Building from the Ground Up

Courtesy of Boston,Business Journal
Article by:
Courtesy of Boston
Business Journal

Jon Crandall caught the entrepreneurial bug early on. The seeds of Crandall’s Peabody-based grounds management company, JC Landscaping, were planted about 14 years ago, when at the age of 16, he began providing lawn service in his neighborhood. He’d always enjoyed the outdoors and being creative, but he was also looking to help supplement his family’s income. He started the business with about US$500 in savings and a couple of pieces of used equipment from a family friend.

Crandall kept the business going, even as he held another job at a grocery store, worked for another landscaper and attended Salem State College. While there, he studied political science— knowing, he now admits, that he probably wouldn’t actually enter the field when he graduated in 2003. Instead, he chose to continue to nurture the business he had started in his teens.

“There is something to be said about owning your experiences, whether good or bad, and I think as an entrepreneur you are clearly able to do that,” said Crandall, 30.

The business has since blossomed into an operation that serves commercial and residential customers throughout eastern Massachusetts, USA. JC Landscaping occupies approximately 8,600 square feet of space in his town of Peabody. It employs 15 full-time employees and as many as 100 during the snow and ice season. The company’s revenue has climbed from approximately US$1.4 million in 2008 to US$1.8 million in 2009 and projections of US$2.1 million for 2010.

And while he got his start primarily providing residential landscape service, Crandall, who said he loved the sight of snowplows rolling down his street as a child, is deriving more of his revenue from snow and ice management for commercial accounts these days.

“The level of complexity has forced us to change, and the growth in revenue has forced us to come out of our comfort zone,” said Crandall.

Part of Crandall’s growth as an entrepreneur has come from aligning himself with outside resources. These include the Boston chapter of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO), with which he’s been involved for a number of years. Crandall said he’s also received valuable training in goal-setting as a client of Strategic Coach, a Toronto-based organization, for the past couple of years.

One tangible result of these relationships is that his company has focused on attracting more of what he refers to as “A” customers and staff— those who share the company’s culture and values, Crandall said.

“Those values include trustworthiness, dependability and a sense of urgency,” he explained.

Crandall added this focus has helped the company better pinpoint the customers it wants to service and to market strategically to them. Client Jeff Grayson, administration manager at Costco Wholesale Corp., whose location JC Landscaping services, said he’s been impressed by the company’s professionalism.

“They approach this as a craft, and not just throwing down mulch or plowing snow,” he said. “We have a property that is well-maintained and looks good.”

A major shift has also occurred within JC Landscaping’s business model over the last several years. Since its inception, the company had often acted as a subcontractor to companies looking for snow-removal service. And Crandall observed that many of his competitors were supplementing their winter income the same way.

Crandall subsequently launched a snow and ice management division around 2003. Today, JC Landscaping is doing 50 percent of its sales during four winter months.

“The business has changed from a landscape company offering snow and ice service to a snow and ice company offering landscape services,” said Crandall.

The company now services about 45 commercial accounts for snow and ice management, in addition to the 60 to 70 residential accounts for which the company provides landscape services. Crandall has reinvested in the snow and ice division by spending on average from US$100,000 to US$200,000 annually to replace and add new equipment.

He’s also engaging the services of Weather Works, a New Jersey-based company, which Crandall said provides him with customized daily meteorological reports that he can forward to his customers, and which also gives him continual access to a live meteorologist.

“Jon is very driven. I like how he took the seasonality out of his business,” said James Kaloutas, president of Kaloutas Painting, who introduced Crandall to EO Boston and has served as a mentor. “He’s also smart about looking at his customer base to see who’s going to be a good fit. And, he goes the extra mile for them.”

Like many owners of growing small businesses, Crandall said concerns about cash flow “is what has kept me up at night in the past.” To help fuel the company’s continued growth, he secured a US$250,000 loan about a year and a half ago.

Over the past year, Crandall has also brought in an outsourced controller, EO Atlanta member Greg Crabtree of Crabtree, Rowe & Berger, to help him better manage the company’s increasingly complex financials.

“It’s on my mind constantly— how are we going to build our team up?” said Crandall. “I think we can ramp up our sales even more once the economy turns around. And I want to be positioned perfectly when it does.”

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