Ep 028 – Using Innovation to Revolutionize Professional Landscaping

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Think landscaping is just 'glorified hole-digging'? Think again. In this compelling episode of Roots of Success, we're joined by industry innovators Robyn and Bret Schmitz of High Prairie, who are transforming perceptions and practice through high-level training and cutting-edge robotic technology. Discover how they tackle the industry's biggest challenges and why prioritizing professionalism and innovation is key to success.


Innovation + Training + Professionalism = Growth

Key Moments:

[03:46] Design work and implementation - a powerful team.
[09:27] Reacting rapidly to curveballs.
[13:39] Respond with grace and self-reflection to challenges.
[19:36] Training is an investment in business success.
[28:37] Industry game changers advance with robotic mowers.
[34:12] Collaborating with a manufacturer to create new products.
[42:57] Grateful for new skills, best golden nuggets.


    1. How can training improve employee retention in small businesses?
    2. What are the benefits of robotic mowing in landscaping?
    3. What strategies do companies use to maintain high standards in customer service?
    4. How can small businesses leverage technology to compete in traditional industries?
    5. How do companies develop effective training programs for technical and soft skills?
Episode Transcript
Robyn and Bret Schmitz [00:00:00] The Roots of Success podcast is for the landscape professional who's looking to up their game. We've got a brain trust of experts to help you nurture the roots of a successful business and grow to the next level. This is The Roots of Success. Tommy Cole: Welcome to another episode of the Roots of Success podcast. And I'm your host, Tommy Cole. I'm excited to announce that this is the start episode one of season two. We've officially made it. One year on a Roots of Success podcast. Holy moly. I didn't know it was going to last this long. I figured that after a couple of episodes people would close the door on me but we've achieved a lot of, highs and lows. This is out of my comfort zone to the most extreme, but with all that continued support the past year. I'm very thankful and honored to share all these amazing people and stories throughout our industry that we love so much. So with that being said, I've [00:01:00] got my, one of my favorite power couples, dynamic duos, all the way from Kansas city, Missouri, known as High Prairie Outdoors, Brett and Robyn Schmitz. Hey, Tommy, thanks for having us. We're stoked to be here today. Yeah, so am I. I'm so, so honored to have you both here. You guys are such an amazing couple. I've done a lot of great things. Shared a lot of the ups and downs of running a landscape business. In this crazy environment that we live in. High Prarie Outdoors Business Beginings Tommy Cole: But let's get started right away. Tell me a little bit about High Prairie and what you guys do in the Kansas City market. Sure. So today High Prairie Outdoors specializes largely in high touch residential. We are 66 percent design build, including in house pools, which most people think is crazy. And 33, 34% fine gardening. But yeah, it didn't always start out that way. We weren't always just those things [00:02:00] for sure. Yeah, it's evolved over the years. So one of the stories I want to get into, which it was not always, super awesome maintaining high residential clients, high touch clients. But it all started with a Jeep a shovel and a dream. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Yep. Tommy Cole: So take me way back how that all got started. And then, and then Brett had to get involved at some point, Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Two broke kids in a shovel. No, I'm kidding. Nah. So 2010 the company at that point was just me. So I don't know if you can consider that a company or not. But I started out kind of fired up because there was a lot of corner cutting happening in our market at the time. But we didn't have any money and we didn't have financial backing. So we had a 1999 Jeep Grand Cherokee. We didn't even own a truck yet. And I started using past design skills and design software I already owned to design, sell, and install [00:03:00] every single project by myself. And with the begged help, essentially of, you know, Folks just like this handsome gentleman sitting next to me to help me install everything I could on weekends. And for the first three years, it was just me. So, yeah, that was 2010. 2013, we hired our first teammates, which were some rockstar stonemasons. They're still with us today. 2016, this gentleman right here, joined the picture. Do you want to tell your story? I went to college and got my education in the accounting field. So went off, did the whole private equity thing, got bored, sitting behind a desk. And 2016, she started getting busy enough that she decided she wanted to bring me back onto the business full time. I was always doing the books for the business from the start, but like I said, got tired of sitting behind a desk and. Tommy Cole: Went out and ran crews for probably what, three, four years. Until we really started building up the crews from there. That's great. Yeah. [00:04:00] That sounds boring compared to your job now, is it? Is a little bit of an understatement that I can get it, you know, out of a desk, out on the job site. that's where you guys, are the most power couples. One's doing the design work and, and just sees the vision and Brett puts it in the ground. Brett, joining this landscape team was a bit of a curve ball, right? Especially, especially the wife ownership of, tell me how it's been. She's the visionary kind of like design and you just have to figure it all Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Yeah. You know, I tell everybody that joins us, you have to stay on your toes and you can't get comfortable. Which is kind of the MO of our business, really. We're always growing. We're always finding new things to differentiate ourselves. And we kind of just roll with it, you know, every, I'd say every other month we're coming up with a new great idea of what we can do to change the industry. And that's just, like I said, that's what we became. And like I said, you don't [00:05:00] get comfortable, but it's definitely exciting. So Defined Roles Tommy Cole: me about your role and what you're, what you own and, and operate during a day to day basis. And then what's Robyn's role in the business? Because we have a lot of husbands and wives and dual ownership. I'm curious to see how you guys divvy that up. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: up until this last fall, I handled all the accounting and I oversaw all the operations. So I oversaw the crew schedules a lot of mentoring of the crew leaders and their project managers. This last fall I hired a controller, so I gave up a little bit control of that. It's been nice. And now I'm handling mainly the operations of the business overseeing my controller, overseeing some of the admin team and overseeing the production teams as well. So that's my role. Whereas Robyn, I oversee all the sales teams, marketing strategy and tactic, kind of the admin HR recruitment, retention professional [00:06:00] development, and then kind of executive level coaching with each of our production teams. And then I'm just softly still involved in operations, particularly on the fine gardening side, kind of teaching quality inspection, site reporting type stuff. So Tommy Cole: Yeah. She has that soft touch that Bret and Robyn Schmitz: need it. Tommy Cole: maybe Brett doesn't have. Quite as much, right? Bret and Robyn Schmitz: accurate. The Lost Project Tommy Cole: Good stuff. So let's talk about this story. I call it the lost project story. It's in quotations in my notes here. let's go back to last year. You guys are in a peer group that I helped coordinate with, with Jim and in one of your updates, it was like excruciating to listen to This story, but right before you got started the project, a massive project just got ripped under from your legs. And you're kind of like, I'm not sure what to do. [00:07:00] Tell me how that story went and then after that, let's get into how you reacted to that story. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Sure. So this is totally my forte since it was kind of a sales debacle on the front end. So, Backtrack to September of 2023, week before Labor Day weekend, we were scheduled to start a just, just north on the six figure end of the spectrum project the Tuesday after Labor Day. And the Friday before Labor Day, we had a project meeting scheduled with the clients and a remodeler that they had been working with for months on the interior. Of their home. So we're, you know, plus or minus four days from project start date. Mm-Hmm. project plans have been built, materials have been acquired, ready to rock and roll. There had been no red flags. We had stayed in consistent communication up until project [00:08:00] start, so there wasn't, you know, a disappearing act. And our two designers arrived on site that Friday. And it was almost, in their words, not mine, like they walked into an ambush, like a premeditated, planned speech where the remodeler had essentially convinced the homeowners that they could do all of the exterior projects at a fraction of the price. that that was, Tommy Cole: so, so, so that was your contractor too, right? Subcontractor? Bret and Robyn Schmitz: they were not, they were independent technically, but we were. In the beginning stages of a collaborative referral partnership. So we did know them, even though we did not bring them into that project. So anyway, so fast forwarding, the client essentially, because they had known the remodeler for over 20 years said, Hey, they think they can do it. And they've convinced us it's wiser because they [00:09:00] can use all of their subs they use for the interior. And it'll be more consistent. Tommy Cole: Wow. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: lost a, a, a six figure fish on the line that not only was signed, sealed and delivered in deposits paid, but ready to rock and roll. Just completely blindsided. Tommy Cole: Yeah. Yeah. And how did you, how did you react? I mean, your manager's calling you and you're like, what is going on? Oh my gosh, I guess back in my career, I probably would have punched something, or, but you had to be the, the professional of like, down, you know, I've got to figure this out, right? Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Yeah. So, fired up is probably an understatement. I think there was a lot of things. That happened in a short amount of time, but you need to kind of be able to react rapidly, but rationally when curve balls get thrown your way, because you still have a whole team relying on you. For us, it was kind of a multi part kind [00:10:00] of approach on the nose. Tommy Cole: Obviously we wanted to dive deeper into the whys of, of how that happened. Technically, the question that everyone's probably wondering, because it's the question I know that was asked in peer group was, but Robyn, you had a contract. Why did you let it happen? We did have a contract, and if you wanted to spend the same amount of money in court fighting something to have no different outcome, we technically could have done that, but to what end? Right. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: the irony is they were still using us. On a future face, which ironically, we're just finishing up now of 80, 000 dollars in planting in the front that they were not going to cancel. So there was also still a little bit of, future going concern work, But what we did, other than the pivot of schedule and, you know, pulling together production teams to. Pull out the next project, get going on it, you know, obviously bless our teams for adapting because you don't want to rush project plans and times and processes. So there was [00:11:00] that aspect. But then as the sales team leader, we all lay in bed at night thinking about what went well and what didn't go well. And for me, I was wearing that one. That hit on the chin should have gone to me because if my sales team. had either been properly equipped or trained to communicate our value proposition effectively, no homeowner would be convinced to go with an inferior process, product, or method just to save a few bucks once they've signed with us because they would know the value we provide. And so we kind of failed a little bit there. That fired up my competitive spirits. I mean, I was ticked. I saw you, I Tommy Cole: Yes. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: later at Elevate. And I was Tommy Cole: Yes. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: up Tommy Cole: Oh, you were fuming, I'd seen it before at Robyn, I mean, she was, Like a dragon shooting flames at everybody at [00:12:00] Elevate. And I was like, scared for my life almost to just be around you. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Right. I am so scary. No, I'm kidding. I just sat back and watched for a little bit there. But I did. Yeah, right. No, but what it did is it really, we have a, A saying in our organization, I believe it's Zig Ziglar. I don't want to quote it wrong, but it's failing forward. And if you're using your obstacles or mistakes as stepping stones, you're really darn hard to beat. How to leanr from a lost sale Bret and Robyn Schmitz: And so for me, that was, I am going to put everything on the line to equip my teams, to communicate our value and communicate how we're different in such a way. That I'm doing every single thing I can to make sure this never happens again with the parts that are inside of my circle influence that I can control. So we created an entire new processes and procedures. [00:13:00] We have a whole written guidebook called Discover the Difference. This is all about our legacy program and it explains our differentiators and our salespeople have this tool. And And, you know, I coached him. It's kind of like building a cake, the legacy program. Other companies may have ingredients and things they combine to build a cake, but it's not the same cake that we build. And here's why. And so the procedures, the processes, the people, even working to curate exclusive materials that you can't get anywhere else, when you combine all that together into something that's crafted to last longer. And at an organization with people who don't just disappear and we come back day after day, anytime you need, all of a sudden you've developed this entire thing that your sales team can communicate and then price isn't an issue. Tommy Cole: Such, such greatness there. I, you know, we can sit here, listen, I would be a dragon slayer at the [00:14:00] moment with you, Brett and, Robyn, I, I would be furious. But you can only handle that for so long, right? It's just like, I always tell my son, it's just how you react to situations at the end of the day. It's okay to be upset and internalize it, but what are you going to do now? And you can sit here and gripe for six, 12 months, but it's not going to do anything. So I'm a huge fan as the ownership, you two just look at yourselves in the mirror and go, what could we have done better? And, and you guys were starting to figure it out from a standpoint of like, we have to provide value because that's what our client Is expecting, right? Is that's, this is our clientele. So, so Brett, take me to your standpoint of your operations. What are you guys doing to not let that go on your side? So, so Robyn shared the whole sales and the marketing aspect. What is operations Bret and Robyn Schmitz: So that was a huge kick to operations. Like she said, we had all the materials were [00:15:00] ordered. The crews were scheduled out. We had two crews on that job for three months. Yeah. out. That's a lot of logistics already set up. That's a lot of resources already set up, which means we had three months of work to find for two crews, six people and a lot of instances. Tommy Cole: Yeah Bret and Robyn Schmitz: So, you know, that's September, that's the beginning of fall. We had to pull a lot of our backlog that we had set up for the end of fall. We had to pull that forward, which also applies pressure on the sales team. But what that, you know, the difficult part of that is when you like to have at least four weeks of runway before a job starts to get your materials in line, get your schedules in line, get your subcontractors rolling. Because we want to make sure it, you know, we don't really use many subcontractors besides our electrical and our plumbing, but it's still important to make sure they have a good schedule. They know when to expect things. And liRobynbin said, we don't care. We don't carry just the normal materials that we use. So it could be six weeks out on certain [00:16:00] material selections. So really we had to double down and get with our teams to make sure they had everything we needed. We had to obviously work with our vendors on the materials already had coming, unfortunately, we have a really good relationships with our vendors and they were totally understanding. And we've actually used some of the product that we were going to use on that project. So everything's good with them, but really it was just pivoting, figuring out how to pivot the best way possible provide as much support to those teams during, you know, in that flux of schedule and just keep pushing, make it as easy as possible on the sales team that they, since they had to go out and, you know, you know, find some more, work for us to do in the fall, but you know, we delivered, I would say. Tommy Cole: nice. You had to pivot at the end of the day, right? So you got materials and resources that's already allocated to this one job. How do we reallocate it to another job? How do we speed up the lead time? Do we need to go pick this stuff up? [00:17:00] Do we need to change the materials? Like you just have to just pivot at the end of the day. I love it. So fast forward. I'm sure the job's done, but you piqued my interest Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Yeah, Keeping a Client through disagreements Tommy Cole: Enhancement softscape in Skull for the same client. How did that unfold? Bret and Robyn Schmitz: really fortunately, we kind of look like rock stars to the client. 'cause the sub, the contractor that they ended up going with ended up taking about three months longer. And they don't do any landscaping. So we just kind of picked our battles in that situation. we understood that backlog. Would, in today's environment, we kept it. Civil with the homeowners, knowing that we could still get on almost six figure planting job in the end. So we,picked our battles on that. And, the planting wasn't going to happen with the other contractor. We, we chose to go ahead and move forward with it. I mean internally you see all these quality things that you're like, oh my gosh This is so bad Yeah. But externally we kind [00:18:00] of have a policy that no matter what someone says or does to you, be a class act act in public, be the class act act, be the consummate professional. And so I think, you know, internally there were some, you know, around the, the water cooler, if you will, even though we don't do that, but like have you seen what they're doing with that drainage, they don't know what they're Tommy Cole: Yeah. it's real fun when they ask us questions on what we should, what we should do, how to do it. Yeah. Well, if there's a consolation prize, that's it. Right. And it, it makes you say, you know, we do a really good job and we are worth the money. And you do have to take the high road at the end of the day. I'm a fan of never quote unquote bashing clients or complaining about clients. Cause at the end of the day, they are Bret and Robyn Schmitz: agree. Tommy Cole: And if we don't have those people. We don't have a business. So you can sit here and complain about Ms. Smith and Mr. Jones, but it's not really going to get you anywhere at the end of the day. So you just got to, you just got to pivot and take the class act and [00:19:00] move on. Importance of quality Training Tommy Cole: I, I, I love it. Such a fascinating story for everybody. So training is a massive thing at High Prairie.And you two both know, I think I say it probably 50 times in each peer group meeting, and you're only involved in one peer group, but I say it over multiple peer groups. But training is just the one of the most important features of your business. And, and continue training. We just don't spend a lot of time and the expectation is you just can read my mind and know how to do everything, right? Come on, figure it out. You guys have been successful in, in, in continued training. The why do you believe in training? And then what is it all about? And what values does it provide High Prairie? Bret and Robyn Schmitz: I think starting out training is truly just an investment in your business. As leaders, you can either look at training as an unbillable time and you're sweating it, or you can look at it as an investment that helps you execute reliable every single [00:20:00] time. And without that training and the ability to reinforce it, You really are just herding cats. You're not running an organization. If you're not empowering people to succeed, excuse me, succeed and be rock stars at their job. So it's kind of one of the most important investments that you can make. And, and candidly speaking, our philosophy on training is really inspired by John Maxwell. We call it T4, which is essentially, there are three layers when you train someone. T1 is simply telling them how to do something. T2 is telling and showing them how to do it. T3 is telling, showing, and then have them demonstrate it back to you. Have them start practicing it. And T4 is essentially repeating until mastery, right? Like just getting coaching and repeating at that level until you've got it. And habit creation starts to happen. It just becomes second nature. So you can live [00:21:00] at T3 and T4 for a long time in theory. But Tommy, I can't tell you the number of people I meet that said, well, I trained them. What'd you do? Just tell them how to do it and then jump in your truck and. You know, hop off to the next job because technically check markets training, it's just not training that's effective. It's not going to stick. So we deploy a pretty in depth training program. And that training program is broken down into the technical aspects, which are, you know, the actual doing of the jobs, you know, how to plant a plant, how to create the base for the patio, how to tie the rebar for the pool. And then the soft skills, which we broke out into a program we developed called discovery squad. Which is essentially leadership development, learning how to lead teams, accountability self managing time management, learning how to All of the things that maybe they didn't have a college class for, but we actually truly need in order to succeed in any sort of a [00:22:00] capacity, whether we're leading one person or 55. And so we're perpetually improving there. I don't think you're ever just done creating a training program. But we do take it really seriously. We've developed systems to track it, reinforce and do all those things. There are some great out of the box programs today, but when we started documenting our SOPs, those weren't there yet. So you know, I tell people today start where you are with what you have, but there are also some great out of the box things that even three and five years ago, When we started creating all of these processes and procedures, you couldn't just pay a monthly membership fee to get, you know, a percentage of these things you know, to train on. So it's, it's a huge part of who we are, but guess what? We have industry leading retention rates and our crews are rock stars. So we're, of course we're biased, but we think they are. And I think the other side of it, like she said, following up with it is the feedback loop. Robyn developed some really great [00:23:00] reporting forms that our crew leaders or project managers, our account managers, our designers or salespeople, they fill out a form and rate what they're seeing going on on a job site, how they're doing certain processes. Are they mulching at the right depth? Are they planting at the right depth? Are they, you know, installing their pavers of the right, right method? That feedback feedback loop is there and implemented every single day. And just like anybody else's scoreboard that they have in their shop, that feedback loop is displayed for everybody to see. And whenever we can see the little parts of our business that need tweaking a little bit, take care of that little piece here and there and you develop the new training. And you know where to focus. Tommy Cole: Yeah. So what triggered you guys to go in depth with the technical and soft skills? What was the moment you're like, we have to develop something. Yeah. So the out of box wasn't there. We got to create our own, but like, what was it just at the end of the day? It was like, we have to [00:24:00] do a better job of training these people. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: So we don't have, little issues along the way with doing standard items. Yeah. sometimes the darkest moments in a person's career become the catalyst for the most impactful things of the future. And for me, I had the experience of working at an organization with very standards, low training procedures. It was, it was kind of an every person for themselves model. And I was in a design salesperson role and I would have to sit across the dining table from a client making promises to them about things like quality and execution that I didn't believe. And I couldn't look them in the eye. And I knew. That that is not how I wanted to spend a career and that's not how I wanted to represent an organization was not really trusting that the teams putting in the work were really going to [00:25:00] deliver the quality that I was promising because I cared about those people. But truly it wasn't the cruises fault because they weren't empowered with the right tools and education. And those moments when you experience that. When we were blessed to be able to pursue this thing that we call High Prairie, I was going to build an organization where people were empowered and that I never had a salesperson feel the way I felt, where they sat across the table from the client with a pen in the client's hand and the client signing that contract and you were, it's almost like you're just dying inside, right? Like you're just like, I don't actually know that the crews are going to do what I'm telling you, and I couldn't do it. I mean, I don't ever want that. Tommy Cole: You didn't believe in Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Yeah, and so it's kind of personal to me, probably, because it was, Such a tangible thing that I saw, but truly organization wide, we have so much beautiful opportunity in front of us to continue promoting professionalism [00:26:00] and challenging the consumer perception. We are so much more than the glorified. whole digger perception that some still hold of the industry. And I think all of us collaborating together to raise that bar and professionalism, let's go win it together. Let's, let's go do this thing, you know? And so it's pretty personal to me and it's probably why we have such a robust program, but also we deliver, I mean, we're not cheap, so we better deliver. Tommy Cole: Right. That's just music to my ears. That is fascinating because our industry is starving for that. And very little companies actually really spend the time to train. Staff members, whether it be field or support teams, very, very little. It's, it's plug and play. It's trial by fire. It's the fire hydrant hose. It's all these isms that we use and say, well, you know, you're going to get it or not. Or it's that person's terrible. You know, [00:27:00] and we've heard it over and over again, probably more than times than not. They aren't terrible. Actually, you're terrible for not training these people to be the best capable person they can be in your organization or even the high priority way. Like for instance, what's the way that you guys install mulch, install a five gallon plant, install a paver, mow grass, like that is your brand and your way. Not every single person knows how to do that, nor do they know how to do it to your standards or your ability. So you have to train these people the best of the best outside of landscaping. Companies. Are the ones that train all the time. And I'm guarantee you, your teams want it, they feed off of that. And if they had more of it and it was consistent, and repeatable, like you had mentioned in the L4, then they would be all Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Yeah, you're exactly right, Tommy. One of the biggest impact moments that I saw in the field is I have weekly coaching sessions and we do [00:28:00] annual coaching sessions with every crew member with myself, and I was actually doing one last week and I had a person on a, our irrigation crew that he just moved over to irrigation this last fall cause he loves it and he's been in the industry for 12 years. Tommy Cole: He just told me that. It wasn't until high prairie that he learned that you have to take a cage off a tree when you plant it and just the standards that other companies were teaching that were or not even teaching out there it's it's mind boggling and it just makes you want to try it even harder to make sure people really do make this profession so Yeah. A hundred percent agree. You guys are actually the game changers in our industry to make sure that happens and make this a apprenticeship program for, for our industry, because that's, that's where we got to head towards is that trades mark. so one of the last topics I love to talk about is you guys are so far in advance in this technology that I love to hear updates and stories every time [00:29:00] we meet in person, which is three or four times a year. Robotic Mowers and Change in the industry Tommy Cole: And I'm like, give me an update on what's going on. And what is that about? That's about these robotic mowers that are actually changing your business. And Brett posted on social media the other day and I was just like a total geek. I must've watched it several times and I'm like observing and seeing the interview of the account manager. Like a game changer that you guys have been working on for your years and years. Tell me about that. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: It started with me. Bless Brett for implementing what I go out and find, right? We're classic visionary integrator, but bless his heart. I gotta taper myself sometimes. Too many ideas at once is unfair to the whole team, so. So the robotic mowing has kind of been an ongoing evolution. We started several years ago. So we started out with a different brand. I won't say what brand, but there were some common brands in the market several years ago, and we began [00:30:00] testing and testing on different sites and testing cup quality ability to handle terrain, you know, all the things you begin testing, but, you know, financial viability also has to be there for any of us in business, right? It can't just be, yeah. Theoretic great ideas without the way to scale it and figure out a way to profit. And the early model limitations were largely it required a wire perimeter similar to a dog fence. There was no pattern and consumers love their strikes. And from a viability perspective, while technically you could take them over to several properties, it mowed in a random kind of Roomba robotic vacuum pattern that there was no real way to ensure every blade of grass was cut without it kind of living there. And it didn't scale because they were kind of pricey little models and you can't justify charging each consumer for that robot to live at their home, even if they're just paying a monthly fee because you're [00:31:00] upside down on that investment for several years. If you do that. But what do we tend to know about consumer perception from a sales perspective? They don't gauge mowing. They gauge it as incredibly important because they notice when it's not done, but they don't consider it high skill, whether or whether or not you agree with that or not from a sales perspective, they perceive the neighborhood middle schooler could also pick up that mo contract, whether that's true or not. And so you have to overcome consumer perception as you're creating this financially viable thing. But you also have to pay attention to what it is that people love about getting their lawn mowed, like the stripes, those types of things. So the first models of mowers we tested were from a major mower manufacturer today. They're one of the most common robotic brands. And we tested two or three different models. One was for kind of rough terrain. It was four wheel drive. It didn't even last a year before it started, Failing technologically, there was a chip [00:32:00] that went out in the wheel chassis and that manufacturer didn't even have a replacement chip. So we spent all of this money on a, you know, couple thousand dollar robotic mower, and we couldn't even get it repaired. And it became a paperweight for months. But Oh, by the way, you have to honor your commitment to the homeowners. So now you're also having to double dip financially. By sending someone to physically mow with an old conventional mower, because you got to honor your commitment to the client. Yeah. So the, the early testing was messy. I mean, it wasn't doing what we needed and it really wasn't financially viable in the way we were utilizing. Perhaps there were other strategies there, but, the next round of testing, we went with another manufacturer that was less known at the time. And the second one had done away with the need of boundaries and wires. It's literally drag and drop and place points [00:33:00] on an app of an overhead essentially that you map out with a mapping tool and you could take it to as many yards as you wanted because you didn't, it didn't have to live within the confines of a wire. Secondly, it also striped and striped beautifully. So we were on to something, right? We were on to something. It was getting better and better. However, as we started testing it, we discovered that it could not handle the lush fescue of parts of the Midwest. Yeah, it was, it was really up until this point, this particular brand had been tested on East and West Coast, which tended to be more of a, a warm season. Hardy turf, but, but shorter, you know, thicker, coarser. And so they were so close to getting it right, but it was just missing. The market was getting bogged down and it also couldn't handle. Well, which ironically people are like, Oh, Kansas, Missouri, you have [00:34:00] hills, but we do, Tommy Cole: Yeah. Oh, Bret and Robyn Schmitz: yeah, rolling hills. Right. So we actually engaged with the manufacturer and created a year and a half long collaboration with them directly where they actually sit out their developers to Kansas city several times a year to build a new prototypes together. And we would serve as the testers and the ones providing feedback. And, you know, quite frankly, the robot designers didn't know horticulture, they knew robots. And so we would provide, you know, the details, the number of blades, or, hey, a company's not going to want to have to replace blades every, you know, X days, you know, all of these details. And by the end of it, we created our own prototype, which is now out on the market as of this winter. With this particular manufacturer, we wrapped our mowers because they are. Marketing gold. I mean, people will stop in the middle of the road and take pictures. We call them the chipmunks [00:35:00] cause they work in duos and trios. Without messing up the stripes, which is kind of magical, right? I mean, like, you can have a perfect pattern with three of them in the same yard, which is Insanely cool. Yeah, so we're on our first official prototype of this new model and it stripes beautifully. You can do basket weaves, you can do diagonals, you can change it each week with the push of a button. But then let's talk financial viability, right? Cause you have to balance it. What's really cool is because these mowers can go as to as many properties as you want throughout the day. All you have to do to extend the mow is get an extra battery and switch out the battery when the time comes. And so for us, we have one spare battery for each mower and you can either, there's two models you could apply. One is you drop the mower off and go do something else and then pick it up when it's done. And you can even tell it where to park and hide behind a shrub or wherever it's at. Quote unquote hiding places. The other is what we've been [00:36:00] deploying, where we calculate the ratio of mowers we need to be there a certain amount of time to complete the mo and we balance it with our bed maintenance hours as close as possible. So now let's talk about revenue per person hour. If you have a teammate out there already maintaining it and they're getting that revenue. All they got to do is drop, we call it drop off the kids or the chip mugs and push a button to get that started. They're now getting the mowing revenue and the bed maintenance revenue at the same time without the extra person. The clients love it. They don't, we don't have rain days for mowers anyway. We do for other things, obviously, but you don't miss a mow because of rain because they're so lightweight. They don't tear up the turf. They can handle. all of those things. One last robotic geek out moment. There's been some recent research coming out that turf health with robotic mowers is significantly better because there's less compaction. There's less heat from rubber tires. There's all of these other [00:37:00] random stresses that we're not applying to turf and the turf is getting better and better. So anyway, my geek out technology wise is, is just Tommy Cole: Oh my gosh. Bret and Robyn Schmitz: And the cost per hour to run them is about 10 percent of having a crew on him over during that same amount of time. So. They don't call in sick. Yeah. Tommy Cole: Yeah. No, they don't, you know, and they, me, they probably mow perfect patterns. And less wear and tear on our staff. And You guys have found a benefit have your teams do the highly detailed Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Yep. Tommy Cole: along with the success of a chipmunk along their Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Exactly. And they love it. Well, Tommy Cole: you get the best of, Bret and Robyn Schmitz: and you can drop them off at the end of the day so they can be working until 9, 10 o'clock at night. And when your crew had stopped at four or five. It got a whole extra workday available and it parked on the site and you come pick it up the next morning. So it's Tommy Cole: oh, Bret and Robyn Schmitz: days too. Tommy Cole: [00:38:00] Without complaining. just, I mean, we could spend hours about geeking out, which is Robyn's favorite term that I've probably almost stolen. Dozen times. It's about we geek out from time to time a few times a year about all the technology and the cool things that You're developing and everyone's developing. That is, I don't have anything to say cause I'm like geeked out totally right now, because that's fascinating stuff for our industry. It's, it's just, it's a game changer, I think. And we are a long ways Bret and Robyn Schmitz: We do. Tommy Cole: but you, you've had some success so far, and I think. It's going to continue to to keep going. Biggest Takeaways Tommy Cole: So on a, final note, What, what's one last nugget by each of you that you can leave with our audience? Bret and Robyn Schmitz: I'll go first. I feel like finding opportunity in every obstacle, 55 million, 5 million, or 500, 000. Yeah. I think that every time you come up against an obstacle or you learn about a consumer perception, a negative [00:39:00] perception of the industry, opportunity lies on the other side of whatever that is. And if you find a way to solve that, you have succeeded in differentiating and maybe also bolstering our industry. So seeking out obstacles, problems, and challenges is where your secret sauce can eventually come from, no matter what size you are. Tommy Cole: Yeah. Embrace them, right? Like bring it on. Like I had a conversation with my kids today and they're like, Oh man, it's Monday. And I'm like, Let's go, baby. This, this is the day you can change the week. This is how you respond to it. Like, give me your feedback, give me your problems. Like I can do something with it at the end of the day. I, it's a game changer. I love that one. I love it. Brett, what Bret and Robyn Schmitz: I'd say, and it's actually from our most recent peer group meeting. If you have anybody reporting to you, prioritize your one on ones with them. I have about 9 direct reports that were just [00:40:00] just directly with me. And, and I had to message Tommy the next week after our peer group because I was on fire. Literally. Yeah. I sat down, made a list of all, made a schedule with all my one on ones that I wanted to schedule. The feedback that I got from those people, knowing that they had time on my schedule to bring whatever they wanted to me, whether it's personal business, whatever, and it was my time to work with them on what was most important to them. Tommy Cole: Make time. So my nugget to anybody out there is make time because it is important. You're going to get more out of everybody that is your direct reports and you know, it's a trickle down from there. They're going to feel it and they're going to pass it on to those that work with them. So if I could say anything, that would be it. such a great one, Brett, and you've been in a peer group for a little while now and you've committed to the one on one process. Through continued coaching and [00:41:00] training for the last many months. Congratulations, Brett. But you have seen success and that's what I love. It's not, you know, your, your only asset in the landscape business is your people. 100%. You know, we can talk about mowers and training programs and all that, but it's nothing's going to happen with your team. And all they want is one hour of your undivided attention without the laptop and without the water cooler talk and without the, Hey, how's it going? And you're jumping in your truck on to the next one, right? They just want to talk to you, right? They want face time and to understand. There's plenty of other things going on outside our day to day business, right? Learn about these people, understand, oh, it's a game changer. Another one. Wow, I don't have enough to say. I mean, I have pages of notes and takeaways that I keep, but let's just do a recap, right? It started out slow with the Jeep and a shovel and a vision. [00:42:00] Love it, right? We have the accountant come on board to do operations. That's awesome. The last project story, you turned it around and created a value proposition. And it's another term that I love is failing forward. You just turn it around. You've got a now good client. You still got more opportunities with this client. At the end of the day, you guys did win. 100%. Training. I love the T4 example, technical skills, soft skills, awesome. The robotic mowers is the ultimate geek out session for all of us to learn. Test it, try it, use it, abuse it, and and be patient with this process. It is understandably so new that, it takes it takes all of our skills to try to implement. So and then obviously the golden nuggets are some of the best I've ever heard of. Thank you both so much for [00:43:00] this power couple dynamic duo. Once again, Bret and Robyn Schmitz: Thank you, Tommy. We love being here today. John: Ready to take the next step? Download our free Profitability Scorecard to quickly create your own baseline financial assessment and uncover the fastest ways to improve your business. Just go to McFarlinStanford.com/scorecard to get yours today To learn more about McFarlin Stanford our best in class peer groups and other services go to our website at McFarlinStanford.com And don't forget to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Instagram. See you next time on the Roots of Success. Swap out the highlight for "Looking to impact your business now? Scan the qr code to find a ready-to-use ai prompt for job desriptions in the green industry. Or Head to Mcfarlinstanford.com-jobdescription for more details and use cases.