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The White Shirts

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  • SIMA
- Posted: February 24, 2017

By Jon Crandall

Some of my most successful times in life came from ideas that at first generated laughs.

As an example, over 10 years ago, my uncle asked me to be present during the landscape design phase of his vacation home. I was about 25 years old and remember being impressed by the general contractor’s attire. He wore a white shirt and dressed business casual. His speech was polished, and he was charismatic yet direct. I recalled other general contractors who did not quite fit that image. They were “expected” to be late, had an interesting choice of words, missed deadlines, were typically less likely to be trusted right away, were uncharismatic, dressed less than professionally, and so on.

I was told this particular contractor was different. He was professional and his work was well done. Other contractors had a reputation for doing great work in the area but did not have the professionalism. I was told you paid a premium for this contractor. I had a similar reaction to an insurance agent I had started working with who always showed up to wherever I was for our meetings. He always wore a suit and tie and clean shoes. It didn’t matter if I was installing a lawn or at my office, and it didn’t matter that I wasn’t professionally dressed - he always was. I remember feeling respected as his client.

Stepping up our game
At that point it clicked that I needed to be more professional. My business already went above and beyond to provide a great product. Like many other contractors, operationally, we were sound. Our employees, vendors and clients liked us. We were trustworthy. So, what else could we do? This was particularly important because at the time we were trying to break into the commercial market.

Property managers, property owners and large-scale facility directors expected more. I quickly realized a few things. I needed to dress myself and my field team for success, and I needed to significantly improve my back office.

Making changes in the field was very difficult. I wanted our people to be recognized as professionals. At the time, my team dressed how they liked, took their shirts off when it was hot, had torn or stained pants, and wore sports team hats. They were a motley crew, and I was part of them. The only semblance of uniformity was our company logo-stained T-shirts.

I wanted them to wear only a company logoed hat, if one at all; clean, pressed and belted uniform pants; and a clean company T-shirt tucked in. It took almost one full year to get us in shape.

This is about the time I became the butt of jokes, so I knew I was on the right track. They would laugh when I would say: “Tuck in your shirt,” “Take your hat off,” or “Let me give you a clean shirt.” Men would tear the sleeves off on the hot days and wear non-company apparel during the cold days. However, after a lot of hard work it has become a part of who we are. People driving by our crews would call unsolicited to tell me they noticed our men working and they looked great!

20160413_JCGrounds_Spring_003 (300x200)
The look of professionalism: Jon Crandall's JC Grounds team is always outfitted with company attire to put their best professional foot forward.

I am Superman
At this same time I entered into a period where I called myself Superman. Not for having superpowers, but due to how many times I would change my outfit each day.

I might start my day on a crew with crew clothes and then go to a meeting wearing business casual, and then end my day casually dressed when going out with friends.

When I would go to the nursery driving a dump truck to pick up material and/or pick out plants, I would be teased to not get my white shirt dirty. I usually responded that it was OK because I had plenty more back at the office! Around the same time, we began hiring more office staff who also wore white shirts. We became known by our field crew as “the white shirts.” A playful nickname, but a joke nonetheless.

A ripple effect
Internally it might have been fun to joke, but those efforts were starting to pay off. Property managers and facility managers began to recognize us. We would ask why they hired us or kept us on board, and many times we would hear trust, professionalism and follow-through. They told us that our work was very good but more importantly if times were challenging or if we made a mistake we would always respond with “a sense of urgency” and correct the situation as best as possible in a professional manner.

Around the same time, we hired our first full-time administrator/bookkeeper who is still with us today. The immediate impact was amazing. Invoices were out on time, so cash flow improved. Estimates and certificates of insurance were out the day they were requested, and clients were ecstatic at the turnaround. They assumed our work would reflect the same follow-through, which it did. Our vendors were paid within 45 days, and our books were squeaky clean, so when it came time to get a credit line, the bank was happy to provide us with more than we needed.

Within another year, we made the INC 5000 list, and the business was growing well over 50% year over year. Our professional team is what I consider our strongest asset and our vehicle for continued growth. We have an outlined plan with growth goals of 20% year over year to our portfolio. I continue to surround myself with the movers and shakers of the industry and business world. Entrepreneur Jim Rohn once said: “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” I leave you with this…What does your average look like and what would you like it to become?

Jonathan Crandall is chief visionary for Crandall & Company Inc. Contact him at jon@jcgrounds.com.

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