by Tony Bass

Everybody knows that storms can be deadly and there’s nothing funny about the loss of life or property damage. But lawn or landscape contractors who prepare for the big storms can ethically profit from the post storm clean-up and property repairs available in the aftermath of the storm.

Let’s look at a few facts about what happens when storms hit.

  • High winds from hurricanes, tornadoes or heavy ice storms can cause massive damage to trees.
  • When trees, tree limbs, shrubs, bushes or structured are damaged…somebody must clean up the mess.
  • Works loads for clean-up services immediately and exponentially increase in storm impacted areas.
  • As work loads increase and labor and equipment are in high demand, prices for services tend to go up.
  • Work and life priorities change for almost all residents, businesses and government agencies in the immediate aftermath of a storm.
  • Organized contractors can quickly adjust their business plans to respond to new business opportunities.

3 Ways Lawn and Landscape Contractors Can Prepare for Storm Profits

First, contractors should make sure they have a storm communication plan ready to launch.  Most successful contractors will maintain a database of their existing and past customers.  But, the storm communication plan should include an ability to communicate via low-cost and high-speed methods with their existing clients. Simply alerting your database that you are ready, willing and able to help them with storm clean-up creates business opportunities and ethical post-storm profits.

It’s easier to sell additional services to your existing customers than any other group of prospects. Using an email communication tool like Constant Contact™ or Mail Chimp™ will give you the ability to send broadcast messages to your database. This is the place to start. However, email communication will rarely grab instant attention from every customer today.

Using text-broadcast or voice-broadcast software like CallLoop™ or CallFire™ could give you a speedy competitive advantage providing highly personalized messages to the people most likely to hire you (OR refer you) during the aftermath of the storm.  This software tool may require you to keep a separate database of your customers, but its powerful pre-programming and scheduling tools can make your company look like a super-communicator when other contractors are slow to communicate or can only communicate with one customer at the time.

The storm communication plan must include segmentation of your database to give you the ability to quickly communicate with customers, employees, sub-contractors and suppliers before, during and after the storm hits.  So… step one is all about being prepared to communicate.

Second, your equipment must be prepared for work.  Some storms can knock out power making it difficult to simply fuel up your trucks. Stay on a routine of keeping your vehicles and equipment fueled up.  Keep on-site fuel tanks or fuel cans on hand and fueled up as part of your storm preparedness plans.

Trees on the ground create massive amounts of work for able-bodied contractors.  Chain saws, skid loaders, frontend loaders, wood chippers and debris hauling trailers become instant money-making tools after the storm has passed.  So review your equipment, make sure it’s in working order and buy service items like chain saw blades in advance of the storm

Even if your company doesn’t own storm related equipment, you can still prepare to make big profits after a storm. Savvy contractors will secure relationships and lines of credit with professional equipment rental companies.  Access to a chipper, a dump-truck, a dump-trailer, front end loader or a few chain saws could help you be properly prepared to serve your customers in an efficient manner.

Third, you’re going to need joint venture(JV) partners to help you win high-profit work very fast.  We recommend you develop marketing and sub-contractor relationships with a handful of well-positioned allies.  These partners will be instantly connected to the post-storm clean-up work.  For example, your joint venture partners could include:

  • Tree service companies
  • Insurance repair companies
  • Trash removal contractors
  • Local municipalities or public works leadership
  • State or federal agencies providing storm assistance

Each of these categories of JV partners above will need additional labor, equipment and management during significant storm clean-up events.  Your asset of an organized labor force with its own equipment is a resource that will be welcomed after the storm clouds have passed.  Let me explain a bit further.

Tree service and insurance repair companies will get more calls than they can respond to in a timely manner.  By offering your team – managers and technicians as a subcontractor – you can help them take on much more work (serving customers) than they could on their own.  By partnering with them, you’ll get immediate access to work from their channels.  It’s a win-win-win situation.

Trash removal contractors, local municipalities, state and federal emergency response agencies are eager to get the storm debris cleared away in a fast, safe and responsible manner post storm.  Attentive and connected contractors can be awarded service contracts that skip, shorten or simplify the typical bureaucratic bid processes.  You simply need to seek appropriate contacts and let them know you stand ready to assist.

Are Big Profits from Storm Cleanup Fair and Ethical?

When you see the governor of your state declaring a “state of emergency”, the rules of business instantly change. Contractors who dramatically raise their standard price rates immediately after a storm could find themselves in serious trouble with consumer protection agencies like the Better Business Bureau or their states attorney general’s office.  Price gouging is illegal in many states.

We recommend that your published man-hour rates for labor, overtime labor, owned equipment or rental equipment track consistently with the rates used to bill customers before the storm hits.  Businesses who try to increase prices 50% or 100% after a storm may be able to win work in a time of crisis.  But the increase in prices could kill your business long-term.  Long after the storm passes, the company could find themselves under investigation or being prosecuted for violations of state price-gouging laws.

After the storm passes, your profits can skyrocket WITHOUT unethical price increase.  Here’s why.

  • You will find opportunities to bill for 100% of your labor and equipment allocated to a job if your contracts are written for time and materials billing.
  • If you provide fix priced agreements on a job by job basis, you may be able to create production incentives for your team to help you beat your budgeted allocation of labor hours on a job.
  • You can justify higher service fees for a portion of your work to comply with federal government overtime pay requirements.
  • Lawn and landscape labor rates tend to be some of the lowest wage rates in the world of contracting. Partnering with established joint venture contractors like those listed above may allow you to win work at slightly higher prices without a rigorous bid process.
  • You may find your sales and profits explode because you work longer shifts or more days per week than normal work schedules.

Yes, big profits can be an ethical byproduct of storm clean-up for lawn and landscape contractors. 

But one thing is for sure.  If your lawn or landscape company is NOT PROFITABLE before the storm hits, it’s likely because your pricing system is broken.  If your company is pricing work BELOW your cost of doing business, it’s unlikely you’ll see a lasting increase in profits after the storm passes. We’ve helped hundreds and hundreds of lawn and landscape contractors fix pricing mistakes by attending an education event we call Profit Builder Training.

Get your company ready for the next big storm before it hits.  Your communication plan, your equipment plan and your joint venture marketing plan will be your tools for ethical profits after the storm passes.  If your company needs help generating big profits, we’d like help.

Tony Bass is the founder of Tony Bass Consulting and the Super Lawn Toolkit education system.  He bases his counsel to contractors on three decades of experience in the landscape industry.  He is the co-author of The E-Myth Landscape Contractor: Why Most Landscape Companies Don’t Work and What To Do About It.  You can reach him at 478-822-9706 or tony@tonybassconsulting.com .