LM150 company profile: Complete Landsculpture

July 9, 2018 -  By
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Complete Landsculpture employees at a safety meeting

Complete Landsculpture ensures employees are on the same page during weekly safety meetings and trainings.

Like so many in the business, Chris Strempek, founder, co-owner and president of Complete Landsculpture, entered the landscaping industry as a boy, equipped with an old mower, summers full of free time and an asking price of $5 per lawn.

Strempek later founded Complete Landsculpture in 1985 when he was a second-year college student at the University of North Texas.

Although it began as a temporary endeavor with only eight employees, the Dallas-based company has since grown into a $17.6-million organization, with approximately 135 full-time equivalent employees in 2017.

So, what’s Complete Landsculpture’s secret?

“(Employee) retention is critical for brand consistency,” Strempek says. “You can’t have brand consistency with a revolving door because it’s impossible to always be training new team members and grow at the same time.”

Strempek adds, “We spend a lot of time and effort recruiting, developing our people, training them and giving them a culture that makes them feel like part of a family versus just having a job. We have to send them out with the right message, so they treat our clients the same way.”

In fact, Strempek makes a point to call employees at all levels “team members.”

All in all, Strempek says the way a company treats its employees with boots on the ground is important—and may determine whether those boots walk over to the competitor for a mere 50 cents more per hour.

“Relationships matter at all levels,” he says. “We’re only as strong as our weakest relationships.”

While the company still struggles at times with employees leaving for more pay, it’s managed to increase its retention rate, in part, by applying the five following practices.

Chris Strempek and Gene Freeman with crew members

Co-owners Chris Strempek (second from left) and Gene Freeman (back row) are big on employee recognition.

Coach your team

To ensure its employees understand their roles from the get-go, Complete Landsculpture goes all in on its training efforts.

“We have mowers, we have tractors, we have all that,” Strempek says. “But really, our soft assets are the most important resource we have. And we have to make sure that they’re properly trained.”

Complete Landsculpture’s training program goes beyond a standard onboarding process.

Once crew members are in the field, a management staff member checks in with crews, ensuring each employee understands his or her duties and spot-training anyone who needs it.

Additionally, foremen and leadmen are paid (overtime if they’ve exceeded 40 weekly hours) to undergo formal training twice a year. Led by seasoned foremen, these two-day trainings focus on technical aspects and company culture. The company also provides a weekly 15-minute training session after each safety meeting.

Further encouraging employee development, Complete Landsculpture takes more than 50 members of its leadership team on an annual two-day trip full of team building, company culture discussions and additional training.

Scheduled before the start of the season, the leadership team trips began in January 2017.

“It’s really good to refocus at the beginning of each year and make sure that everybody’s fully prepared to take the challenges of the new season on,” Strempek says.

Check in

To monitor how employees are adapting to the field, the company conducts follow-up surveys for its new hires at seven, 30, 60 and 90 days. The surveys, sent via email and collected by the company’s controller, are centered around the following questions:

  • How are you being treated?
  • How do you feel about the company and the culture?
  • How is it working with other team members?
  • Do you have the safety equipment you need?
  • Do you have the tools to do your job effectively?
  • Do you understand what’s required of you every day?

Implemented about a year ago, the surveys have helped with employee retention, safety and efficiency, Strempek says.

For example, Strempek says the results might alert the management team if an employee lacks safety goggles.

“It also tells us that employees understand what their job is,” Strempek adds. “If someone says, ‘I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be doing,’ we’re going to dial in on that right away and see what it is he doesn’t understand.”

Own up

Complete Landsculpture also expects its employees to think like owners by owning up and being held accountable for their responsibilities, Strempek says.

“Accountability is about ownership versus deflection,” Strempek says. “A lot of times, accountability is thought of in a negative sense of who’s responsible for the mistake or consequence. But really, it’s a positive term about ownership.”

The message was reiterated during the leadership team’s trip to Washington, D.C. So far, Strempek says the accountability message has resonated with team members. The efforts include foremen creating daily progress reports per job and the company performing A/R calls twice weekly to accounts past due, along with a “5-10 rule:” Respond to emails or calls the same day if received by 5 p.m. Calls or emails received after 5 p.m. are responded to by 10 a.m. the next day.

Give kudos

While it’s no secret landscaping can be backbreaking work, Complete Landsculpture rewards exemplary team members with awards for employee and crew of the month and year.

“It’s celebrating these guys and helping create a competitive but family environment where they understand what success looks like,” Strempek says.

The company recognizes crews and employees of the month after the company’s safety meeting.
Winners receive letters to take home, explaining why they won the award. The monthly award winners are then eligible for yearly awards and their pictures are posted on the company’s kitchen bulletin board.

The crew awards, which have been in place for about five years, include crew of the month by division, crew of the month overall and a crew of the year.

Complete Landsculpture managers take the crew of the year out to lunch, and that crew also receives a “crew of the year” emblem for its truck.

“I like to think the ‘crew of the year’ emblem gives that crew a little extra swagger,” Strempek says.

Play hard

Since employees spend a large portion of their days on the job, Complete Landsculpture also places an emphasis on having fun at work.

The company’s efforts include quarterly cookouts, a Christmas party, an Easter egg hunt for employees’ families, a companywide March Madness bracket and more.

“All of our employees are what we call our internal clients,” Strempek says. “And they’re the ones that really represent the company. We have to treat them in a way that we want our clients treated, which is with respect.”

“If we train and show our employee the love, he’s going to show our client the love,” he says.

Profit pointer

At Complete Landsculpture, drafting a 12-point business plan isn’t enough, according to Chris Strempek.

“You have to stop occasionally and pull that plan out and see how you’re doing against the plan,” he says. “You have to put some of that time on your calendar. It doesn’t happen organically. Otherwise, the transactions of the day will suck your time away.”

Strempek suggests setting aside a few hours each week for growth planning.

He also recommends management staff members conduct a biannual or even quarterly review of their own efforts, reviewing goals and the plans in place to achieve those goals—instead of conducting self-reviews at the end of the season, when it’s too late to change anything.

Strempek says, “You’ll find that you repeat the same sins over and over unless you can stop and correct them along the way during the year.”

Photos: Complete Landsculpture

Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's associate editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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