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.”

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