2021 Was a banner year for environmental management, based in Plain City, Ohio. With a focus on growing the company not only financially but culturally ahead of its 30th anniversary (in 2022), EMI surpassed expectations and achieved 32% in growth for the year.
The company also expanded, adding its fourth location in the Columbus area with its Columbus East Branch.
The growth in 2021 also allowed EMI to reinvest within the company. They are now building a new sales building at their main headquarters and new operations buildings at several branches. It landed EMI at no. 51 on this year’s annual Top 100 List.
This heightened growth can be attributed to a myriad of things, but senior staff say the biggest motivators were defining the company’s ideal customer, a focus on recruiting and adopting EOS — the Entrepreneurial Operating System.
A picture-perfect prospect
Taking the time to define its ideal customer was a gamechanger for EMI. With a plan to provide more all-encompassing work to its commercial client base, management had to take the time to determine what made an ideal client then evaluate current customers and revamp its bidding process.
“It allows us to bring more consistent deliverables across a broader scope of services,” says Sean Cramer, director of sales. “It’s about doing a more quality-rounded service from a maintenance standpoint, which encompasses snow, and the enhancements that go along with that.”
Eric Klopfer, EMI’s director of snow and maintenance operations, said the company focused on finding clients who wanted a long-term partnership rather than someone to show up so many times a month and mow the grass.
“We did not want those people who sign on for one year and then you got to go bid it out again,” he notes.
Klopfer adds that by pushing to offer more all-encompassing work, they were able to form stronger long-term contracts with new and existing clients.
“We now have three- or five-year partnership deals for some of the largest sites in Central Ohio…who previously with other vendors were on just one-year deals,” he says.
EMI entices customers into these long-term contracts first by educating them on the value of having a trusted partner and not just a vendor working for them. They also review the mutual benefits of keeping and retaining team members, lower year-over-year price increases and less paperwork/legal documents to sign associated with them.
“Many of our clients are invited to attend our annual team member appreciation party so they further grasp the level in which we care about and for our teams and the impact their partnership has on our team members and their families,” Klopfer says.
But like with any change, Klopfer admits there were some customers who EMI had to walk away from as they no longer fit the bill of an ideal client.
“We found out that some customers did not want long-term partners and they just want a commodity that you buy,” Klopfer says. “So, there were some decisions we had to make where people had been with us for a while but didn’t want to sign on in a timely manner, so we had to move on from them.”
Now when EMI goes out to bid, Klopfer says there are two main things to be considered.
“The first piece is, will they be with us?” Klopfer explains. “If they’re just looking for a piece of paper with numbers on it, then we’re not going to have that conversation. The second piece is scope of work. It needs to be really all-encompassing from fertilization of the turf all the way down to irrigation services…when we pull up to the sites, we want it to be our jobs that we’re presenting — not a 24-mow occurrence where they do their own fertilizer.”
Even though EMI has their ideal customer pretty well established, Cramer says it’s an ongoing process and something that they are always revisiting as a team.
“We talk monthly about how to have better qualifications for the bidding process,” he says. “So, we are pretty choosy on finding the right clients before we just provide quotes. We’re asking enough questions so that we aren’t just going out and spinning our wheels.”
Cramer adds these questions can be as simple as: How is your current provider not delivering on what you expected, and how often is the opportunity open for bid?
Klopfer and Cramer both say the move has paid off tremendously as it’s rapidly grown EMI’s other service divisions such as flowerscapes, water management and winter services.
“Irrigation has grown 300% for us in the past three years just by adding these clients that have that scope of work to their business,” Klopfer says. “By finding larger sites that have the irrigation and then going out and being very proficient in what we’re doing on those irrigation sites has changed the market as well for us.”
The more encompassing service packages are a win-win for clients too, Cramer adds. EMI has better retention now that they are seeking these more valued relationships.
“With these customers where we have long-term partnerships and a large scope of work, we’re retaining about 95% of those,” Cramer says. “And our close rate for new business is in excess of 50%, which for some places, 10-15% is standard. But if you have a quality product and people are willing to talk to you, you can really fine-tune this. You want them to see you as an advisor and be there to help them along the way — that’s really what we’re interested in as partners.”
Crews appreciate this new strategy as they are able to spend more time on fewer sites and provide a higher quality of service.
“At the end of the day, it helps us staff and retain our people a lot easier once we have those relationships in place,” Klopfer added.
And strong recruiting and employee retention is another factor for EMI surpassing its growth goals.
“One of the biggest things with recruiting is we’re recruiting every day,” says Zach Rohr, director of development. “And it’s not just me who is doing the recruiting — it’s everybody. Everyone within the entire company is a recruiter because they are a walking, talking billboard. They have EMI on their shirts, on their car, and that’s the biggest thing that’s tied into the marketing, too. We’re creating that brand.”
Rohr notes two other useful ways to recruit are utilizing social media and referral programs.
“From the start, it’s about having the opportunity to talk about EMI. We have to build that culture,” he says.
EMI has several different referral programs where employees can earn $100-$200 per referral. The company also offers special location bonuses depending on which branch an employee wants to work at and a $500 signing bonus.
Annabelle Weisgerber, marketing manager, has also been instrumental in improving recruiting by highlighting all of the benefits of working for EMI on social media. She says posts like the ones showing the construction team using a helicopter to airlift trees onto a rooftop terrace went practically viral and drove an increase in applications.
“One of our objectives this year was to showcase things on our social media that makes us different and would entice people to apply,” she says. “But by highlighting the people, it’s really helped with recruiting. I think our people really take a lot of pride in their work and seeing themselves or their friends on social media has helped immensely. We get told all the time that people are excited about it… People are also so much more willing to share that than just a regular post. That’s given us a lot of traction just in our community as well.”
Concentrating on recruiting has paid off for EMI, as the company has lost only about 5% of their new hires for the year.
“We’ve hired 185 people. Of that we’ve only lost 10 people,” Rohr says of the start of the season. “Our goal is to reach 450 employees this year and we’re on track.”
With all that hiring comes the need to reorganize internally. To do so effectively, EMI employed a well-known business management system.
“At the beginning of 2021, we really bought into EOS — the entrepreneurial operating system — and went through a process called ‘Traction,’” explains Gary Clark, COO. “That really spoke to defining everyone’s roles, making sure there were proper expectations for everyone within the organization and those expectations had to be quantifiable.
“It’s not enough to just give someone a path. You have to have certain markers along that path so they can feel like they’re succeeding as they reach those markers. As a leadership group, we’ve spent a lot of time in the last 12 to 18 months working on that.”
Clark adds that clearly defining roles for each position has helped improve productivity and communication — along with establishing clearer expectations.
“We’ve found that people are more successful if we put them on one single path and let them work on that task specifically,” he says. “As opposed to in the old days where you might’ve been somewhat responsible for operations and had some sales goals and helped with marketing, too, and stuff like that. We’ve really done a good job with this EOS system in defining what everyone’s responsible for and making sure they’re accountable for that.”
A key component of EOS is that everyone is assigned mental 90-day “rocks.” These rocks are quantifiable goals they are to achieve over the next three months. These goals can range from increase revenue by a certain amount this quarter to interview an established number of candidates to fill a specific open position.
“All the 90-day rocks need to be measurable. It’s not, ‘Oh I need to be better over the next 90 days.’ It's over the next 90 days, I expect to see 15% improvement in this metric,’” Clark says. “When we meet as a group, we ask people, ‘How are you tracking on these goals?’”
EMI holds weekly pulse meetings to review the 90-day rocks and offer collaboration where need be.
“The pulse meetings have about 10 different directors of various departments throughout the company,” Cramer says. “And each of them has two or three rocks every 90 days, though a lot of them they are working with other departments to get accomplished. But we can measure success still, and in the first quarter, we accomplished 80% completion of the rocks. It lets you know you’re working as one big unit to achieve greater things for the company.”
Clark says he feels embracing EOS has brought on a new era of expedited growth for EMI.
“For a company, we grew by 32% and it’s our 30th year in business,” Clark says. “I never expected or have never seen that kind of growth since we were very young. I think that can all be attributed to us focusing on the little details and everyone focusing on pulling their portion of the weight for that overarching goal.”
And the growth isn’t stopping there. EMI is projected to see about 20% growth in 2022.
Building more growth
Something that’s sure to fuel some of that growth is a focus on expanding the company’s design/build division.
“On the construction side, we continued to keep as much market share as we can but a big thing we’ve done lately is build up the deign/build side of what we do where we’re privately designing and privately building,” says John Loos, director of landscape construction. “It’s a revenue stream we can add to what we’ve already done. We have a very heathy market share on the bid side, but the design/build is something we can add to.”
Brandon Gepper, EMI’s director of construction/enhancement, says he believes this is doable since so much of their construction work comes from the same core client base.
“The biggest thing that has enabled us to grow is repeat business with customers,” Gepper says. “We get that not because of our price, but by paying attention to safety and delivering a finished product that is as pain free as possible for the customer.”
Gepper adds this is what delivering design/build work is all about — accomplishing the task, getting it done on time and getting it done safely.
“A lot of landscape companies struggle with the commercial construction side of safety and the deliverables,” he says. “We’ve dived in and do our best to be the best at it.”
Klopfer says this push for more design/build work will also lend itself to more maintenance work now that EMI is striving to provide more encompassing work to all its clients.
“On the construction and install side, we put a large focus on making sure the installs that we do turn into maintenance recurring revenue after the fact as well,” Klopfer says. “That was something that five years ago we might have struggled with, but now it’s almost a seamless transition that we are going to do the maintenance afterwards and they are on board.”
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