Measured Landscapes

 Blake Crawford, owner of Crawford Landscaping Group, and Keith Mahan, president and owner, project revenues will reach $13 million this year. Photo by Ed Clement

Blake Crawford, owner of Crawford Landscaping Group, and Keith Mahan, president and owner, project revenues will reach $13 million this year. Photo by Ed Clement

When he was working in the auto industry, Blake Crawford remembers teams of employees assigned to evaluate every step in a production line.

“You have to continuously refine your processes,” Crawford remembers. “Then you’d squeeze out 15% efficiency.”

Crawford, 43, grew up in the auto industry working in his father’s parts plants at Cambridge Industries. There, he learned that every step in the manufacturing process could be measured and improved.

So when Crawford started a landscaping company in Naples in 2004, he borrowed some of the techniques that have boosted the efficiency of auto manufacturers. ISO 9000, kaizen and lean manufacturing aren’t foreign words at Crawford Landscaping Group.

The results have been impressive. Crawford estimates revenues will be $13 million this year from 220 clients in Lee and Collier counties, up from $12.5 million last year. Customers include large upscale community associations such as Grey Oaks and Pelican Bay and the company employs 170 people.

Crawford says manufacturing’s measures and efficiencies can best be applied to administrative tasks. They document every administrative process in great detail, a laborious but necessary task.

At Crawford Landscaping, for example, the company has 130 such documents such as the flow of work orders, inventory management and billing. Crawford is frequently updating them himself. “I just did another one the other day,” Crawford says.

But the landscaping business isn’t like manufacturing because of its unpredictability and customer preferences. For example, some bushes may have grown faster than expected, rain might change the order of the work or a customer might make a special request.

Crawford says lean-manufacturing techniques can’t easily be applied well to landscapers in the field because they have wide latitude over how to do their job well. “How do you take discretion out of the landscape process? It’s very difficult,” Crawford says.

Besides, Crawford says he’s careful not to get too carried away with measurement techniques he learned in manufacturing. “It reaches a point of diminishing returns,” he says.

For example, the ISO certification process may be too rigid for companies outside manufacturing. “They take that ISO discipline almost too far,” Crawford says. “They become enslaved to the process.”

Crawford relies on other management techniques to keep his business running smoothly, including rewarding key employees with stock in the company. “It’s a way to retain and involve people in the day-to-day decisions,” says Crawford.

For example, Keith Mahan joined Crawford in 2009 as irrigation-systems director and recently became president of the company with an ownership stake in the business. “We want people to be a part of something bigger,” Crawford says.

Something bigger means growing the company. For example, Crawford hired master arborist Phil Buck to grow the company’s arbor division. That division and 19 employees contributed $1.1 million in sales to the company last year. “We see opportunities all over the East Coast and through Central Florida,” Crawford says.