us way back when. So, a lot of fun history here.

Ty Deemer:
That’s awesome. Yeah, I thought that post was really cool and it was part of kind of why we wanted to have you on a show and we’ll go into this as we go into kind of the more topical discussions as we go. But it’s a 100-year-old company that’s like striving to be brought into the 21st century and it’s such a cool concept because you’re embracing all of this change and all of this growth while acknowledging like y’all’s very rich history. So, I love the business card post. I thought that was really cool. Yeah. So, let’s go ahead and dive a little deeper on some of the things we’ve already talked about, when you went in about your top three things, common threads that have really helped Harder Services grow over the years. The first one was communication and that’s definitely something that we see across the industry whether it’s communicating internally within your team to make sure everyone is clear and thoughtful expectations about what you’re providing to your customers but also communication with your customers. Talk to me through some of the different strategies y’all have to kind of make sure in both areas, internally and externally, that y’all are really making sure that communication is something y’all prioritize.

Jack Harder:
Yeah. That’s definitely a big one and that also especially these days ties into some of the newer technology. I think the easiest avenue for us now, everybody has a cell phone. We do a lot of a lot of text messaging throughout the day and a lot of group texting because it’s an easy way to loop in different people who might not be directly involved with that specific situation but who would need to know about it. When it comes to internal communications, I mean everybody will email and everybody understands that they’re on top of their email. But throughout the day whether it’s supervisor to supervisor or looping in crew foreman or sending pictures to us for various reasons, there’s a lot of good and available technology out there that has really helped improve communication. And it cuts down on mistakes, it cuts down on having to go back to jobs if somebody forgot something. Maybe I’ll send a picture and I’ll say don’t forget to pull out this bush over here or something like that where things come up throughout the day, where I’ll get a message what about this? Oh, okay, yes, pull that out. And that helps our efficiency tremendously.

When it comes to customers, I would say probably maybe six or seven years ago if I remember correctly was when we really started trying to push to get email address from customers and even at that point, we still had a lot of customers that had an email address but didn’t want to give it up for one reason or another or they preferred not to give it to us because they wanted a paper proposal and that number shrank to almost nothing over the last few years. So, now people prefer the email proposal, they want to be able to get it wherever they are, maybe they’re not home and they don’t want to wait till they get home from work to check their mailbox. I mean I have plenty of customers now, I’ll call them on the phone when I’m going to look at their property for whatever estimate, they’re at work. I’ll talk to them briefly. Maybe I’ll call them with a question while I’m there and then I’ll send over their estimate. And all while at work or out with their kids or doing whatever they’re doing, they explain to me what they want, they get the estimate, maybe they’ll ask a question and then they’ll approve it right then and there. So, the whole process moves so much faster than it used to where my estimate would just be sitting there.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. That’s just like the benefit of living in real time instead of going to their house while they’re at work drafting up a proposal, not really being able to talk to them while you’re doing it if you have any questions, putting a proposal down, leaving it on their doorstep or like on the property. They get home from work, then they approve it, mail it back to you. Like stuff like that. It’s just like you’ve cut so many of the processes out.

Jack Harder:
I mean when I got started, that was how it was. I remember the form but we still have them because we use them from time to time. If a customer either doesn’t have email or really prefers handwritten, we still use them. But when I first started, it was like plopped on my desk, here’s a box of forms and the pink, yellow and orange triplicate form and oh my gosh, I was not a fan.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. Kind of a follow-up question on communication, with customers that are recurring like people that are just regular customers, maybe it’s once a year that you trim some trees on their property or have a service, how does your customer base typically request work for you? Do they call in? Do you have something on your website? How do y’all receive those like requests for service?

Jack Harder:
From current customers, a lot of them will email in, a lot of them will call in. Since we’ve been using SingleOps and we’ve really taken advantage of the customer portal over the last couple of years, we do have a number of customers who will use that to request service which is great. The right people get the email once when it’s submitted. We have the link on our website that goes right to that request for service. So, if it’s an existing customer, they’re going through the same process and we get the email that they’re looking for something and depending on who the sales rep is, they can call them right back. I mean I get them throughout the day and as soon as I see that it’s a current customer and they need something, if it’s a quick question, I’ll call them back and answer their question. If it’s a request for service, I can work in getting to their property to give them an estimate. But a lot of people still call. We have a lot of customers that have been working with us for a long, long time. So, they know our office staff. That’s a big part of communication. One thing that we like to pride ourselves in is when you call our office, you’re going to get somebody answering the phone. You’ll only end up in the voicemail phone tree if everybody’s busy or if you call when our office is closed.

But rather than getting bounced around through a press one for this or two for that, you call our office and human beings can answer the phone and talk to you about whatever you need and be able to get you to whoever you need to speak to. So, we have a number of people who—because they’re familiar with our office staff. They know when they call. They’re like oh, hey, Teresa, it’s Mrs. Smith. I just have had a quick question for Hank about these shrubs. And so, there’s more like we mentioned with the emails. Over time, more and more people are emailing in a little bit more regularly. But any way that our customers feel like they want to get us, we want to make it as easy as possible for them. I have customers that text me. We’re buddies. We’re texting about Game of Thrones or something and he’s like oh, by the way, did you find out about that price for the tree? I’m like oh, yeah, let me get it to you. It’s very easy now. We try to make it as easy as possible for customers to get us.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, absolutely. That’s kind of why I asked is because when we’re talking to people in the industry, one thing we hear and we’ve heard this stat is that 80% of jobs go to the first bidder. So, your ability to receive that call quickly and then act on it is just huge for your business and other businesses like yours. Because people have grown to expect like this Amazon Prime like service where they can get what they want quickly and efficiently and it be of little effort to them. So, that’s awesome that y’all have all that in place. You also at the beginning of the show talked about accountability and really making sure that your team is held accountable for all of the work that y’all have out there that you’re staying accountable to what you say you’re going to do with your customers. What are some of the systems you have in place to make sure that you’re holding your team accountable to the standard y’all have set?

Jack Harder:
That’s a good question and I think that definitely leads into a longer term plan that I have and that we have that we started when we got on board with SingleOps in late 2018. With the improvements in communication, with the improvements in being able to keep better track of the data related to our jobs, lead conversions, sales, invoicing, revenue, I think with a lot of the increased visibility in in the company vitals coming from a system like SingleOps especially when used in conjunction with QuickBooks, what we’ve been doing over this past year, what I’ve been doing, you mentioned you had conversations with Benny about some of the numbers and reports I’m using.

My goal for this winter, this offseason quote-unquote that everybody likes to call it even though I get told that every year I will do that when it’s quiet, we’ll do that when it’s quiet. Somehow it’s never as quiet as everybody thinks it’s going to be which is not a bad thing. But one of my goals this offseason is to develop some more programs where we can use some of that data to sit down with like with our maintenance supervisor, for example, and say okay, here’s how we did last year. These accounts made this much margin, these accounts made that much, these accounts weren’t so hot. Let’s look at why. Was it an issue of pricing it too low or was it a situation where the crew foreman knew that if he just took an extra 15-20 minutes on this job at the end of the day, then he would get stuck in extra traffic coming back and he just wanted to make sure he got that extra hour of overtime which is something that’s happened and be able to put together a framework for 2021 and say okay, here’s the level where we want to be throughout the year timing wise, quality control wise and this is where we want to stay and if there’s something that drops below that threshold, we can be able to identify it quickly.

I’m sure if you mention my name to Benny and she’s going to say oh my gosh, his emails are crazy. She’s been a big help but we’ve had a lot of very thorough reports developed from SingleOps that have helped us to see these things. Now I can look at him and I can see them. We haven’t brought it into mainstream yet but just generally speaking, we have a couple of supervisors that handle certain things whether it’s tree division, landscape installation division, the maintenance division. And over the last few years, we’ve pushed them to understand there’s a hierarchy. These are your guys working under you. So, if a maintenance crew, if a guy cuts his hand on a maintenance crew, don’t call me while I’m in midtown Manhattan. It’s got to go this way. You speak with him, he will take care of it and so on. Again, a lot of things related to this question tie back into a small business and any small business owner will tell you that they need to be involved in everything. And there’s a lot of podcasts whether it’s green industry related or sales related or business related and that’s one of the hardest things for a small business owner, a small business operator is to separate themselves from a situation and let somebody else have the responsibility to handle it and that’s something I’ve been trying to—I needed a pretty big crowbar to try and pry my dad back from some of these.

But to start to form it into a much more cohesive hierarchy so if there’s a problem with a maintenance account or a customer calls up with a lawn issue, I can go to Mark, our maintenance supervisor and I can say Mark, Mr. Smith called about this. Tell me about it. What have you seen being out there on the jobs? Or same thing with our install, this guy might send in an email and say hey, there’s a huge mess here in the lobby. What happened? And I could say Joe, these guys were on that install job yesterday. What happened? You’re the one there, you’re the next chain of command. Tell me what happened. And we try to enforce that and impress upon that level of management and I definitely consider myself among that group with a little bit of everything that there’s a responsibility there. Don’t throw your hands up when a situation comes up to you and say don’t tell me. Go call Jack or Hank.

Step up and deal with it and make a decision, stand by the decision and if it turns out that maybe it wasn’t the greatest decision, I’m not going to tear your head off. We’re going to say listen, next time, we’ll do it this way but I want you to take responsibility, make the decision, solve the problem and then tell me later this came up and I took care of it. So, being able to kind of compartmentalize things like that takes a lot off of my dad’s plate and my uncle’s plate because they have enough to deal with running the business overall. They don’t need to know that a wheel fell off a lawnmower, for example, that kind of thing. So, the accountability is you handle your guys that are working right under you and bring the business owners in if the situation gets that critical.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. And that’s awesome that you’re kind of training your team to do that because it’s what we hear all the time talking about people saying like, business owners saying if only I could clone myself. Like if only I could just have them care about all the things that I care about. But that’s in a sense what you’re doing because you’re giving them the tools and the ownership to say hey, no, like this is your situation. I’m here to support you in any way I can but like you’ve got to own it and that’s key to actually growing your business because if you’re trying to put out all the fires every day, like you’re just going to, your bandwidth is going to be taken from like making those bigger growth decisions.

Jack Harder:
Sure. Yeah, and it’s very true. I find myself in in kind of a unique position. I’m not an owner. It’s my dad and my uncle that are the owners. But obviously, I have a pretty significant relationship with the owners and I understand the way that the work is being done. I’ve been on the crews, I’ve done the work and there’s still a few guys here that are still working here who I was digging holes next to years ago. So, there’s still a friendly relationship and a good understanding that we understand how the work needs to get done, we understand the timing, we understand what we need to provide to our crews for them to be efficient and effective. And on the flip side of that coin, everybody still remembers and it still happens day-to-day but everybody still knows that if I want to be 100% certain that this situation is going to get taken care of, I’m going right to the big guy. I’m going right to the boss if I lose my rake or if I break a pole saw or something. So, it’s kind of getting everybody into that mindset that don’t just bypass somebody and call Hank or call Billy in the middle of the day and say I got a flat tire. There’s somebody there in between that can help you handle it and probably can help you handle it more effectively because that’s their job. So, I’m trying to balance both aspects of that. I’m not going to tell anybody don’t call me. I’ll deal with something if it comes across my plate. But at the same time, if I’m geographically very far away from the problem and somebody who’s better equipped to handle it is closer, then go that way and get the situation taken care of.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. And that goes back to your kind of first point about communication. It’s like part of communication is knowing what to say to the person but it’s also knowing which person to say it to so directing them to the right source. Well, that’s great. That’s a really good segue to kind of our next topic that I want to go through. You’ve mentioned some of the reports that you base your business off of. You brought up Benny and she shared with me that you’re someone who’s a very data-driven guy, that you want to know the numbers and then make educated decisions based off of those numbers. So, for people out there, for business owners that don’t have a set of reports that they look at regularly for their business, what are some of those reports that you go to daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly to look at how the business is doing? And then what types of decisions are being based off of those? And I know that’s a little bit of a loaded question but let’s kind of break them down, top two to three reports that you look at regularly, what they mean and then kind of the decisions you’re making off of those.

Jack Harder:
Okay. Yeah, definitely a lot to unpack in there and there’s a lot of ways you can go with that. First thing I would say is that every business is definitely unique in what you do and how you want to do it. But I think overall, the number one most important statistic that any business should keep track of is profitability. If you’re not making money, then you’re not in business. That’s far and away the most important thing that you need to keep track of. We have weekly meetings and the top two reports that we look at is receivables and payables and just at a very high level, as long as our receivables are where they need to be and our payables are where they need to be, then we’re happy overall and we have a full-time bookkeeper that works with us and we have monthly P&L statements that we look at.

So, we’re tracking expenses month-to-month and basically, at a very high level, it’s just noticing if anything ticks up or ticks down unusually or if it compares to the prior year in a strange way. And maybe we’ll see that landscape installation sales increased by 15% but landscape materials expenses increased by 50%. So, what’s the reason for that? Maybe we’re using more expensive materials, maybe costs went up. There’s explanations for it. It’s not always it’s a bad thing or that somebody did something wrong but it’s a red flag and we’ll talk about it and go from there. When it comes to receivables, there’s a lot in there that we’ve found over the years are basically red flags that it forces us to deal with. For example, we have a lot of maintenance customers and we have a lot of maintenance customers that used to get our paper bills and they would get it on the second or third of the month and they would put it wherever they put it and forget about it.

And one of the things that has helped us leading back to communication, I feel like everything revolves around communication, following up with customers via email using SingleOps has enabled us to kind of stay in the front of their mind instead of being forgotten. So, I think just to wrap that part up, profitability and receivables and payables is very important. If you know that your customers owe you this much money that’s fresh, they owe this much at 30 to 60 and this much stretching beyond 60, you can make an informed decision on how to act. Maybe that customer owes you a bill from 45 days ago and they’re calling you three times a day because they want you to come do something else versus somebody who’s paid up and is a good payer and is a good customer and they’re calling you. Who are you going to jump on first?

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, that’s all awesome stuff because that’s kind of what I was going to go into like as a little subset there is that information on that receivables report that you go through. Can you go into a little bit more detail on how you act on that? I know you just covered it. But do you have like set cadences for how you email customers that still owe you and what all does that look like?

Jack Harder:
Sure. One of the aspects of this system that we use SingleOps that I jumped on was email templates and I think it was very useful in in setting up, I set up three. The first one and I have them labeled so they’re in order, one, two, three. And first one is we completed your work, here’s your invoice, hope everything’s great, any issues give us a shout or click to pay. Number two, we usually will send out after about 30 days and it’s just hey, just a reminder your bill is past due or depending on what the terms were whether it’s due on receipt or 30 days or whatever it is, when appropriate, we would send it out and it’ll say in a little more angry language, a little more aggressive language, some bold and caps lock, stuff like that, your bill’s pass due, please click here to pay it, if there’s any issues, please contact our office right away. This past year, we found a need to put in a third one that informs the customer especially if they’re a maintenance customer or an IPM customer, we’re suspending service on your account due to non-payment. And that’s mentioned in the second one if you get to this many days, we’re going to suspend service and then if you get to like way down this many days, then we’re putting it into collections.

Fortunately, we don’t have to do that very often. I can’t remember the last time we actually got to that point. But you get that third email, now you know we’re not coming to cut your grass anymore. You’re that far behind, you’re that unresponsive and it makes it very easy because you’re just clicking message and picking the template and away it goes. So, we try to stay on top of people when they get to that point and that’s a part of our weekly meetings is we go through and if there’s any people that are approaching that longer threshold, we’ll just point it out to whoever the rep is. And a lot of times if it’s one of my customers right from the meeting as we’re talking about it, I’m just sending them the email or sending them the text message, hey, you have a bill due, check the portal. But yeah, that definitely impacts a lot. And actually, what I found is I don’t even know if I could throw a number, let’s just say 50% just to put a number on it of the people that I will email in that situation, maybe I’ll send out 10 emails like with the first or second email invoice template, half of them will pay that day. They’ll see the link and they’ll click it and I have a lot of friends that are customers and they’re like you know what? I forgot and now that the link is right in front of me, I just click it and pay it and then I’m done with it.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, that’s huge. And most of the times, like I think you mentioned this earlier, it’s not like it’s malicious or they’re trying to avoid paying you. People just forget and if you can just have an easy way to remind them, it goes far.

Jack Harder:
Definitely. And I like the text option too. I don’t use that, I didn’t develop that as much as the email template. I pretty much only use that with customers that are my friends. But the text will say check your portal or something like that. So, whether they’re in a position to receive email or not, they’ll get that and that’s just a little nudge. So, that’s definitely a good thing.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, for sure. So, what are some of the other reports you use to drive decisions? You mentioned the ones you cover every weekly meeting. But what are some of the other ones?

Jack Harder:
Well, one of the bigger ones that Benny helped me with not that long ago, maybe within a couple months, relates to our maintenance accounts and that’s a big one because when I was first getting started in selling, I never liked maintenance leads. I could go to a house and I could tell you exactly what equipment was needed, I could see, I figured it might be this long but there’s a lot of ins and outs to maintenance that go beyond just that one visit. We incorporate a lot of different services that some other company, I mean every maintenance company does it to an extent but we wrap it all up into our contract. We shear, we fertilize, we could treat your lawn for lawn issues if you want to include that, we can put down mulch, we can aerate. You’re looking at a property and not only are you trying to visualize how long it’s going to take to cover that lawn area with whatever mowers you’re going to use, edging, you’ve got to consider shearing, do they have privet hedge, do they want it sheer tight, do they want everything sheer in a ball, are they okay with a little bit of a rough look? There’s a lot of ins and outs to it and in the very beginning with my first bunch, I didn’t like it at all. I felt like I was overwhelmed standing there trying to figure all this out whereas I could go to a property and say oh, you want to remove your pin oak. Okay, no problem. Here you go.

But once I started spending more time with our maintenance supervisor who’s since retired and kind of shadowing him around and learning from him, the picture got a lot clearer and when it came to pricing, I was able to kind of visualize okay, it’s going to take this amount of time for this long during the year and then it’s going to increase to this and then it’s going to decrease to that and then leaf season comes. And the picture came a lot clearer. What I wanted to do with that report that I had Benny help me with is it puts the price per service up against each weekly service in terms of time and cost. So, I can look on a rolling basis, I could look right now, I think off the top of my head, I think we’re at week 23 something like that. I can look at let’s just say 23 weeks of service and I can see what the margin is per visit throughout the entire year knowing that there’s going to be a few where it’s going to be way over. Maybe I figured we would be there for 30 minutes and on that one visit they were there for 60 minutes. But I know that that’s because they were top dressing and dethatching the lawn that day or there was a 45-minute visit and that was the day that they shared all the shrubs.

Every other time, they’re right on track. And that enables me to look at an account overall or break down the crews week-by-week and say okay, Crew A is right on target with his timing. Crew B, your margin on the visits dropped by 15% from this week to last week. What happened? Did we add a new stop? Did you get a flat tire at some point? Like find out what the reasoning is. And that report is something that we actually talked about last week and I’m going to prepare that for my dad and my uncle for tomorrow so that we can look at it and have a conversation about pricing for next year. And that’s one thing I want to incorporate more mainstream into next year and bring our maintenance supervisor in and be able to sit down with Mark and say here are the goals, here is how the sales reps planned out these jobs, here’s what we think it’s going to take to do them and what the cost should be. So, we’ll set up a range, however it’s appropriate and we’ll be able to say on a week-by-week basis, I’m going to get you this information that’s going to enable you to go to this foreman and say hey, we got to move faster on this job or why are we taking so long on that job.

I don’t want to jump ahead but I know there was another question that you mentioned about failure but this was a situation that came to mind. I had a customer who owned a second property, a rental property and she called me up about pricing at the rental property that I guess her mother passed away and she converted into a rental property and said I’d like you to go and take care of it. So, I went down there. I took a look. It was a big yard and I said this is a piece of cake. We can just roll in there with the riding mower. She doesn’t want anything fancy. She just wants it mowed and technique. So, I gave her a pretty good price. This was about halfway through 2019. I just happened to check and the information was in SingleOps. We didn’t have the report yet but I checked it looking into the job and I saw that it looked like it was costing us almost double what the per visit price was and I’m like I don’t know what the hell’s going on here. So, I went out there and I found the crew foreman when he was on the job one day and I noticed that they were cutting this huge big yard with lawn boys. So, I said how come you’re not using the riding mower? He said because the gate’s too small. And I was like light bulb. I’m like oh, you’re kidding me. I’m like I looked at it. It looked like a normal sized gate opening and I went and measured it. It was about three inches too small to fit the riding mower through it. So, I learned a valuable lesson there. I always have a tape measure in my pocket when I look at properties now. But that’s something that this report would pick up and red flag earlier in the season and give us an opportunity to maybe either approach the customer and talk to them about it or add another guy to the crew, change the equipment, etc.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, that’s awesome information because that’s such an honest conversation you can have with the customer. Like it’s not like you’re nickel and diming them. It’s just being truthful. It’s like look, like our riding lawn mower, it has this width, your gate has this width. It’s not going to fit. Here’s why this might cost a little bit more or you can pivot in how you offer the service. That’s like crazy information to have. And then like I love the fact that you mentioned like using those reports to forecast for the next year. Like you’re just living in real time and instead of basing it off of assumptions, you’re planning out how to like run your business with like real-time data that like will be really meaningful. And talk about communication to your team, it’s just setting them up for success with objective goals to hit.

Jack Harder:
Yeah. And I think one of the guests on last season mentioned that that she had set up a system of rewarding her crews based on quality and I really like that idea. I think that was really cool idea. I think her shtick was like a one-question survey after the services. And using the email templates, I kind of played around with one, that and a form, a quick survey form and I’m playing with it. Like I mentioned, I have a few friends that are customers. So, I use them as my guinea pigs whenever I’m trying something out. But that was one thing I really wanted to try to push for next year. But at the very minimum, right now the data is is there a complaint, yes or no. And people call in with all kinds of things, requests and such. But there are certain indicators that we see that something’s not going right on a job. I don’t always need the report to see that we’re not fulfilling our responsibilities on the job when the customer’s calling and saying they left, they forgot to blow out the leaves from the bed by the back door or they left my gate open again and my dog got out again. Little things like that that indicate that the crew’s rushing or not performing properly.

But hearing how she framed out on the show, how she framed out that system is something that I would like to try to incorporate into this for next year whether it’s like here’s our targets for this week and you guys hit your targets and accomplish everything you need to accomplish without any complaints, here’s something. I’ve read about all kinds of things whether [inaudible 00:41:10] or cash or whatever but something to kind of make everybody feel good about how they’re performing for the week. It’s not as much that you’re just standing there tapping your foot like come on, hurry up, hurry up, hurry up. We want the guys to take pride in what they’re doing and do a good job and that doesn’t always mean that you need to spend an hour there. You can do a good job in the appropriate amount of time and especially when it comes to something like maintenance, that’s very important. Because we offer different services, maintenance is not just covering lawns to us. We have guys that come to work for us that come from a company where the goal was just the number of lawns they mowed in a day and there’s plenty of businesses out there that are successful using that model. Like that’s how they want to run their business, that’s great.

We try to impress upon those types of employees that it’s not all about speed. If that customer thinks of us as just oh, that’s just the lawn cutter guy, like yeah, they come in here for 15 minutes a week and they just do the bare minimum, they’re not as likely to call us when they want tree service or when they decide that they want to replace all the shrubs in their backyard. They’ll think of us as like ah, yeah, those guys just, they work too quick. Like I don’t know if I want to trust them. So, we want the maintenance crews to take pride in the work that they’re doing and they do to a great extent, they’re very successful at that. I just want to be able to sit down with them and say here’s the data to support your success and here’s the level that we want to maintain throughout the season.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, that’s all awesome stuff, Jack. Because at the end of the day, in my opinion, what most people want is just a clear plan and then you’re giving them the tools they need to succeed with that information. So, that’s awesome. Kind of rounding out our conversation, we’ve talked about a lot of the ways y’all are like staying up-to-date with modern practices. We’ve also touched on how you are a 100-year-old company with a lot of rich tradition. For a listener out there that is a part of an older company that’s kind of doing maybe some of the older processes, carbon copy proposals, not using data to make decisions, what would be your elevator pitch to them to kind of hop on board to the modern way of doing things? What has it meant to you as someone who’s operating Harder Services and how could it really change their business?

Jack Harder:
It should be an easy question but it’s really thought provoking. I mean my pitch would be time. We only have so much of it whether it’s on a daily basis or a weekly basis or in general. That was my motivator is I did not enjoy leaning against the hood of my car and taking 15 minutes because my handwriting is awful and carefully writing out a proposal. And the more I was involved with becoming a certified arborist and reading through ANSI standards and going to seminars and learning a lot from a colleague who just retired last year that was an arborist for 30 plus years, the more I learned, the more I understood about the proper terminology and how to write certain things. I mean 10 different people could write prune deadwood in 10 different ways but based on certain standards, you want to have details in there. You want to put in there that you’re going to clean up and dispose of debris and all that other stuff. And I hated the writing. For me personally, I just decided that my time was better spent going to see X number of more leads that day and then I could come back to my office and my first crack at this years and years ago was just a form letter proposal. I could send out 10 form letter proposals 10 times faster than I could write out 10 handwritten proposals.

So, for me, the motivator is time. There’s lots of solutions out there and they’re designed to save you time. Time is money and for business operators and business owners out there, you need to figure out and tell yourself this is my time and this is how I value my time. I think that’s one thing that, I think the idea of opportunity cost is something that was impressed upon me at school that really resonated. And I deal with it with my dad all the time who still comes in on Saturdays and wants to dump the trucks and wants to fuel the trucks. And his answer is I can do it faster myself. And I always tell him I said yeah, but you’re here on Saturday for four hours doing all of this. Wouldn’t you rather be, he’s been getting up at like four o’clock in the morning for 100 years so it’s not like he’s going to sleep in, but sleep in for five minutes, get yourself coffee and have some pancakes and go hang out in the backyard or something like that rather than coming here every Saturday and doing this? And that’s just the clear-cut example where I try to differentiate myself from him in that I don’t feel like I’m shirking duties but if I tell you look, when these guys come in on a Friday morning, we can dump the trucks in a quarter of the time that it takes you to do it by yourself on a Saturday morning. There’s a time savings there and there’s a cost savings. So, when it comes to embracing certain technologies that you got to think about situations where you tell yourself like I don’t have time to do that. Well, what can help save you that time? If you can use an app or a new system or a new phone or whatever it may be to help save you that time, you’re going to reward yourself down the road for sure.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, that’s huge, Jack. One last question before we go. I really like to end each episode with this one. Pretty simple but what comes next for you in Harder Services as we round out 2020, go into 2021? What are you most excited about with what you’re doing or where you’re going?

Jack Harder:
Not being in 2020 anymore.

Ty Deemer:
I hear you.

Jack Harder:
The answer most commonly given. One thing I’m very excited about, we touched on some of it with the reports, just generally when we started with SingleOps, we knew this was a monumental upgrade for us. I mean the prior system we worked with for almost 25 years. So, this was a huge change, emailing things more regularly and more simply, keeping better track of customer data and using that information. So, we knew it was going to be a huge leap right off the bat and we hit the ground running and spent 2018 into 2019 developing all the big blocks, working out proposals and the document templates and stuff like that. This year, I’ve put a lot of time and effort into using that data and developing it into certain reports whether they’re SingleOps reports or more recently, we’ve been able to make our own which was a huge change, an awesome upgrade I think, but using the data to develop the reports. Going into this off season and into next year, I want to take a lot of these reports and incorporate them into the mainstream like we discussed and that’s something that I’m more looking forward to because I’ve always felt more at ease and more comfortable doing my job when I have concrete goals in front of me. My desk is a colossal mess. Well, not really. It’s more or less just organized chaos. But there’s stacks of things everywhere and I know exactly what’s in them, I know exactly what I need to do with all of them. But when I sit down on my desk and I just write out like four or five things, I need to get these four or five proposals out or whatever and I do them one at a time and I check them off, I feel so much more accomplished and I want to be able to instill that idea throughout the business and say here are the measurables, here are the things that we need to do and you do that and everything is good. And if we don’t do that, we’re going to figure out what happened, we’re going to fix it and then from there on, we will do that. So, I’m looking forward to cranking those things out for next year and using this experience with SingleOps and using the data to really help drive 2021.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, Jack, thank you so much for being on the show. We covered a ton of topics, talking about common threads that have made y’all successful. We’ve talked about making data driven decisions. And I really think the audience is going to get a ton out of it. So, thank you so much for the time. And yeah, I encourage the audience to follow Harder Services on social media. We’ll put those links in the show notes to see all the great stuff that they’re doing out in New York.

Jack Harder:
Awesome. Thanks a lot for having me. Appreciate the invitation.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, absolutely. See you, Jack.

Conclusion:
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