Looking back on GroundMaster’s 10-year milestone in business brings back a lot of memories. Those first years weren’t an easy adventure, but they were satisfying in many regards.
We grew very slowly, but fortunately we had the passion and the need to earn a living. I was 30 years old and had two kids. We liked to work, and work we did - long, hard hours. Youth was the key that kept us going.
Breaking the $1 million mark
Our 10th year was the year we broke $1 million in revenue. We had 12 to 14 trucks (likely too many, but we didn’t know any better); a staff that fluctuated between 18 and 26 employees, depending on the time of year; and about 80 customers, providing primarily landscape maintenance services and snow removal.
Our profit centers would have looked something like $700,000 landscape maintenance revenue, $150,000 to $175,000 enhancements revenue and $100,000 to $150,000 snow revenue. We did everything with our own hands at the time.
Learning how to leverage our assets wasn’t something we understood. It was sell work, perform the work, and then sell more work. It took a long time to have a steady flow of revenue and the right skills to manage and perform the work, particularly in a timely fashion.
At this point in my career, I figured out that operating a small business and trying to grow it was no easy task. I also discovered I was my own worst enemy in many aspects. When I found myself dealing with the same negatives year after year, I knew it was because I hadn’t done the diagnostics and planning to implement a solution that would reduce or eliminate the issue.
It was clear that we needed to get a lot smarter and grow the business into a bigger, more stable business so we could afford to employ people. At 40 or 50 years old I didn’t think I would be as willing to work as hard for what we were being compensated.
We started seeking solutions to make things function with less blood, sweat and tears. We got involved with PLANET (ALCA at the time) and began developing relationships with other specialty contractors so we could streamline our services, become more knowledgeable, and do more with less.
The industry during my first 10 years
In the early ’80s, when I was just starting out, the industry was very undefined and small in the Midwest. Most of the companies were named after the business owners running them. The largest company in my market wasn’t doing $2 million in revenue. My competitors didn’t grow much past the owner’s management ability or capacity.
Outsourcing was catching on in some aspects of commercial real estate and property management, and by the ’90s it became the standard. In the beginning we were competing with some guy at the plant or an owner’s kid, but in the ’90s this changed. The need to demonstrate our professionalism was the standard, not the exception. We won a lot of work because we had a uniformed staff, and an identical and clean fleet of equipment.
Today’s business owner is faced with different challenges. Government regulation is a much bigger part of running the business, as are the rising costs of employment and health care. Competition for a smaller workforce, and of course more competition in general, plays a bigger role, too.
If I could do it all over again, I would have joined industry trade associations much earlier. It wasn’t until I was 12 years into the business that I even knew trade associations existed.
My experience with industry organizations was off the charts. It was a big commitment, but we got so much out of it. The key was that trade organizations were so member driven. We had a great staff operating the day-to-day, but how we wanted to be governed and grow was up to the board.
Today directors and key staff members play a larger role in the direction of the associations, and that’s a good thing. They are larger and more complex just like our companies and the industry.
Congratulations to Snow Business on reaching this milestone. Reaching the 10-year mark got me thinking on a much bigger scale, and made me think about what things could be like in 10 more years.
Mike Rorie has been a participant in the snow & ice industry for more than three decades. He founded and eventually sold GroundMasters in Cincinnati. He is now a supplier to the industry as CEO of GIS Dynamics, parent company to Go iLawn and Go iPave. He is a longtime contributor to Snow Business magazine. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.