Picking the Brain of a Green Industry Exec

Posted by Ty Deemer on Aug 27, 2020 8:45:07 AM

Episode 9 Podcast BLOG

In this episode of the Green Industry Perspectives Podcast, Sean Adams welcomes Zech Strauser to the show! Zech is the Founder & President of Strauser Nature’s Helpers. He shares about his 22 years in the industry, how he scaled from one client to covering multiple counties in Eastern Pennsylvania, and how he onboards new employees and helps them to really feel connected, seen, and valued.  

 

 

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ON THIS EPISODE, YOU’LL LEARN:

  • About Zech's 22 year journey in the green industry. 
  • His strategy behind growing and scaling his business.
  • The importance of training new employees. 
  • The different ways Zech has given back to the industry over the years.

     

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FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Sean Adams:
You are listening to The Green Industry Perspectives podcast, presented by SingleOps, a podcast created for green industry professionals looking for best practices, tactics and tips on running their tree care or landscape business. Zech, welcome to the show.

Zech Strauser:
Thanks, Sean. Happy to be here.

Sean Adams:
Yeah, it's our pleasure to have you with us. Been wanting to do this for a while and we've been connected on LinkedIn for a long time and have loved each other's content and been sharing a lot of good ideas. So, I thought it made sense for us to actually record the conversation and share this insight out there. So, Zech, what we like to do on the podcast just to get the juices flowing here for the audience, someone just jumping on, I would like to hear kind of like the top two or three things you think back on or contribute to with your success you've had thus far. Anything come to mind with your success and just a couple of bullets or things that you attribute that may be a little creative compared to other entrepreneurs?

Zech Strauser:
I'd say maybe it's somewhat like a lot of landscape company owners but that kind of caught the underdog hustle and the ability to kind of push forward and strive to do something you didn't think was possible. So, I think over the years, I guess it's 22 years so far, it's really been a kind of a fight or flight mentality to some extent but it's got me to where I am. And I think currently maybe the second key thing that I'm working on is really in the sense of leadership and kind of trying to help my middle managers succeed and really be the best leader I can to help them win to then in return get to the technician front line and really work and build out the systems and hold them accountable. So, it's kind of a transition I've been going through the last couple years which is leadership I think would be the number two. So, one is that hustle and that now kind of slowing down to speed up if you want to say, to build out that deeper company structure and leadership.

Sean Adams:
Yeah, definitely something that we want to unpack a bit and better understand the leadership side because obviously, you've started this from scratch. So, let's kind of contextualize that for the audience. Give us a little bit of your kind of background, 22 years, how you kind of got into the industry and what's that initial kind of footprint into the space?

Zech Strauser:
Yeah. The ultimate how I got in was raised up in the outdoors. That was kind of our MO as a kid, just being in outdoors a lot down to the point of being a homeschooled child. My science class was meet with the park ranger would come to our house and take us on a hike to the Appalachian Trail and we'd go out and look for salamanders and worms. And so, I think that's at the root of it. And then I think as you're in your teenage life, you take some trust and you get that landscape summer job or the golf course or true story, I kind of worked in multiple different areas of the industry through my teens down to like six straight months splitting wood with a guy. That's all we did, split wood and deliver cords of wood. So, and then kind of fast forward to my young 20, 21, I had an incredible boss that I coached skiing for in Stratton up in southern Vermont at the time for and he really turned into a pretty big father figure for me and really taught me about the value of trades and the ability to kind of understand that what I was experiencing at that ski area was not real life and a lot of the people I worked for there had a better situation than I did financially. And he said this scary thing is not reality. You must go get a trades job. Whether he was right or wrong and fast forward to now, he was right. Right? So, for me, I went home and started push-mowing lawns I mean at the very bare bones and bought a push mower from my boss at a golf course at the time for $25 and started push-mowing my friend's parents’ house at night concept. So, it's kind of the very basics of how that hustle started.

Sean Adams:
Love it. Yeah, I think that's a scenario that so many people can resonate with. We all typically start in that capacity, worked for another company, got sick of having a boss and branched on our own or was a side job and it kind of fell in our laps to become a real business or something we took seriously. I think a lot of guys get caught in that sort of tradesmen and they never escape that. And you touched on one of the big pieces for you and your success has been this focus on scale and leadership and building a team. So, what were some of those initial building blocks that allowed you to start to build an enterprise? Right? Because you went from the guy pushing the lawn who clearly you had to hire some crews. Take us through that next five to ten years where you're actually building the company.

Zech Strauser:
Being that I didn't grow up doing traditional sports, playing traditional sports, I would say I was the furthest thing from a team member and that's kind of how I started. But I think bringing in consultants, working with Jim Houston really kind of set a foundation I'd say about five or six years in business, somewhere around that period and maybe a little earlier than that. But ultimately, it was really just knowing I wasn't crazy and what I was going through was normal and then to be coachable. Over the last, I'd say from that time period to now is and it even means more now because I'm coaching so many managers is to be coachable is such an important thing. It's what I'm going to base my hires off, it's what I'm going to base me continuing to fight to get a manager where they need to get because I was kind of the epitome of coachable. Right? Like in the sense of I just was not really a coachable person but understand that the key things that propelled me forward was when I was being coachable and being coached, taking it. And Jim always used to make a statement that you know what I like about Zech is he sponges this stuff and I think that that's key. And then obviously since then, I've worked with many different people and still to this day have a day-to-day business coach I think who I'm currently working with would be the exact true example of a coach. I kind of caught like almost a football coach mentality where we get to talk about some family and personal stuff but ultimately, it's just holding me to the fire on accountability myself and to then be able to go work with my leadership team. And I think right now we're working on high level financial accountability, rolling out new chart of accounts and just a whole new kind of financial structure and then a lane of accountability structure with the whole team. And it's been going great and it's painful but I can also see these glimpses of the where it's going to take us and it's been very powerful. I mean there are certain times you almost want to hang up the phone concept not because I don't like them. Just it's like you're hearing things that frustrate you, me and I know that I have to own them and I know it's a tall task.

Sean Adams:
You bring up such a great point. Being coachable, not something that people ever hold in high regard as a skill set. Right? I've done a lot of consulting before and it's one of the more challenging pieces is I can't make the light bulb go off for you. Right? You can't make that go off for your manager. You have to go through that and experience it. There's a visceral reaction that has to happen. And you mentioned in the beginning of that description of how he made you feel like you weren't crazy. Right? There was this leveling of like okay, this happens to other people, this is a natural progression in my trajectory of success or growth as a business. I always say you have to own that it may not be your fault but it is your problem, meaning you own the business, you've got to figure out a solution even though you didn't crash the car or you didn't do whatever the terrible thing that happened is, you're responsible for it as the owner. So, there's a lot of ego tied up in that. A lot of people have a really hard time separating out that. So, was that something that was pretty inherent because you were in your young 20s? Or like how did you learn how to be a little more coachable?

Zech Strauser:
If I thought 15 years ago I was coachable, I was mistaken, majorly mistaken and now I'm learning that oh, wait, I might be coachable. Well, here's the thing. I think we're all coachable but I don't know if we're all coachable in what we're about to have to learn. Right? Like so, you're coachable, you somehow get through it and you get to the other side and you're like yeah, I'm coachable. I learned that and now I know that. Well, here comes the next thing. Right? So, I think we're all coachable but there's this point, this tipping scale where you may not be because you don't get over the hurdle of what you're being coached on now. Right? So, I think it's this constant evolution of new items to be coachable on. And my old systems, I could do. I was coachable but I can't benchmark it off that anymore. Right? Like all I can benchmark is to say well, I got through that. I have a good chance of getting through this but there's no guarantee. Right? And I think an example would be right now, I'm being coached at levels like yes, I know for instance, if you have a mowing crew and a pruning crew, two different hourly rates. Right? Two different almost spots in our P&L now and a lot of people might just think snow and landscape has a different place in your P&L. Well, in landscape maintenance, there's different levels of P&L. Like mulch blower, you're not going to be able to charge the same rates for mulch blower per hour as you would mowing. Right?

Sean Adams:
Sure.

Zech Strauser:
So, the example is at the end of the year as a business owner, a CEO, you're looking for all the different categories to fare out and get you to where you need to get to. Right? You say yes, we lost, we won but macro, we won somehow in all these different divisions. I know that but that doesn't necessarily mean that I can coach that to my team. So, I'm being coached on that. I'm learning that. But now I'm being coached on how do I keep people accountable on their lane because I can't teach a manager how to outweigh the highs and the lows and at the end of the year, you'll work out and fall cleanup hours, you'll save some time and that'll help your mowing loss. That's fine for me to know that but that does not mean I'm going to go train that same strategy to a middle manager and expect them to learn the complexity of that. It's almost the blame rob Peter to pay Paul concept. Are you really going to go teach those kind of wish-washy business strategies that the business owners kind of work with? No.

So, learning how to just break that habit because you know how many hours I've probably sat on in meetings or on the phone trying to train managers how to play that rob Peter to pay Paul and one crew might lose, one crew will win and at the end of the day, we won somehow? It's in depth of things like that where it's like fine, every position has strategies but that doesn't mean your strategy you teach to the other position. Right? Because they have a different strategy that you need to be able to teach that. So, I have 14 different positions in the company and in those types of positions, they each have a different strategy. And if I was to ever think I was going to train all 14 of those to play the same game I play, I'm playing a different game. It'd be like teaching a player how to be a coach. You got to run the ball. That's your job. Right? You don't kick it. You don't do anything else and I don't want to get into too many sports analogies because I'll start looking like an idiot. But I do that sometimes. But it is the truth. It's like every person has a different position. So, that's kind of, right now, last week, that's what I'm being coached on is understanding that matrix and that breakdown. You are a business owner. We have those skills but to train those, it's kind of you're training people how to kind of almost do it wrong in a way when you do that.

Sean Adams:
Yeah. It sounds like what you're talking about too is how to communicate your perspective but to their perspective. Right? So, you have to share the metrics that are going to be relevant to them without bringing in all your own dispositions and life experience, downloading 22 years of hell on them. That's not really fair for them.

Zech Strauser:
No. And all they care about is what's in it for me.

Sean Adams:
Yeah.

Zech Strauser:
And what's in it for me is not what it's in it for them. They have a division, they have a set of area on the chart of accounts that they're responsible for but that doesn't mean that they need to understand how I look at the P&L. Right?

Sean Adams:
Yeah. So, let's talk about that mapping for a second. This is where a lot of people get hung up because you mentioned like 14 different positions in the company. That could look a lot of different ways in different companies. They start to get into this territory where, like you said, as you get coached on what's relevant at the moment. Right? So, you're kind of like climbing the ladder and you're on this rung and you're being taught this thing and you feel comfortable there. Well, now you start going outside your comfort zone and you're moving to that next spot where you need to hire a new manager. Right? We have a lot of companies that are scaling and they need not only an operations manager for install, now they only need one for maintenance and they're trying to wrap their head around a position that has never existed yet in their business. So, talk me through kind of like how you were writing that. Maybe you were that position so you kind of had your foot in a couple of areas and we're writing that out. Tell me how you walk through some of that sort of hierarchy or the org chart when you're building out those positions and what that might look like removed from all the baggage you brought into the scenario.

Zech Strauser:
Right. And I'll even go one little step further on that is the other issue is it might not be your first time hiring that production manager for maintenance because you were predominantly more construction company. Now you want to grow your maintenance let's say and you're going to get that maintenance manager and they're going to figure it all out and you're kind of freaked out because you've never built that position. But what I've been finding I get zoned in on is no, I have, in my situation is I've had a position doing a particular job and then your next go at it or that person went over to another role is trying to treat every time that you fill that position for the first time or multiple times, is trying to act like it's your first is key. So, you can look at, and I'll give a real example right now. I'm on boarding an account manager, predominantly commercial maintenance and they have a book of business to manage, landscape and snow. And I found that I did not do a good enough job on onboarding and the primary reason was I did not break the subjects they were going to get trained in and it was more like an onboarding checkoff list like review properties currently up for renewal or some kind of topic that was and beyond a conversation, there was not much process or structure behind it. So, what I've done with this onboard is really go to a five week, four to six week process, not 90 days because I feel 90 days you get so irrelevant when you get past 60 days, it's not even funny. You got to re-establish after 30 or 60.

So, now we're recording all the train sessions. One of the silver linings in 2020, we're recording and doing all this video screen share. So, I decided well, 90% of her training is going to be remote meaning just like this. So, these training sessions, we've been doing a lot of recording and now we're archiving them, calling them processes and now they're part of a software we use. We use a software called Trainual and we're kind of documenting it along the way. And not to mention, I'm going in more depth on the training to begin with too. Right? Especially when you're getting recorded. How I'm developing positions out is basically we have this theory that we're looking at current state in a company and then future state. And that is where the challenge starts to come together. And I'm not saying come together to figure it out but come to figure out where your gaps are, where your weaknesses are. And so, it's kind of like this current state is here and the future state is there and the org chart, I mean you could do a current org chart and guess what you'll get a lot of times? A mess. Because you'll be like so the current state on the org chart level almost has to be a blend of current and future. But you need to be able to articulate it on the same document. Like hey, so you see this, we're here and he's going to slide to there. So, maybe you'll have someone's name on three positions. Right? Because they're doing three positions or they're ultimately going to end up at this one. So, maybe it's John account manager dash one, John senior account manager dash two where once we start filling out more account managers, they'll take over that role of leading those.

But being able to articulate current and future from an existing org chart is really key because we need to be able to show them their career path. It is kind of something I'm focusing on in the sense of if I just look at a current org chart and explain hierarchy, no one ever got excited. Right? So, again, what's in it for me? I need to be able to articulate to each person what's in it for them. Why do they want to rally around this staying in their lane? Why do they want to rally around accountability and all that stuff? It's because they want to be able to navigate to their next position or their next career path. So, when we get beyond that, then it's like a couple page, under two page deliverables, not a typical job description anymore. Like these typical job descriptions must be able to type 40 words a minute. Again, no one ever got excited. Right? And I don't really care if you could type fast or slow. I just care that you're going to hit the five key deliverables we need to hit. Right? Forming out deliverables for each one of those positions is something that's really key. I'm head deep in that right now. And then beyond that, I'm going to be creating window of opportunity documents. They give people the understanding of hey, in August, you might want to make sure all your pull cords are good on your backpack blowers. Right? Because that season's coming. We don't want to be repairing them September 30th.

And the list goes on whether it's renewals, whatever it is. Right? Training, windows of opportunity and safety, you're out front of the problem that's coming or the opportunity that's coming. So, that'll kind of be the next thing I roll out and we're rolling out also under that org chart, under those deliverables a lot of different managers are going to have what we call watchdogs on the P&L. So, they're going to have different areas that they're responsible for whether it's indirect or direct cost. Like I have a lot of them. I'm in charge of leases and purchases of new vehicles. Right? Clearly, that'll be under my fleet manager when we hire that person. But for now, I watch dog that line item. So, I'm also in charge of all overtime. So, if anyone wants overtime, they have to get it approved through me, the CEO right now, current structure. I could go on and on. I'll let you ask me another question.

Sean Adams:
Yeah. And that's such great insight and for guys that are head-spinning a little bit because they feel very overwhelmed by this, I think conceptually they can understand what you're saying and you take—there’s a reason I wanted to have you in the show—you take this to another level of organizing your thoughts. But what I keep hearing you say is like this is not a perfectionist mentality. Right? It's progress, it's iteration, it’s—

Zech Strauser:
Well, what's the saying on that? They say a lack of progress or whatever it is, perfection, progress, it's just the excuse of the one.

Sean Adams:
Exactly. And I see so many companies that see that perfection in their head on the Instagram ad of the entrepreneur in a Lamborghini by the beach and they just get overwhelmed in thinking there has to be all these perfect dominoes that lead up. They don't see the two decades of iterations and grinding and setup that happens there and it's again going back to the coachability or that it's okay to not know but you're going to work at this together and you purely are building in your documentation and in your optimization current state and future state. You're admitting that you don't have it all figured out perfectly fine. Like that's how this has to be viewed. And so, the takeaway I'm getting from you is you're taking the time to document this and structure it out and you're focusing on, the best word you mentioned so far which is deliverables. Everybody's hiring, everybody's complaining about there's not enough people, there's not enough butts to go in these seats, nobody wants to work and all these different things. These are really valid concerns, 100%. But someone like yourself who can outline deliverables, you can back those out into the character that you may want to hire and then train them on how to be managed within those deliverables versus the job description side, like you said, where I need you to have five years of landscape experience, I need you how to do this, I need you to be able to sell to X, Y and Z. Right? Those are important characteristics and what you might be looking for but when you have those deliverables, it almost simplifies that process a bit. So, once you've kind of started working on this and you bring a net new employee in, tell me about that experience. Like they've got to be more bought in and more visual because like you said, they can sort of see that ramp where they need to go. Talk about how that's helped your retention and those sort of elements.

Zech Strauser:
For me taking different personality tests and so forth, you find that I'm pretty innovative, I'm pretty this, I’m pretty that, blah, blah, blah. I work hard. I'm a driver or whatever the tests tell you. Right? And you read it and you go oh my gosh, that's me. One of the things I saw was I don't necessarily include people in what I'm working on. So, I find that if I don't articulate it and get it out there, then I really won't ever be held accountable. Right? And that's what a lot of business owners or managers do. I even see some of my managers not put up the 12-week schedule. I'm like well, why wouldn't you put up the 12—like they should almost know as much as you can get them to know. Right? Maybe you're trying to get them to know too much and then you got to pull back. But what if they're starving for that information whether they're a new onboard, whether they've been working for you for a while. So, I think it's really important to share your goals as a company owner and then to try to articulate how people can help and if they help, you better know what's important to them so you can get back to the what's-in-it-for-me mentality. They don't want to just do it for you. So, we need to be able to tie the two together.

What I'm seeing so far, like again, I'll go back to this account manager I'm onboarded. In two and a half weeks, three weeks of her being employed with me, we've been able to train on high level stuff, meaning that she knows her top five customers, what they are in percentage revenue. All a lot of different things she knows at a very high level which sometimes people wouldn't have known in the whole company for a year or two or ever. So, I'm working high level. I also know that this person wants to have a house in Maine to retire. So, when we started talking about her career path, now we start talking about Maine retirement. Right? So, now I'm created a spreadsheet that my top ten managers, I know what their personal professional goals are and I'm going to be able to articulate them. I know one guy wants to sell his house and upgrade. He doesn't know it yet but I'm going to go back to him and go you’re crazy, you got to turn it into a rental. So, when we start working together as a team like that, fine, go get another house but turn that one into a rental. I have another guy from another country that wants to help feed people from his village. The main reason why he wants to make triple figure is so he can revert back and help feed people. So, maybe we need to figure out how the company can donate that. Right? So, we're not getting taxed through payroll to do that.

So, once we start getting a line on that personal level, I think there's a lot more capable on a company and professional level. And we all have to wake up and want to do this job deliverable to feed some, no one ever got really excited about saying I love going to work and solving all the customer problems. Yeah, I get it but your adrenaline can wear off and you may get burnt out on that. Okay? Now you'll go deal with maybe ten problems a day for me. I'll deal with it. Today, I got a text from someone saying hey, this grass is as tall as the soccer ball. We cut a bunch of soccer fields. So, from that text went through the company to a manager, the manager texted me back. I understand how this is annoying you that this is coming to you. I said no, no, no, that's not annoying. We need to get the solved once and for all. Right? It has nothing to do with the problem coming to me because I know if I can help solve these problems with you guys, I can go sit on my farm tractor and mow the fields this weekend because that's what's in it for me. Right? So, if we can get there with everybody and a lot of people don't have them or they're somewhat shallow. They just want to pay off their house. I'm like well, then what? Because when you pay off your house, you got to have something else. Like what do you really—you know what I mean? I like that I want to be able to walk to a lighthouse on the beach. I think that's pretty cool because if that's part of your meditation, if that's part of who you are as a person and that's going to make you whole, then let's do that. Right?

So, the onboarding and showing them where they can go is so important. I'm in the management sphere right now and I really am trying to teach my managers how to get encouraged and feel inspired about this with me because then their role is to make sure the same is going on in the front line with the crew leaders and the helpers and the operators and the people working in the crews. So, when I see them executing in that world, then I know what I'm doing with them is working. But until I get them to work in that world because I can't go through the whole company and know everybody's personal professional goals. But I can go through a spreadsheet and say why do we have ten employees with a nothing in their personal? Can't get one out of them. I say well, maybe we need to work harder or maybe we need to replace that person because how are we going to be working with people if they don't have any goals? Because we're not going to get anywhere as a team.

We have a purpose value mission in our company. Purpose never changes. It's our guiding star. Values are some key words that feed that purpose. And then missions are short-term things that we work on that we can get to the top of the mountain, come back down and climb another mountain. Right? So, the purpose is to work with people that love the outdoor lifestyle, to meet their personal professional goals by serving others. That's what we go by as a company. That never changes. I don't care if we sold toilet paper one day. That would still be our thing. Right? So, we love the outdoors so we want to save trees so the toilet paper is—we can tie that to any industry, any service. We could be a snow only company one day—I don't know—and still probably do that. Right? And then the values are some keywords that feed that. Be teachers, be leaders, come alive outside. We call it be outdoorsy, be resourceful, be protectors. We don't have too much on there. Like honesty, integrity, some of these things you see because how do you really grade honesty? So, we want to just say we see you teaching that person. Great. You could be teaching them wrong for all we care. You're teaching them. Right?

This morning we had meetings and I try to tie back to those values. I try to tie back to the personal professional goals. And our mission currently is to add one crew per region per year. That's it. Everyone sees it. It's on the post or on the shop walls. And if we do that in the next five years, we'll be double the sized company. So, we have kind of three regions we work in: Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania and the Poconos, kind of this little triangle in eastern Pennsylvania. And if we can have one crew in each one of those areas, to be quite honest, we didn't do the greatest job on that this year. It was kind of a little behind. I think we're starting making some good momentum for this coming year. So, we're trying to add maybe five crews versus three, trying to play some catchup if we can. I think ultimately, right now the ultimate goal of mine is to keep articulating these deliverables. And what I'm working on with 50-plus people, if I was a five-person company, I'd be trying to do the same thing just at a different level. It’s like hey, John, you're going to be in charge of washing the mowers on the weekend. Right? You're a five-man company. So, I wasn't the owner of washing them on Sunday. Right? True story for many people probably for whatever industry you're in whether it's tree or snow or landscape.

But here's what I will say. What we're working on right now could ultimately allow us to be four or five times bigger. Once we kind of dial this in, we're going to be able to probably triple our business before a whole another reset button and restructure and all that stuff. But I find that most of the time, you don't really plan big enough and you don't sit down and really try to articulate that what that picture is going to look like so people can buy into it and see it. And point blank, I'm kind of doing that now in the last year or two. But for the whole time before that, it was so shallow. It was just like we're going to add another crew. What does that mean? Why? But if you could articulate because one day we're going to have 60, you're going to be in charge of ten, you're going to be in charge of this, you're going to charge a fleet because you love equipment and you could start selling that picture to your first five people, I think it would have went so much better for me earlier on. Because most of the time, I just kind of scared them away off like just some shallow structure that didn't really sell the picture and I never understood what’s in it for me concept because it was all me. Right?

When you're a business owner and you're starting out, yeah, I hear a lot I take care of my guys. Yeah, I get it. You give them overtime. Whatever you think is taking care of them but if you don't know what they're trying to do when they leave work, I don't think you're really—maybe someone just doesn't want to work as much. So, then you're going to hit that. Everyone's going to have their own thing. Maybe someone that you didn't even sit down, they want to work two times more than you're even working them. And it has nothing to do with age. I hear that Millennials don't want to work. You could be totally wrong. It could be totally flipped. The retired 58-year-old guy wants to spend time with his grandson and the Millennial wants to flip a house. So, he wants to make an extra 10k this year. Who knows? Right?

Sean Adams:
What's. So, interesting, Zech, about what you're saying, you take this perspective, I mean you hear about the whys and the North Star, you got to have this mission, this vision, something larger than yourself that you personally are going to go to. But you've done such a good job of reverse engineering that to the lowest denominator down to like well, yeah, but we're all people and we're part of truly this team. Right? So, like it's great if I want to go flip three more houses and have this rental property. It's great if I want to get to this many crews so I can retire on a beach. But what does that look like all the way down to my team level? And you said something in the beginning there which was if that individual, the frontline weed whacker or the frontline laborer, he doesn't have personal goals, maybe he's not a good fit for the business. I've never heard it phrased that way. That’s really interesting because you're attracting a certain type of person because you know that the best way to motivate them is to understand them at that intrinsic level. So, that really struck me as something really powerful because once you know what that looks like and like you said, you might not have it on the top of your head when you have 100-person company and keep scaling but if you've got the documentation there, you can start to put and have check-ins weekly, daily, whatever it might be, monthly where you can figure and help them achieve that goal or what that looks like. So, maybe you have a tactical example or any kind of way where—

Zech Strauser:
That spreadsheet's going to go to tabs on the bottom and on the bottom, I'm going to have John and John is going to have his 50 names that have some, the listeners may have heard of this before but your sphere of influence. Right? I've been wanting to do that for a while. I haven't personally done it. So, what am I going to do? we're all going to do it and everyone's going to put their top 50 people of sphere of influence in their life. Where does that go? Well, number one, just them typing it or writing it, it's going to do wonders for them. They're going to be like oh, they'll probably make a new sale, they'll probably call a friend they haven’t in a while, whatever. If we go to just this lowest level, they're going to be like it was really cool to do that. I never even remember this attorney that I used to talk with when I went through my divorce or whatever they say. So, we're going to do that. Then it's going to be more of, as soon as the gentleman told me about that he in so-and-so country and so-and-so town that he wanted to help feed his village where he came from, I mean my wheels were spinning for him all weekend. I just couldn't get over how simple it was. I want to make a hundred plus thousand so I can do X. That's it. That's all he said. I was like that's it. That's all we need for personal professional goals. Right? Because I believe truly that is his macro. I don't think he starts to really say I changed my goal later in my life. I'm pretty sure that'll stay around him for probably the rest of his life. So, for me, I think one, it's going to happen very organic. Yeah, we should put some structure behind it in our quarterly team meetings, our annual team meetings and then maybe one-on-ones. But ultimately, we know where the rubber is really going to hit the road when I'm driving down the road one day and I go ah, I got to call Tommy and talk to him on X, Y, Z. Something's going to click.

And then think about the interconnected because I'm going to start making sure that everyone feels comfortable that they're sharing them with the ten. If we can keep it in smaller groups, I think it's going to be really important. Let's say you have a 50-person company. There's four groups that are kind of everybody knows each other's personal professional goals to some level. I think if they're that personal, I don't know, it's kind of strange that they would be that personal that you couldn't go over them with your coworkers. Right? And I think that's where stuff really starts to connect when you start intertwining these people and go hey, Tom, I know you and Zech have been talking a lot about this but I've thought about something you're trying to do over here and I have some ideas that might help you or I know someone in the sphere of my influence list that could help you on that. Because you take ten people with a list of 50 people, we got 500 people that can help us get these goals done. I mean how is it not possible at that point?

Now some of this is a little pie in the sky. Right? We got to get back to these deliverable documents because we're not going to hit our professional and if we don't hit our professional, we will hit our personal. We won't have a hard drive in the day if we don't have a strong personal. I think if it's just paying off your house, it could get empty. Being debt-free, you hear a lot of people talk about it and that's something I noticed as these came in. Debt free, debt free, debt free. And online it was nothing about debt. It was about revenues, profits because I might have to go more in debt to have a better life. Like no debt? I don't know. It's kind of like just looking forward to your retirement in my opinion which that can get empty because you can get to retirement and go wait a second, I have no hustle in my life anymore and this isn't good for me either. Maybe that's entrepreneur talk. But I think a lot of retired people go get part-time jobs too for that exact reason, to stay busy, stay engaged in doing things. I have a sales guy that talks about when he retires, he still wants to sell part-time. I said it's great that you're admitting it now because I think it's important. We'll make sure you have a part-time sales role.

Sean Adams:
You're ironing that out now which is awesome and I love that because you're showing the passion front line. I really just imagine it's got to be contagious within your organization. You obviously just in some of the things that you've mentioned here, you clearly have a lot of ideas. You're very innovative. You're constantly creating and I imagine your weekends are just like a bunch of scrambled notes of different things you're thinking about on the tractor. You mentioned business coaches kind of helping hold you accountable. I think there's a lot of people that start businesses in your same frame of mind where they've got all these crazy ideas and they start and they put 10% in six different directions and then nothing ever materializes. So, you talked about some of the kind of like organizational from the company standpoint. Okay. We're going to put this process in place and now we're all going to do it and every three weeks, we're going to check in on X, Y and Z. Can you talk about some of those other ways that you kind of stay out of the shiny object syndrome? Right? It's very easy to come up with the new thing and I know we all struggle with it but—

Zech Strauser:
By biggest weakness. So, that's my biggest weakness and it's a fun place to be in the shiny objects. So, I like to have fun and my fun in my life is generally the shiny objects. Right? Not even material. I'm not talking about a material item. But like the shiny object of this idea. Right? I have to work very hard at understanding what got me to where I'm at and keep focusing on that also and put that at my priority. So, landscape is my priority and it's not to say I don't like landscaping. I really like it. But I also, my dad made a comment to me at my 40th birthday party and he said, it was one of the most impacting statements he's made to me in quite a while and I actually told him that the other day. I said you know how we don't get along sometimes and don't see eye to eye. But there's this one thing and he didn't even remember saying it. I go no, I remembered. You said so, now what? And I go what do you mean? He goes now what are you going to do? You build a company 20 years. You have 50 employees. What's the rest of the life going to be? Your halfway point let's call it. And I go I said nothing. I mean we're building more crews. We're going to be double the size, whatever. Right?

And I almost took it as a little bit of an insult because one of my key things that I wanted to be in my life was stick to something. My mom and dad kind of had multiple businesses and some of them went bankrupt, some of them didn't go well and I thought not me. I'm going to have a business and it's going to do well. I'm going to stick to it my whole life. So far I've been doing that. But I feel myself gravitating towards other ventures. I'll call it the true entrepreneur’s coming out, the serial entrepreneur is coming outside of the landscaping. So, what I have to do for me, focus on the results of the company being accountable on a financial, on a safety level. This morning we were talking, the whole team was on the phone about strengthening up our safety program. It's about staying true to what I know can get me where I want to go and it's the hardest discipline. And it's like everybody, if you wanted to lose weight or whatever it is, realizing that insanity is doing things the same way over and over and over and getting the same results assuming they're not good results.

So, I think for me I just want to try to really just keep having the discipline of the shiny objects only have a certain amount of space and if we want to say they have a 20 percentile. You know what I mean? Like give it some sort of level of hey, man, I've been in this conversation way too long. I got to get back on track or I got to stop dreaming about that right now and these deliverable documents getting given to my 14 team members and articulated is going to get me to where I want to go and them. So, it's a win-win. Right? So, I need discipline. Just getting back to that word discipline and it's hard for an inspired team. My coach had actually said, he goes your company name fits your culture well, Strauser Nature's Helpers. And he goes there's this helping mentality and John does a little this and a little of that and well, we all jump in and take care of that when it's needed. In that culture, we're trying to break down a bit to get into a lane accountability where if Joe's crew doesn't have work Friday and John didn't sell Friday, John's got a problem. It's not like a company problem. Right?

Sean Adams:
Yes. And just want to reiterate a couple of sentences ago, you were saying that it's the discipline. But to me, it's you have an idea because I see so many entrepreneurs particularly in the green industry having this, is they start a tree care business, they get to $300,000 and they start an excavating business because they saw two jobs they could go do around the corner and make a quick ten grand. And then they started doing concrete and now they're selling T-shirts and they're doing 11 different things and they never really had that disciplined handed off to execution. And the difference is with what you're describing and, of course, this is something you're always working on, I struggle with the exact same personality and it's having the idea, having the discipline to say I need to have deliverables around this so when I do hand this over or delegate it, it is not abdication where I'm just dumping something and say you guys figure this out, this is what I want to happen. Right? You're saying no, no, I read the book, I read the blog post on it. Here are the deliverables I expect. Now let's talk about how this gets integrated into the building blocks as we add them on versus, I mean it drives you crazy when you're working for people and they come up with an idea and then next week that's off the table. No, no, no, I had too much to drink that weekend. Now it's the new idea. You start to not believe in this mission because it pivots every 30 seconds. Right?

And what's different about what you're talking about is it's like okay, I chose to bring this into the sphere, what we're going to do. Here's the deliverables against that. Now I have action items that I can track that I actually delegated versus an idea that I never really executed on. So, I think that's super powerful. And what I want to talk about is this has allowed you to open up into some other ventures that we had talked about off air here. Tell me about how that's helped. Right? You've got a 50-person landscape company. Obviously, takes a lot of time to do so. But you've got two other business ventures that you're also supporting that they’re all kind of intertwined. So, kind of walk us through what that looks like.

Zech Strauser:
So, there are we'll call them startup bare bones. One is the 1801 Right Farm it's called. It's in southern Vermont. I have a Vermont tie as well as Pennsylvania because I was dropped out of high school and became a ski mom and coached skiing for a lot of years. So, I know a lot of people in southern Vermont and it just is my other home in my gut. It's a beautiful state. So, I two and a half years ago decided to buy an 80-acre farm and big old—1801 as the year it was built—farmhouse and the whole idea of what is it was going to be a company retreat which for the first few years before COVID, we were doing some retreats where an employee 10-year anniversary could go up for the week with their family and stay or we had different planning meetings here. And we were about to just start rolling it into almost industry events also where other landscape companies could come and then it just kind of obviously this Spring. So, what's really cool about it is I had this underlining and I'm sure a lot of people are experiencing the same thing with the COVID year which is like wait a second, I need to start moving on what I was going to do or whatever it may be. Like you probably wanted to do a podcast for the last two years. Right? That wasn't a new thing I bet. So, you just started doing it finally.

So, I've met with a farm manager two times and we're getting close to actually, I mean 2021, an acre of organic vegetables starting to get grown and we'll probably start with a couple of, maybe a hundred chickens. But we're putting together a big macro plan on the farm and the macro plan is people, animals, nature, food. So, we have four categories of the farm and nature will really incorporate landscaping, naturalized landscapes, trails and kind of the connection that we have just with nature. And that's the bare bones of the farm and that's the highlight of the farm. Then the farming itself with animals and food is kind of a byproduct of the nature side if you want to call it that. And then the people get to experience it and we also have in there the concept of art. So, maybe having different rock sculptures along the nature trails and different things like that. So, right now, I'm actually there in a lot of my spare time whether I'm here on company meetings all day and then in the evening I work on the farm. It's very kind of clearing out brush, figuring out where a bridge is going to go, kind of putting the plan together.

So, when we talked about like how do you stay focused on shiny objects, what's really cool about the farm is I get to dream and play there more for my lifelong thing. Right? But the landscape company, I have to go back and execute. So, that's what's really cool to be able to separate is to have that outlet for my brain to get creative on and just, I'm not saying the landscape's not creative and building the team. It’s super creative but building a bridge for me, figuring out how we're going to do that, I don't know, just gets me a little more excited than handing someone the deliverables.

Sean Adams:
Of course. Yeah.

Zech Strauser:
So, more P&L. Right? But I got to focus on the P&L so I can get the bridge money. Right? So, the farm long term will be a landscape and agriculture kind of hub and of course, my entrepreneur mindset is thinking even five, six years out where we could have a white van servicing the more higher end client from Manhattan and Connecticut in these areas where they have their second and third home where we'll be delivering them food and/or growing on their own property for them and that kind of upper level agricultural type of service. So, that's the farm and we have nothing growing except apple trees that were here and we're eating apples. That's the only thing we've ever, they were here though. So, I didn't even plant them. So, it's in the very beginning stages. There's an Instagram page for it.

Urture is another venture which derives all the way before I even started my landscape company. I always wanted a T-shirt company. I don't know. Like 25 years ago, I used to take like Beastie Boys lyrics and like stencil them on a T-shirt or I came up with different business names then and one was Struck and it was going to be Mogul Skiing clothing for mogul skiers. Right? So, whatever I was doing, it was this thought process that I could make a cool something for this group of people that I was currently hanging around. So, the same thing has come in my world for the landscaping and agriculture. But now we actually have a trademark name. The LLC just got formed. The bank account’s open. Websites and Shopify accounts are being built presently. And we have our first five branded garments we'll call them and hats and stuff. So, we have kind of a five series roll out for Urture which the name is created by the word urban nature. So, we combined the two words and the word is Urture and the definition of Urture which we hope to coin the definition which is urban and nature spaces coexisting in harmony. That's the definition of the word Urture.

So, our first mission in that company is to help inner city programs and when I say inner city, urban influence programs, get people connected to the outdoors and/or farming. And the kind of example would be Bette Midler has a non-profit program in the five boroughs of New York City called The New York Restoration Project and they have 50 edible and/or just landscape gardens throughout the five boroughs. 50 Cent, the rapper, has one of them. Right? He sponsored it and it's under Bette Midler's program. Those type of programs we're going to fund and help fund through Urture’s garments. So, our bare bones plan from day one is to help non-profits that are getting people connected to landscaping and horticulture for lack of better or just outdoor spaces.

Then our next concept is landscapers and farmers will have a place to fall on our web page where we will create your merch pages. So, we're basically, we'll take Strauser as our first customer. This Fall we're rolling them out and then the farm will be the second customer. So, what we hope to have in the future is hundreds of landscapers and farmers setting up their merch pages with us. So, we'll get everything printed for them and hopefully, they see a big value that we're trying to attract the younger generation into those two. When we talk about recruiting, when we talk about building value in these industries, that's where we think Urture really has the basis. Anyone could probably get you a printed T-shirt. Right? But if Sean, for your old landscape company, you were like hey, I'm buying my stuff from another landscaper, I think that's pretty cool. He knows my industry. He knows when I'm going to pop out 80% of my stuff. It's always March, April, May. That's when I need all my, then winter I have another big rush of jackets and hoodies. Right? And in my onboard hires, our concept's going to be basically where if you hire an employee, your stuff's getting shipped, they go on and they have a ticket and they type in their sizes and everything themselves and that garment is going to drop right to their home address in like 48 to 3 days later. They have their care package gets shipped right to their house.

Then we roll into partners teaming up with other people that make vests and make PPE gear so we can tag in the PPE. We're going to play off the safety role very heavily to really make sure that the younger generation that you're seeing on TikTok, they're priding themselves in their stick edging gain but they're not wearing the safety glasses. So, we're really going to combat against where we think it's awesome that all these younger people are showing off their quality work but yet they're not tied to that safety aspect. The end result is we already have about four or five products we've designed. I don't really go into too much detail what they are because of the IP of what I'm talking about. But the IP of what we're talking about is basic gear things for the landscape and farming industry that'll make their job easier and better throughout the day. So, different things to carry things. Again, stay hydrated. All these connected things, it's really hard to talk about without giving it away. But it's basically where we're going to basically be building gear and making our own specialty sweatshirt just for the landscaper. So, Arbor Wear is tree, Urture is landscape and farm basically.

Sean Adams:
Beautiful.

Zech Strauser:
So, that's the triangle. Right? We're going to feed them, we're going to clothe them and we're going to make beautiful landscapes. Right? So, it's just kind of like this—

Sean Adams:
Yeah. It's such a beautiful synergy. I can just respect the focused entrepreneur spirit in each of those things. Right? Very strategic in that. I think that that's brilliant. And Zech, we definitely want to set up a follow-up call. There's a hundred more questions I want to ask and dissect and you and I will get together and schedule some more time to dive in even further and maybe into how this looks on the sales side and how you're presenting all this to the client facing too. But I just want to thank you for carving out some time here today and just getting through kind of how you visualize and think about your culture and how that stems down to goals and just kind of reverse engineering that from that frontline employee all the way up to the vision and where you're taking these other entities. I think it's incredibly impressive.

Zech Strauser:
And just a quick 30 second. We are landscape, property management, snow. That’s who Strauser Nature’s Helpers services. That's our core. We do a lot of enhancement work, some installation. But I mean our core, we do a lot of HOA, about 50% to 60% of our business is homeowner associations and apartments. We didn't really talk about that at all. So, someone might be like what does he really even do? Are they doing construction or what are they—and so, it's a lot of repeat service work. That's just kind of how the cookie crumbled from ’08. In the downturn, I took my one mile and crew and focused on that and we didn't even talk about that much. But at the end of the day, 2001, 2008 and today, 2020, those are three key points in my life and I'm so blessed to have been in business in ‘01 and in ‘08 because I can refer—not to say 2020 is like it—but I can refer back to what I learned and didn't know I was learning then. So, for any younger in business person that hasn't been through a great financial collapse, whatever we're going to call what's coming up, what we're in the honeymoon phase of or not, maybe someone doesn't think we are, but nevertheless, get with your peers that may have been through those times and to teach you like maybe where you need to be focused because it is really important because there will be a lot of businesses that could potentially be really impacted through this and I think that we're positioned pretty well because of what we've been through of ‘01 and ‘08. So, just a quick kind of ending on that. It's actually pretty cool that we didn't talk about that whole 2020 thing much.

Sean Adams:
It's been beaten to death. That's on purpose. But yeah—

Zech Strauser:
If we would have started with that, we would have definitely had a different conversation. And actually that being said, what we talked about is really what you need to be doing right now, not talking about COVID.

Sean Adams:
We don't want to use that as a crutch. That's why I try not to bring it up unless it comes in.

Zech Strauser:
Yeah. It's good to benchmark against a little bit and understand. And that to us with Urture, that LLC is getting started. Let's go. This is the time. Let's do it. We're pushing. Let's go. And if there's any time, this should just get everyone to get some fire in their pants and get going on whatever they wanted to do.

Sean Adams:
I know I'm energized by this conversation. I'm sure some others are There’s guys looking at scaling their business. You can see what's possible when you have that focused energy into dedicated accountability. Right? And that's—

Zech Strauser:
Get on LinkedIn. That's how you and I met. Probably seven out of my last ten professional new friendships and/or relationships over the last two years has been coming from LinkedIn.

Sean Adams:
A hundred percent could not agree more. So, Zech, I just want to thank you for the time being on here. We're going to link to all of your businesses, ventures just so people can get a little more insight into you, your social media following as well. You guys are a great follow. You put great content out there. So, on behalf of everybody here, thank you for telling a little bit of your story and spending some time with us today.

Zech Strauser:
No problem, man. Appreciate it.

Conclusion:
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