Converting a small business into one of the biggest outdoor services company – with Joshua Steven Gámez

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Good leaders lead by example. This is the number one lesson that Joshua, CEO of East Coast Facilities, learned in his remarkable landscaping and snow career, which he started at a very young age.Starting in the ’90s as a private brand, then moving to the U.S. Lawns in 2001 at an age of 22, to finally launching East Coast Facilities in 2015, his journey illustrates his passion for the green and the snow industry. Our team had the pleasure of speaking with Joshua to understand how he built East Coast Facilities and led its exponential growth over the years. This is indeed a unique success story as the biggest minority-owned outdoor service company in the industry.Joshua boiled down his teachings into a four-point strategy for growth the market in this insightful interview. Here you go:

1. Form a great team

It starts with leadership

What makes a team great? That it’s being led by a good leader. And what is good leadership for Joshua? He says, “I lead by example, that’s the key. Consider that each member of the team is like a link in a chain. You can’t push a chain, nobody gets behind a chain and starts pushing it. You gotta be out front, you gotta be pulling it. You gotta be in front of it. That’s leadership.” As the CEO, Joshua’s responsibilities include having a strategic plan for the company in place. With growth, this plan keeps evolving as the needs change in an organization. He adds, “So at any given moment priorities could change, but ultimately, the strategic direction of the company, capital projects, capital planning, and technology projects, those are the things I put a lot of my time into.” 

A good workplace culture comes next

Finding the right balance between discipline and compassion in the workplace has been Joshua’s aim. He also mentions, “Our organization profile which we internally describe could be what’s called an MPO: Military Precision Organization. Everything is very structured. We have very specific policies and systems that govern all types of workflows in the company and fulfillment processes, etc. There is not a lot of room for error when it comes to the execution of those systems and processes. In that sense, we’re very disciplined and very strict as an organization.” Joshua’s priority is to keep the company’s systems and processes in place. What makes the culture at ECF commendable is that all the systems, processes, and policies are built keeping the front-line workers in mind. For Joshua, the front-line workers are the key to one’s success in the landscaping industry. He mentions, “When you start to look at the systems and processes and dig into them, you’ll notice that large swats of these systems, policies and processes are actually written and built to protect frontline workers, to make sure frontline workers are never left undeveloped, unintended and uninspired.” Having this heartfelt compassion for the front-line workers makes the culture at ECF very powerful, adds Shawn. 

A well-trained team of frontline workers & leaders

The success of a landscaping company depends on well-trained personnel working together to ensure minimal operational hiccups. Joshua says, “So right out of the gate when a new employee comes to work for the company before they even go on the field, they go through orientation, which is a full day in the classroom. And they watch all the orientation training videos. They take a series of tests, which they have to pass 100% to move on. Our employees are trained with safety guidelines, with expectations, with etiquette, for resolving issues, very key policies of the company, right out of the gate they’re trained. So they start off with knowledge and the tools they need to be successful.” This rigorous training is not just restricted to the front-line employees. It applies to crew leaders too at ECF. Joshua adds, “Our crew leaders get leadership development every morning in our crew leader muster meetings. So Monday through Thursday, in all of our locations, we have a training series that our crew leaders go through.” Properly structured training of team employees is crucial, says Joshua, “We do onsite training and technical training with our team members. We do safety training with all employees every week. We’ll do special programs or seminars along the way as we need to. But we’re very active with training, in-field supervision, and coordination. A lot of time gets spent with the employees and it’s structured.”

Focus on quality 

Shortage of labor, decreasing margins, and inflation are every leader’s top concerns in this industry. Joshua says the one way to beat the labor crunch is to maintain a firm company culture that retains your employees. He says, “Retaining your existing employees and creating a workplace that people are happy to refer to others. Referrals are one of the number one ways that we staff. We often will have waiting lists of people ready to call because of that. So that’s how we tackle the number one problem, i.e labor issue.” To deal with inflation and rising costs, Joshua suggests increasing your prices and, in fact, not being afraid to do so. If your company’s brand name is known for all the right reasons, i.e. good service delivery, you will attract the right buyers who are more accepting of broader margins. Joshua remarks, “You have to have a culture and an environment that retains employees. When you do that, you’ll retain your customers. If you retain your customers, that means your customers are happy with you, which in many cases means they’re probably willing to pay you a fair profit margin so that your business can be sustainable. So all that are foundational pieces, and they are important.” 

2. Drive your team’s performance with technology 

Joshua talks about the technological advancements in the green industry and how they have affected a landscaping company’s day-to-day operations. He says, “Autonomous mowing is here, and it’s here to stay and it’s going to grow and it’s going to mature and become more of a constant feature of the industry that’s going to replace a few percentage points of workers, but still that’s coming along. It’s quite nice.” On the software side of things, the industry is now seeing initiatives to manage the fulfillment of operations, sales processes, and teams better. Joshua says, “I think technology has matured there greatly in the past 10 years, for sure. We have companies like Attentive that didn’t exist just a handful of years ago or if they did, they weren’t as accurate as they are today in terms of the product and service delivery of the estimates or the takeoff data that’s coming out of the programs.” Joshua talks about ECF’s in-house business software platform that he’s been closely involved with; Omnia. The software’s primary intent is to create an automated workflow that is then easily followed by the team for smoother operations. 

3. Work on your branding  

A company’s brand builds over time. The work that your company does, the messaging, and the job sites you work on, contribute to building your brand, says Joshua. He further explains, “So I would like to think that when people think of the ECF brand, they’re thinking of a certain type of customer, a certain type of job site, about the quality and the consistency.” Although not very popular in the green industry, having a dedicated media team working toward your brand, using videos, still images, and written content to promote the company has its own benefits. Joshua states, “We have an actual full‑time media team, and we put a lot of content out that reinforces our brand with buyers, with suppliers, and with potential team members.” Joshua is considered a social media mogul in the landscaping industry, as he was the first to leverage the power of social media here. He comments, “For us, it’s quite easy to shoot footage and content, whether it’s video or still images, because all of those, the personnel, the fleet, the sites they’re on, it’s all us. And it’s all legit. That’s just how our company looks. So we can go to job sites and shoot that, we could produce content very quickly.” Your branding techniques do not have to be perfect, but your brand needs to be well-represented at all times. 

4. Embrace diversity at work

ECF has a very sincere interest in immigrant welfare, of which a huge part makes up the frontline workforce of the landscaping industry, says Joshua. Joshua states, “I will want our management team to look like our frontline workforce, which I could say that we’ve accomplished. We just want to maintain that as we grow because when you have diversity in your company, then your team’s going to feel more at home.” Having common ground with the front-line workers brings in a never before seen synergy that is required in this field of work.Joshua believes minorities need to have representation in management positions. They then have empathy for them while making decisions. This has given ECF an edge over other landscaping companies.When asked how one would define success, Joshua noted, “It’s important to make money and generate profit. And we work hard to have that material benefit to our work. So that’s important. But just having balance and really enjoying what you do, like if you’re going to be in this industry, it’s very important to enjoy what you’re doing. That’s to me a success. If you can make money and enjoy it, that is success.”Joshua believes that success is more about competing with yourself and building the best business one can build for themselves and for the company one works for. He adds, “If you’re an employee and enjoy what you’re doing, take the time to enjoy it, and probably by interacting with people and taking care of people, and serving others, you’re going to get the greatest joy out of work.”

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