049: How Scholl’s Landscaping and Design is Navigating the Post-COVID Landscape
Jun 24, 2021
Scholl’s Landscaping and Design, located in Columbus, Ohio, was shut down for only a few weeks in March of 2020, but their journey back to any sort of “normal” has been a fascinating one. Despite significant success, they’re now facing issues including labor shortages, supply chain issues, and skyrocketing costs for materials.
In today’s episode, we ask business owner Jordan Scholl an important question: with every job taking a little longer and being a little more expensive to complete, what should you do? Jordan walks us through how his business is navigating the post-COVID world–and explains what business owners and consumers can expect as we continue working towards being fully reopened.
Here are just a handful of the things that we'll discuss:
- How Scholl’s Landscaping survived the pandemic as a business that was in massive demand from April 2020 onward.
- Why the cost of basic supplies, like lumber, are higher than ever before.
- How Jordan differentiates his business from other landscapers–and how a rebrand for the company in 2013 proved hugely valuable.
- What Jordan does to handle work-life balance as a father of three children–and why he doesn’t work weekends.
- Why it’s so hard to hire right now–and what roles in particular have proven all but impossible to find the right talent for.
- “I think I’m my biggest competition. I’d lose more jobs from not communicating fast enough than I do from another company coming along and taking it from us. – Jordan Scholl
Website: EGSI Financial
LeAnne Siddell: It's The Retirement Trainer with Ed Siddell, a podcast about finding ways to help you become financially fit for your future no matter what financial shape you're in now. 2020 has been a challenging year for a lot of people and in particular small businesses. EGSI believes in giving back to the community that has supported us for nearly 20 years. And as part of that, we have been involved in a campaign called Giving Back to Small Business. We will be highlighting two small businesses every month on our podcast, Ed Siddell - The Retirement Trainer, which is on iHeart, Spotify, Apple Play, and everywhere you listen to podcasts to learn how these small businesses kept going and succeeding during COVID. Our goal is to promote and learn the lessons of these small businesses so other small businesses can draw upon their experiences and lessons and to enhance their own situation. Today, we have Jordan Scholl joining us on the podcast. He's the owner and founder of Scholl’s Landscaping and Design, located right here in Columbus, Ohio.
This is LeAnne Siddell and here to help us with all our questions and to give us some guidance to help us stay in the best financial shape possible, The Retirement Trainer, Ed Siddell.
LeAnne Siddell: Hi, Ed. Hi, Jordan.
Ed Siddell: Hey, LeAnne. Hey, Jordan. How are you doing?
Jordan Scholl: Hey, good. How are you guys?
Ed Siddell: I'm doing good. Hey, thanks for doing this because I know it's the middle of the afternoon during the summertime and you're a little crazy, aren't you?
Jordan Scholl: It's not raining somewhat so it is surprising to be on the phone.
LeAnne Siddell: I said that right before we got started. I was like, "This couldn't be pouring like right now. Why couldn't it be pouring right now?”
Ed Siddell: I mean, like this morning I thought it was a monsoon coming through.
Jordan Scholl: Yeah, it was rough. Frequent downpours have not been conducive to my type of work.
Ed Siddell: Well, you know why the weather's been so bad? It's because it's right around the Memorial Tournament and the weather is always freaky between that and the cicadas.
Jordan Scholl: Right.
LeAnne Siddell: Well, and that's also why your life is going to be a little challenging this summer as those cicadas are definitely not nice to young trees.
Jordan Scholl: You got that right.
Ed Siddell: Well, hey, I appreciate you joining us. I know more than you can imagine because I know this is your busy season and this time last year it was a weird year. It was a little bit different. And this year presents different challenges. You always have troubles with labor with what you do based on previous conversations. But tell us what last year was like for you, how you got through it, and kind of the difference between last year and this year because it's the same thing but completely different, ain’t it?
Jordan Scholl: Yeah. Last year was definitely a first for what we’ve had and labor issues. I don't really understand it because everyone's summer job used to be working for a landscape company. Now, it just seems like the pool of employees out there is just pretty much nonexistent. Last year, March came around and we were just kind of gearing up for what we thought was going to be a really good season. And then all of a sudden it's like light switch and everything kind of shut down. We still had a handful of employees wanting to work, a handful of customers wanting us to do their work but kind of making that transition in scaling back, March in particular. We usually have 9 to 10 guys working and it was me plus three, and that for a month was kind of an eye-opening experience for us at a point that’s usually one of our busiest months, again, kind of making that transition from wintertime to early spring and packing it up for the year. Luckily, I mean, as things kind of I wouldn't really say got back on track, so I don't think we're really even starting to touch on that until just now but once March ended and April kind of rolled around, I think the guys got kind of anxious to be back outside, luckily for us. And we lost one guy but everybody else amazingly came back and he’s pretty much been with us since.
I think our biggest issue that we faced out of all of it wasn't necessarily the labor got worse because that was kind of something that we were already, I guess, used to for the last few years. The biggest thing we saw was just trying to get material in and out of vendors. It took forever. Trucking is taking forever. Crises have obviously skyrocketed on just about any building products there is and kind of trying to adjust jobs that we already had sold. You know, we don't really have a good method being a smaller company going back and saying, "Hey, this product is now 30% more expensive than it was a month ago.”
LeAnne Siddell: Wow.
Ed Siddell: That goes right through your bottom line.
Jordan Scholl: Yeah. Kind of trying to figure out how to nip that in the bud more or less and stay on top of that and make sure that we weren't losing money on every job because the job’s taking a little longer and material being more expensive.
Ed Siddell: Yeah. I mean, that really is a huge challenge because I mean not only do you do the landscape but you also do hardscapes, too, right?
Jordan Scholl: We do. Yeah. So, hardscapes, wood construction. I mean, wood construction was one of the things that we saw dry up almost immediately. We don't do a ton of wood construction but just a handful of fence jobs. And the prices seemed like they doubled overnight and the inventory was just gone. So, with very little that we do, I can't imagine being a fence company with that being your core business. I just don't know where they were getting their material because we were searching high and low and every vendor we would call, they say, "We don't have it.” I said, "Well, when are you going to get it?” “Well, we think we're going to get it in three weeks and we don't know what the price is going to be.” It kind of makes it hard to sell a job or plan a job or anything. We don't know when the material is coming, if it’s a guaranteed date, and what it's going to cost.
LeAnne Siddell: Well, and also looking at what people know right now, I think it's just now hitting that people are being made aware of the lumber costs. I'm telling you, months ago if you didn't really pay attention to, you weren't seeing that unless you were on the end like you guys. They weren't understanding that expense. So, I imagine a lot of those clients that you're selling were like, "What are you talking about?”
Ed Siddell: Well, I was reading an article and it was saying that the consumer on the retail side, they haven't really felt it yet but they said by the end of the year, they're going to see anywhere from a 6% to an 800% increase in wood and lumber. You know, that's just astronomical.
LeAnne Siddell: Yeah.
Jordan Scholl: Yeah. I mean, again, we don't do a ton of it but we were buying 8-foot pickets because it was all we could find. We were paying well over three times the cost that it had been a couple of months prior and then cutting that material down to make the 6-foot pickets that we truly needed. So, not only do we have a higher upfront cost in the material but then we're spending hours of extra labor making that material work in the fashion that we need it to work. And that will add up to cost money.
Ed Siddell: Well, Jordan, let's do everyone a favor and just tell everyone kind of what you do that landscape and design and so that way they can kind of understand more of why the materials and supplies are so hard to get, and also how you started how you got into the business.
Jordan Scholl: So, we kind of, I mean, we started in 2008 officially. Before that, it was kind of a weekend gig through high school and/or whenever we had some extra time in the summers. My family, when I was a kid, always had kind of a couple of companies going. They had a really successful pressure washing company and then they had a lawn care business that was kind of dwindling down as I was getting older and they had some equipment that was becoming available because no one was really using it anymore. So, during high school I just mow lawns on occasion, again on weekends and evenings and free days. And then 2008 when I graduated, my brother and I kind of just said, "What the heck, let's try it and see if we make some money with it.” And every year since then, up until last year, costs grew and the clientele grew and equipment grew. And obviously, along with that, headaches grew and breakdowns grew, and everything else.
Ed Siddell: And your family grew.
Jordan Scholl: Family grew. Yeah. Everything grew. And we've kind of stuck with it and decided that we think we want to keep it going for a little while. Even we try to cover really every aspect of landscape, increased everything that we know we can produce good quality with, any sort of maintenance. The only thing we don't do is mowing, fertilization, and irrigation but any other landscape maintenance services, installation services, plants, hardscapes, demo, spring cleanup, fall cleanup, just about everything else to try to cater for our customers. And again, we don't really know where it was going to go when we started but it's been profitable for us. We don't have the biggest company out there but we try to treat everybody fairly and take good care of our employees and run the best equipment we can to kind of make everybody's lives easier.
Ed Siddell: So, let's talk about the people that are there because, obviously, your brother is still, I mean, you still have that core group.
Jordan Scholl: Yeah.
Ed Siddell: I mean, that goes to culture in kind of how you and your brother, I mean, you really take care of everyone.
Jordan Scholl: We try to. My brother, Tristan, has worked with me since pretty much day one. Back then we didn't really have a payroll system figured out because we were so small but he's been with me since. Pretty much only started in ‘08 and then John, another one of our head guys has been with us since he started in 2009 or early 2010, and then my cousin Lorne he’s been working with us off and on since he was like 14 and he's the foreman now. So, pretty much try to stick with three set of crews whenever possible. And then we had a handful of seasonal guys that have come back for three, four, or five years in a row now and they always seem to have a great time when they’re out. We just wish we had them year-round rather than just for three months in the summer.
Ed Siddell: Oh, yeah. And you guys do both residential and commercial or is it mainly on the commercial side?
Jordan Scholl: Well, mainly on the residential actually.
Ed Siddell: Oh, okay.
Jordan Scholl: We've got one residential, I’m sorry, one commercial customer. It’s a small rental office in West Road that we've had for, gosh, I don’t know, probably 9 or 10 years now. And we just never saw a big niche for us in commercial because a lot of competitions. You really got to have your labor side of things figured out or properly get away from it rather quickly. And we just also didn't want to be a maintenance company. We started out predominantly maintenance but we really rather kind of continued to transition into just doing installation services. It's more I wouldn't say an art but it's just more of what we enjoy and I think what we're better at. We're going to still do plenty of maintenance because it's good pretty much year-round work as far as the spring cleanup and summer cleanup and fall cleanups go but we really prefer the installation side of things. And there is a lot of that in commercial side but again, for us, it just made more sense to stick predominantly with residential.
Ed Siddell: Well, I mean, there's a lot of competition out there as well on the residential side. So, I mean, what really separates you from the competition? I mean, have you had the same client base mean and how do you market?
Jordan Scholl: We honestly don't market. I mean, that's been the biggest thing that I think that our reputation speaks for itself as far as word of mouth. We went through kind of a rebranding. I wouldn't call it a rebranding I guess. It's kind of an initial branding back in 2013 maybe, ‘13, ‘14, somewhere in that range. We were doing a job for a customer who lives down in Clintonville by the name of Jeremy Slagle. He's got a graphics design company called Slagle Design. We're working for him and he said, "Hey, I saw your trucks and I think that we could really revamp your branding. And in conjunction with that, maybe I could get the uniforms figured out, the truck details figured out, and get a really good website set up.” The website or something that we were kind of considering right around that point anyways because social media wasn't really what it is now. Facebook was out. Instagram I'm sure was out but wasn't nearly to the popularity that it is now. So, it took some money from us at that point in our company but we couldn't be happier with how it turned out. We really think that what they did was as you see the benefit to us, everybody loves everyone. We get tons of compliments on our website which just pictures, some reviews. There's nothing really amazing on there in my opinion but it's really done well for us. For the website, the truck, and our uniforms are really our only marketing. We've never done any sort of paid advertising. It's all been word of mouth and just feeling us out on jobs and customers stopping and saying, “Hey, can I get a business card?”
Ed Siddell: Wow. Well, it speaks volumes of the quality work that you guys do.
Jordan Scholl: Yeah. We try.
LeAnne Siddell: And, Jordan, I truly believe that people like in this community, they believe in supporting small businesses like yours. I mean, we are not an anomaly as far as my brothers had a landscaping business for 30 plus years and it was a struggle. It's a struggle every single year to come back and reinvent or keep your client base and everything else. And we watched that as it went through the really, really difficult time back when the market was crazy. So, I do think what makes it different is that you have that relationship with your clients and they spread that word very quickly when they know that they're going to get genuine integrity. We don't always do things perfect in the small business realm but I think that's kind of where we differentiate ourselves is how we handle it when things don't go well.
Jordan Scholl: We try to cover all the bases for customers as much as possible, even if they ask us to do something, kind of back to the fencing thing, we don't market for fencing. We don't market at all but we don't go out actively seeking for fence jobs but if we're working on a project and they say, "Well, I need this, this, and this,” and this small fence repair or this section of fence rebuild or whatever it may be, we try to cover as much for them kind of as a one-stop shop as possible if it's something we're confident with and know that we can give them quality. And if we can't, we simply tell them it's not for us but we might have a referral for you.
Ed Siddell: And that's smart. Very, very smart. Yeah. You don't want to go over your head and I think that speaks volumes again as to why it's such a referral business for you. And so, last year with COVID, I mean, it was a struggle. I know it was for everyone and it was for you. So, what were some of the struggles that you went through last year and in kind of what you learned from it and how you overcame it?
Jordan Scholl: I think, again, the biggest thing was the time that we spent at vendors because a lot of vendors, they had reduced staff, they had reduced products coming off. Like our paper manufacturer, for example, it was hard to get stuff fast enough, and then even when we would go to pick up products, there would be one person allowed in the office at a time. And then instead of three forklift operators, they might only have one forklift operator. Or trying to get stuff delivered, instead of it being a two-day wait, it might have been a five-day wait. So, I think that that delay and just kind of a supply chain being disrupted in a lot of different products, again, we kind of saw at the most in lumber but I think we sold it in everything else that we use as far as quality material, plant material, pretty much everything seemed like they were in a little bit of a disruption. And then once it did pick up, the prices were automatically increased as well. There's different, I think, different percentages that each thing went up but we’ve definitely noticed a significant increase in most of the products we use. And we're still getting even last week, we got emails from two different vendors. One of those had a 20% increase starting at the end of the month, and the other one has a 5% increase pretty much effective immediately. So, again, on those jobs that we already have sold, it's hard to go back and try to change those and/or factor that into anything else that we might have coming up soon as far as trying to bump our prices up without getting too much a fight from customers.
LeAnne Siddell: And I imagine communication with your clients is probably something that you spend 90% of your day doing now. Because I do think people understand what's going on right now but if you aren't in regular communication, that is where things get, totally, they go south very fast.
Jordan Scholl: Yeah. I think communication is a huge key in general and we're not perfect with it. I mean, I think I’m, honestly, my biggest competition. I'd lose more jobs from not communicating fast enough than I do from another company coming along and taking it from us. I'm only one-man operation in the office and I'm also on jobs three or four days a week and I have three kids at home. So, between the balancing every aspect of life and work and everything, it's just minutes around the clock. I'm the only one that does the sales. They did the estimates. They did invoices. And again, being out on the job and ordering material and calling in utility marketing is just a lot of hats that have to get worn. And as much as we try to stay on top with communication, there are unfortunately times that things are a little bit behind in communicating.
Ed Siddell: Well, all right, so that's a great point. I mean, you are the stereotypical small business owner in America. I mean, you really are. Just in that description right there. So, the work-life balance, I mean, with kids, your wife, I mean, how do you manage that work-life balance?
LeAnne Siddell: You're basically locked up for at least four months of every year.
Ed Siddell: And every snowstorm.
Jordan Scholl: Yeah. We always think we're going to get a nice vacation in the wintertime and get this fixed and get that fixed and get this on track for next year, and sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn't. And we get a winter like we had last year, this past winter, February was great. We were extremely busy, which is good because we made good money with snow but it seems like a lot of those headaches from fall automatically roll back into the spring, unfortunately. I think our biggest thing that we try to do is to balance family and work life because we've never worked on the weekends. That's kind of been a philosophy of ours from day one which is, again, unheard of in the landscape industry.
Ed Siddell: It is.
Jordan Scholl: It's really one of the things we try to pitch to prospective employees like a lot of companies, you're getting 50, 60, 70 hours a week, which is great if that's what you want but if you want that 45 to 50-hour a week and have the weekends off, that's what we have to offer. And that's, again, pretty much unheard of in any other landscape company that I've seen. It's really important for us. I like the idea of it. Obviously, I love family time and having a little bit of a break between the regular Monday to Friday gig. And it's also important to our employees, most of them have kids, and even if they don't have kids, they still like to fish and golf and just have a break in between the day-to-day.
LeAnne Siddell: Oh yeah. The candle gets burnt. The candle gets burnt at both ends on you. So, yeah, I see that as a humongous benefit. I really do.
Jordan Scholl: Yeah. That’s been huge for us.
Ed Siddell: Well, not to mention all the other benefits. I mean, the 401(k). I mean, you really are trying to take care of your team. I mean you really are.
Jordan Scholl: Yep. That's what we've got you guys for. I mean, that's been for the guys. You know, it's one of those things that I had always mentioned to them that it really makes no sense to not be on it because you don't really notice it missing from your paycheck, and then you're getting the match to go along with it, and it's just a no-brainer. If you can stand to miss out on that $60, $70, $80 a week, whatever it may break down to be, you're really going to appreciate it in the long run.
Ed Siddell: Especially when you're getting the match. I mean, it's that hidden raise that most people don't think about until it comes to retirement. And you're like, "Oh, my gosh, I'm so glad I did that.” Or the other side of the coin, “Oh, man, I wish I had.”
Jordan Scholl: Why didn't I do that? Right.
Ed Siddell: And you guys basically, I mean, you've had that early on and those accounts have grown and I know those guys really do appreciate it.
Jordan Scholl: I think we have that going for five, six years now. So, yeah, definitely, that adds up over time. It's kind of the same for us as far as the employee getting the benefit of not feeling it missing from the check. To me, I don't look at every payroll run and be like, "Oh, that was $400 that we could have saved.” That we feel like they deserve it and we don't really recognize it as a separate expense that is really something that we're feeling any discomfort from. It's just another part of payroll. It is what it is. Same as paying taxes. It goes and it's theirs.
Ed Siddell: Well, it’s an investment. Yeah. You’re investing in your team.
LeAnne Siddell: Yeah. And let me focus a little bit since we're talking about benefits and we're talking about, we talked about at the very beginning of the podcast was employees and getting employees and hiring. And what are you doing to try and I know as we just talked about, the employee pool is very, very slim.
Jordan Scholl: Yes.
LeAnne Siddell: So, that we can kind of get the word out there a little bit on what positions you have available and…
Ed Siddell: Because you don't market but part of this deal is we're marketing for you. We're going to do a social media campaign for you. So, tell us. I mean, what are some of the struggles? What are you looking for? What are you offering?
Jordan Scholl: We've been trying to fill a position for hardscape foreman for probably three years now. We've tried. I mean, I don't really know what the best method is and I don't know if anybody really does. We've always tried going off of word of mouth because it's been so successful for us in bringing in new leads for jobs. It just seems like everybody has, all of the current employees I mean, have already reached out to everybody they can think of in terms of someone who could be a potential candidate. We're pretty well covered on maintenance and kind of general labor but really trying to fill that leadership role of a hardscape foreman with good experience because I think there's a lot of potential to grow that portion of the company as well as kind of expand on our services with that but it's one of those things that we've kind of I don’t want to say…
LeAnne Siddell: Had to put on the backburner. Yeah.
Jordan Scholl: I mean, it's not that we shy away from those jobs. We do tons and tons of patio jobs. We would shy away from some of the more intricate ones because I simply don't have the time to dedicate to be there every single day and every single project. And Tristan is kind of taken that role of being hardscape foreman but then that takes him away from kind of overseeing other operations, helping out in getting material, and making sure that the other crews are on track and having what they need. So, really, I think that is the thing that we've been trying to fill the most. In the spring of ‘19, we tried like an actual recruiting service, and they sent us a handful of leads and then they would follow up and kind of do the back end side of stuff on there and as far as sifting through that and seeing who was truly a potential candidate. And they came back with it was after probably three months, they came back with one potential guy. We ended up hiring him on and he really knew his stuff but I don't think he had the confidence in himself to do everything by himself and really be the leader, which is what we were looking for. I was on the job with him. We worked well together and he would kind of know what to do next but communicating that to the guys working below him, I think there was a little bit of disconnect, which it wasn't really to our advantage, I guess, you could say because the jobs just weren't getting done as fast as we wanted them to.
And then speed and everything always comes back to profit. So, we were trying to figure out how we could get these guys moving quickly and still producing high-end products that we were trying to produce. And I think that anybody who’s having labor issues it is trying to find one of those key people and people that want to stay on and grow and stick with the company kind of long term, rather than just looking at the last two or three months gig and then moving on to something else.
LeAnne Siddell: Yeah. I honestly can tell you, I know firsthand what you do is really, really hard. So, I do have a serious appreciation for what you've created. And I really hope some of this will bring some traction to you as far as filling that role.
Jordan Scholl: We’re open. We tried the social media posts about we're hiring. We've got magnets on our truck with bright green letters, “We’re hiring.” The phone just doesn't ring for those positions. I've talked to other local companies. I know what a lot of them are paying for the same position and we're offering the same thing. And I think we're a really fun company to work for. We try to be serious but everyone really chips in to make sure that everyone is sharing a load of the job. And I think it's a fun environment. Everyone typically is in good spirits on our projects but everyone has their bad days here and there. No one likes working in the rain which I do avoid some days.
Ed Siddell: Not so easy in Ohio sometimes.
Jordan Scholl: Yeah.
LeAnne Siddell: And the one great thing that we are good at right here, Jordan, is we love to network. We love to network for people. And so, we will be spreading the word. But if you're a small business in the Columbus area or if you know of a small business that has overcome this very difficult year, please reach out to us. As Ed always says, when difficult times hit, it's important to have a plan. We build plans for our clients to help them avoid the anxiety of what comes next as just knowing what the next steps are. Jordan, real quick, would you fill us in on how people can reach out to you and whether it be with a great employee in mind or if they want to reach out to you about doing their lawn landscaping and maintenance? How do they get a hold of you?
Jordan Scholl: Probably their website is the easiest. It's easy to use. It’s not the easiest to say. It’s Schollscapes.com. So, I would spell it out, S-C-H-O-L-L S-C-A-P-E-S dot com. There's a contact form on there if anybody wants a service. There's an employment application on there if anybody wants to fill out the application for work. Then there's also breakdowns on there for positions that we have available, list of services, previous job photos, reviews from previous clients. Pretty much everything you would need is on there.
LeAnne Siddell: Awesome. Well, again, we are looking to support, learn, and grow from small businesses that made it through 2020. So, if you know of a success story, please reach out to us or if you are a success story, we look forward to hearing from you at our phone number here at the office is 614-526-4118 or you can reach us at email@example.com or as Jordan just said through his website, our website is www.EGSIFinancial.com. Thank you so much, Jordan. Thanks, Ed.
Ed Siddell: Thanks, Jordan. I appreciate it.
Jordan Scholl: Thank you both. Appreciate it. Have a good one.
LeAnne Siddell: You too.
Ed Siddell: You too. Take care.
Jordan Scholl: Thanks. Bye.