When two competitors in the landscaping industry joined forces in 2015, they consolidated and expanded facilities, increased efficiencies, and created economies of scale. Three and a half years later, they have more than doubled their revenue from $10 million (combined revenue in 2015) to $25 million.
Owners Ben Helton and Bob Wheeler merged their companies (Total Maintenance Solutions and The Cutting Edge Lawn Company) to form Cutting Edge Landscape, headquartered in Boise, Idaho. Bob and Ben knew that by combining forces they would be able to leverage their differing skills to create a company that would provide outstanding service, while expanding their services and geographic reach. Shortly after the merger, they rebranded with a new website in addition to new uniforms, truck and trailer decals, and marketing materials.
Bob’s strength is in organization, equipment allocation, manning, operations, and quality control. His experience began in operations management at UPS in pre-load, dispatch, and training package car drivers. His expertise in processes and operational efficiencies led to the creation of EdgeMan in 2008. “EdgeMan is our custom software and has been a key factor in our ability to grow our business. It gives us the tools we need to operate efficiently and provide our customers with outstanding service,” says Wheeler.
While Bob manages the operational side of the business, Ben oversees the sales team while focusing on adding services and growing their service area. Ben started mowing lawns as a teen and expanded from neighborhood yards into subdivisions, commercial properties, and snow removal. “Early on I got lucky with a couple of large clients that we still have today,” says Helton. Without any other work experience, Ben read as many industry articles as he could get his hands on and focused on large properties like apartment complexes. Revenue grew quickly, reaching $10 million in less than eight years.
What sets Cutting Edge apart from competitors is putting people first, both customers and employees. “Customer satisfaction, from initial contact to follow-up after service, is a top priority,” says Helton. “To enhance the customer experience, we are currently implementing our new custom software, EdgeMan2. The custom web-based application handles service from the very beginning step of bidding, to routing and performing services, to the final step of invoicing and receiving payments.”
Cutting Edge has invested a half million dollars in this project. With Edgeman2, their crews use tablets to track services, jobs, and time. Customers can digitally approve contracts, track changes, see daily project progress, view photos, request service, and log into their account, just to list a few of the features. The reporting includes details down to the minute and penny, and they are able to customize or add any feature or report as the need arises. “We’re very excited about EdgeMan2. Servicing our customers and building relationships is the best part of the business,” Wheeler says.
Cutting Edge provides service in 11 western states with plans for acquisitions and expansion. Operating with a hybrid business model, they self-perform services while also subcontracting. “Our self-perform service schedules fill up very quickly every year,” says Helton. “The addition of trade partners enables us to fill the gaps in service areas and offer geographic continuity across multiple states for our clients.”
In an industry where broker agents facilitate subcontractor services, but have no experience doing the actual work, Cutting Edge is uniquely positioned to service national portfolios at a level that surpasses the service level offered by their largest competitors. Cutting Edge has been providing services directly to customers for more than 20 years, while the majority of their competitors have no field experience. This gives them the invaluable expertise necessary to successfully manage their subcontractor team to ensure top-shelf service to clients with properties spread across multiple states.
Bob and Ben know there’s more to a company than customer service. “We wouldn’t be where we are today without our team,” says Wheeler. “We are committed to providing paid vacation, medical and dental benefits, a 401(k) matching plan, savings plan, quality uniforms and gear, new equipment, professional facilities, and career advancement opportunities. In 2016, we added a Human Resources Manager to help ensure employee satisfaction.”
In 2018, Cutting Edge also added an Employee Relations Specialist to raise the bar of the employee experience. This newly created position focuses on recruitment, retention, on-boarding new team members, employee recognition programs, and training. Employee involvement in the community has also become an area of focus. Recent events include decorating and filling duffel bags for children in foster care, Boys and Girls Club Trunk or Treat and bake sale, the 7Cares Idaho Shares food drive, and book drive for United Way. Upcoming events include Empty Bowl, supporting the food bank, and volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House.
“As our business grows, the biggest challenge isn’t getting new clients, but rather in expanding our team,” says Jeff Dee, Human Resources Manager. “The available labor force is lean and it’s challenging to find the team members needed to grow. We are continually seeking new ways to recruit and improve employee retention. We’ve seen an improvement in retention with our increased focus on company culture, training, and communication. We expect a lot from our team and in turn they should expect a lot from us. We want them to enjoy what they do and look forward to coming to work.”
In addition to their commitment to employee satisfaction, Cutting Edge also recognizes the importance of their role in creating sustainable landscapes. While 65 percent of their business is landscape maintenance, the remaining 35 percent is design and construction. “In our landscape design, we take the responsibility of being responsible stewards very seriously and emphasize the importance of water management and conservation,” says Helton. “Whenever possible, we use native plants and grasses that are drought-resistant, requiring less water and maintenance. We also recommend eliminating turf where possible and replacing it with trees, shrubs, and perennials that requires less water.”
Educating the community and their clients on proper watering techniques is also a priority. “By speaking at industry events, we have the opportunity to explain ways to decrease water usage while actually increasing the health of the landscape,” says Clyde Lingo, Construction General Manager. “Additionally, when designing or upgrading sprinkler systems, we integrate smart irrigation technology to decrease water usage. We have also worked with manufacturers in the testing and development of sprinkler and water conservation products.”
Water conservation isn’t where their focus on sustainability stops. Their equipment fleet includes propane mowers for reduced carbon emissions, and recycling is also important. Grass clippings, leaves, and tree and shrub branches are dumped in on-site bins, and then recycled into mulch, compost, animal bedding, and erosion control products. Removed sod is composted into topsoil, and waste gravel and concrete are used as ground-fill by sand and gravel companies.
“Ultimately, our goal is to grow our business, but that’s only the final result of what we strive to achieve each day. We’ve always believed that if you do things the right way, if you provide superior service, and if our team gets satisfaction from the job they do every day, the rest will fall into place,” says Wheeler.