SouthernEEZ Achieves Record Profit Margins—and a High School Dream
Read Time5 Minutes
PublishedDecember 8, 2023
Table of Contents
Table of Contents
Ask any business owner—entrepreneurship isn’t for the weak.
“There are much easier ways to make a living. Things that don't contend with the weather, people, live goods, or trucks on the road,” says Nate Negrin, president of SouthernEEZ.
“I'm reminded regularly by my parents this is not an easy way to make a living. So people who do it have to love it,” he says.
Negrin’s love of landscaping started early. He had a landscape business in high school and college and went to college saying ‘I want to be a landscaper.’ At 19, he interned at Ruppert Landscape for a summer.
But life intervened, and Negrin started a job in agribusiness with Cargill and then Bank of America.
SouthernEEZ began in 2010 in Fort Mill, South Carolina, a bedroom community in southern Charlotte. Negrin bought the business with a partner in 2015 amid a growth period for Fort Mill. The company provides landscape installation and construction services for high-end custom homes and landscape maintenance for commercial clients.
“We decided we wanted to put down roots in Charlotte and had the opportunity to buy this business in 2015 and live out a high school dream,” he says.
Charlotte’s home-building boom bolstered SouthernEEZ’s growth as well. “We come in and deliver a great product from start to finish with irrigation, hardscape, artificial turf, plantings, mulch—the whole nine yards,” Negrin says. “On the landscape maintenance side, we do traditional commercial lawn care for homeowners associations, municipalities, and other commercial clients.”
Building a common language with Aspire
In 2019 and 2020, the company was operating without an estimating software.
“If you asked me who my best-performing customer was, I'd have to put a finger in the wind, maybe get out the spreadsheet, and try to do some math regarding time and materials,” he says.
The company started with Aspire in March 2022 and went live in July 2022. SouthernEEZ developed their pricing on Excel spreadsheets, which led to inconsistent bids and lacked scalability because Negrin always had the final say.
“Getting out of the way and letting software provide the intelligence was a better solution,” he admits.
Southern EEZ used Jobber because it was compatible with Xero, their accounting system.
“It was great. It was easy to use. It allowed me to grow the business from $500,000 to 3 million dollars a year,” Negrin says. “But it was missing the intelligence that Aspire gives you regarding pricing, consistency, and contracts. It also was missing some of the scheduling nuances and details.”
They researched other solutions before signing with Aspire. “We looked at LMN and felt like Aspire was a lot more robust,” he recalls. “We had a growing landscape maintenance business, and all the key players in the industry were using Aspire, which told me that it was the right choice.
Luckily, SouthernEEZ crews found the Aspire Mobile app easy to use. “Our team clocks in and out with times like they did in their other software systems. So it was an easy switch in that regard.”
The company has grown from 5-6 employees in 2015 and $300,000 to $400,000 a year in revenue to $5.5 million in 2023. SouthernEEZ employs 35 to 40 people, depending on the season. They also keep a slate of familiar subcontractors: former employees who have started their own companies.
“It’s phenomenal as an entrepreneur to see these guys doing right by their family and kids and starting their own businesses. So we've hired them as subcontractors,” he says.
Achieving a 40% gross profit margin
Negrin reviews the sales pipeline, gross margin, and accounts receivable daily and meets with teams to fill gaps or address issues. His team has complete access to the same information.
“We estimate and execute to a gross margin, then discuss how the month closes with gross margin. Everyone in the company can see that. It's one or two clicks away, giving us a common language around how we estimate, execute, and analyze gross profit,” he says.
This consistency around gross profit has spurred growth for the company, to the tune of a 10% increase to 40% gross margin, "with consistent language, a process, and pricing for our customers—plus an accurate analysis of which accounts are winning.”
Negrin has also grown the sales team from three to 11 people.
“Now we have a whole team of people working to grow themselves, grow the company, and ultimately achieve results for everybody that works there,” he says proudly.
Data-driven analysis drives profitability
Having instant intelligence on a job or client was a new benefit for the team. Previously, they would learn their actual hours and material costs and reconcile them with the initial estimate months later, if at all.
“One of the things Aspire does well is data-driven analysis. Aspire is great at understanding where you're at at any given moment with a project or contract,” Negrin says.
“When you want to throw in the towel and quit, Aspire gives you data to fall back on and say, ‘This is why we're doing it, this is how it contributes to our gross margin, and this is how it contributes to our bigger picture goals.’”
Before Aspire, the company’s biggest challenge was timely job costing. Now, account managers can instantly access gross margin and accurate job costs.
Implementing Aspire has helped Southern EEZ develop more accurate accounting practices as well.
“Aspire uses a markup system, which I avoided. I thought I was doing a better job. Clearly, I wasn't because we've seen massive margin growth since using Aspire,” he says with a smirk.
“A year and a half later, the company's in a much better spot,” he says. “All the blood, sweat, and tears have all been worth it because now it's smooth sailing.”
Igniting business growth and living the dream
Negrin brought two team members to Las Vegas for Aspire’s IGNITE conference to learn more about the platform.
“Anytime you can get together with other landscapers, people fighting the same fight, it's always great to compare best practices and grow professionally. It’s a great event,” he says. “I'm glad we did it. It's worth it.”
Years ago, SouthernEEZ may not have been in a place to invest in software or networking.
“When I bought the business in 2015, I bought it with a partner. He quickly decided that the business wasn't scalable,” he says.
“Now, I can grow the business to the same size as Yellowstone if I had the financial resources and the wherewithal to do it. Aspire makes that possible.”
Growing the business means more now that Negrin has a team that’s grown along with him.
“It's a great group of passionate people. The team I have built now are old pros. They're plant junkies, they're landscape junkies, and we're all in it together,” he says. “It's a high school dream.”
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