Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Perpetual motion

Lots of business owners have an idea first, and then build their lives around the plans that will help make them successful. Though Troy Clogg is successful both in the snow removal and landscaping industries and has the respect of family and employees (who are sometimes both), he was more chosen by his field than the other way around.

During his teenage years, Clogg was hatching ideas from his parents’ home in Farmington Hills, Mich. In his senior year, he got a taste of the landscaping industry, starting up BBC Lawn Care with two friends, followed by Troy Clogg’s Lawn and Snow Co.

“He was always a little bit more motivated than the other kids,” says Greg Counsell, who went to high school with Clogg and is now his shop manager. “It was all pretty small-time back then, basically a gang of push mowers, trying to make some extra money. I never would’ve thought it would be a career.”

Clogg may not have planned on a career, but he knew how to work with others to reach that short term goal, says his father, Bill Clogg .

“Even as a kid, he used to be sort of a leader of all the neighborhood kids,” says Bill. “He’s always been that way. He’s always had his own thoughts and ideas of how to do things.”

Clogg and his friends wanted to make some money, and Clogg had the business instinct needed to figure out how to do it, says Bill. Not only was he creative with the tools that were available, he enhanced his own product through observation of the people he thought did it best.

“He’s a very creative individual,” says Bill. “He watched what the professionals were doing on baseball fields before he started out. He took that and learned from that, using that for his customers.”

Business slowed down for university, but Clogg decided he had borrowed enough money and came back to his growing business to refocus. Building the company was less a passion at the time and more a way to pay the bills.

“I don’t have any romantic way to say it,” he says. “I got in the business to survive. I never intended to make a career out of it. When I started out, I just sat down and tried to make more money than I spent.”

He brought in employees and bought his first house in 1986, which doubled as the company’s operation’s center, now known as Troy Clogg Landscape Associates, through 1989. Though he and his friends were just trying to survive, Counsell felt pressure not to rely on Clogg’s business instincts. “My parents were really not happy about it those days. It was just two or three guys and a couple of lawnmowers,” he says. “We did our lawns, then fixed our equipment and went home. It was really hard work; lots of long days.”

Clogg built a five-year business plan to clear his debts and get out, looking for something else upon which to build his career. Five years later, though, he was married and supporting his wife and first daughter, Kristyn; no time to switch gears without some solid plans for providing for his family. With Counsell and others depending on him, he carried the load of bringing in the business that would help sustain them even outside of work.

“When it was just us, Troy was always out trying to sell work. He was working our books and just trying to get us more,” says Counsell. “Even after the work was done, he still stayed it pretty hard. He would have fun, but he kept at it.”

Clogg made another five-year plan, still intending to leave snow and landscaping once something else was in place. Partway into that plan, he realized that maybe he was in the right business after all, when he saw success and started getting more customers.

“There were some days in snow where we’d be working 30 hours in a row, just us couple of guys,” Counsell says. “We’d finally get done with one job and think we were going to finally get to go home and Troy would’ve just gotten a new condo site we had to go hit. He just pushed and pushed us, but it’s good he did. He was like an ex-Marine sometimes.”

As Troy Clogg Inc. grew, it moved to Wixom in the mid 1990s. The snow and landscaping business has grown from then on, adding employees and customers. While he didn’t go looking for success in the snow removal industry, it had started to find him, and he noticed a chance when he saw it.

“He had the foresight to see that he could develop the company into something very good. It’s great to watch and be a part of it with him,” Bill says. “We’re very proud of the work that he’s done.”

As a businessman, he is constantly reaching for new ideas and prospects, some successful and others less so, but always exciting, says Dan Weingartz, a vendor and friend who has served with Clogg on several industry committees.

“Being conservative is not him,” he says. “He’ll make more mistakes, but it’s because he’s always looking for ways to get better. He’s got a very entrepreneurial spirit. You never know what it’s going to be, but there’s always going to be a lot of energy behind it.”

His reach outside the company extends to land development, hunting equipment development and green resources. At one point, he even worked with a team on a robot lawn mower.

“For the amount I’ve spent in failures, I probably could’ve gone to Harvard,” Clogg says. “But it’s been good. I’ve met good people and had great experiences. When I’m looking at trying something new, I’m usually thinking, ‘Why not?’ When I’m telling my life story when I’m 90, I don’t want to say ‘Well, I thought about trying this, but never did it.’ I’d rather give it a try. I’m happier than ever with that.”
Seeing different plans come and go with different results has been a staple for Counsell. The variety may not always bring in money, but it improved Clogg’s business savvy.

“Clogg is a really smart businessman, and he’s learned a lot from the school of hard knocks,” Counsell says. “What makes him different is that he’s just managed to retain and reapply everything he’s learned. He’s able to leverage and spin things around. Because of him we’re working with people that 15 years ago we could never have done.”

Beyond his ability to learn from mistakes and see potential, Clogg capitalized on his personality as the company grew, reaching to the community around him and building business even in unlikely places because of a personal connection.

“He has become the people person,” Counsell says. “That’s his forte. There’s no question about it, the majority of our work comes from him knowing people. He just tries anything and does things differently and wacky things that people remember him for.”

“Clogg has always been very innovative in how he grows his company,” says Weingartz. “He really puts a lot of heart and soul into it. It’s really an extension of himself.”

In the industry, he gets involved in boards and industry groups. He’s a member of MGIA, SIMA, PLANET/ALCA and TEC, an international organization of CEOs. He contributes articles to several magazines, giving his advice on how to grow a company. His work has won awards from local organizations and industry affiliates.

“In these boards and in the industry, he really thinks outside the box. He challenges what we thought originally,” says Weingartz.

Clogg coaches his employees to grow and learn the business from the inside out. He keeps his door open to employees that want to ask questions, and is eager to help his employees get better at what they do to help the company overall, says Weingartz.

“He’s built it primarily around getting people that understand what he’s trying to do,” he says. “He’s very giving of opportunity. He encourages his people to set goals and then genuinely helps them reach those goals. He helps people make their own business inside his business.”

Pushing employees and helping them grow is another part of his business instinct, says Counsell. With all the freedom to move and build business, it urges employees to better themselves, which makes a better business overall. “We have so many resources to use, and there’s an awful lot of opportunity to be had here. There’s a lot of backing and connections to the industry,” he says.

Though he’s always building new strategies, one of Clogg’s most recent projects to help his employees grow is a nearly-complete system to teach them the best ways to make their own sales to customers.

“That is really much more fulfilling than my own sale,” he says. “Years ago, I had to teach a guy how to use a weed whacker so I didn’t have to be the one doing it. Now I feel like I’m really contributing with this. It’s nice to hear from a customer, ‘Yeah, Clogg, we’ll have you again this year,’ but it’s so much nicer to hear that one of my employees can do it.”

Helping his employees improve is about giving back to his group, but also delivering the best product and customer service, says Counsell.

“We’re a great group because of his drive,” says Counsell. “He likes to be on the top. He doesn’t want a truck with his name out there doing a bad job. He wants it done right and the customer happy.”
“We’re not alone in this market, obviously,” Clogg says, “but just to be one of the names out there, to be one of the ones with a reputation for doing stuff right, for being fair, and for always being there for the customer, I’m okay with that. I want to give back, as much as I can help out. I’ve mentored and coached up and coming contractors – I’ve got an open door policy for advice.”

One element that helps Clogg train his employees is the length of time they’ve been around. Though Clogg lives out of Grand Haven with his wife, Linda, and the most current in a life-long line of companions, Lucky, his rescued dog, many of his workers have been with him for years, and he considers them family too. “Everybody really cares about our success here,” says Counsell. “There’s a core group here, and without any one of these people, this just wouldn’t work.”

According to Clogg, they’ve been through some tough times together, both personal and business, and even when he wasn’t at his best they rallied around him. “I’ve grown close to my entire team,” he says. “It’s a really heartfelt thing. I’ve really got great people all around me. For me, all that stuff is really important. I wouldn’t want any part of running this business without my key people in there. Relationships are really the only things you have that survive the test of time.”

Though he might seem free-spirited in his business decisions, Clogg is more than steadfast when it comes to family, Weingartz says. “He’s the kind of guy, when you get to know him, he would do anything for you.”

Beyond that, the relationships from the business to the community aren’t just about a contract to Clogg. He is always contributing to the community, whether by donating a truck for a parade or planting the flowers at a local elementary school every year.

“He returns,” says Counsell. “That’s part of his personality. It makes him happy, being the guy that gives back.”

Beyond business ethics, being involved in the community holds the company to a higher standard.

“There’s always something going on around here,” says Counsell. “And you’ve got to follow through after all that PR. When we’re out in the community it means we have to work to rise to the top and do everything to the best of our ability.”

Being a part of the community is about more than encouraging his employees to perform better for Clogg, he says. “Giving is just the right thing to do,” he says. “If you don’t give, you can’t receive. When you give back, you make better people, which make a better community, which make a better country, which make a better world.”

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The calm before the storm

Summer goes by so fast. Soon it will be that time of year again, time to begin thinking about preparing for another snow plowing season. Rather than waiting until the rush of the first snowfall, this is a good time to reflect on last year’s “leaning experiences” and how to incorporate this to be more productive this year and proactively act to avoid and manage liability pitfalls.

Ideally the perfect site is one with the drains and the low elevation around the perimeter where melting snow can drain harmlessly off the site. For those who do not have the ideal site, pushing snow to the perimeter of the site can lead to certain issues when that snow melts and the snow melt drains back across the parking lot to the drains which are located at the low areas. But there are some things you can do.

Plan of attack
Much of what snow and ice management professionals do is repetitive from year to year. Things change and your operations can be improved. Since a lot can happen in a few months, one of the ways of streamlining your operations and reducing your potential liability is to identify (and learn from) as much as possible about the sites you are hired to service and how those sites affect your operations.

As part of your snow response plan for any given site, one of the things to look at is maximizing the efficiency of the plowing effort. Another is how that work can affect your liability. Thinking through as many of the possible winter weather scenarios may be helpful. Different types of snowstorms and snow conditions have an effect on what you have to address. This is governed in large part by the weather. It’s not just moving the snow. It’s how and where the snow is stored and the conditions that affect that snow once it’s moved.

One method is to use a map to identify the basics of what is included and how to address them. Maps are a good way to look at the big picture and identify obstacles, drain locations, plowing proprieties and snow storage locations. Maps can also be used as part of a risk management program. A map of each account allows the snow removal professional to be proactive and document conditions on the site that may be the owner/property manager’s responsibility. Aerial photography of each site is readily available on the Internet from Google Maps or Bing. These can be analyzed for obvious site drainage issues. This mapping also provides a good method of documenting decisions made by the owner/property manager.

Liability control
Your liability may be affected by site issues, but it is not your job to correct them. Identifying and bringing these deficiencies to the attention of the property manager should be considered so as place the liability where it properly belongs. Here is another benefit of a preseason walkthrough of the site with the owner/property manager.

A preseason walk-through is the opportunity to put the property manager on notice of the issues and take photographs of the problem areas so that it can be coordinated along with the terms of your contract. The benefit of doing a comprehensive preseason site inspection is you can identify these issues and hopefully have them corrected before the first storm. If not, you have put the property manager on notice about the issues which may help form another line of defense in the case of the slip-and-fall where you’re brought into the case. Where the owner/property manager directs how the snow is to be moved and where it can be stored should be clearly documented, with any concerns identified.

Another reason for considering annual site inspections is that while it may not look like much, the site may have changed since the last time you were there. Where an owner/property manager has to cut a trench through a parking lot for whatever reason, the site drainage may change. It may seem like a small issue, but the patch area now causes changes to the drainage which may affect your work and liability.

Pedestrians can rarely sue for active and ongoing snow conditions. In some jurisdiction, they even be may be legally precluded from this. Typically pedestrians do not slip on the water resulting from drainage of melting snow. A more typical scenario is a slip-and-fall due to melt and refreeze. Anywhere melting snow can drain, collect and refreeze presents a problem for pedestrians. Some of the physical conditions may not be your responsibility. They should be identified and addressed with the owner/property manager.

Snow Storage
Since the job snow professionals are hired for is to remove the snow from a particular site to allow the owner/property manager to run their business, the first obvious question in addressing this work is, “What to do with the snow?” Most owner/property managers simply want the snow cleared from the parking lot to allow customers to come to the property. They rely on the professional snow removal contractor to do that in an efficient and cost-effective manner with the resulting conditions being safe for their business. Is there enough room to store snow on the site?

Another issue is what happens to the snow after it’s removed from the parking lot and sidewalks. This is a subject that many times gets little thought. In a recent investigation, after moving snow near to some site drains at the low elevation of the parking lot, the owner/property manager, in an effort to free up the parking spaces, directed the snow removal contractor to locate the snow at the perimeter of the site, a higher elevation next to a municipal sidewalk. Because of a lack of follow-up, the resulting fall due to melt and refreeze was completely foreseeable.

While no single strategy will prevent the snow and ice management professional from being involved in a claim, getting the owner/property manager to sign off on the recommended or directed storage location may assist in defending a liability claim, should someone be injured due to the conditions.

For those of you have been following my column, you may recognize a couple of reoccurring issues that affect your liability: notably drainage and site conditions. The way a site naturally drains should be taken into account when locating snow storage areas.

As pointed out by a trial judge in claim I was consulted on several years ago, snow melts. While simplistic, it is a true statement. Unfortunately the judge’s observation missed the point this drainage will inevitably refreeze with subsequent winter weather conditions. More importantly, where this occurs on a foreseeable pedestrian walking surface, who is responsible for the resulting slippery conditions? This scenario is exactly the cause of many winter slips and falls. This is also exactly why knowing the site drainage and where potential problem areas are is so important.

The positive side is the site drainage is readily foreseeable. Simply going out to the site after a rain will provide solid indicators of how the existing site is draining, where water collects and where icing problems are likely to occur. As addressed in some of my earlier columns, since some of the drainage starts at the roof, this is one area where snow removal profession should be looking at to identify potential risk to their business.

Risk management consultant Julius Pereira III owns Pereira Consulting in Chadds Ford, Pa. He is a frequent Snow Magazine contributor.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Seeing the big picture

Being the founder and driving force behind Wisconsin’s largest landscape management company, it would be easy for David J. Frank to sit back, rest on his laurels and enjoy all that life has afforded him, but that’s not who this man is.

While the man and his company have a long and storied past – receiving countless awards and honors – it is the future that drives him.

Founded in 1959, Frank has been in snow removal services since about 1965. He got started by adding the winter services to his landscape maintenance offerings for existing clients. It expanded greatly from there.

The typical Wisconsin snow season, in terms of precipitation, starts somewhere around the middle of November and ends by mid April, although the team’s preparation for the season – equipment, renewals and material acquisition – starts in earnest about July 1 each year. “Our firm is a leading landscape architectural, construction, design-build, maintenance, interiorscape, irrigation and nursery full-service firm, which fills in a lot of time during the other eight months of the year,” he says.

When asked to pin down his favorite season, Frank was unable name one. Instead he looked at the professional demands of each, rather than taking a view from the entertainment angle or ease to navigate.  “I enjoy all seasons,” he says. “There are different challenges in each season and I truly enjoy the changing challenges.”

Terry Wakefield, chief executive officer of The Wakefield Co.s, has worked with David J. Frank Landscape Contracting for more than 25 years. When he built his award-winning Wisconsin golf course, The Bog, he had Frank provide services on the project.  But the relationship goes much deeper and has been in place for much longer. The two have known each other since they were 7 years old and began mowing lawns when they were 9 or 10 years old.

“It was the beginning of David J. Frank Landscape Contractors and he never stopped,” Wakefield says.

Wakefield continues to work with Frank, not because of friendship, but ability. “What a lot of people don’t know about David is that he understands agronomy and has invested a tremendous amount of time in horticultural education,” he says. “His baseline of knowledge sets him apart from other landscapers.”

Knowledge aside, customer service and the personal touch means a lot, too. “He takes a very direct interest in the work his firm does,” he says. “I know it’s a very large company, but he’s totally invested in this business personally, which sets him apart. If there’s a problem, he responds immediately.

“He has very strong interpersonal skills,” Wakefield adds. “He interacts with people directly, looks them in the eye and is a good listener. He wants to know what pleases his customers and responds very well.

Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center in Madison, which was originally designed by Wisconsin native Frank Lloyd Wright, has employed David J. Frank Landscape Contracting for more than 10 years. According to Jeffery Griffith, Building Maintenance Supervisor at the facility, Frank’s company offers the expertise Monona is seeking.
“We demand a high level of quality and demand it on a daily basis,” Griffith says. “They are able to provide that for us. Everything we’ve asked them to do, they’ve done exceptionally.”

Based in Germantown, but with branch offices in five other locations, David J. Frank employees approximately 350 full-time people and hires additional part-time staff as needed. While the percentage of snow services is largely commercial (95 percent or more), the company does leave room for select residential opportunities.

“Our preference tends toward commercial,” Frank says. “We own a lot of larger equipment – wheel loaders; two-, three- and four-axle dump trucks – that is really unsuitable for residential work. We tend toward commercial as it matches the equipment and much of our client base.”

As is the case with most successful people, there is a strong network of support surrounding the company.

“My family plays a key role in my success – always having been very supportive and involved,” Frank says. “For more than 40 years, my brother Mike has run our landscape construction department and is really the ‘snow czar’ within our firm. He directs the snow production end of the business. I get more involved in the sales and marketing end of the snow.

“Several nephews are active in the company,” he adds. “My son, David, is chief financial officer and my wife, Jane, has been very active in the business and client relationships.”

Mike, chief operations officer, vice president of construction, snow department manager and the younger sibling by a couple years, says he would have joined the company sooner, but needed permission from his mother. Considering his older brother was building the business while he was in high school, Mike joked about the negative ramifications of having a “kid” operate the equipment.

With so much history between the two, Mike says his brother’s willingness to learn from the success and mistakes of those who came before him has aided in the company’s development. “He’s modeled himself after successful people and companies,” he says of David. “He’s always striving to be better.” The next generation – David’s daughter also works for the company – will be in charge of building upon this solid foundation.

Giving back
Frank’s company participates in approximately 45 separate professional, trade, community and civic organizations – either actively sitting on the boards or in management capacities of these groups.

“We are very active in community service projects, choosing several major public projects to make a difference with,” he says. “I personally have spent about 15 years on the board of directors of the Wisconsin Landscape Contractors Association and went through all of the many committee head positions and all of the chairs, retiring as president in 1988.  Frank has also been on numerous PLANET committees through the years, including the insurance, safety and awards committees.

Kurt Bartel, production manager in charge of maintenance division, joined David J. Frank in 1989 and rattled off a laundry list of his boss’s charitable contributions. From donating time and equipment to beautifying community parks to restoring the inner city, Frank is taking an aggressive stance toward the city’s improvement. “He’s one of the leaders of the community and is dedicated to keeping Milwaukee beautiful,” Bartel says.

In addition to helping the less fortunate, Mike added cemeteries, high schools, churches, and myriad charitable contributions to his brother’s philanthropic resume.

“As a person, he’s one of the most generous people I know,” Mike says.

Look no further than the David J. Frank Landscape Contracting 50th anniversary party as yet another example. Knowing there were going to be hundreds of people in attendance, the company set up a clothing drive, food drive and had a blood bus on hand for those wanting to make a potentially life-saving donation. The focus of the party was on celebrating a half century in the business, but the true beneficiary was charity.

“He built this company in one, single generation,” Bartel says. “It’s his life and I’m very thankful for the opportunity to work for David.”

Management philosophy
While it’s not “wind them up and watch them go,” Frank puts a lot of faith in his work staff. It starts with bringing in the right candidates to the fold, giving them all the tools to succeed and being there to assist when help is needed.

“We work toward hiring the best people we can find, doing an excellent job training them, and providing support, encourage, respect and recognition to promote a motivational workplace,” he says.

Bartel reiterates Frank’s approach, saying his boss’s dedication to clients and his drive to be the best exemplifies this philosophy. “He’s driven by his employees and committed to a quality staff and surrounding himself with the best people,” he says.

Mike says his big brother is a planner and speaks of his management style in terms of teamwork. “He tries to create an atmosphere where everyone around him is successful,” he says. “We are 250 people being successful and working together.”

Speaking of teamwork, Mike recalls how area football coaches liked his brother employing many of his players during the offseason as they were growing up. Not only did the student athletes stay out of trouble, but they also began the preseason in great shape from pushing mowers all summer.

In a career that has extended through six decades, Frank has seen – and overcome – plenty of challenges. Competing with cut-throat competition – those who will stop at nothing to win a bit, though often fall short in delivery – is always difficult. Beyond that, it’s legal involvement that tends to rear its ugly head – such as  hold-harmless clauses – provisions in the contract under which one or both parties agree not to hold the other party responsible for any loss, damage or legal liability – his customers are more frequently asking the company to sign these days.

Over the years, there has been far more positive than negative, of course, and Frank is quick to spin any possible hurdle into an opportunity to learn and grow. “If there is a disappointment, our philosophy is that it is possibly a great opportunity or stepping stone to ongoing success once mitigated,” he says.

Making lemonade out of lemons is one recipe for success, but those looking to build an award-winning business such as David J. Frank Landscape Contracting within the green industry should get involved.
“My advice for a person looking to get into the business is to join your local and national trade associations that promote education, best practices and professionalism such as PLANET, SIMA and local groups,” he says.