Cracking the code

November 7, 2014 -  By

Binary code in green

Call it as time consuming as eyeing a needle in a haystack, as frustrating as solving a Rubik’s Cube or as confusing as writing your own code.

No matter the adage, searching for software is hard.

The green industry is teeming with options—whether they’re written specifically for landscaping firms or not. Yet, fewer than 10 percent of landscape professionals are fully satisfied with what’s on the market, according to an LM survey with more than 200 respondents. Still, more than half of survey takers view the software options for green industry businesses as “good,” according to the survey. The others tag the options as fair to poor.

The dilemma lies in the range of software programs, some contractors say.  The programs are just as diverse as the landscaping businesses that use them. And software that encompasses all business units and functions—accounting, sales and customer relationship management (CRM), production and design—is flat-out hard to come by.

Which is why landscape professionals often take a hodgepodge approach to their data keeping, purchasing multiple programs to run operations. Others opt out of the search altogether and instead use paper, whereas a select few dish out the big bucks for a comprehensive or custom solution.

Here, green industry professionals share how they settled on their respective programs and how they’ve sculpted their businesses into what they are today.

Satisfied with inexpensive

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Chris Nieves

According to the aforementioned LM survey, landscaping professionals’ top considerations in choosing a software program are (in order of significance):

  1. Ease of use.
  2. Price.
  3. Ability to integrate with other programs.
  4. Mobile capabilities.
  5. Cloud capabilities.

 

Chris Nieves gave YardBook a try based on No. 2—it’s free—but he’s stayed loyal to the cloud-based program because of No. 1.

“I’m a guy that likes to use the KISS (keep it simple, stupid) method,” says the owner of Progressive Lawn Maintenance in Mobile, Ala. “YardBook is like that.”

Nieves uses the software for all facets of his business, from tracking equipment to measuring properties and doing invoicing and estimates. He also has been beta testing its routing program and plans to utilize the credit card processing feature once it’s fully developed.

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George Taylor

YardBook is ideal for landscape professionals like himself still gaining their footing in the industry, he says. Nieves launched his one-man operation in January.

“I wanted to start using this before I got any customers,” he says. “But the way YardBook is going, I will keep using them. It’s definitely helped me grow the company.”

Then there’s 72-year-old George Taylor who has used the same program, My Invoices Deluxe, for 18 years.

The partner at Taylor & Taylor in Freehold, N.J., a $300,000 company, with five full-time employees, randomly purchased the software for $15 during a routine run to Staples many years ago.

“It does (almost) everything you’d want,” Taylor says. “The thing I would like it to do more with is pesticide and fertilizer record keeping.”

[  Related Links:   A custom conundrum   |  Integrating with QuickBooks: Does the software size up?  ]

Taylor uses the desktop version of My Invoices Deluxe to manage his maintenance and lawn care work for a mix of government, residential and commercial clients; generate sales and tax reports; plus pull up past due invoices. Still, he has an accountant who handles his taxes and uses PayChoice for payroll. All other data are kept on paper.

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David Herr

David Herr, owner of Lawn Solutions in Kiel, Wis., also purchased his software, Gopher, initially based on cost, at a $400 price tag in 2006.

Operating as one-man lawn care firm, accruing around $100,000 in annual revenue, Herr says he’s gotten his money’s worth in terms of its scheduling, billing and record-keeping abilities.

“With a couple clicks, I can print out my day’s invoice, see right away what the day’s revenue is and how many other properties I have left for that particular application,” he says.

His only criticism of the program: It lacks mobile and cloud capabilities.

Though Herr’s researched other software programs with mobile billing options, none size up to Gopher’s record-keeping ability, he says. None that are in his price range, that is.  His version of Gopher also lacks direct integration with Quicken, an accounting software from the same developers of QuickBooks, Intuit. For that reason, he maintains a Microsoft Excel file with customer information regarding applications and pricing.

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Tom Shotzbarger

“Right now I keep most of the same information in the Excel database that is in the Gopher software,” Herr says. “This allows me to cross and double check data such as types of application and correct pricing.”

Tom Shotzbarger, general manager for Shreiner Tree Care, uses a similar process to integrate data in his production software, ArborGold, with QuickBooks. He reformats information from ArborGold into an Excel document to then upload it to QuickBooks.

Trending toward the cloud, CRM

Shreiner Tree Care, located in King of Prussia, Pa., has used ArborGold for 13 years. Shotzbarger says the program, which is written specifically for tree care companies, does “almost everything,” and the developers

For instance, the software currently is transitioning to a cloud-based interface. Shreiner Tree Care has yet to adopt the version, though, as it’s waiting for developers to complete the coding that will allow it to segregate clients lists per their respective arborists.

“What we’re most looking forward to is ‘real-time’ data flow combined with the reduction of paperwork,” Shotzbarger says. “Our proposal generation and delivery to clients will be immediately enhanced to service their needs and expectations.”

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Don Long

Don Long, vice president and general manager at Tomlinson Bomberger in Lancaster, Pa., speaks to the benefits of mobile and cloud capabilities, specifically those through Service Assistant, designed by Real Green Systems.

He calls its web-based client portal a “marketing universe.” Through it, customers can pay bills online, see their service histories and accept promotions, among other actions, he says.
In addition to using Service Assistant for production and CRM, Tomlinson Bomberger uses DynaScape and QuickBooks.

Service Assistant is the brains of Tomlinson Bomberger’s full-service landscaping operation, so to speak, Long says.

With thousands of customers and 105 employees, the $10 million firm can’t go without its scheduling and routing features, he adds.

“That would certainly be a horrendous task, if it weren’t for the computer assistance, in terms of managing our database of clients,” he says. “It gives us a lot of insight into the work we produce, the work we need to produce.”

Worthwhile investments

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Chris Speen

Likewise, Chris Speen sees the data delivered by Salesforce, a CRM program, combined with the information recorded in QuickBooks and DynaScape, as invaluable to Twin Oaks Landscape in Ann Arbor, Mich.

“You can’t make decisions without data,” says the general manager. “That’s how we measure our success. Without Salesforce, I don’t know how I’d be able to get that info and make decisions.”

Twin Oaks Landscape, a $2.4 million, full-service company with 40 employees, began using the software in 2007, when it was well under $1 million in annual revenue.

“It’s not cheap, but it’s well worth it,” Speen says.

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Jessica Milligan

Jessica Milligan, vice president of Strathmore Landscape in Montreal, has found the same solace in Boss LM.

“The sticker price is a lot when you look at Boss,” she says. “But we had previously tried to save a lot of money (with software), and we realized you can’t do that. … We lost a lot of time and energy using the wrong solution.”

The payoff, Milligan says, was the software helped Strathmore scale beyond 20 employees, its size in 2008 when it switched to the software. Today, the commercial landscape maintenance firm has 80 to 105 employees. Boss manages “the whole cycle” of the business, Milligan says, from qualifying a lead to measuring a property, preparing the bid and presenting it to clients. Plus, it does payroll.

“You’ll get out of it what you put in it,” Milligan says. “If we hadn’t invested in the software we probably would have maxed out at 20 employees.”

Correction: This story has been updated to highlight the following change. The print version of this story misspelled Chris Speen’s name as Chris Spreen. Here, it is spelled correctly as Chris Speen.

Sarah Pfledderer

About the Author:

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

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