Jim McCutcheon, HighGrove Partners

Disaster, recovery, growth; the timeline we’ve followed since the COVID-19 pandemic crawled across the globe.

The impact of the pandemic, and a handful of other world-altering events, changed the way millions live, and many of us are still working to adjust.

The year 2022 brings the opportunity to step into the growth phase of the decade, and it is time to build a game plan.

Jim McCutcheon is the leader of HighGrove Partners, a $20 million landscape company in Atlanta, Georgia.

They design, build and maintain hundreds of properties throughout the area. Roughly $5 million of their revenue comes from design, build and enhancement projects for maintenance clients.

Jim launched HighGrove in 2001 and helped grow it to what it is today. He credits his success to his ability to take a unique approach to his work with an incredible team.

“I used to do a series of talks called ‘Stop Thinking Like a Landscaper,’” says Jim.

“It’s about this idea that, yes, we have to do good landscaping work, but what business is really about is finding out how to solve our clients’ real problems.

That is how we turn into strong businesses and not just a lifestyle company.”

The HighGrove team approaches their work by finding why the client needs landscape work.

They ask questions about their life, their business and their goals. Jim says a growing trend lately is the need to meet “ESG goals.” The acronym stands for environmental, social and governance rights and is a regulation that many public companies are now required to incorporate into their business.

The environmental aspect concerns sustainability and similar issues, the social piece topics like diversity, and governance relates to a company’s transparency.

ESG reports will likely be a top priority in most real estate companies within the next few years, especially for banks and other investors.

Jim believes the landscape is key for a company to achieve their ESG goals and build the value of a property.

Another, more timely need for HighGrove clients, is attracting employees back to the workplace.

Jim and his team work at several commercial office buildings, and the business managers there are ready for their employees to stop working at home full-time.

Even Jim says, as a business leader, he knows that remote work makes it difficult to do things like build culture in an organization and train new employees. He also knows from an employee standpoint, though, no one wants to feel stuck in an office all day long.

“If they can work outside, get fresh air, they might actually want to be there,” he says. “So we’ve recently built outdoor kitchens for offices, and we’re creating urban farm space with vertical aeroponic towers in commercial properties. We can build towers in lobbies, courtyards, even on rooftops. Then clients can offer employees fresh food grown right on site.”

Problem solving has been a key piece of the HighGroves business model for years.

It helped the team stand out during a drought in 2007 that forced many other Atlanta landscapers to shut down their irrigation services. HighGrove developed an irrigation education program that taught clients about smart irrigation systems and other water conservation techniques.

“Most properties had no water, so we rebranded our services as ‘KnowWater,’” explains Jim. “We showed clients how to save water and money during that time, and in the process we nearly tripled our business. Just because we were thinking about it differently, we were solving their problems.”

Jim predicts that in 2022, landscape companies will have to take a hard look at their business model and customer base — and determine if the two align.

HighGrove even overhauled its customer base recently to determine who helped the company thrive and who stalled business. In some cases, ties with clients were cut.

“There are certain realities facing all industries, but ours in particular, as it relates to labor costs, equipment costs, fertilizers, fuel. People are reluctant to ask for price increases, but they should figure out how real quick,” says Jim. “There is a fear of losing work, but people need to understand that if you’re losing money on that job, it doesn’t help you. You decide if the relationship is strong enough that you can negotiate your way through, or if you are better off taking those resources and finding a more profitable deal.”

He says the ultimate key to business is asking questions.

Talk to your clients. Understand why someone needs landscape work and what they are trying to achieve, then develop a plan to do that.

Talk to your team. Learn what employees need to be proud of their work and their company.

Talk to yourself. Determine your own needs and goals. Decide what kind of company you want to have, then have the courage to build it.

HighGrove Partners
Tel: (404)667–9462

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