In 2016, Kyle and Susannah Cahill were running their Houston-based landscape firm, Grow and Co., out of their home with a single truck and a dumpster in the driveway.
The business grew organically for the first 18 months, and while their neighbors were initially supportive and were sources of many early projects, they soon grew tired of the diesel truck cranking up at 6 a.m. and the unsightly, always present dumpster in the driveway.
Kyle asked around for a lead on a space where his crew could report to work and a place to park the truck. His nursery supplier gave him the number of Danny McNair, co-owner of Glauser McNair, a high-end residential landscape design/build and maintenance firm. Danny and his business partner, Robert Glauser, leased him a portion of their shop, but also let him know they were looking to retire and sell their business.
In 2018, Kyle and Susannah signed an asset purchase agreement to acquire the $1.5 million landscape firm, which turned Grow and Co. into a major player in the Houston residential landscape market overnight.
The agreement led Kyle to ask himself important questions about how he was going to run the business. “‘What are we going to do to set ourselves up foundationally now, that can scale with us as we grow and grow as fast as we want to grow?’” he recalls. “Aspire was the right fit.”
Fast-forward three years, and now Kyle’s helming a $5.2 million landscape architecture, construction, and garden management firm serving a high-end residential clientele. The garden management department includes plant health care and irrigation/water management services.
Grow and Co. has experienced incredible growth since onboarding Aspire business management software, including a $1.7 million increase in revenue from 2020 to 2021. That represented more than 50% top line growth—and even better, a 15% increase in net profit. Here’s how they’ve been able to create and sustain that growth.
Growing Grow and Co.
Along with purchasing Glauser McNair’s assets in 2018, Kyle also had acquired the firm’s existing processes—a series of spreadsheets, QuickBooks, and a list of clients–which lived primarily in the cellphones of the previous owners.
With sustainable and responsible growth in mind, Kyle knew he needed a software solution. He started researching business management software in trade magazines and asking other companies what solutions they were using.
“All I had heard was good feedback about how intuitive and robust Aspire was,” he says. He adds that a benefit for Aspire was that the software was a complete package and he wouldn’t be sold updates and features on a piecemeal basis. “I saw a huge value in that—I wasn't going to get nickeled and dimed to death, and I knew that I was going to be able to use whatever Aspire was developing and releasing.”
To lead the implementation process internally, Kyle recruited Levi Johnson, a former colleague from a large landscape company in Texas, to become his director of garden management. The company onboarded with Aspire in January of 2019 and went live in May of 2019.
Organizing to support growth
Consolidating and organizing company data was a main focus for Kyle and Levi, because none of their previous tracking spreadsheets spoke to each other. “I recognized that this is not conducive for scaling the work, and putting people in places to be successful. With Aspire, we can know if we're making money and where we're making money,” Kyle says.
The real-time job-costing data and estimating features were some of the most important features for Grow and Co. Now, estimators can build kits based on production rates in Aspire, input job site measurements, and the system provides an accurate time estimate. “You can't just go off your gut, but it's nice to have that double check for your gut,” says Levi.
Prior to Aspire, Grow and Co. lacked a shared visual of a schedule and relied on their self-sufficient and driven foremen to get their jobs done. “It was just, ‘these are the crews, and these are the homes that we typically go to during this week,’” recalls Levi. “But if we're going to continue to grow and scale, then we need to make sure everyone's on the same page.”
Aspire’s schedule board helped the production staff improve their job planning and scheduling processes. The system’s CRM allowed them to easily compile and access their client contacts, providing a more seamless communication if a job had to be handed off.
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Unlike many of the contract-based companies in the landscape industry, Grow and Co. operates on a time-and-materials basis, and Levi appreciates that Aspire allows visibility into precise hours on each job.
“There's power in data and in getting those results,” says Levi. With Aspire, he says he’s able to ask and answer questions about specific client properties and immediately obtain historical data on how long a specific property can take to service. This data helps him and his team manage clients’ expectations.
“I'm the protector of the client's dollar,” Levi says. “I want to make sure that that's the budget we gave them, and that we're going to honor that. And if we need to go over, then we need to communicate it.”
“One of the things I loved about Aspire was there's no hiding,” Kyle adds. “If you lose money or you're doing something wrong, it's going to tell you. And it can be cumbersome, but it protects us. So, we understand that value.”
Improving invoicing, cash flow and reporting
Operating on a time-and-materials basis can complicate the reporting process if you don’t keep precise records of labor hours and materials. Aspire helps Grow and Co. manage labor hours more accurately since crew members can clock in and out from the Aspire mobile app, which automatically applies those hours to the correct job. Grow and Co.’s inventory tracking has also improved since Aspire allows for inventory to be allocated from each work ticket.
Beyond the labor and materials tracking, invoicing jobs for the firm’s 100 maintenance clients used to be a cumbersome and lengthy process. In the best-case scenario, there’s a 60-day turnaround between when Grow and Co. pays its employees and when the client pays the bill, so it’s crucial to invoice jobs in a timely manner.
Kyle knew immediately that Grow and Co. needed to invoice more quickly and accurately to improve cash flow. With Aspire, the company invoices its clients by the 7th of every month instead of the 15th.
Closing the books for the month was a new undertaking for Grow and Co. as well. “We didn't know, closing the month, how profitability was for each department, seeing where our financials stood,” says Kyle. “We were simply seeing we have more money coming in than we do going out. So that's a big plus for us because we can review our financials monthly for the whole company and each department after the month has been closed.”
The people perks
Kyle says there are other upsides to using a landscape business management software like Aspire—namely, attracting and retaining employees.
“(Prospective employees) see that we are committed to growing a foundationally strong company using a very robust software like this, that they haven't experienced in other companies that they worked for,” he says.
“Retention-wise, we couldn't be operating at the growth that we're doing and the size of the company that we are the way we had done things previously. People would've quit like crazy,” he adds.
The Grow and Co. team can also point to some success in recruiting employees from outside the landscape industry, like their controller, who came in and picked up the software in a week.
To get more perspectives and insights on the software, Kyle and Levi take advantage of Aspire’s IGNITE client conference, connecting with other leaders in the landscape industry and discussing how they use Aspire.
“We really enjoy that. I think that's a great benefit of being part of the Aspire community too. And so, we continue to develop and use those resources,” Kyle says. He even met his National Association of Landscape Professionals’ business mentor, Chase Mullin of Mullin, a New Orleans-based company, through his Aspire connections.
Focusing on the future
As the company grows, it’s devoting more time to its processes, systems, and people and figuring out how the company can be more efficient, productive, and profitable. “We love what we do because we're landscapers, too,” Kyle explains. “We got into this industry because we prefer the shovel over the computer, and we like to be out there with the clients and being a part of the gardens. We are landscapers that do business—we are not business people that do landscaping.”
Grow and Co. has three goals for 2022. First, it’s focused on improving internal and external communication. One of the main ways it’s doing this is using Aspire’s CRM to track each phone call as a task or an issue, ensuring it is elevated to the right person and monitoring follow-up—a far cry from the old system of Post-it messages left on desks in the office.
The company’s second goal for this year is to strengthen its foundation: the processes and procedures for each job role in the company. This means envisioning what each role’s roadmap looks like from implementation to estimating to invoicing, and asking what those processes look like in Aspire.
Moderating top-line revenue growth is Grow and Co.’s third goal. Though Kyle admits he doesn’t have an exact number for how big he wants to grow, he’s committed to growing in a manageable way.
“We're able to achieve top-line revenue growth through the efficiencies we're gaining in Aspire,” Kyle says. “But we don’t want to have it at the cost of a significant reduction in our net profit. We’re able to track that through Aspire and make sure that we're not giving up points on our net profit just to have top-line growth. We're really focused on net profitability—and having that transparency through Aspire gives us that.”
As the company expands to include plant health care and purchases more businesses, including a new irrigation company, it’s examining how it creates items, estimates, and invoices in Aspire as it scales. The speed of the company’s growth continues to highlight issues that need to be corrected and systems and processes that need to be built around these issues.
“With that growth, we want to always be sure that we're staying true to our mission, vision, and core values,” Kyle adds. “Aspire is certainly a tool that we invest in so we can continue to be that company.”
Now that Grow and Co. has been using the software for several years, the system has changed the way the company operates—and it’s helped overcome the fear of the unknown when it comes to data, says Kyle.
“Over the past three years now, we've collected some very good data on how we operate the business, how we make financial decisions for budgets for the next year based on historical data, and how we see we're tracking on certain things,” he explains. “Losing that would be scary, from a planning aspect. Operationally, I love the visibility and the transparency that Aspire creates. And not having that would be an uneasy feeling.”