green industry business

2019 Green Industry Benchmark Report: Benjamin Bodnar

Jun 20, 2019

This interview was conducted as part of the 2019 Green Industry Benchmark Report. To learn more about the report, visit https://info.hindsitesoftware.com/2019-green-industry-benchmark-report.

integrity-landscapeWhen a career in firefighting didn’t materialize, Benjamin Bodnar, owner of Integrity Landscape Management near Atlanta turned to landscaping. “I actually started getting into landscaping back in 1997. I was in fire academy. Every firefighter had a job between shifts. They usually have something that they do on the side. I wasn’t a firefighter yet. I tried landscaping and enjoyed it. I had a hard time becoming a firefighter. You’d have 3000 applicants when one or two people would retire from the department and it was just hard to get in at the time. I was in Cleveland and came down to Atlanta for a promotion. I decided to go out on my own, and the rest is history.”

Today, Bodnar is basically a one-man operation who does maintenance as well as some design/build work. “I don’t advertise whatsoever any kind of design/build services. However, all of my current maintenance customers I will let know I could do a hardscape for you over the winter. All of my hardscape work I do over the winter is exclusively for my maintenance clients. As a result, I tell people I got the best job security in the world. There’s more than enough work to go around.”

Given all the work that’s out there, Bodnar has looked for help, but just can’t find any applicants. “I would love to have somebody come on board and I’m having the same issues, that I’ve had in the past: getting people to apply. That’s the biggest challenge.”

Profitability has been Bodnar’s goal recently, which is a mix of building very tight routes and landing upscale customers. “I’ve been trying for the past few years to really get a much tighter route density and that has happened. If it’s an account that’s really close at a very high profit margin and I have another account where I’m not making quite as much, a lot of times I’ll be able to refer that client out so I can take on a more profitable client. It’s really been an exchange of profitable clients for very profitable clients which has caused my client number to go down because a lot of these aren’t your quarter acre lots. These are one acre lots and they want it to look like Disneyworld. They want me to come twice a week every week with a greens mower. I’ll go there and I’ll spend four hours on a one acre lot because they want to cut with a little 21 inch greens mower. They really are the cash cows and I’d be a fool to say no.”

“I recently redid my website. I went to a Bootstrap design. I’ve been reading a lot about relevant content, how that’s a high SEO marker. When people look at the website, the first thing I discuss is what we do differently. That’s even become the company slogan ‘Better, because we’re different’. When people go to the website, they can read what we do differently."


In addition to improving profitability, Bodnar has his eye on some new equipment and a short vacation. “I’m looking at some equipment purchases. There is a certain mower I would like to get. I think that will help with productivity. Another short term goal is something everybody needs more, more time with the family, more vacation time. I’m going to be leaving for a vacation in about a month or so and I haven’t taken a vacation in years. So this is going to be very well enjoyed.”

Bodnar’s also spent some time improving his website in order to attract more business. “I recently redid my website. I went to a Bootstrap design. I’ve been reading a lot about relevant content, how that’s a high SEO marker. When people look at the website, the first thing I discuss is what we do differently. That’s even become the company slogan ‘Better, because we’re different.’ When people go to the website, they can read what we do differently.”

Bodnar’s focused a lot of energy on being a different kind of contractor. “I only use walk mowers and I’ve got the ones that are really small all the way up to one that’s got a five foot deck. One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who call is ‘I’m looking for someone new and they come out and they have this big mower and they’re putting ruts in my yard.’ These big mowers have huge tires and people don’t realize we have a lot of clay-based soil in north Georgia. When it’s wet, it doesn’t matter how much flotation you have. You can go walk out in a yard in snow shoes and you’re going to start sinking. Then when it dries, because it’s clay, it dries with those depressions and now you can’t get them out. That’s why I use walk mowers. I tell people I’m going to have to charge you a little bit more time up front. I’m probably not going to be the cheapest. I use the lighter weight machines. That’s a big perk as far as getting new people to have me do their property for them.”

Educating the customer also helps Bodnar differentiate himself in a crowded market. “Every time I go to do a quote I show them my insurance. I show them my business license, I show my pesticide applicator’s license and my pesticide contractor’s license. Most people don’t know you have to be licensed because they’re the consumer. They assume there’s some sort of licensing but they don’t know what it is. There’s a lot of folks around here that are doing lawn treatments and don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t even know that having a pesticide contractor’s license is even an option. If people don’t know you should be licensed, then that’s where you get all these people abusing chemicals. That’s a big selling point because when people see you’re educated, it builds a lot of repertoire quick.”

“I don’t worry about the competition. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in on this planet, there’s always going to be competition. Don’t worry about the competition. I just worry about doing the best I can do and putting systems in place so I can do the best I can.”

As far as competition, Bodnar is more focused on his own work. “I don’t worry about the competition. It doesn’t matter what field you’re in on this planet, there’s always going to be competition. Don’t worry about the competition. I just worry about doing the best I can do and putting systems in place so I can do the best I can.”

Bodnar finds a lot of times he’s fixing issues from past maintenance contractors. “I see people who used the largest lawn care company in America and they were supposed to spray the yard. They had been spraying it. But weeds aren’t dying. I see a lot of maintenance issues they want me to fix. Usually around July to August I’ll actually get an influx of new people needing someone to do the lawn because the last guy quit. It’s usually somebody who just started up this year. There’s some pawn shops near me and parked in front of the pawn shops are two or three dozen trailers all for sale, all landscape trailers. They’ll have mowers out the wazoo. People selling commercial mowers. They’re all a year old just lined up.”

The reason, Bodnar explains, is because they’re trying to make a quick buck, rather than build a lasting business. “If you approach it as I’m going to get rich quick because I’ll make this much a lawn and do this many lawns a day, that’s not good business sense because you haven’t really thought through the demands of an actual business. There are basic business principles everyone should know. Go read some business books and educate yourself on how to properly run a business. Put together a business plan and stick to it.”

“If you approach it as I’m going to get rich quick because I’ll make this much a lawn and do this many lawns a day, that’s not good business sense because you haven’t really thought through the demands of an actual business. There are basic business principles everyone should know. “


There’s no shortage of books that Bodnar recommends to anyone just starting a business. “Dave Ramsey’s plan of not having any debt and living beneath your means is a good example. Any kind of debt will create liability; when you don’t have the debt, any money you have you can invest and not have to worry about that debt hanging over your head. Good to Great, by Jim Collins, is a very good book. Built to Last is another good one. Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People delivers a lot of life coaching lessons. I like John Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership because if you’re going to run a business, you need to know how to lead. The 33 Laws of Stewardship is a very good book with a good perspective. Everything you own or use you’re a steward as opposed an owner. It gives you a different perspective to think about others more than yourself.”

“The 33 Laws of Stewardship is a very good book with a good perspective. Everything you own or use you’re a steward as opposed an owner. It gives you a different perspective to think about others more than yourself.”

In the future, Bodnar hopes for a much more educated, professional green industry. “I get a lot of business because of other people’s screw ups. You have government agencies come in and say ‘We’re banning this pesticide or that pesticide,’ and it’s not really the fault of the pesticide, it’s the fact that it was improperly applied and there needs to be more of a conscious effort. I’m part of the extension services, too. If you want to be a plumber or an electrician, there’s an educational apprenticeship you have to go through and I would like to see that here. Anyone who wants to get into landscaping should go through an apprenticeship if you want to work in Atlanta. I would if I had to even though I have the experience. I believe in it that much. You may be familiar with Project Evergreen that started 10 or 12 years ago to add professionalism to the industry. I think their efforts are very noble, but I don’t think they really have done a whole lot because I haven’t seen professionalism. It would keep the people who aren’t really serious about being in this industry who just want to do it as a hobby from doing it. You can’t just be a hobby plumber, you can’t just be a hobby HVAC, you can’t be a hobby attorney. You have to go through the training and I think there needs to be systems in place for people to have to go through the training. It shouldn’t just be something you jumped into.”

 

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