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A Turnaround Success Story

In this episode of the Green Industry Perspectives Podcast, Ty Deemer welcomes Gary Hardy to the show! Gary is the CEO of Brunner’s Lawn and Services and host of the podcast Beverage with Brunner’s. Gary shares how he transitioned from being a veteran seeking education to a co-owner of Brunner’s with his friend Josh and how they went from almost closing up shop to growing 18% year over year after they participated in Lawn and Landscape’s Turnaround Tour.

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ON THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL LEARN:

  • How important it is to know you are in the people business, and you do lawn care.
  • Why compassionately caring for your clients and employees will help you to become more successful.
  • A few simple ways you can add value to your clients without adding more work to your plate.
  • The difference having a good coach or mentor can make in your business and life.

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. My name is Ty Deemer. I’m the marketing manager at SingleOps and the host of this show. We’re really excited to kick off season three. And for season three we’re, kicking it off with Gary Hardy. Gary is the CEO at Brunner’s Lawn and Services, and he also hosts his own podcast. Really excited about this episode and to learn about all the stuff that him and his partner Josh are working on right now. Gary, welcome to the show. 

Gary Hardy:

Hey, what’s going on, Ty. How you doing, buddy? 

Ty Deemer:

I’m good. Thanks for joining us. Gary, we always like to start off every episode with the exact same question. And because you run the landscaping business, you can do it from the perspective of your company. We always like to ask what are the top three things Brunner’s is doing to make you all successful right now? 

Gary Hardy:

We’re finding that not being stagnant constantly no matter how big of a contract we get, to pretty much try to still strive for that next big one and keep momentum going. So not stagnant. We also try really hard to keep innovating. That’s where the whole podcast thing came in, trying a new way of marketing for us. I mean I’m in my 40s. I never thought I’d start getting into technology, but I guess better late than never. And successful companies do this, and we’re trying to get there, finding the right balance for labor rates with the quality of the employee. Because it’s so hard to get really good employees nowadays that sometimes some of these companies are throwing the bank at some of these guys, and it’s really watering down. Because then somebody who has no experience thinks, oh well, crap, I’m going to make 20 bucks an hour over here. Then those good employees, they end up going down a pipe dream and not seeing that there’s a quality company that will balance their wages and take care of them and care about them at the same time. So but our biggest thing is trying to keep innovating and finding ways to get out to new clients and continue selling to our existing clients. 

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. Yeah, we have plans to kind of touch on some of those things later on, and we’ll cover those shortly. Gary, I always like to start the episodes having the guests share their background, how they got involved in the green industry and then just kind of their journey overall. And just from some of our previous conversations and things I’ve seen covered in the Lawn and Landscape Magazine, you and your partner Josh have a pretty cool story. So I’d love for you to just share kind of for a couple minutes how you got involved and kind of what’s been the path to today. 

Gary Hardy:

Man, I could talk about me and Josh for probably eight hours straight. But yeah, so my story starts back in ’99. I joined the Army, and I did some combat deployments. I was in Yugoslavia during 9/11, and then as 9/11 happened, came back stateside and was in Afghanistan by Thanksgiving/Christmas time. I actually watched the Super Bowl that Tom Brady came in for Drew Bledsoe. I saw Tom Brady’s first game in Afghanistan. So Josh actually, when I was getting deployed to Iraq, he was dating my sister. And he came down to Savannah, Georgia. I was actually stationed down at Fort Stewart in Hinesville. And I showed him how a soldier parties. We drank some Jim Beam and went to some dance clubs out on, crap, I think it was like Chatham Parkway or something like that. Nonetheless, that friendship just kept going. When I got out of the Army, he ended up marrying my sister, and they’ve since split up and he’s now married to another beautiful woman who I consider my sister as well. But I was in college. I was a fireman at a local fire department, paramedic, and I was finishing up my bachelor’s degree. And Josh lost his job and came to me, and said, hey, Dad’s been doing this forever. Would you want to start a business with me? Said hell no. I was a soldier. My dream was to be a fireman. I loved public service. That was what I was good at. But I started doing the work and used it as a practice in a class at Antioch University where I got my bachelor’s. That’s actually where I think Martin Luther King, Jr.’s wife actually got her degree at the same school. Dave Chappelle actually lives in Yellow Springs where my school was located. But nonetheless, well, I used it as a project and my teacher said it would work. So here we are. I’m not a fireman anymore, and I own a business. I have for 10 years now. 

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. So just so people are kind of familiar with what Brunner’s does, share like where you all are located, the services you offer, maybe employee size. Just to give the audience a feel for where you all are today. 

Gary Hardy:

As far as revenue stream, we’re a little south of a million per year. We’re actually located right off I-75 in the Cincinnati-Dayton, Ohio corridor. We’re in Dayton, Ohio. We’re going to be around 30 employees or so this year. I think in 2021 we should go north of a million. We hired a business developer to start helping us with that. We’re competing against the Ground Systems which is owned by Mike Rory. We’re competing against the BrightViews, the U.S. Lawns. And those are national guys. And then we also have the local guys. So I mean it’s a tough industry. But rather than making those big leaps, we’ve kind of trotted forward, and this year, we said this is the year we’re going to take that leap. And we hired a business developer. He was an ex-employee. He liked what we were doing, got his bachelor’s degree. Now he came back, and he’s going to start doing sales for us. It’s really about just keep walking. Don’t look backwards. Just keep stepping forward. I mean I’m not rich. I live paycheck to paycheck just like everybody else. That doesn’t mean that I’m not going to create my own opportunities. And Brunner’s Lawn and Services and Josh, my best bud, he’s helped me create those opportunities, and we’re doing it for other people as well now. I mean we get some really good employees that work for us. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s awesome. Yeah, that’s a good transition kind of to our more topical conversations. Brunner’s was highlighted in Lawn and Landscape’s Turnaround Tour, and y’all had a ton of great coverage from that. But I would love to kind of have you highlight what that growth looked like for y’all in light of the Turnaround Tour and what kind of led you and Josh to begin implementing some of those bigger changes in your company. 

Gary Hardy:

Well, the biggest thing, man, with the Turnaround Tour that I got out of it—and I know in that last question you asked about our services we provide—I left that out. The Turnaround Tour taught us that we were actually in the people business that did landscaping. I focus, yeah, here locally, we do lawncare, grounds maintenance, landscape installs. But the Turnaround Tour in Lawn and Landscape Magazine really taught us how to focus on the people, not just our clients but our team. And that’s where we changed our mission statement to serve our team and our clients with integrity, dependability, and respect. It’s really important for us to always focus on those that we’re serving. And the Turnaround Tour taught me that. And they had to start really focusing on culture, looking at creating better relationships and then kind of getting me and Josh out of the field and start really focusing on running the business. I mean I’ll be honest. Until we got selected to do that, we were almost ready to kick the boot, lock the door, say have a nice day and I was going to go get a job with Paterson Air Force Base because I’m a disabled vet and could have gone on there easy. I mean I have a bachelor’s degree, eight years’ experience running a company. I would have been fine. Josh knows the industry inside and out. He could have done something else. But the Harvest Group and Lawn and Landscape Magazine really put us into a position to see, you know what? No. Change a couple things because you already got a good foundation. Change a couple things and just be patient. And that’s what we’ve been doing. We’ve been just baby steps, baby steps. Now I have an office manager, a business developer. I’m running as an accounts manager slash marketing. I have two production managers which are our other two partners. We’re going to have team supervisors. We’re going to have, we have team leaders. We got groundskeepers. And we kind of give a ladder of growth for these people. And I mean if I could sum it down into one word, what the turnaround for taught us, it would be just compassion. Start having compassion for those around you and taking care of your team and taking care of your clients and good things will happen. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. That’s awesome. When we were talking earlier, you mentioned something that it’s kind of like one of your mantras is that people work with people they know, like, and trust. And if you’re doing that not only with your customer base but with your own workforce at Brunner’s, that’s going to pay off dividends for sure. 

Gary Hardy:

Yeah. And I got to give a shout out. I can’t say that I keyed that statement though. That was actually Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI that says that. People do business with those they like, know, and trust. So I got to make sure that he’s given that. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. Well, it is a valuable lesson to learn for sure. That is a pretty good transition when we talk about your current customer base. And part of what you had mentioned earlier that you learned in the Turnaround Tour was really how to serve your current customer base. And I think that’s important. Right? Because when we talk about business development, lots of times it’s always about the new sale. How do we get new customers? But how is Brunner’s really focused on your current customer base and servicing them well to thereafter generate more business? 

Gary Hardy:

Well, we try to go out and do property inspections. If we see a dead bush, nip it in the bud, give them a proposal, and say, hey, why don’t you let us replace that bush? Sometimes they say yes, sometimes they say no. But nonetheless, that client knows that we’re being proactive on their property and actually care about their grounds and that they’re not just a financial number. I mean we’re not the cheapest. We’re not the most expensive. But nonetheless, we pride ourselves on our customer service, and good customer service created this inspection program and this inspection program’s created revenue. It’s really, really important that like at Christmas time, we pick a client and we go and we put food together for them and have a party. Like we have one property management group that we had a margarita taco party with them this year. And we chose them this year because they were smaller and with COVID-19 and all of that, everybody’s all touchy. So it is a small group. So but yeah, I mean you got to show your clients that you provide value to them not just in a service but other ways. Like we also do work with a senior living community. We take care of like 12 other properties, and we donate thousands of dollars to them. And they give us anything that we ask for. Like hey, do you want us to do this? Sure, sure. Go ahead. And they know that we’re giving back though. I mean it’s really important that you give back. You can’t just take everything in. You got to give it back. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s awesome. So if there was someone in your shoes at a different landscape or tree care company listening this episode and they wanted to implement an inspection process, what would be some of your suggestions to them? How would you suggest they build that out? 

Gary Hardy:

Well, first off, I would suggest somebody that doesn’t have those things to get an industry-specific consultant. And the reason being is we hired consultants, and that consultant, it’s the Harvest Group, the same consultants that ran the Turnaround Tour with Lawn and Landscape Magazine. We actually continued working with Ed. But having those consultants in place showed us and they helped guide us and coach us into creating. Because I tell you I can’t just from my hip tell somebody how to do it because I’m not an expert at it. What makes me good at my job is I’ll hire experts to help guide me because you got to keep learning. But those inspections are really important. If I had to say anything, just really focus on the quality of your work. Make sure that the client’s getting what they pay for. And you do that just, I mean you could go as far as have a whole template or just have a few things that you look at. Like what’s dead, what needs replanted? Just those simple things. Are their trees touching? There’s all kinds of templates that people can find online, and you can customize it to your company. But I tell you, having a consultant is very valuable. I mean all the greatest business minds have coaches. I mean it’s no different than Michael Jordan back in my day playing for the Bulls. He had a great coach. Everybody has a great coach, all these successful people. And we’re no different. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. Okay. Awesome. And that’s kind of a good transition to the next topic I wanted to go through. Part of what you learned through the Turnaround Tour was really just to become really focused on the numbers of your business and really understanding how much like gross profit margin matters and just all the different metrics behind your business. I would love for you to touch on maybe what that learning experience was like and maybe some things that you all were able to implement that really impacted that. 

Gary Hardy:

Well, let’s just say the Turnaround Tour taught me how to look at my numbers correctly. I’ll be perfectly honest. If I would have had the Turnaround Tour two years into my business, I’d be a multi-millionaire by now. I was billing everything. Like when we’d go out and do work, I was always undercharging or overcharging. The Turnaround Tour taught me to learn how to take your cost of goods and your labor to do the job and how to separate things based off maintenance, enhancements, snow. And then when you bid it, you’re not above or below. You’re right where you need to be every time. So like we shoot for a 50% gross margin, and that gross margin is after all the cost of goods to do the job and the labor to do the job. That doesn’t include the power for the building or anything like that. That’s when you get into net income and whatnot. So we shoot for 50%. If we get anything above 40%, I’m content. If you’re under 40%, you’re just paying the bills. You’re not profitable, and they taught me that. I didn’t know that. I didn’t go to school for economics. I had a minor business, but the business I took in college was more towards project management and stuff like that because I was almost finished with my degree when I decided to do this. Luckily, I had some electives left that I could take some business classes. But I didn’t know any of the economics of how to do anything. I let QuickBooks and my accountant do it for me. But they taught me that. And then now, now everything, I tell you my team gets really pissed at me sometimes because I’ll go to them, why is the gross margins low on this? Like man, what is it quality or gross margins? It’s hard to find that balance. That’s why we shoot for 50%. As long as we have great quality, we’re okay with 40%. 

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. Yeah. So I think providing the context behind like numbers weren’t necessarily like your passion or what you like knew you wanted to get involved with. Have you just learned how to like focus on them more or did you end up like bringing someone on your team that could kind of own that for you? 

Gary Hardy:

No, I own that. I’ll never give up the putting the numbers to a proposal for my team. It’s something I really like to do now that I understand it. It’s fun. Now I did hire a, I have an office manager. She does like all the bookkeeping. That stuff, somebody else can have that. But when it comes to the gross margins and the budgeting and this and that, I’ll probably never give that up because it’s important that you keep your hand in the cookie jar at least a little bit to know what’s going on. Like it’s important to not control everything, but it’s also important to still know. And running the gross margins and this and that is my way of auditing the bookkeeping and making sure that everything—because when you look at the numbers, you see everything. So it’s fun. It’s like playing Monopoly sometimes. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. That makes sense the reason I asked is because when you talk about like gross profit margin and numbers behind a business, a lot of times I feel like it’s intimidating for a lot of people. And you really in my mind have to do one or two things. Do what you did and hire a coach to give you that confidence and the knowledge to really own it well or bring someone in to help you and like just acknowledge like hey, this isn’t my strong suit. I’m more of the people person in the business, and that’s why I got into it so I need help with this. But I think both are like great solutions. 

Gary Hardy:

What makes Brunner’s work well is Josh is really technical and I’m really office. I’m really good at the administrative, doing sales. I never knew I was a salesman. Never in a million years did I realize that. I guess running my mouth all the time and being a class clown as a kid has really paid off. But nonetheless, having a good balance. I thought I knew the numbers, and it’s really simple. I mean it’s basic math that you didn’t realize that you needed to know. It’s basic algebraic formulas that you learned in seventh grade that you threw in the garbage. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s awesome. So the next kind of topic I wanted us to touch on today is just employees. Common thought in the industry or belief is that finding and retaining good employees is one of the most difficult parts of running a green industry business. It’s just hard. But based off of things I’ve read about Brunner’s, it’s something that y’all put an extreme effort towards, whether it’s through building a culture that takes care of their employees and is compassionate towards them or just like providing employees opportunities for growth within Brunner’s. So I would just love to kind of have you address the issue of hiring and retaining good employees. And then what’s your strategy towards keeping them? 

Gary Hardy:

That’s one thing that anybody in the industry, like you said, could tell you. It’s a challenge. Anyone that’s figured it out, my phone number is on our website. By all means, call me and let me know because it’s hard. So Sydney, our office manager, she’s tasked with coming up with a better recruiting plan. We’ve tried the online recruiting stuff. I’m not going to name the websites or anything. And they’ve been total failures for us. We’ve actually found that social media and doing little stupid $20 boosts on Facebook has actually gotten us more people. We had a little process that we were trying to do last year, but COVID really threw a wrench in the road because people were making more on unemployment than in a job. So why go get a job when you could take a few weeks off? But one of the things we started really trying to do is focus on retainment. We’re finding that you have to recruit less if you retain more. Although I can’t give my team that $75,000 salary that some of these other companies give them, what I can give them is a place to where they can come to work and be valued as a person and not just a number. And I’m doing that by like giving them training. Like this winter is the first year that we’ve actually kept team members on all winter long, and it sucks now because we’ve got no snow. So I have no revenue. So have a good banker. It’s really important to always have a good banker. So what we did is we picked a good book that I read in college. It’s called Crucial Conversations. And what me and Sydney, our office manager, are doing is we’re taking all of our leaders, and we’re giving them that college education that we got in 46 hours. Every Tuesday, we spend six hours or so just going through scenarios on how to be a good leader. I do offer my team retirement, and I match 3% of that. I mean it’s really just—you got to make your team feel valued. If you make your team feel valued, they’ll stay. I think it’s important too, we’re not a federal or a state job. So sometimes you got to go in and find somebody that may have been incarcerated, that changed their life around. They may be great employees. We got a team member that works for us now. He was incarcerated for a period of time. But I tell you what, this dude, he changed his life and he’s a great employee. Team members just, they love it when you value them. We took our team out on a canoe trip this year. We drank some beers, floated down a river, had designated drivers, had boxed lunches. I mean little stuff like that. We buy them breakfast, get them lunch. It’s the little things. It really is. It’s the little things. 

As far as recruitment though, man, if you can find the solution to that. Company culture and all that does not make people not be lazy. I hate to say that. I mean you could create all the opportunity in the world, and some people just don’t want to work. And that just is what it is. And I’m not going to get crazy political, but if people think $15 an hour minimum wage is going to change that, it’s not. Laziness is laziness. It’s single family homes. Video games has created laziness. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. I mean the point that you made at the beginning of the episode about compassion, whether it’s outwards towards your customers or inwards towards your employees, I think summarizes what you just shared. One thing I would love for you to highlight on is you all have created a system of kind of a tiered growth for your entry-level workers. Could you just highlight what that is and why you find it valuable to keep employees? 

Gary Hardy:

Yeah. So what we do is we have a training program that we’ve begun to do, and we start out as a Groundskeeper 1. That’s an entry-level team member. That’s somebody that has absolutely no experience whether it be a 40-year-old man or a 17-year-old high school student. And then that Groundskeeper 1, within 60 to 90 days should be able to promote to a Groundskeeper 2. And we have a set tier of wages. I will say our Groundskeeper 1 wages tier anywhere from $10 to $12 an hour. We usually start it at $12 unless they’re 16 years old in high school. And then our Groundskeeper 2 runs from $12 to $15 an hour. And then we have Team Leader 1, Team Leader 2, Team Supervisor, Production Manager, Accounts Manager and so forth. So anybody can come into Brunner’s, and to be quite honest with you, anybody can come in here and take my job if the opportunity was there. We got people on our team that have college degrees. We got people on our team that don’t even have high school diplomas. Anybody can be taught if they want to learn. And we created a system to do that, and that’s one of the things that I learned in that Turnaround Tour was how to create that tier. Now it’s really hard. It goes back to recruiting. You still got to get people that want to come in and do it. And everybody thinks that they’re worth 20 bucks an hour and they’re not. I mean I hate to say it. Not everybody’s worth that. You can become worth that. It’s important to let people know where they can go. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. That’s what I wanted to touch on because the system you’ve put in place, you could even probably pay someone at the beginning less just because they know what the opportunities are before them. And if you make it clear, like hey, if you do a set amount of work and you prove yourself in this way, you are going to progress through Brunner’s. In my mind, at least how I’m hardwired, if I was in their shoes, like if you give me a goal or give me like a clear guideline of what it looks like to grow within the company, that’s way better than living in some ambiguous format where it’s like I don’t know whenever I would get to be able to make $20 an hour. But like if you lay out, like okay, here’s level one, here’s level two, here’s level three, you can always be forward looking and going like hey, like if I put in the work, I could get to level two by the end of the year. 

Gary Hardy:

Yep. What’s also important too is not to just know where you can go but to also know where you’re going to max out. Because I’ll be perfectly honest, a company like mine, for certain people, we’re just a stepping stone because there’s some big corporate companies, man, that a really good employee, that straight and arrow, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, doesn’t do drugs, I mean there’s some employment out there that we would be a stepping stone. And that’s okay. So it’s really important that people know that tier where they’re going to stay at. I will say this. My highest level team supervisor that’s under a production manager has a question mark at the top out because we’ve never had to top it out yet. So I don’t know what that is yet. So one day, I may know what that number is, but I got some guys that work for me that have been with me since we started, and whatever they make is what top out is and nobody under them is going to know that. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. 

Gary Hardy:

Those guys have busted their butt and blood, sweat, and tears. They went through the same as me. And I’ll tell you, part of that whole career ladder goes back to yeah, you can pay somebody a little less because I’ll be honest with you, I’m not going to pay somebody more than they’re worth. It’s important that people know that they have to earn their way. There’s a sense of value and respect and responsibility when somebody had to earn that. Like if you go out and you build the snowman, you respect that more than looking at your neighbor’s because you made the biggest, you made the best. And when you do that and you can grow along the way, that right there is what creates internal value and allows people to know, you know what? I’m better than this. And it goes back to there’s people that we have on our team that are better than where they’re at right now. And I’ve helped them get there, but they stay here because they like and they believe in what we’re doing. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s awesome. Yeah. Thanks for going through all that. The next question I kind of wanted to ask you and we touched on it before the show started, I love asking people in your shoes this question because it’s been a journey. Right? You’ve been running this company for 10 years. You can focus on the highs and the things that have gone well. But obviously, no matter where you are in life, there’s probably been moments of failure in the company. And I just wanted to ask you, do you have a favorite failure at Brunner’s thus far? So just a quality lesson learned or maybe something that you look back on and kind of laugh about? 

Gary Hardy:

I don’t laugh about it so much anymore because I’m still paying a term loan debt from consolidating debt from this decision. But so about five, six years ago, we were struggling just like any other company up in the Midwest. You just never know if you’re going to get snow, and the landscaping ground season really only runs from March to about December. So you got a two-month window to where like if it doesn’t snow, you don’t have revenue unless you’re doing something else. So what we did is we got into this thing called property preservation. There’s many different companies that do it. They take foreclosed homes from Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac loans, and they go in and they fix these houses so they can be resold. They’re debt foreclosed homes, some of them in really bad neighborhoods, some of them destroyed. Well, when we first got into it, it was really good, quick money. Well, we got into it at the wrong time because the housing boom started, and we also got into the wrong thing. 

See, we’re landscapers. Well, the property preservation is doing plumbing, flooring, cabinetry. Although some of us knew how to do that stuff, it wasn’t the bread and butter of a lawn and landscape company. We weren’t set up to take any sort of a loss on that. Like as lawn and landscaping, you have what you’re doing, and you’re set up, all right, if I lose this year, the reason I lost is going to equate a growth next year. Because sometimes you lose money to make money. Well, this wasn’t the case because that wasn’t our bread and butter. So we ended up losing nearly $78,000. When your revenue is only $450,000, $500,000, $70,000 is a lot of money to lose. Right before that, I want to say the loss of it really hit us about 2016, and that’s when things got really tight. And me and Josh started considering, all right, what are we going to do? We had a consultant actually tell us, you know, you guys should just get out of it. That loss is so bad, you guys aren’t going to recover. Well, I’m a soldier. So I was like you know what? Screw you, man. You’re not going to create my destiny. 

So what I did is I took that loss and that failure, and I made it a strength. And that strength is I only do business and invest in my little circle now, in my industry. I don’t stream out. If somebody comes to me, I don’t care if I have no work at all, and says, hey, will you come hang some drywall? Nope, that is not what we do. We do not hang drywall. I would rather take the 20 hours that it takes to hang drywall and spend it on training to make my guys better landscapers. So if I had to give a new entrepreneur or a new landscaper some advice, probably tell them stay in your lane. Pick a couple things that you’re really good at and focus on that. I mean landscape lighting guys don’t go and do irrigation. Irrigation guys don’t go and trim trees. Now we’re grounds maintenance. We trim trees within reason because it’s part of the property. But if it’s a service that’s not on the property, we don’t mess with it anymore. And like irrigation, we’re not experts at irrigation. So I subcontract that stuff out. I subcontract out our lawn treatments because we’re not experts in that. We focus on mowing grass, doing new plant installs, and maintaining the plants and the mulch that’s already there. Everything else outside of that, we subcontract it out or send them to another company. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s awesome. Yeah. The specialization of services is so important, and you can avoid some dangerous pitfalls from doing that. I do appreciate you sharing that failure though because that’s a lesson that I’m sure many people in the industry have learned. But if someone’s listening to this, now they can avoid that one for sure. 

Gary Hardy:

I’ll tell you what. That failure made me question the whole podcast that we’re doing. Because the first thing that came to my mind was hold on a second, this isn’t mowing grass, this isn’t—then I was like hold on, no. It’s related to the business, and it’s marketing so it’s going to drive that business. Because I mean it’s already starting to monetize, and I haven’t even aired my first episode yet. So I had to sit back and go, all right, this isn’t focused on making to some big conglomerate TV station or radio syndicate. This is strictly marketing for Brunner’s, and it’s just having fun doing it. That’s how I kept that in that little realm. Because I tell you, I will not do anything that doesn’t have to do with lawn and landscaping ever again. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. I like that you brought that up because at the beginning of the show, you talked about how one of the three things that have has led Brunner’s to be successful is like a mind towards innovation, and part of that is your podcast. But I’m sure there is a balance because of what happened when you tried to extend your services to understand okay, what’s innovation and what’s a stretch for us? So I think that is a good transition for you to talk about why you started your podcast and kind of what do you see the goals of that are and how it relates to growing Brunner’s? 

Gary Hardy:

So last year, even before the COVID-19 hit, I was really wanting to get into marketing. I wanted to start focusing a little bit more on not product marketing because I’m not, today for $10.99, you can get your yard edged. I’m not that. I wanted to focus on marketing our brand. Well, even though my last name’s not Brunner, when somebody in our area thinks of Brunner’s Lawn and Services, unfortunately, they don’t think of Josh and Andy and Larry. They think of Gary Hardy. I sat and thought all right, so I’m going to do some videos. So I started these little three-minute videos using just my computer like I am with you right now. And they were called Bits of Brunners-ology. And I took like a quote from somebody, and I gave a little spiel and kind of used it strictly as a marketing technique for us. And then towards the end of last year, I started really sitting back, and I actually read this book from Seth Godin. are you familiar with Seth Godin? 

Ty Deemer:

I am not. No. 

Gary Hardy:

He has, and I’ll give you the name of it later, but he has a marketing book that really made me start going, all right, how am I going to do some more brand marketing? So I started thinking, all right, I watched a lot of other people’s podcasts, and some that really stuck out to me were the really relaxed conversation type. So I started talking to Josh and I was like hey, how can I turn my office into a functional bar? And he looked at me, goes, are you fucking] kidding me? I was like no, man, I got this idea, dude. I was like. So we did these episodes of Bits of Brunners-ology, and we didn’t have a ton of followers but we got a lot of like people person-to-person. Hey, I saw your video. And I’m like well, that’s cool. Why don’t you like it, man? But we got all these people saying that they were watching our stuff even though they weren’t like sharing it or following it. And I was like well, what if we actually got into podcasting? And Josh was like well, I mean you have the personality for it. He’s like, but what are you going to do? I mean how’s it going to benefit the company? Are you going to take away time from doing sales and this and that to do your own little fun gig? Is that what this is going to be? I was like no, no, no, no. So I started meditating on it and thinking about it more. 

And I was like hold on, I do this BNI thing, this Business Networking International where it’s all about givers gain, mark being a salesforce for other people. I was like what if I marketed Brunner’s by strictly marketing other people? Because I have a buddy who owns all these chicken restaurants, Lee’s Famous Recipes in Dayton, Ohio. And he lost millions of dollars’ worth of business because the NCAA tournament got canceled last year, and he feeds UD Arena for the UD Flyers. And this year, the tournament, us not keeping the first four and it going to Indiana to keep the—I mean I understand why they’re doing it. But he lost a lot of business. So I started thinking, you know what? I’ve been blessed. We had an 18% growth last year. I was like, why don’t I start helping other people get a growth by using my platform to market them? And then it went to, and then if I market them, who are they going to call if they need landscaping? And if I market them, they’re going to share. I mean we haven’t even aired an episode, and I’ve already got a couple people wanting to sponsor us already. And I’m like hold on a second. But the whole being innovative in the podcast thing, it’s fun. It created a new passion for marketing and something fun for me to do with marketing. Because now I hired somebody to go door-to-door. I don’t have to do that shit anymore. Somebody else can do that crap, and I’ll help him put the numbers together. Well, what am I going to spend my time on now? I just gave all of my stuff to other people. So now I’m going to spend my time marketing my company and creating growth for the company so I can hire more people, so that I can retain the good ones, so I can create more opportunities for my community. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. Well, it just makes complete sense based off of everything you’ve shared on this episode so far because if I’ve learned anything about you, it’s the importance of building a good culture and creating a community. And that aligns really well with the competitive market you’re in. You’re competing against big corporations like BrightView and U.SL lawns that are never going to be able to have that personal touch that a company like you are able to have. A company that’s smaller than you all don’t have the resources to do that sort of thing. So you’re really hitting home in your like sweet spot of the market, I would say. 

Gary Hardy:

It’s niche. It’s niche. Nobody in Dayton, Ohio is doing this. I mean we have a local guy that does a garden talk on our local AM radio, and I mean everybody 85 and up loved this guy. But nobody around Dayton, Ohio is doing anything like this. Heck, it would be a hard decision if somebody from like a CBS or an NBC or some big conglomerate looked and goes, hey, you’re onto something. Because I’d probably have to tell them no. I want to be able to focus locally and really help my friends. I think a podcast is a good way to do it, and I’m really glad that as of right now, I’m one of the first to do it. Now we do have a dude, Grunder Lawn and Landscaping, he’s a consultant. He did a lot of stuff on lawn and landscaping. He’s got a similar thing he does a thing called Good News for Dayton. But it’s not a podcast. It’s a 15 second, 30 second advertisement, and he does great at it. I mean this dude’s brilliant, and I’m surprised he hasn’t started what I’m doing. But I tell you, nobody around here is doing interviews and conversation with the local flower shop, the local chicken restaurant, the local mortgage lender. Nobody’s doing that in Dayton, Ohio. So I’m a first. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. That’s awesome. 

Gary Hardy:

At least I think I am. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. I mean just from my perspective, I’m excited to see you publish some episodes starting in February. We’ll link that in the show notes. 

Gary Hardy:

I’ll link you too. I’ll hook you guys up. I’ll put you guys on my web. 

Ty Deemer:

For sure. 

Gary Hardy:

And when you watch, make sure you have your favorite beverage, whether it’s a coffee, a bourbon, a beer, a soda pop, whatever it is. Because I tell you, when we start popping open beverages, you start getting the nitty-gritty and really get to know some of these local people. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s awesome. That’s great, Gary. We’re getting towards the back half of the episode, and I just have a few more questions I want to ask you. I always like asking this question during our episodes because I just think it’s a great frame of reference for where you are now. If you could go back and talk to yourself 10 years ago when you and Josh were starting Brunner’s, what is one piece of advice you would have told yourself then that you really think would have made a difference? 

Gary Hardy:

I probably—and this doesn’t have to do with the industry—I probably would have told myself to keep all of my firefighter and paramedic certifications. Because I worked really hard on those, and it took a lot of schooling. And now that I’m later in my, now that I’m 10 years into the landscaping career, I might have liked to have volunteered still at the local fire department and now I can’t. And I sure as hell am not going to go spend the money to get those certifications back at 41 years old. So I probably would have told myself to you know what? Just keep those continuing education things going because just because it’s not your career doesn’t mean you don’t still like helping people. And that would have been an avenue that I could have still helped people. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s awesome. Yeah. In line with everything you’ve shared so far today of giving back to the community. I love that. We always like to wrap up episodes asking our guests this one question, and it’s a forward-looking question that maybe it’s talking about 2021, maybe it’s talking about Brunner’s five-year plan. But what comes next for you in Brunner’s? And what are you most excited about with y’all’s business right now? 

Gary Hardy:

What comes next is I’m really, really, really wanting to, in the next five years, have another location. I want to be the next powerhouse in southwest Ohio. I’m not greedy. I don’t care if I make any more money than I make right now. But if I can build this company to be a multi-million dollar company, I can donate money to build that football stadium for the youth program or this and that. And I see us doing that. Me and my business partner Josh, we’ve really talked about trying to change my focus. My focus in the past was I didn’t come from money, I make enough money to live, I don’t need anything more. I live in a very mediocre house in a small neighborhood that would resemble a Sesame Street. I don’t live in some fancy house. I think my house is worth 70 grand. But I like to generate my revenue and give it to others. And I see within five to six years as our business grows, I would like to be able to give more of our revenue to our team. Let them have a little bit more ownership in the company of who they work for. I don’t know what that looks like, whether it be a profit sharing or what. I don’t know. But through a second location and continuing to build our revenue, I’ll be able to do that. When it happens, I don’t know. But I tell you what, all those big powerhouses, the U.S. Lawns, The Groundskeepers, The Ground Systems, The BrightViews, Brunner’s is coming for you. In 10 years, we’ll be there. I mean it took some of these companies 50 years to get to where they’re at. So we’ll be there. We’ll be there, and it’s going to be through our people. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, we’ll put them on notice. Well, Gary, I’ve really enjoyed our conversation, learning about you, learning about Brunner’s. And I’m sure that the audience that’s listening to this got the same value that I did. If someone wanted to follow along with your podcast, as an example, maybe what they could be doing in their own community or just interested in like learning more about Brunner’s and the services you offer, how could they come in contact with you or your podcast? 

Gary Hardy:

So you can go to our website, www.BrunnersLTD.com. On there, there’s a page for the podcast. We’re available on Beverage with Brunner’s YouTube channel. We’re on Spotify. We’re on Stitcher. We’re working on getting on Apple. So you know that process, getting into all these little avenues. But yeah, you can go on there. You can see some of our videos. You can go to our Facebook page, Brunner’s Lawn and Services. We’re all over the place. Heck, if you want to talk, just give us a call. 937-681-4859. I’ll talk to you. Ask for Gary. That’s how personable we are. And if anybody wants to laugh, learn, and have a beverage, February 1st, check us out, man. It’s going to be really awesome. We have an intro video on there as well right now. 

Ty Deemer:

Awesome. Well, Gary, thanks again for the time. I really enjoyed that episode, and I’m sure we’ll be in touch soon. 

Gary Hardy:

Cool. I’ll talk to you soon, Ty.

Conclusion:

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