Investing in Efficiency

Summer 2014

An experienced contractor explains why working efficiently is key to success in the long run

Andrew Conner

By

Investing in Efficiency

Bill Gardocki, owner of Interstate Landscape Company in Londonderry, New Hampshire, brings his 40 years in the landscape business and over 10 years of ICPI and NCMA teaching experience to this year’s Hardscape North America show in two classes covering efficiency. A hands-on class, Tools for Paver Installation Efficiency, covers efficient paver installation, while an indoor class, Increasing Efficiency on the Hardscape Jobsite, covers efficiency from the initial quote to job site preparation and on-site techniques. The classes offer information for contractors new to the business or experienced ones looking to learn more.

The Right Tools

Mr. Gardocki’s hands-on class demonstrates the latest tools and techniques that expert paver installers use, from simple hand tools to big, complex vehicles. Using more efficient tools reduces labor costs and accelerates job completion without compromising quality.

All of this creates more time for more projects and more income. Mr. Gardocki stresses this in his classes, as some contractors often are hesitant to buy new tools due to sticker shock.

“I can’t tell you how many guys tell me that they can’t afford the extra $10,000 for a higher load-capacity skid steer,” says Mr. Gardocki. With their lower load-capacity machine, they have to remove two or three layers of pavers from each pallet to be able to lift and move each around the job site. So I get them thinking about the two or three layers of pavers they removed from every single pallet and extrapolate that out to how many times a year that’s done, and the total amount of time spent. Beside this, I ask them to consider all the little things they think don’t waste time—they think it’s just a part of what they do—and then add up all that time they waste by using inefficient equipment. They think, ‘it takes just five minutes longer,’ but they’re doing it hundreds of times a week and thousands of times a year. It adds up to wasted time and money.”

Mr. Gardocki still remembers coming home from an ICPI class he took 17 years ago and throwing away all of his compaction equipment and completely changing the way his company worked, because it was inefficient. “It was an instant change in our business,” he says. “We were able to extend our warranties. Most guys will offer a one-year, maybe two-year warranty, when you should easily be offering upwards of a five-year warranty.”

“Compaction equipment is probably the most important equipment in this industry and guys just don’t look at it as an investment for better compaction and warranty sales, they look at it only as a necessity,” he says. “In my classes, I try to show them how the compaction equipment pays for itself very quickly over time, more quickly than any other piece of equipment in our industry.”

Mr. Gardocki sees HNA as a great way to find out about new tools that could help make your business more efficient. That’s why he brings some of his employees there to investigate new tools and techniques. “I always tell my guys: ‘If you see something that’s going to make your job easier and less stressful on your body, let me know,’” he says. “Because I’ve invested a lot in my foremen and I want them to stay healthy as long as possible.”

A Solid Plan

While planning is hugely important for efficient, successful contractors, Mr. Gardocki understands why it is often one of the more overlooked aspects of the business. “Let’s face it, most contractors have never taken a class in business,” he says. “The last thing they want to do is come home at night and sit down and plan things out for the next day, but that’s the way it really needs to be done.”

Although planning may not be the most desirable activity for contractors, Mr. Gardocki emphasizes just how important it is by pointing to a statistic from a book by Charles Vander Kooi that reads, “One hour of planning saves eight hours in the field.” For contractors looking to save money, Mr. Gardocki says the first thing they should look into is more focused planning.

He ascribes much of his own success to his ability to plan well. “In my town we’ve been by far the longest running landscape business. It’s not because we’re any better at installation than anyone else—it’s because we’re better at running the office than anyone else,” he says.

Mr. Gardocki explains that finishing a job with a healthy profit margin requires careful planning. In his business, he bids jobs based on the hours they take to complete, rather than on square footage or another measurement. To do this, he divides tasks his employees do into 18 labor functions, which he can then benchmark against previous jobs to come up with the right bid.

“You need to track [this data] so that in the future you’re bidding accurately and understanding how long it’s taking your crews to do certain tasks,” he says. “The record-keeping really pays off in the long run because you may be bidding too high based on tasks that aren’t taking you as long as you think. All the guys I know that are very successful track their hours.”

While some contractors will bid on contracts using square foot pricing as their basis—as opposed to tracking labor hours—Mr. Gardocki says this is a mistake because no two sites are the same.

“There’s no situation where it’s better to do it by square foot,” he says. “One key thing for us is access to the site. You could have two houses right next to each other that both want a 400-square-foot patio, but if one has a fence around the whole backyard and you have to take down the fence and drive across a beautiful lawn and rehab the lawn, the job will cost more. It’s impossible to charge by the square foot and understand whether you’re making any money or not.”

Keeping records of your jobs is helpful for all contractors, but Mr. Gardocki says it’s especially important for people who are new to the trade.

“For the new guys, they have to know and understand that one crew might not be as quick and efficient as another crew,” he says. “So it really comes down to their foremen and understanding the strengths and weaknesses of their foremen. Can their foreman handle three guys and be really efficient or is he the kind of guy that can only handle one other guy with him? It’s all in the record-keeping and as long as you’re keeping track, it makes [answering those questions] much, much easier.”

 

Additional Resources

To learn more about Bill Gardocki’s classes at the 2014 HNA show and to register, visit www.hardscapena.com.

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