New Hope landscaping firm thrives by changing with the times
Jodi Spiegel Arthur
When the pandemic started in the spring of 2020, business was going well for Best Buddies Landscaping and there were plenty of staff available to meet customer needs.
It wasn’t until late 2020 that the 11-year-old New Hope company experienced a labor shortage, said Dave Gates, owner of Best Buddies.
“Last year, despite the pandemic, we had all of our employees. We really cooked at full speed with a lot of work everywhere because everyone was at home, ”he said. “Towards the end of 2020 we saw a labor shortage. We knew 2021 was going to be tough.
As March 2021 rolled around, setting it up became even more difficult. From a team of 15 last year, there were only eight this spring.
“We’ll get in touch and the boys won’t answer the phone,” said Gates. “Those who are (said) go into building and roofing.”
An additional problem was that workers were hired by other landscapers. “If we send someone to pick up the material, another owner could see them at the mulch farm and ask how much they make and offer them more locally,” said Gates.
Gates said he believed the extra unemployment benefits due to the pandemic was an issue. “I think that was the biggest problem,” he said. “We never had the problem with companies trying to steal their employees like this.”
Gates said that job postings that would normally result in 20 applicants receiving zero or one at most.
“Nobody applied for our positions until we started giving out signing rewards, providing unlimited flexibility on schedule, paying for sponsored ads, and understanding that right now, it’s more important not to lose customers than to make a profit.
“We asked our management what they needed to be happy here and started paying our workers 10-20% more than our competitors. Yes, it initially reduced profit margins, but the customers were satisfied, we pay the bills and now our entire team is firing on all cylinders with a good attitude.
“Back then it wasn’t so much about money. It was about not losing customers because our business was shrinking for the first time in 11 years, ”said Gates, adding that he received calls but had to turn the deal down due to a staff shortage. “When you see your business contract at the age of 35, it really burdens you.”
Gates also turned to technology to support the business. He hired Laura Niedziocha, Director of Operations, “to lead us into the 21st century and build our infrastructure”.
“She taught our team how to use the landscape services apps, updated our billing services and streamlined the entire company.
“We used to be just pen and paper (at work),” he said. “We wasted a lot of time entering (information) into the computer.”
Now employees can log into work through the app and when they finish a job they enter their notes and it all goes into Best Buddies’ system, Gates said. They can also upload before and after photos showing their work completed and work they think needs to be done. And the photos can be shared with customers. Gates’ staff, who are generally younger, love it, he said.
They also love the Best Buddies Swag the company offers, he said of the company’s shirts, hats and jackets that are given to employees. And they appreciate the flexibility they are given when they need a day off. “Not working in order to live is super important.
“I want to be a place where people enjoy working. If you stay long term, you will have a bright future. We give a lot of vacation. We make pizza on Fridays. … I really try to make Best Buddies their company too. “
To fill the void when the hiring was toughest, Gates reached out to college students whom he knew would not get additional unemployment. Its workers are now half college students and half long-term full-time employees. Some of his workers, which include both office and landscape gardeners, are employed and some work on an hourly basis.
“It was the perfect bridge because the extra unemployment will stop and these guys won’t get unemployed because they go back to school.”
However, now that they return to class, more workers are needed again.
“We’re (ramping up) a hiring flash for the fall,” said Gates.