Monthly Archives: September 2015

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NJLCA builds outdoor classroom

WALDWICK, N.J. – The New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association (NJLCA) has just completed its 2015 Day of Service (DOS) project at The Forum School, located in Waldwick, N.J. The Forum School is a private, non-profit, non- sectarian day school for students with Autism and other neurological dysfunctions. A ribbon cutting ceremony is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 2 from 1:30-2:30 p.m.

Each year, members of the NJLCA volunteer their time and donate equipment and materials for their Day of Service project to help children in local communities. This year, The Forum School was chosen for the NJLCA DOS project. The inspiration for the project came from Danielle Goldstein, an occupational therapy assistant major at Eastwick College, and daughter of Rich Goldstein, Treasurer of the NJLCA. The school requested a sensory garden to help teachers educate students about the different senses, using plant material with different colors, textures and scents and garden structures including a pondless water fountain and colorful "talk-tube" for sound. The NJLCA took it one step further and built an entire outdoor classroom, including built-in seating and raised planters.
NJLCA Executive Director Jody Shilan, who designed the project, said, "Our members really enjoy working together and giving back to local communities. These projects truly are a labor of love and I am always so impressed with the generosity of our association members." 
"When we first saw the plans, we expected a nice, colorful perennial garden for our students and teachers," said Brian Detlefsen, Principal of The Forum School. "However, now that the project is complete, we are amazed at how beautiful the outdoor classroom is. We can’t wait to start using it."

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Ruppert hires area manager

LAYTONSVILLE, Md. – Ruppert Landscape has announced the addition of Robert Porter as area manager in our Gainesville Landscape Management branch.

Porter, a resident of Warrenton, Va., has studied at Northern Virginia Community College and brings 17 years of industry experience to the company. He began his career working as an arborist, then held several positions where he worked performing landscape installation before joining Ruppert. As an area manager, he will be responsible for the sale, renewal and production of the branch’s landscape management work; the training and development of the personnel; and ensuring quality, customer service and customer retention.
“We are very excited to have Robert join the team,” said Collins Fitts, branch manager. “His extensive knowledge of industry practices and ability to connect and communicate efficiently with employees and customers make him ideal for this position.”

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Company makes new hire

GAINESVILLE, Ga. – Jacob Sims has joined The Fockele Garden Company as its new maintenance production manager.

In his new position, Sims will oversee daily operations of the maintenance department and will work to ensure the company is meeting its clients’ ongoing maintenance needs. He also will provide support for other areas of the business.
Sims has more than 20 years of turf grass management experience. Most recently he has served as superintendent and assistant superintendent at two area golf courses.
A graduate of Banks County High, Sims studied environmental horticulture with a minor in turf grass at Gwinnett Technical College.
He and his wife, Brooke, have three children, Hallie, 13, Hope Danial, 10 and Hogan, 7.

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Gut check

Rob Atema remembers the gut check in 2010. He tipped over a 5-gallon bucket and sat on it in the old shop, which was filled with equipment that was happily paid off but not running on jobsites. Rivertop Contracting had been working the tract home frenzy in North Carolina beyond its Asheville headquarters. Installation crews would go into new subdivisions and grade athe properties, then landscape them.

That business was big before 2009 when Atema says, “We really got steeped into the construction end of the business.” After a decade in business, the company had grown from Atema and partner/longtime friend, Brian Wierman, to about 40 people. And aside from tract homes, Rivertop was installing $40,000-plus landscapes on $1 million properties in gated communities.

“At this point, we were all in the field and we weren’t looking at the numbers or paying too much attention to the incoming call log,” Atema says. “We were working. We were planting trees.”

Then the grading contractors on new home construction sites stopped working. That was a clue – their work was done and the well was dry. But because Rivertop’s landscaping piece came toward the end of projects, the economic blow didn’t hit Atema until later. “We just kept on, then all of a sudden we were done with our work and there was no place to move our skid-steers. There was just nothing,” Atema says.

Atema had to lay off most of the staff. The team shrunk down to six employees, and that included Atema and Wierman. “The silver lining was that the company stayed intact because our debt load at the time was minimal,” Atema says.

But still, there was no work coming in.

Sitting on the bucket, Atema thought, “What am I going to do?” He and Wierman loved construction. They didn’t want to give up the installation business. But in 2010, after that moment of clarity that maintenance would stoke some new business, Rivertop made a strategic decision to focus on obtaining large commercial maintenance contracts.

“We started talking to our builder contacts and used relationships with HOAs and management companies to open some doors in maintenance,” Atema says.

Then Rivertop landed the Asheville parks and recreation contract. By 2012, the company was running five fulltime maintenance crews and taking on construction jobs, too. “We were signing high-dollar construction jobs left and right, and we got distracted (from the maintenance focus),” Atema says.

Another moment of clarity: The company needed a renewed maintenance focus.

So in 2013, the company hit $3.5 million and the director of business development, Kenny Jackson, came on board. “I was still the chief salesman,” Atema says, relating that Wierman ran the construction division (and still does). “I had to have, like, a 90-percent close rate to keep up with feeding the machine, so to speak.” He was booking any kind of job – construction, maintenance.

Fast-forward to 2014. Atema, Wierman and Jackson sit at a table together – a completely different scene than the 5-gallon bucket solo. It was time to plan how to play big. And maintenance, again, was the answer. Except this time, Rivertop would focus on securing national tenants and commercial office space clients.

In between all of this is a story about recalibrating a business, realizing a vision and cementing a valuable partnership. There’s a story about learning how to narrow down while expanding geographically. There’s a story about a tireless, over-achieving little guy that now plays in the big ring.

That’s the Rivertop story, and today the firm is $4.3 million in revenue with 75 employees, a fleet of 37 trucks and contracts in three states. If you add the reach of its strategic partner, that makes 225 employees and 130 trucks on the road.

“It’s a big deal to be able to sit at the bidding table across from a national company,” Atema says of a critical strategic partnership that has been key to propelling growth. “It is allowing us to be a regional player and, to use a boxing analogy, fight a weight class up. We are in the light weights but we are playing with the heavy weights.”

Here is the progression that took Rivertop from a mostly residential installation firm to a commercial maintenance contractor that still holds some construction work while competing for maintenance accounts like Wal-Mart.

Pitching big prospects

You can’t secure a multi-state contract by sitting in your home office. Rob Atema, owner of Rivertop Contracting in Asheville, N.C., knows that the Arby’s and Wal-Marts aren’t going to knock on his door. He has learned to take his presentation on the road and tell the story of why his company is an ideal fit for these clients.

“If you are going to lead your organization, then you better be able to articulate what your organization is,” Atema says of explaining the mission to prospects, and ingraining it in his own team.

Nail down your story. What are your vision, mission and core values? How does your organization live these in the field?

Show your true colors. “If you were here in my office, or talking to the crews out in the shop, you’d hear carrying on – in a good way,” Atema says. “We’re asking each other how our weekends were, what’s going on with the wife and kids.” A fun, friendly environment is contagious.

Express your passion. “I’m excited about what our strategic partnership means for the future,” Atema says, relating that he shares this with prospects, too. Atema says he’s a people person with an outgoing personality, so delivering an elevator speech (or a long presentation) to a client comes naturally. But, he adds, “I’m in no way a public speaker.” Learning to communicate the company’s vision, capabilities and energy as a green industry service provider took practice – but he does this by delivering the same message to his team on a daily basis. “As a business owner, you are ultimately charged with the responsibility of leading people.”


Cutting off residential work.

Atema and the team wanted to go after strip malls and large single-tenant multiple-location contracts. That meant saying goodbye to residential maintenance completely in spring 2014. “We just didn’t renew their contracts, and we also let go some of our HOA clients,” Atema says. “We got really focused on that multiple-location model.”

Still, the company continued its construction division. But the maintenance goal was to service accounts like Target, Home Depot, O’Reilly’s Auto Parts, etc.

Drilling down and reaching out.

Going after multi-location clients required expanding the service area. “We drew a circle 100 miles out from Asheville, N.C., and said, ‘We are going to service that area,’” Atema says. All the while, Rivertop continued to do construction work for loyal clients.

“Our construction division is smaller than it once was, but we are still relevant,” Atema says, relating that the company runs seven installation crews and 11 maintenance crews.

After stretching the service area out beyond Asheville to capture more business during 2014, that fall the leadership regrouped and decided to go even wider. “We had to broaden our footprint and offer a bigger area to be attractive to, like, an Advanced Auto Parts,” Atema says.

“We can’t go to them and say, ‘We just do Asheville and Hickory,’ and expect them to be excited about that. So we developed a strategic partnership with another landscaping company based out of Charlotte, N.C.”

This expanded Rivertop’s ground into South Carolina and Virginia. “That allows us to compete in an arena with the Brickmans, US Lawns, Rupperts and others are playing,” Atema says.

Forming a strategic partnership.

The partnership began with Rivertop serving as a subcontractor for a larger firm based out of Charlotte a few years prior to 2014 when the relationship was officially formed. Then, Atema grew a stronger relationship with the owner. They’d call each other to compare notes on business issues – uniform policies, building a website and such.

Once Rivertop identified its ideal client in fall 2014 and decided to expand again, Atema visited the owner in Charlotte and pitched an idea. Rivertop had been serving as an extension of this company’s operation for an account with locations in its area. “What if we took that model and magnified it?” he suggested.

About six weeks later, after discussions including the directors of operations, sales and key managers, the companies entered in a mutual agreement. “We are working together for the common good for both companies on these particular relationships,” Atema says, specifically referring to the single-tenant, multiple-location maintenance contracts.

The agreement included identifying quality: “If I am selling Rivertop to a client with 100 branches, I need to have some assurance that what I’m selling them in Asheville, N.C., will look the same in Wilmington, S.C.,” Atema says, also speaking to consistency.

Other key factors included a uniform look, pricing and capacity. (See What makes a perfect partner? on pg. 54.)

Then there was the administration end. The owners agreed that the “contract prime” would manage communications with the client, and who serves as prime depends on who sold the account and where it is located.

The strategic partnership has more than doubled Rivertop’s capacity in terms of boots on the ground and fleet. Beyond that, the growth “reinforcements” are stoking employee morale. “When we pitched the concept to our field managers, there was huge excitement,” Atema says. “It helped our culture because everyone wants to do something bigger than just mowing grass or planting trees.”

What makes a parfect partner?

The strategic partnership that Rivertop formed with a larger company based out of Charlotte, N.C., has allowed the firm to expand exponentially across the board: bigger geography, more manpower, a larger fleet, increased visibility and greater negotiating power at the bidding table.

Rivertop went from 32 trucks to about 130 “in an instant,” says Rob Atema, owner. The team grew from 75 to a combined 225. That gives Rivertop and the partner firm the power to compete for single-tenant, multiple-location accounts. But getting into a strategic partnership with another company required careful vetting and ensuring that values aligned.

Here are some key qualities that makes this a perfect partnership.

Quality: Because the two firms had worked together before, Atema knew that the other owner held high standards for quality. Rivertop had served as a subcontractor on its accounts, so there was a comfort level before entering into the partnership.

Capacity: If Rivertop signs a contract adding 100 properties to the workload, will the partner have the ability to fulfill the agreement? “That’s a big deal, that the company is financially sound and if they had to go buy trucks to fulfill an obligation that starts in two weeks they can and will do that,” Atema says.

Vehicles: “If I had red trucks and he had black trucks, it might not have worked,” says Atema, admitting that vehicle color seems trivial but contributes to the consistency and uniformity that big national clients want to see. “It’s important that the look is the same for the end user because that client is essentially hiring the same company.”

Uniforms: The logo on uniforms might be different, but the overall look is the same, right down to the color. “Do they have vests on, are uniforms safe and professional?” Atema says.

Pricing: Both owners had to open their books and talk about how they price their projects to maintain continuity and ensure profits..

“We needed to have confidence that the pricing we sell in Asheville could also be sold in Wilmington, and the other company had to be OK with us selling work and we needed to know their pricing structure,” Atema says.

The partners sell these large maintenance accounts on behalf of each other, and the company that closes the sale is the “prime contractor” and manages communications and administration while keeping a modest premium.


Staying relevant at home.

While Rivertop is signing contracts with properties to maintain all over the Carolinas, the company still holds a strong foothold at home in Asheville, where it serves hospitals and retail properties, the city parks and recreation and other commercial accounts.

To accommodate growth, Rivertop completed a 6,000 square-foot facility on a 6-acre property up the road from its original location, which housed a 2,200 square-foot building and no offices, just a warehouse.

“I was scared to make this big move,” Atema admits of the facility. “Quite frankly, it scared me to make the commitment because I remember sitting on that bucket in an empty shop saying, ‘What am I going to do now?’”

But Atema, Wierman and the team have proved that stepping outside of one’s comfort zone is necessary to grow. “I’m excited about what’s to come with our strategic partnership and for our people, who entrust in us,” he says.

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Nufarm announces 2016 Early Order Program

There’s no better way to kick off your off-season than by earning big with the 2016 Nufarm Rewards Program.

We’re rewarding qualified superintendents for early order purchases from our extensive portfolio of golf turf products. Even better, you can register to start saving TODAY to earn rewards from Period 1, which lasts through Oct. 31, 2015. Purchases must be made from an authorized Nufarm distributor. You must sign up and register for the program to qualify. 

Get more details with our Nufarm End User Rewards 2016 program bulletin.

Start Earning Big Rewards Today. Register at


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FMC announces early order program

PHILADELPHIA, Pa. – Now is the time to earn savings and benefit from extended terms on many of FMC’s most popular turf and ornamental products. The FMC 2015 Early Order Program runs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 11, allowing participants to purchase products at current pricing but defer payment for select qualifying FMC products until June 24, 2016. 

By purchasing during the month of October, participants qualify for an early incentive that offers an additional rebate of up to 40 percent more than the base rebate for qualifying products. The base rebate is still in effect November and December, too.
Popular FMC products included in the program are new Fame fungicides — including Fame SC, Fame Granular, Fame +C and Fame +T — as well as Xonerate, Dismiss, Dismiss South, Dismiss CA, Blindside, Echelon, Solitare, QuickSilver and SquareOne herbicides. Also included are the Triple Crown, OnyxPro, Aria and Talstar insecticides.*
The more you buy, the more you earn. FMC 2015 Early Order Program rebates range from 5-25 percent during the Early Order Program Period. Participating professionals must earn a rebate minimum of $200 on FMC Early Order Program products to qualify for rebates. After purchasing, simply submit a rebate form online at no later than January 16, 2016.  
"The FMC 2015 Early Order Program offers great flexibility while capitalizing on the full FMC portfolio of turf and ornamental solutions," said FMC Program Manager Trent Bradford. "Early planning gets your season off to a good start. Get a jump start on 2016 now with the FMC Early Order Program."
For further information, visit

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Harvesters host live event

“Surveys show 9 out of 10 companies in America reveal that people are their biggest problem”

Finding, recruiting, hiring, on-boarding and retaining quality people are the top challenges
Are the following statements true for you?
“We just can’t find the people we need.”
“If we had the right people we could make more money.”
“Why are my people leaving for our competitors?”
“How do I get our best people to stay?”
“The people I’m interviewing are just wasting my time.”
“How can we attract great people?”
The 2015 Harvest People Academy LIVE!
Laguna Beach, Calif. – November 18-19
The People Academy will enable you to better manage your company’s most valuable asset – your employees:
– How to determine your “people” needs
– How to find and recruit the people you need
– How to screen, interview and evaluate your candidates
– How to create a positive company culture
– How to be sure you are in compliance with state and federal laws
– How organization charts help save money and bring clarity to your organization
– How to grow and create loyalty with Career Ladders
– How to create loyal and motivated people
Seven ways your company will benefit from attending:
– Learn how to build a great culture that attracts and keeps the right people on board
– How to avoid the Top 5 most costly mistakes that involve people management
– Strategies to set up and administer the HR part of your business
– Have a people plan/map in place that clearly shows what and when your needs will be in the future
– How to get people on board and working productively and safely in the shortest period of time
– Tips , tactics, and techniques to build a recruiting system that keeps your people funnel full
– How to keep and grow your people so the best will stay
Who should attend?
– Owners, managers and HR folks in the lawn care, landscape and tree industry.
Remember, with the right people you can:
– Grow your company
– Have less headaches
– Delegate your work to others
– Have a life
– Make more money
To learn the techniques, the processes, the secrets from those who have done it, of how to find, recruit, hire, on-board and keep great people – sign up here
And if you think you don’t have time, all the more reason you need to attend.

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Overtime overhaul

The U.S. Department of Labor wants to significantly increase the minimum salary threshold required to qualify for the Fair Labor Standard Act’s (FLSA’s) “white collar” exemption. The new proposal would require employers to pay overtime to workers making up to about $50,000 annually, even those who are classified as managers and, thus currently exempt from the overtime rules for hourly employees. That’s more than double today’s $23,600 threshold.

According Lawn & Landscape research, the average landscape company pays its salaried employees (account managers, supervisors, crew foremen/leaders and designers) less than $50,000 a year. Under the DOL’s proposal, all of these positions would become hourly jobs.

“Everybody is going to have to look at their workforce, how they’re being paid and how they’re being classified, and make decisions of whether they’re going to change how they do that to meet the requirements,” says Tom Delaney, director of government affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

While FLSA does not limit the number of hours of overtime that may be scheduled, it does require employers pay covered employees not less than one and one half times their regular rate of pay for all hours worked in excess of 40 in a workweek – unless the employees are otherwise exempt.

One of the most significant exemptions affects so-called “white-collar” workers: They don’t have to be paid overtime if they meet all three of these tests:

  1. They’re paid a fixed salary, as opposed to an hourly wage.
  2. Their salary is more than a certain threshold amount.
  3. They primarily perform duties of a “bona fide executive, administrative or professional” nature.

Some states calculate overtime differently. California and some other states, for example, have a daily overtime standard, where employees are eligible for overtime once they have worked eight hours in a day, even if they don’t work more than 40 hours in a week. Several states seem poised to follow the lead of California which adopted rules similar to the current proposal over a decade ago and where even the act of reading an email is “work” eligible for overtime pay.

Many industries hire seasonal employees for a variety of different reasons – amusement parks may need more staffers during the summer months, and department stores may need more cashiers during the Christmas shopping season. Unfortunately for a landscape contractor, there is no definitive answer to whether or not seasonal employees are entitled to overtime.


Of course, FLSA applies only to businesses with employees who engage in interstate commerce, produce goods for interstate commerce, or handle, sell, or work on goods or materials that have been moved in or produced for interstate commerce.  For most businesses, a test of not less than $500,000 in annual dollar volume of business also applies (i.e., FLSA does not cover operations with less than this amount of business).

On a state level, however, some industries are "overtime exempt" when it comes to seasonal employees. Exempt businesses generally have to be an amusement/recreation business that is able to demonstrate they only operate during a few months of the year, or that a significant amount of their cash flow comes in only during a few select months of the year.

Although the finalized rule won’t fully take effect until 2016, and could still potentially be undone by legislative wrangling, consulting a local employment attorney to determine what state laws apply, whether there is an overtime exemption in your area and if your snow removal business qualifies, is recommended.
The author is a financial writer based in Ardmore, Pa.



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ServiceMaster announces three promotions

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – ServiceMaster Global Holdings has announced several executive moves designed to help the company pursue new growth opportunities and advance the use of digital and mobile technologies to improve service to the five million customers it serves each year.

Mark Barry has been promoted to chief marketing and strategy officer. Barry joined ServiceMaster in 2012 as president of its American Home Shield home warranty business and has been serving as group president leading both AHS and the company’s Franchise Services Group. In his new role, Barry will oversee company strategy, including competitive intelligence, insights and analytics, as well as all marketing, pricing and business development.
“Mark has done an outstanding job helping AHS achieve strong revenue and earnings growth, while introducing a number of improvements in the company’s digital and service capabilities,” said Rob Gillette, ServiceMaster’s chief executive officer. He noted that under Barry’s leadership, AHS has grown its customer base nearly 15 percent – to 1.5 million, including the 2014 acquisition of Wisconsin-based HSA Home Warranty.
“By applying many of the same successful strategies Mark has introduced at AHS,” said Gillette, “we believe there’s a significant opportunity for ServiceMaster to grow by meeting the rising demand for expert help in protecting and maintaining homes and businesses in an increasingly `do-it-for-me’ world.”
Replacing Mark as AHS president is Tim Haynes, who has served as ServiceMaster’s senior vice president and chief information officer since 2014 and played an instrumental role in driving many of the technology initiatives that have helped fuel AHS’s growth. Haynes joined ServiceMaster in 2012 as vice president of IT, supporting AHS after spending several years in global roles at Nissan and GMAC.
“Tim’s broad knowledge in strategic business and technology planning, global IT systems and project management has helped us begin to leverage technology as an enabler of growth in all of our businesses,” said Gillette.
Jamie Smith will replace Haynes as ServiceMaster CIO. He joined AHS as vice president of IT in 2014 after nearly 20 years of experience, including various IT leadership roles at Nissan, IBM and PriceWaterhouseCoopers.
“Jamie brings a combination of IT and business experience, with a deep understanding of call center technology, sales, finance and a strong marketing background,” said Gillette. “His expertise will ensure the continued growth of our digital channels and improvement in our customer experience across all of our businesses.”

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You need a vacation

Marty Grunder

With each year of experience, the entrepreneur sees things differently and generally more clearly. Things we used to not recognize, we now not only recognize, we also understand them and the impact they have on our lives and our businesses. For example, I always looked at training and education as an expense. Now, I realize and know it’s an investment that pays big dividends. I was the person who tried to do way too much myself, thinking no one could sell as well as I could and no one could talk with clients as well as I do and no one could buy trucks as well as I could.

I now not only realize that was wrong, I also understand delegating is my KEY to success.

Another area my perspective has changed is vacations. I take them now. I enjoy them. I need them, and they’re a critical part of my past, present and future success. In fact, I’ll tell you I can’t afford to not take a vacation and I want to explain why you can’t either.

When my wife, Lisa, and I talked about getting married, one of the items we discussed was vacation. She said, “My family takes spring break vacations and I know as a landscaper, that’s your busiest time of the year, so I want you to figure out a way to take a spring break vacation each year.” I loved Lisa so much I was willing to do that.

I remember the first time I did this after we were married. I had so much anxiety it was ridiculous. All I knew to do was prepare as best I could and leave my people with notebooks to write down what caused them problems when I was gone. What were they not equipped to handle? I told them in case of emergencies, call me on my cell phone. That first trip, my phone rang so much, it really wasn’t the relaxing vacation it could have or should have been. When I got back, I was greeted with all sorts of notes and issues that only happened because of my poor planning, lack of training, poor communication and resistance to let go and delegate.

However, a lot of good things were done because I wasn’t there. People just did what they thought was best and didn’t do too badly. The next year, we went through the same process. My phone rang less, and I had only a few notes to review. Fast forward to today and I can tell you I go away and my cell phone hardly ever rings and I rarely come back to problems, voicemails or a mountain of work that takes a week to dig out. And there’s something far greater I come back with – energy and excitement!

Poet Ogden Nash said, “If you don’t want to work, you have to work to earn enough money so that you don’t have to work.” Simple, but true. Our businesses are the conduits that take us along in life. Our families and the other lives we impact are what we’re after.

Running a business should be fun. Vacations show you that if you work hard, you can play hard. If you aren’t taking a vacation, you aren’t going to realize your company’s utmost potential. You need to have periods where your team is there to operate without you. They learn more that way and you do too.

You can’t do this alone. For you to be able to think about tomorrow, you have to have people who can handle today. And to develop the people to handle today, you have to extricate yourself from the business in some key areas. It’s a process and taking a vacation is one of the best ways to figure this out.

So, you can’t afford to not take a vacation. Plan one, maybe it’s simple, maybe it’s a staycation, maybe it’s several long weekends to visit family and friends – just take one. Plan well ahead of time and work right up until you leave (those who take vacations know we are most productive the day before a vacation). Get your team together and tell them when you get back, you want to know what went well and what did not.

The answers to those questions will clearly show you what you need to work on to have a company that runs without you. And when you have a company that can run without you, you have a very valuable asset that someone else would want to pay top dollar to buy.


Marty Grunder is a speaker, consultant and author; he owns Grunder Landscaping Co. See; mail


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