“Lucky” #7: YardApes Inc. Becomes 7th Landscape Firm in Nation to Receive Industry Accreditation

It’s getting better, but Landscapers, unfortunately still have a less-than stellar reputation when it comes to the trades. Despite the overall trend of the newer generations to forego manual labor, select occupations within the realm are making a comeback. I never thought I’d say this, but thanks to some reality TV, particularly Mike Rowe (of Dirty Jobs) and even Jesse James (and his now artisan approach to metalworking) many “dirty” occupations and crafts in general are enjoying a small resurgence as select young people realize they are necessary, worthwhile, and becoming quite lucrative.

With that said, the title “Landscaper” still carries a bit of a stigma. Tell your significant other’s mom that you’re an Electrician, and she’ll likely say something like “That’s awesome! That’s a really good trade and I’ll bet you’re gonna spoil the hell out of her!”. Tell her you’re a Landscaper, she might smile, ask you a few questions about gardening, and after you have left; have an sidebar conversation with said significant other about ambition and mention the fact that your eyes seemed a little red at dinner that night (“He works outside all day! It was probably the pollen!”).

As far as YardApes is concerned; our origins are simple. As many friends, family, and amazing clients that have stayed with us for nearly 30 years know…we started as a “guy, a mower, and a truck” operation (officially) in 1990. The beginning days are quite different when compared to present. While I always kept things professional in the way I chose to handle business (be it on a lawn, or on my couch simultaneously returning phone calls-jamming invoices on carbon paper until the wee hours of the morning) I really had no idea that the company and industry would evolve so greatly in almost 30 years

Humble Beginnings in 1989

The YardApes Team in Spring 2018. Absent are a few admin staff, and 15 amazing H2B Guest Workers due to unforeseen changes with the program this year.

Thankfully, perspective and attitudes have been rolling forward, which has already led to a trickle-down effect to small to mid-sized companies like ours. National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) has, in conjunction with its leadership and 100,000 Landscape Professionals within its pool of members, created a way to simultaneously help organizations (and one-man, but “legitimate types”) better their businesses, and help consumers differentiate the hacks from the true professionals.

Titled “The Landscape Industry Accredited Company Program”, NALP requires a company to take a hard, introspective look at all facets of their business. It’s not enough to have a portfolio of great looking work, correct books, or shiny equipment. There are several criteria a company must submit for verification, but the key elements involve business ethics, human resources, and safety within day to day operations. For example, the program requires a company to submit documentation from third parties verifying the financial stability of their business. The content of actual employee handbooks (and the manner in which they are presented), and the way employees are treated is evaluated. Client communication (as you will see below, turned out to be deficient for us in one area) is scrutinized. And, of course; client verification on “the job itself” is verified. While not an absurd number of references (3), a questionnaire is sent to three current clients asking about quality, satisfaction, and consistency. The results are sent blindly to NALP directly for review.

The process was not easy, in fact, at times it was borderline painful. Initially it was thought that we would be a shoe in (after all, we are an established company…no rookies here) but were incredibly surprised to uncover some things we were totally slacking on operationally, as well as within the office. I won’t divulge all of our “dirt” but will say; we went back and forth with each other. There were more conversations. meetings, and email threads than I care to remember about the application. And then throw in to the mix; an already busy season, almost derailed by unexpected labor shortage where 15 of some of our most experienced guest workers were denied visas this year due to a change in process.

But change we did. Despite having to kick off the Spring and being down 50% of our normal labor force, we hired an outside company to come in and teach 15 of our good-natured employees the official way to operate a forklift and receive their OSHA certifications on an early April Saturday morning. Our handbook had changes made that simple but important aspects of human resources (like signed yearly reviews of our employee handbook between the employee and supervisor) clearer. Embarrassingly, we also discovered that we hadn’t always communicated a warranty (or lack thereof) on some of the services we offer. We’re doing that now, and this should surely mitigate confusion and misunderstanding on both parties should an issue arise in the future. While we always stressed safety and provided instruction and necessary equipment-we never documented the efforts or had a structured program or classes in house. Now, every week our marketing guy (Grant) rallies up every Crew Leader, Technician, and the Managers together to discuss a topic relevant to our industry and day to day operations. It also gives us a chance to huddle up, say a few motivating words, and occasionally share coffee and donuts before heading out to start our day.

Today, as I sit in my office…overlooking a river, an expertly mowed field in front of it (still managing finances of course, this time in conjunction with Becky (our Office Manager) and this time in Quickbooks and Aspire). I’m incredibly proud of our staff for doing the things necessary to improve on as a company. The pride felt is not just because we see the award as a “prestige” object or cool logo to put on our trucks. Whether or not we receive more business as a result doesn’t hold a candle to the fact that we had the maturity and follow through as a team to say “Hey, we need to not only fix these things, but keep rolling with them!”.

A great (albeit often mis-paraphrased) quote from Mahatma Ghandi reads:

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”

With that, I would like to thank you to my staff for making YardApes not only the 7th Landscape Firm in the Nation to be recognized with this distinction, but a better company to work for and improve the land we love so dear. We aren’t perfect, but still a great example of the professional change we’d like to see for the industry.

Lastly, thank you to NALP for creating this program and helping companies better ourselves so one day, eye rolling by the parents of significant others is replaced by genuine respect for the trade that connects and families with the amazing outside world.

We believe everyone everywhere benefits from a connection with nature.

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