The whole world seems to have been turned upside down by the pandemic. We were curious to learn what changes and strategies have been made by some of the top Landscaping Firms in the country, that are allowing them to not only survive but to thrive.
This is our interview with Todd Cioppa of MetroGreenscape and it is packed with valuable information on the ways they have had to adjust their day-to-day operations, and how they are growing their business in this economic climate.
MetroGreenscape Interview with Todd Cioppa:
CJ: How has the pandemic affected your business?
TC: It’s definitely presented its challenges with regards to overall client interaction and different things that we need to do from a marketing perspective. We’ve had to see our clients and sites virtually and overall move in a direction that we’re not used to moving in when a normal interaction turns into something that’s kind of completely different.
In the state of North Carolina, we haven’t seen as much of the restrictions as in other states. So we’ve been able to operate though it hasn’t been as efficient as it has been in years past. But, we’ve been able to adapt and overcome.
CJ: Can you talk a little bit more in depth about some of those changes that you’ve had to make?
TC: Just wholesale changes as a company, down to how many people you’re putting in a truck, different sanitation protocols and personal protective equipment protocols and sales protocols with regards to our interaction with our clients. Change all the way down.
How we do meetings…are we in the office or are we not in the office? Social distancing has presented its challenges. But with any challenge you uncover different ways to operate, streamlining certain things. So while other people want to focus on the negatives, we remind ourselves there’s always positives that can be had from things like this.
For example, you can bring your team together in different ways. You communicate differently. Things are done virtually. In the past, you would take two trucks and drive to a job site and a sales guy would look at something, an operations guy would look at something. Now one guy may go and we may do a video call where you virtually walk through the projects. So there are certain things that will come out of it that will end up streamlining business, too.
CJ: How have customers responded to these changes?
TC: Customer response has been good. Our business is exterior. So it’s not like having a plumber or electrician in your home. We don’t go into people’s homes to satisfy our deliverables: the landscape that we create, the patio that we install, or general landscape maintenance. Conversations have been at a distance and in people’s yards. You’re not shaking hands anymore. Your business card is a virtual thing now. But I think for the most part, outside of that initial fear of not knowing what was gonna happen, things have trended pretty well.
CJ: You alluded to some of them, but will you talk more about the changes you think are gonna stick around in a post pandemic world?
TC: Well, you’ll be more conscious of your interaction. You’ll be more conscious of maintaining distance. You may allow more people to work remotely. You may continue offering virtual appointments to clients as a potential qualifier so you’re not burning gas. Virtual appointments are easy to do. I can sit anywhere and have a conversation with the client. They can walk me around their space, and we see if we’re a good fit to do business together, just based on that initial interaction without somebody driving to somebody’s home. I could definitely see that sticking around.
Even some of the on site walk throughs could be handled this way. Of course, some operations are more complex and you’ll have to meet on site. But simple projects can easily be started virtually with us on a Google Duo or FaceTime call. Some of those things where technology can prevail will end up streamlining some things in what’s often viewed as an archaic industry. So if anything, this will get the industry up to the times, if you will.
CJ: Yeah, I think that’s one of the most interesting aspects of it. It’s not just on your side, but from a customer’s perspective. They have to adapt to a lot more video calls. And if it’s an older person who in the past would be much more comfortable with an in person thing, they’ve had to figure this out with their family, at the very least. That makes it easier.
TC: Most of the virtual calls have been with a senior demographic. It’s funny some of the conversations we have – it’s like something out of a movie where we’re fumbling around trying to get the audio to turn on or I’m looking at something upside down a lot of time. It’s just different things like that. But we’re muddling through it and where we’re doing what we need to do to still get services rendered to people in need.
CJ: In that vein, what are some opportunities you’re seeing for landscapers given the pandemic?
TC: Big opportunity, right? You’ve got to think about now all these people that travel, that do all these different things, big vacations. That money now is going to be spent in their yards to create a space for them. If we do have another round of this or the next time something happens. People are stuck in their homes. They want to have a space to go that they can just relax and disconnect from the news, the TV, work, video calls, any of the stuff. They’ll want that space.
And so we anticipate that when people are back to work and the economy is starting to go back up, people aren’t as nervous about spending money, that they’re going to spend it when they do spend it on things like this versus travel and hotels. And I mean, those industries are gonna take a huge hit. Whereas I think our industry can easily maintain and potentially grow out of this just because people will be spending money at their home versus on big, elaborate vacations. At least that’s what we think.
You’ve got to think about now all these people that travel, that do all these different things, big vacations. That money now is going to be spent in their yards to create a space for them. If we do have another round of this or the next time something happens. People are stuck in their homes. They want to have a space to go that they can just relax and disconnect from the news, the TV, work, video calls, any of the stuff. They’ll want that space.
CJ: Have you seen a drop in business during the pandemic?
TC: Slight. Nothing crazy. From a lead perspective, volume is good. We’ve had a couple of people want to delay a few projects here or there until the fall. But most people with secure employment who are trapped in their homes, they want to spend their money. It’s human nature, right? For people to spend or want to spend or want new things. And when people can’t and they’re told they can’t, then they’ll figure out a way to spend money. So they’ll spend it on services that are available at that time. So from a dip perspective, we haven’t seen a ton of dip in demand.
CJ: Have you changed your messaging at all? Or anything on your website in order to proactively address the conversation going on?
TC: Yeah. I mean it’s on our website that we offer virtual consultations. “This is some of the protocol that you know we’re following from a sales appointment perspective” to make people feel comfortable. Now that we’ve gone through that initial fear wave… We’re outside. So you know, the interaction is very limited, and people aren’t really concerned with having us in their yard. I still think that the interior type businesses are going to lag behind. But I think our business is fine.
CJ: One concern that I’ve heard from some landscapers is coming across as tone deaf especially amidst a pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement. I’ve heard some landscapers who are cautious about how to approach prospects during a time like this. Any thoughts on that?
TC: No, not really. Just be who you are and treat everybody kindly. We’re a faith based business. So for us our morals and values kind of cut right through all this stuff. And so we’re just staying true to ourselves as a company and our interactions with our clients will speak for itself with regards to those things.
CJ: I’d like to ask a little bit more of a tactical question going along that same line. I’ve seen some people comment on landscapers posts, saying “Oh, yeah it would be great to be able to do this if only unemployment wasn’t through the roof.” How do you handle that?
TC: We haven’t run across a lot of it. We offer a lot of different financing options for our clients, 0% interest for an extended period of time to help mitigate some of those circumstances. It costs our company quite a bit of money to offer those things and we were not passing that on to the client, so we’re trying to offer something to somebody that may not feel comfortable with a big up front cash outlay. And they’re trying to break it down into some monthly payments that they can actually afford. So we’ve gone ahead and come out with a few different programs with regards to financing options to try to help where we can.
CJ: What tools or resources have helped you navigate this challenge?
TC: I mean, a lot of it’s just common sense. From a resource perspective our marketing team has been absolutely fantastic in helping us through all of this and figuring out the next steps. We’ve all just gone through a huge transition. Our company was sold and bought a week ago. So that’s a big transition for everybody. And from a marketing perspective, our agency has been a tool that we’ve really leaned on.
Being tech forward in general has been helpful. That’s something that has really come to the forefront with most of our industry not being very technologically advanced being forced into doing some things that you just didn’t do before because you didn’t have to or you didn’t think about it.
And so now you’re thinking about different ways to do business and you’re innovating constantly. And so I think the speed at which business gets done now is really integral to what we’re doing.
CJ: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
TC: No, I really don’t. I’m not one to second guess things and say, “Oh, we should have. Would have. Could have.” I think we acted appropriately when we needed to act. I think in general no one knew what this was gonna be and how it was going to impact everyone and how bad it was going to get. And all these different things snowballed on everybody. And then you ask yourself, “How fast can you deal with it?” So I guess if information was a little better coming in, we could have all been a little bit more proactive instead of reactive, at least from the start. But I think we did a good job with the information that we had.
CJ: What lessons have you taken away from the next crisis?
TC: We’re just happy with the MetroGreenscape family and our team that we were able to work together through all of this. We came together as a team, as a family. And we did a really good job of handling this, listening to people, getting feedback from employees, understanding when people were coming from, giving grace when we needed to give grace, not trying to just just run a business to run a business.
Humanity is front and center, so you’ve got to think about all these things and balance it where it’s a win win for everybody. So in this instance, I think we all did a really good job. There were people that just wanted to work from home. There were certain people that were comfortable in their own vehicle and going to see certain things. So you handle each case differently. And you make sure that you know you’re doing as good a job as you can do because we’ve never been through anything like this, at least in most people’s lifetimes.
So I think that ability to work together and to get through it together will show big if anything like this were to happen again. We know what we’ve done. We’ve got a good plan in place, and we would just act quicker next time.
CJ: It sounds like you gained a lot of confidence going through that and knowing that with all the changes going on, even within the company, you guys have been able to handle it pretty well. So that’s great, Todd. Thank you for the conversation.