Mike Kukol, founder of Horizon Landscape Co. in Wyckoff, NJ, is a firm believer that continuous learning is the key to success — even if you’ve been in the industry for more than 40 years. Kukol spoke with Snow Business at length about what he has learned since starting his business in 1976 and how that has helped him keep his eye on the horizon for future growth for himself and his company.
Don’t neglect business education
Kukol graduated from Mercer County Community College in 1975 with a degree in ornamental horticulture. In hindsight, he wishes he’d taken a different path. “I would have gone to school for business and learned about landscaping elsewhere,” he says. “Your business is like marriage — it’s the most important relationship in your life and no one teaches you anything about it. You end up making mistakes — sometimes big ones.”
Like many in the industry, Kukol got his start behind a lawnmower and became well versed in operations. But to grow, he says owners must eventually get out from behind the wheel.
“We’re all technicians. It took me having a heart attack in 2007 to make the break,” Kukol says. “As owners, we spend too much time working and supervising as opposed to coming inside and learning how to run the business. Some never make that jump.”
Learn from your peers
Kukol also knows the importance of sharing and networking through his participation in state and national associations and peer groups. He attributes peer group participation and business coaches for helping him get over roadblocks he has experienced as his company has grown.
“The business grew steadily, but I felt like I had spent too much time stuck in a rut. When I started working with peers and coaches, I started getting the guidance I needed to change the business and start moving again,” he says. “Now when we hit a hurdle, we know how to find what’s holding us back, fix it and move on.”
He encourages companies to get past holding expertise close to the vest in the name of competition, noting that he has learned a lot from other contractors who have been willing to share information.
“You cannot solve everything on your own,” Kukol says. “To quote a local contractor that I respect, ‘The more educated my competitor is, the better business will be for both of us.’ You have to be involved and participate in your industry. I’ve grown to understand that more fully as I age.”
Encourage your team to learn
The importance of learning extends to the Horizon team. Kukol requires each of his employees to complete eight hours of continuing education each year. In addition, company meetings feature a learning component, even if it’s a quick five-minute video.
“It frustrates me when people say they don’t want to waste their time on it,” he says. “Learning gives you the tools to overcome challenges you’re facing and makes you a source of knowledge for others.”
Get out of your own way
Kukol’s thirst for learning has given him the realization that as a business owner he can’t do it all. As he looked back at the roadblocks Horizon hit during key periods of growth, it was tough to realize that he was often the bottleneck stifling progress.
“It’s very difficult see the big picture when you’re deeply involved in every aspect of the business. I was trying to do it all and had allowed a noose to grow over everyone. The result was that no one was being effective,” Kukol says. “As a small business owner, there is only so much you can do. I learned to hire people to do those things I’m not good at or to make the business flow better so that I can spend more time on the things that really matter. It’s a work in progress, so I’ll let you know next year whether or not that bottleneck broke wide open!”
Read the whole story in the February Digital Edition.
Cheryl Higley is Director of Education and Content for SIMA. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 262-236-9972.