• United States

Growing like a weed

May 13, 20043 mins
Network SecuritySmall and Medium Business

* Lawn maintenance company uses iPAQs to expand without increasing staff

The pitch was right to the point: HP iPAQ PDAs help a small business save $10,000 cash per month. Was I interested in talking to the customer?

Absolutely. That’s how I connected with Mike Reynolds, the director of IT for Middleton Lawn and Pest Control in central Florida.

Public relations isn’t an exact science. With 300 employees and 20 offices, Middleton is a midsize business. And it didn’t stop spending $10,000 per month. It added 15 employees and increased revenue 20% without adding back-office staff, saving plenty in salaries.

Reynolds started a project 18 months ago to eliminate the multi-page paper tracking forms his lawn care technicians fill out for every job. Documenting the work of 72 lawn techs, each performing 15 to 20 jobs per day, generated a huge wad of paper. Each night, the technicians dropped off the paper forms, which were gathered and sent to a district office for entry into the computer. It took three to five days before Reynolds knew exactly what each technician did and which chemicals were used on each customer’s lawn.

Today, Reynolds’ techs carry iPAQ PDAs (Models 3600, 3900 and 5450) with tracking software from FMC Software Solutions designed for lawn maintenance companies. When the tech returns to the office, he drops the iPAQ into a cradle for synchronization with the back office. Reynolds now knows exactly which jobs were performed and how many gallons of chemicals were used by 10 a.m. the next morning.

Using the iPAQs adds only about 5 minutes to the techs’ work day. Reynolds was able to hire five more lawn technicians and 10 salespeople without adding another person in the back office.

Eliminating paper dropped the back-office workload by 75%. Technicians keep customer history on the PDA, which helps them interact with clients and discuss specific lawn plans. Middleton is a private company, so Reynolds can’t disclose financial details, but he admits the company has grown 20% since the iPAQs became part of the tool kit. And the savings from supporting 20% more business with the same number of back-office staff has paid for the project in less than a year.

The FMC software integrates with the back-end software (also from FMC), but Reynolds set aside six months for the pilot project. Middleton management gave him the time to do it right, and he took advantage.

Reynolds made two decisions when rolling out this project worth emulating. First, he rolled out a 10-person pilot for six months, relying on feedback from the users to push the software vendor into customizing the application to fit Middleton’s business needs. Goals were to shorten text entry times with pull-down comments, and splitting out the chemicals used for each job into appropriate inventory reports. Second, he involved critics of the project in the pilot and turned them into allies.

“That gave them buy-in to the idea,” Reynolds says. “And they came up with good ideas as well.”

Using feedback generated by the lawn technicians, Reynolds tweaked the software for six months. Last summer, he distributed iPAQs to every lawn care tech, including some newer models that synch wirelessly, without a cradle. Reynolds is considering adding GPS software to the devices to improve routing and plans to provide his sales staff with TabletPCs so they can show presentations to potential customers.

Who knew lawn techs could go high tech? HP, Middleton Lawn and Pest Control, and Mike Reynolds, that’s who.