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Turning frustrations into solutions

January 7, 2021

In this episode of the Green Industry Perspectives Podcast, Ty Deemer welcomes Dan Pestretto to the show. Dan is a former landscaper turned coach/consultant that focuses his time on helping landscape companies implement systems to support healthy growth. Dan shares how he learned from his biggest failures and now uses those lessons to help others. Tune in to learn a 7 step process for turning all business frustrations into solutions.

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On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Dan’s journey throughout the green industry.
  • The importance behind implementing systems for everything in your business.
  • Learn a 7 step process for turning all business frustrations into solutions.

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.

Welcome back to Green Industry Perspectives. My name is Ty Deemer. I’m your host and today. I get the special privilege to welcome Dan Pestretto to the show. Dan, welcome.

Dan Pestretto:
Thank you.

Ty Deemer:
Dan, so, we always like to start off every episode with the same question and we have our guest answer this. We ask what are the top three threads you see in successful landscape companies that you work with?

Dan Pestretto:
They all deliver high quality service, but they’re working to achieve something greater than that. Really successful landscape businesses see their business as the product. They have a picture in their mind of the business that works for them without them, and the owners are working on the business with that picture in mind. They’re working towards a business that works for them. The really successful business owners don’t see the product as landscaping services. They see the product as the business itself. They see the business as separate. They see the product that they are working on when they’re working on their business as the business. Two, the business owners understand the business is a reflection of them, and what they value as a person is ultimately what the people who work for them will value. Successful business owners understand they are the leaders of the business, and as such, they are clear on what they want to accomplish with the business. And they understand they need to communicate what they want to accomplish as the mission or strategic objective of the business all the time. So, the second thing is successful business owners are clear on their core values, what they want to accomplish with the business, meaning like the strategic objective and what the business is promising its customers. Leadership, it’s comprised of core values, a mission and the brand promise. And lastly, these businesses are organized around accountabilities and systemized for consistent results.

Ty Deemer:
That’s great. We’ll be diving into those quite a bit later on in the show. But we always like to talk about the guest’s background on the show just to provide the audience with a perspective on who you are, where you come from and what you do every day. So, how did you become involved with the landscape space and what’s kind of been your journey to date?

Dan Pestretto:
Well, I was born and bred to be a landscaper. My dad he was not going to be denied the fact that his sons were going to go into the landscaping business. So, I grew up on a nursery. I started landscaping when I was 10 with my dad. It was really the only way I could get to spend time with him was get in the truck and go with him in the mornings and work with him. I got a degree in horticulture from the University of Connecticut and actually started working on my own in 1989. Worked that landscaping business through to 2000. After that, started working for different people and then came back to working for myself as a business consultant and coach in 2014.

Ty Deemer:
Great. And what you touched on there with the business consulting, the name of your business is Systems Organized by Design. And just give the audience an idea of the types of companies you work with every day and what your main role with SOD is.

Dan Pestretto:
Well, my main role with SOD is coach, landscape business coach and I work with landscape business owners who have businesses from—I’m more successful with businesses that start with gross annual revenues of around $750,000 up to about $10 million. That’s probably my sweet spot. As a business coach, I work with them in helping them develop their businesses so that the businesses work for them without them.

Ty Deemer:
Great. So, I want to kind of circle back to the beginning of the show when we talked about those top three common threads that you see in lawn and landscape companies that you’re working with. You mentioned on that first pillar that they deliver a high quality service. And I really liked how you framed it as, you provided some imagery with your answer in the sense that they have a picture in their mind of a business that works for them. When you’re sitting down with your clients, walk me through the process of how you would kind of allow a company owner or a leadership team to understand what you mean by that. What does it mean to have a business that works for them?

Dan Pestretto:
A business that works for them without them is the ultimate goal for most business owners, right? I mean you want to be able to create a business that’s going to give you the life that you dreamed of, a business that will provide more life for you instead of less. And I think frequently what happens with all kinds of business owners but certainly landscape business owners is you get into it, you’re really good at landscaping and you start to work out on your own and it starts to consume you. It overwhelms a lot of guys, and the business just takes over their lives and it doesn’t become something that provides a quality of life for them. It actually detracts. So, what I try to do is work with them to change that. And the important part of that first answer is the vision, and they need to be really clear about how that would look for them. And then once we’re really clear on that, you can’t really know where you’re going unless you know what it looks like when you get there. And then from once you have the destination in mind, you work back from there to where you are and then create a plan.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. That’s great. And you talk a lot about how when you’re making that plan and working backwards, it’s about building processes out, scalable processes to get to that point and that’s kind of where your course that you have called Systemscapings gets involved. If you had to describe Systemscaping to someone or define it, how would you define Systemscaping?

Dan Pestretto:
I’d say that every consultant worth his salt is telling people that they have to work on their business and not in it. The Systemscaping course tells people that, but we go a step farther and we have a very specific roadmap for teaching them how to do it. We don’t just give them information about how I was successful at owning landscape businesses. We actually work with the students individually and as a group, getting them to understand what it is that they want to create and we fashion the course to their vision of a business that works for them.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. That’s great. And you talk a lot about their vision and their mission and core values. You mentioned earlier that the second trend in successful companies are that they have clear core values. If you’re talking to a business owner that’s listening to the show today, the term core values is thrown out a lot, but how would you be talking through to someone that’s listening to the show about how should they establish their core values and what is a good set of core values for their business?

Dan Pestretto:
I think a set of core values for your business depends on what your personal core values are. And yeah, a lot of people talk about it. The process that I walk people through and not so much in the Systemscaping course but in coaching, the goal of the course is to have the basic foundation for a systemized business at the end of 10 weeks. So, we’re moving pretty quick. There’s 10 lessons and each lesson has a particular goal that moves you to that end. And the thing about core values, I think the quickest way for somebody to do that is to Google a list of core values. You’ll see there’s listed 500 core values. What I found when I personally did that for myself the first time is that some of those words will speak to you in a way that’s really personal, really, really touches you. So, you write that down or you circle those. You go through the whole list out of 500, that might have happened 20 times. You kind of take a look at the 20 values that you’ve chosen, and then from there, you see the redundancies and you eliminate some. The goal for the core values is to get down to three. What you want to have is something that’s important to you but not a whole long laundry list that you can communicate effectively and continually to the people who are helping you achieve the vision.

And one of the things that—and I find a lot of landscape contractors complaining about is help. They can’t find good help. And what you want to do is you want to be able to shift the focus of your employees not on how much they’re getting paid, how long they have to work, how hot it is outside or how cold it is, but you want to get them to shift the focus to working towards a vision and to do it in such a way that has integrity that responds well to what they feel is their core values. So, you want to be able to hire people who understand your vision and who feel and have the same core values as you do.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. That’s great. It’s so important to have a team that’s in line with your vision and that’s kind of what we focused so far on the show is you’ve got to have a jumping off point where you look at hey, this is where we want to be. And it’s a good segue to go into how to build out the processes to work backwards like you mentioned. And now that you’ve brought it up, one of the steps of building out processes for that is creating, hiring an onboarding process. So, we hear that all the time that the labor market isn’t all that great for the green industry. It’s difficult to find good employees. So, you really have to double down on your processes there. Why is that important? And then how can some of the people that are listening to this show start to think systematically when it comes to hiring and onboarding?

Dan Pestretto:
Well, I’d say hiring and onboarding is only part of it. It is important. Hiring and onboarding new people is really important. But you got to go back to your core values and your vision, and you want to hire people who believe what you believe about landscaping. And that is what you build all your systems on including the hiring and interviewing systems that you build into your company. You can train for the specific tasks that any position within your company does, most any position. Certainly all the technical positions, you can train for that. But what you can’t train for is attitude, and people who believe what you believe about landscaping. Why are you doing this? What is it that you’re trying to accomplish? You need to be able through your hiring and interviewing processes to determine if these people think about the work like you do, and it’s really important. And the hiring and onboarding systems exist so that you can filter through—I mean first it’s interviewing the right people, attracting the right people. Interviewing them and hiring the people who believe what you believe.

Then bringing them on board so that they understand what it’s like to work there. If you have a process for that, when they come, it’s not like get in the truck with Joe and he’ll show you what’s going on. No, there’s a process for it, step-by-step. The person comes. If they’re supposed to have a cell phone, the cell phone is already there. If they’re supposed to have a computer, the computer is already there. Everything is all set. If you systemize the steps, you will get consistent results every single time. And you create these systems, you do the best you can, you execute them. If it’s not working, you don’t throw away the system. You go back and you quantify the results. Have your hires been better since you started the system? If they haven’t really been, then you look at the steps in the system that you may have missed or that you might be able to make better. The basis of it is if one of your core values is communicating, then you want to be able to communicate clearly to your new employees what you expect, and you do that through the onboarding process. And it’s important. But the base of all that, the way to change struggling with hiring people is not so—it is the hiring and interviewing processes but what’s most important is what that’s based on, and that’s on your core values and on the vision you want to create.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. And I love how you touched on really just the process of how to begin to think systematically towards these issues. And when we were talking earlier before we started recording, you mentioned something about really in any business issue you’re having or problem, turning those frustrations into solutions based off of that process. I would love for you to walk through kind of your—I think it’s like a six to seven step framework of what it looks like to turn business frustrations into solutions.

Dan Pestretto:
I’m glad you asked. That is like if there was one system. This is a system. We can systematically turn business frustrations into solutions. And like any system, it’s broken down into steps, and it needs to be very precise. It can’t be like, oh, this business is driving me crazy. No, it’s got to be what is it in particular that very distinct that is a frustration? So, that’s state a single frustration. Classify the frustration. Is it something you do? Is it something that you could look at yourself and look at the way you are interacting with this particular scenario or situation? Is it something that you could change and change the results? Or is it something that’s systemic? Is it something that’s in the system that needs to change? Or maybe there isn’t even a system in there. So, you want to classify the frustration. You want to uncover the underlying condition and quantify its impact. So, why does this always happen? Or why does it always happen when whatever? And then, the fact that this is happening costs me, how much does it really cost me? Well, if guys are leaving tools on jobs every week, it’s $50 to replace the tools that don’t get brought back to the shop. Take that out. That’s $50 a week. There’s probably 35 weeks of production in most parts of the country. 35 times $50 is about $2,000. You multiply that by 10 years, that’s $20,000. Is that worth the time it would take to develop a system to eliminate that? In most businesses, it is. So, you uncover the underlying condition and quantify its impact.

Identify a generic system solution. Okay. So, if we’re talking about tools, a generic system solution would be well, they got a check before they leave the property that they have all the tools on the truck. And then identify your commitment to solving the problem. Is to save $20,000 over 10 years’ worth the effort? And if it is, define a specific system solution. So, what’s going on when they’re leaving the property? Do we have a system in place? Do they have checklists? Are they following specific systems that would eliminate this? Is there a step in the system that should be added? Or is this a problem with a particular employee who refuses to follow a system that’s already working well with everybody else? So, you want to define the solution, and then if it turns out that it’s a systemic change, if you don’t have a system at all, you put a system in place. And if it means changing a system that already exists, you add a step in the process and hopefully that changes it.

You then have to quantify the results. So, you have a baseline. Ah, it was $50 every single week because we were replacing tools. Now we’ve put this step in the process. Are you still spending that money replacing tools? That’s the quantification of it, and that will let you know if the innovation that you made to this system, this existing system worked. So, changing frustrations into solutions. If you think that way, if you look at those frustrations in that systemic way, you are automatically going to start to think systemically, and that’s a huge step, huge step in business development.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. I couldn’t agree more because really what you’re describing is a mindset in my opinion. It’s how you analyze things in your business. And when you look at problems whether it be hiring solutions or scheduling issues, if you start to look at it through the lens of not just oh, this is really annoying, like this is a problem but more through the lens of what you’re describing of like, okay, I have this frustration, now I have a built out process to turn it into a solution, you’re only going to improve your business by putting yourself and your company through a process like that.

Dan Pestretto:
That’s right. And to bring it back to hiring and finding good help, if there’s a frustration, if you as the business owner have a frustration, it’s not running out and yelling at somebody. It’s going and looking at it systematically If there’s a problem and you have a person who’s your target, you think this is the person who caused the problem. You don’t go and make them feel bad. You go and you look at the way they’re executing the systems that are in place. If you don’t have a system in place, it’s on you. It’s not on him. And if there is a system in place, you look at the system. You say are you following the system for X, Y or Z? They say yes, I am. You go through the system. You may discover that there’s a step in the system that you would have thought anybody would have done but this person didn’t. So, now it’s not you did bad, you’re terrible, this is, it’s like, hey, we got a system here that needs to be improved. And that will help you throughout the business, throughout every aspect of your business.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. That’s what I was going to bring up next because we’ve been using the use case of hiring and onboarding and just managing your people. But you can look at this like model in so many different ways. You could think of it through the sense of your problems that your sales numbers are down for this quarter. You can look at it and go, okay, like I’ve stated my frustration, my frustrations that our numbers aren’t where we’re at. And then you can go through this exact same stepped process to understand what you need to do to make sure you reach that number the next go-round.

Dan Pestretto:
That’s right. And we’ve been talking about it a lot of times in sort of a disciplinary way. But a specific example, my sales numbers are not where they are. Okay, we got to take that back. We always want to look at the base of everything. Looking at the beginning of that is are we attracting the right leads? So, we look at marketing systems. If we seem to be getting the same number of leads, well, then are we qualifying them correctly? If that doesn’t seem to be the case, then what about the sales process? Was it okay this quarter or has this always been a problem? You take it to as low as you can go, to the foundation of the problem and ask yourself why. Why did it happen? And then try to get a little bit lower and then get a little bit lower. And then as the answers are like, no, that’s fine, that’s fine, that’s fine, then you go up and you’re going to go up in your level of processes or systems and you’re going to find out where the link may be weak, where you might have to make a systemic change. And it gives you direction. And the seven frustration processes will allow you to consider whether or not you even want to tackle this right now or it could be something that you don’t want to do at this point but it could be great work for the winter.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. That’s one thing I appreciated about the process you laid out was that there is a portion of it that kind of states there’s part of the process where you try to find what the new solution may be, but you kind of presented a way of thinking about it where like you are allowed to assess your commitment to solving that issue. If it’s not the priority of the time like right now, you can put it on the back burner. But if you’re thinking through that lens, you’ll be addressing the things that matter the most to your business at that moment.

Dan Pestretto:
Yep, yep. Absolutely, absolutely. And in the Systemscaping course, we actually work from a platform, a systemic platform that I have adopted for landscape businesses and actually that system is existing in the platform. So, the Systemscaping course goes off of this platform which has probably 200 systems that are named with objectives within them, and within the 200, there’s probably 40 or 50 that are detailed to the point of having work plans with specific steps in them. And certainly, this is one of them.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. That’s great. The next question I kind of wanted to ask you was you work with a lot of people throughout the year. You’ve run your own landscaping business before, and you probably see a lot of great things. You probably see some failures as well. And I wanted to see what you viewed like what’s the most common or the biggest mistake you see landscapers making in terms of growing their business with sales and business development?

Dan Pestretto:
I would say it’s the confusion between sales and business development. Sales is not business development. It’s the thing that I learned. When I graduated college, I grew up in a landscaping business but my father didn’t have the awareness of a systemized business. I’m old. When I was growing up, I think I can remember before McDonald’s almost. And McDonald’s is like a perfect franchise with all the systems in place. I didn’t understand that systemizing a business was business development. I thought selling was business development, and I had problems in my business. I studied horticulture, I didn’t study business. And I thought that the way to do this was to grow my way out of problems. I saw big businesses. I didn’t think they had the problems I had. And I’m a good sales guy. As I grew the business, my problems didn’t go away. I didn’t have any more money at a smaller size than I did at the larger size. I just had more ulcers, I had more agita. I had more worries, more overwhelm. I didn’t have more money. And I didn’t learn that lesson until years and years and years down the road even when I was in the middle of my first business failure.

I read a great book called the E-Myth Revisited, and it’s written by Michael Gerber. And I’m a certified E-Myth business coach. And at that point in time, I loved that book. I knew the answers were in that book somewhere, and my interpretation of the book, of the systems, of what it was trying to teach me, I tried to apply. But I didn’t really understand it until I worked for a business that was successful. And then from that business, I went onto lead other businesses, and then I started putting the systemization into the process. And my main goal wasn’t to grow the business. My main goal was to systemize the businesses that I was leading, and that is absolutely the one thing that I think is a terrible misunderstanding with most business owners. It was for me, and it was the one thing that turned my failure into the greatest learning opportunity that I have ever had. And it’s the reason why I went into coaching is help people to see what business development really is.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. That it sounds like that might be your favorite failure of your career I guess.

Dan Pestretto:
Well, and it was my first. And I’ve gone on to lead probably two or three other businesses to exponential growth and it’s the kind of growth that doesn’t fall apart when you leave. If it’s grown and based on systems, it’s durable.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah, it’s all about, there’s like the term smart growth. It’s just growth that’s scalable. That’s great insight. You’re talking kind of retrospectively about your career and where you’ve come from and the things you’ve learned and experienced. I’m curious, apart from understanding the difference between business development and sales and what healthy growth looks like, if you could go back in time and speak to your younger self coming out of Connecticut Horticulture School, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Dan Pestretto:
Commit to what you’re doing, think carefully about what you’re doing, show up and do it, work hard at it, work hard and smart and don’t give up. Don’t give up. I am experiencing success now that I’ve never had before, and important people in my life have tried to influence me to give up. And had I listened to that, I wouldn’t be where I am now, and I think I’m on the cusp of again exponential growth in the coaching and consulting business that I’m in. And I’m just so happy about that, and I think that those are the things that I wish I had knew when I was young.

Ty Deemer:
How important is that for landscape company owners to hear that message? Because I feel like a lot of people interact with the same story that you shared of getting to the point where sure, you’re growing, but it just becomes harder and you don’t have any more money than you did when it was smaller.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. And what you’re making me think of is that what happens is that people will grow to the point that they can’t handle anymore. And I’ve worked with some people whose capacity is incredible, but they’re not making any more money. I took one company from $500,000 to $7 million in three years, and that guy could manage. He could manage. He could manage, but he wasn’t any more profitable. He never had any money in the bank. And so, the smart growth that you’re talking about is based on understanding that you can’t do it by yourself. In order to communicate clearly to other people what you want them to do, you need to be documented systems. And what you’re working for has to be more than just making more money. It can’t be all about the money if you’re going to sustain yourself through the difficulties that you’re going to experience growing a business. And smart growth or any kind of growth is traumatic. It’s like a rocket ship. You go from $500,000 to $7 million in three years, there’s a lot of thrust in that. And if you’re doing it for the money, everybody is going to get tired of it. If you’re doing it for something deeper, something more important, something more impactful on your lives and other people’s lives, then you’re going to have the wherewithal to commit to it, to stay with it and those are the real important things.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. I love that point because I’ve talked to a few people on this show, talked to a few people in the industry and you can really tell a difference when you talk to people in the landscape or tree scare space that have like a passion about not just the company but also the process of what they do every day. And there’s so much power behind that because that’s what’s going to be able to kind of drive the core values that you break everything else down from. So, I know you said that at the beginning of the show, but that’s really where it all trickles down from.

Dan Pestretto:
It does, it does. And to be really successful, just to take that down one more, down one level further is yeah, the work. We’re lucky. In landscaping, it’s something to do with the environment. It’s important work. It really is. But beneath that, in order to grow a business to something that works for you without you, you need to be able to look at your business as the product. Your work in the business is to make the business work without you. And to understand how to do that, you need to be able to hold the business in your hand and be able to see it and mold it and feel it like it doesn’t consume you. It’s a part of you and you’re bigger than it and you can impact it in ways that are important to you and the business. It will never be overwhelming, and it will be something that you can replicate multiple times if you want to. I mean that’s the way to grow a real big business is to model one, make a prototype and be able to see it and hold it in your hand and then replicate it again in Cincinnati or wherever so that you’re multiplying what you did in one place many times over. And even if you decide not to do that, you’ve got one business that is manageable and working for you on its own.

Ty Deemer:
Yeah. Absolutely. As we go towards the end of the show, I always like to ask the guests kind of what comes next for you and what are you most excited about working with landscape companies?

Dan Pestretto:
I’ve just started Systemscaping. I’m leading a course in that. Right now, we’re in lesson seven. I am going to start another class in mid/late-January, and I’m really excited about it. I’m looking forward to having more companies go through that course. I love the camaraderie of the course. I like the work. The end result is awesome. These people at the end of the class will have every tool they need to really be able to hold their business in their hand and be able to systemize it and grow it and make of it whatever they want. And that’s why I got into consulting in 2014, and I feel like this course is the culmination of the work that I’ve done up to this point. And that’s what I’m excited about for 2021 for me in my business.

Ty Deemer:
That’s awesome. If people that are listening would like more information on how to get involved with Systemscaping or SOD, how would you suggest they do that?

Dan Pestretto:
I guess go to the website. That would be the thing to do. And sign up for the blog. If they sign up for the blog, then they’ll be notified of the Systemscaping course when I start to open that registration up.

Ty Deemer:
Great. Yeah. We can link to all of that in the show notes. Damn, we’ve covered a ton of really interesting information today. We talked about what it means to deliver a high quality service and allow that to really be what drives your business. We talked about how to establish core values and kind of work from the top down when companies are thinking about where they want to be long term. And then we also just talked a ton about how we can start thinking about the frustrations in our landscape and tree care and lawn care businesses and start turning those into solutions. I really appreciate your time on the show. I feel like a lot of value is provided the audience. Is there anything before we go that you’d like to kind of finish up with?

Dan Pestretto:
I’ve enjoyed the conversation too, Ty. I think you’re a great host. You were able to digest a lot of information really quickly. I liked your questions and I enjoyed being on here as well.

Ty Deemer:
Absolutely. And to the people that are listening, this is episode 10 of season 2 so the last episode of season 2. We appreciate all of you for tuning in. And be on the lookout for season 3 to come soon. But until then, we hope you all have a happy holidays and we will talk to you soon.

Conclusion:
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