Monarch Landscape Management is a Houston-based landscaping company with over 150 customers and 150+ employees. It services subdivisions with 500-5,000 homes, apartments, condominiums, municipalities, office towers, and shopping centers. Monarch’s subsidiary, Waters Edge Outdoor Living, is a luxury swimming pool and backyard environment builder with projects ranging from $100-500K.
Both companies use Aspire Landscape to manage their operations (Monarch since 2017 and Waters Edge since 2020), and they recently added integrations with FleetSharp and Integrated Payroll Services (IPS).
Since implementing Aspire, Monarch has done an exemplary job of creating and maintaining a system to stay on top of its numbers.
Like most companies in the industry, Monarch’s biggest expense is labor—which MIS (Management Information Systems) Manager Ross McAlpine says accounts for 60% of direct job costs.
“We watch and manage all of our expenses, and we use Aspire Landscape to report overall margins on our properties,” he says. “Our greatest focus is tracking and managing labor hours.”
In its job costing process, Monarch practices several key strategies to help ensure the company hits its numbers at the end of every month: organization, accountability, consistency, timeliness, and incentives.
Let’s take a closer look at how they do it.
When Monarch made the decision to use Aspire Landscape as its end-to-end business management software, the implementation team built a strong foundation from the very beginning. They created pricing templates, bidding kits, and custom reports. They assigned clear roles and responsibilities for all employees, including crew leaders, production managers, and branch administrators. And they put policies in place to standardize processes across the organization.
Thanks to the real-time job costing data available in Aspire Landscape, Monarch’s staff can regularly review actual versus budgeted expenses at a very granular level.
“Expenses change constantly,” Ross says. “We have to look at them, analyze differences between budgeted and actual numbers, and determine if change is needed.”
In addition to constantly monitoring individual costs, Monarch conducts an annual review of labor costs to make timely adjustments to pricing if needed.
Using work tickets, issue tracking, and regular reporting, Monarch created a system of accountability throughout the entire company.
It all starts with work tickets, which are used to track any activity associated with a job.
“No work is done on a property unless there’s a ticket for that work,” Ross says. “All tickets are available in Aspire Landscape’s mobile app, so when a crew foreman, irrigator, or chemical technician accesses the ticket, they can easily see the hours and materials budgeted for the job.”
Once a job is completed, hours are entered directly into Aspire Landscape. Because of the system’s integration with IPS, those hours in turn determine payroll. Any issues noted on customer properties are tracked through Aspire as well, so they can ensure the issue is addressed in a timely manner.
Most importantly, Monarch has set schedules in place to make reviewing costs part of the staff’s daily, weekly, and monthly responsibilities.
Every day, production managers review their crews’ tickets from the previous day and identify any errors. Then, branch administrators verify reported hours and costs, add materials, and complete the ticket.
All tickets (other than regular maintenance service) require final approval from account managers.
Once-a-week, production managers review their over/under hours using a custom report in Aspire Landscape. They discuss the results with branch managers and explain any discrepancies.
Monarch holds a monthly operations meeting to review costs and gross margins on tickets for all the company’s properties.
“At this time, we review performance for the last month,” Ross says. “This helps determine if anything over or under budget is isolated to the conditions of the month or is an ongoing issue.”
Many landscaping companies face a similar obstacle to collecting accurate job costing data: inconsistent bidding processes.
Monarch works to prevent this problem by creating and issuing takeoff measurements and pricing templates in Aspire Landscape.
To make the bidding process more efficient and accurate, they use kits—sets of commonly used items with pricing associated. For plants, shrubs, and trees, for example, they’ve created a kit that includes the cost of the plant, soil, mulch, and labor hours needed to install it.
“In building our templates, we found it important to look into costs—especially labor costs per division and overhead expenses,” Ross says.
For contracts and work orders, Monarch uses services and items (especially kits) with established coefficients based on the unit of measurement for that kit.
“In your analysis of budgeted versus actual costs, you have to continuously check the coefficient against actual results to determine its accuracy as pricing is always changing,” Ross advises.
As the review schedule above makes clear, Monarch never lets too much time pass between the completion of a task and a review of its performance. With access to real-time job costing in Aspire Landscape, they can regularly monitor actual and budgeted expenses—and make changes before it’s too late.
“The closer in time you are to an event, the easier it is to accurately understand what happened and make any required changes,” Ross says. “If you wait and try to ask what happened a week or month ago, too much time has passed and the information isn’t as accurate.”
Since they’re able to track and respond to issues as they arise (and have prioritized doing so), Monarch’s employees are able to make informed, timely decisions at a every stage of a job’s process.
One of the ways Monarch has found to help employees across the organization implement its processes is through incentives.
At the most basic level, since Aspire Landscape integrates with IPS to provide payroll services, Ross says it has helped employees consistently and accurately report hours spent on a job site.
In addition, Monarch utilizes job hour performance and actual gross margins on properties as key performance metrics for production supervisors and managers.
A production manager’s performance is reported on a quarterly basis and then reviewed in a meeting with his or her branch manager. The performance results from these reports are used to determine bonus plans.
This encourages production managers to pay close attention to the budget, and to monitor how time is spent on each job. And since results are reviewed between production and branch managers weekly, no one has to wait until the quarterly evaluation session to find out if something is off track.
Monarch Landscape Management’s model approach to job costing involves lots of hard work and planning across the organization, but here are three simple takeaways that can be applied in any landscaping company:
- Create schedules with clear responsibilities for daily, weekly, and monthly review of job cost data
- Use pricing templates and kits to establish a consistent bidding process
- Encourage account managers to prioritize staying under budget using incentives
The systems Monarch has put in place are only possible with a fully-integrated business management system like Aspire Landscape.
Using bidding templates and kits, work tickets, custom reports, and more, Monarch has streamlined the job costing process—so the results at the end of a month never come as a surprise.
To find out if Aspire Landscape is the right fit for your organization, request a free demo below.