STILL A TEACHER AT HEART

Posted by Wes - March 26, 2012 - Blog - No Comments

Wes Wilkinson joined PLANET three years ago, 12 months after founding his company. Now, the owner of Elite Lawns, Inc., in Yukon, Oklahoma, operates four crews and offers landscape design, lawn care, and holiday lighting, in addition to traditional maintenance services. This year, he plans to add installing and maintaining irrigation systems.
“Without PLANET, I likely wouldn’t be in business today and most certainly wouldn’t be where I am,” says Wilkinson. “I joined PLANET because I didn’t know much about installing and maintaining landscapes or running a business. It has paid off.”
This member’s story has a familiar ring to it. A third-grade teacher, Wilkinson needed summer income. He purchased a $100 lawn mower from Lowes and soon discovered he enjoyed being outside and mowing lawns more than he enjoyed teaching. With 20 yards the
first year and more the next, the former teacher started growing at a “truck-a-year” pace.

EARLY TRAVAILS
Wilkinson says he struggled mightily at first in three specific areas: building a team, meeting customer expectations, and gaining knowledge about the industry. “The first couple of years, I didn’t have enough work for full-time employees,” he recalls, noting that
delivering consistent quality requires having a strong team. With more work today and a service offering that includes lawn care and a Christmas Décor franchise, he is able to provide full-time, if not year-round employment.
When he wanted to make the transition from residential to commercial accounts, Wilkinson encountered his second obstacle. “I wanted the bigger commercial accounts such as restaurants, office buildings, and so forth, but soon found I didn’t have the expertise to deliver what they wanted. They wanted their beds cleaned, hedges trimmed, and sprinkler system maintained. In essence, commercial customers wanted a ‘one-stop shop’ for all their needs.”
The experience was the impetus for him to become a licensed applicator and be able to offer lawn care.
To embark on his newest adventure, Wilkinson has scheduled courses with Rain Bird to learn how to install and maintain irrigation systems. His third struggle, an overall lack of knowledge about the industry, ties in with his first two. “I really didn’t know what I was doing at first,” he admits. “I could run a business, but I didn’t know anything about pricing, products, and how to design and install landscapes.”
Again, he credits PLANET with most of his education, noting he has virtually every video or book it offers, is a regular visitor to the PLANET Universe website, and never misses an opportunity to network with other members.

GETTING INVOLVED
Wilkinson joined PLANET while attending his first Green Industry Conference and didn’t waste any time putting
his membership dollars to work. “I met Cory Miller, who invited me to Kansas City to observe his operation,” relates Wilkinson. “He, too, was a new member, but operated a long-standing family business. While at his facility, I saw what it takes to get 100 people and several crews on the road in the morning. Cory also shared several of his company’s business documents, including contracts and various customer communication pieces.”

Last year, Wilkinson was selected to participate in the PLANET Trailblazer program and spent a day with veteran landscape contractor Fred Haskett, Landscape Industry Certified Technician, in St. Louis. “I traveled with a couple of Fred’s managers and observed how they interacted with customers,” Wilkinson recalls. “That in itself was worth the trip.”
Attending GIC also occupies a permanent spot on Wilkinson’s calendar. He enjoys the Breakfast With Champions along with other more formal networking events, but says he looks forward equally to the informal gatherings in the lobby and the restaurant of the host
hotel, the Louisville Marriott Downtown. He jokes, “I can ‘nurse’ one beverage for a couple of hours and learn enough to more than pay for my trip to Kentucky.” This year, Wilkinson was also a GIC ambassador and met with several new PLANET members, sharing some of his early experiences with them.

LESSONS LEARNED
Most good teachers are also good students, and that goes for Wilkinson, as well. What has he learned in four short years?
“I know that I have to spend money to make money, so I advertise in the local papers, have a presence in area shoppers’ magazines, participate in community service projects, and continually invest in our website. Veteran PLANET members have convinced me to spend more time selling and otherwise marketing my business, and less time in the field. It seems to be working. Being a Chamber
of Commerce member has also helped to generate sales.” He continues: “I buy the best equipment I can and strive to do business with only a few suppliers, including my chemical supplier and my power equipment dealer who I depend on to keep my mowers running during the year.
I’ve learned, too, that employees are not always motivated by the same thing, yet money is a constant. You have to pay more to get more in return from your employees.”

DOWN THE ROAD
Wilkinson plans to make use of PLANET study materials in preparation for taking his Landscape Industry Certified exam this year. Also on his agenda is moving out of his home office and storage unit for some land and a facility of his own. “Having something more visible for customers is good for business,” he adds, “but even more important, I believe it gives employees a place to gather and an overall warmer feeling about where they work.”
Wilkinson is also contemplating adding another service and possibly expanding beyond the Yukon market into neighboring Oklahoma City, a short 30-minute drive away. “PLANET is helping me with this decision, too, he adds, “by introducing me to a consultant
with whom I plan to meet in a couple of weeks.” With regards to specific “success goals,” Wilkinson says he’s still working on them with one caveat. “I believe I will ultimately be successful once I can mentor a new PLANET member. I am a teacher at heart, so mentoring someone someday so he or she can achieve success is my definition of success.”

planet ADVANTAGE –  Spring 2012 – Pages 6 & 7

EDITOR IN CHIEF – Steve Davidson
EDITOR – Rod Dickens