[00:00:00] The Roots of Success podcast is for the landscape professional who's looking to up their game. We're not talking lawns or grass here. We're talking about people, process, and profits. The things deep within the business that need focus to scale a successful company from hiring the right people and managing your team to improving your operations and mastering your finances.
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: Hello, welcome to another episode of Roots of Success. I'm your host Tommy with McFarlin Stanford and I have a special, amazing, awesome guest, Claire Goldman from R& R Landscape. And Auburn, Alabama.
Welcome Claire. It's a pleasure to have you on. and I'm glad you can join us.
Claire Goldman: Thanks, Tommy. I'm happy to be here. You know, we've had a lot of fun working with McFarlin Stanford for years and so. Having this conversation with you should be fun.
Tommy Cole: Great.
so Claire and Charlie [00:01:00] run R& R Landscape in Auburn. Just a dynamic small business. I love these guys. they're just. Homey They're very down to earth group and company. So Claire, tell us how you got into the business and,and that sort of thing.
Beginnings at R&R Landscaping Company
Claire Goldman: Sure. So Charlie and I both went to Auburn for horticulture. We took turns going to school because we got married young. I was 19, and then I got pregnant three months later. So, we were kind of tag teaming school and parenting. And When Charlie graduated, he joined another landscape company in town, and after a short time there, came on with R& R as an employee.
And then when I graduated they basically hired me at R& R so they wouldn't lose Charlie. We were not a big enough company to justify a landscape designer, which was kind of my focus at the time. and so I just came on for a very low salary and the goal was figure it [00:02:00] out.
And so I shadowed Charlie. We focused on what we knew, which was design. So I was able to offer these designs that launched us into, another niche for our area. So we really created this demand for custom residential design build. And so at the time we were
doing everything we're cutting grass, we are doing whatever comes our way, and we just over time evolved into design build mostly residential we will do some custom commercial but that's kind of where we've landed over time. We partnered up with the owner and and then in 2019 we bought him out.
So at this point it is Charlie and I that own the company. We've got an amazing team of people. And The biggest asset we can say we have currently is, is our team and our culture, and just makes what we do fun every day.
Building Culture in a Ladnscaping Company
Tommy Cole: [00:03:00] Love it. So how did, how did you build this team of culture? Like it wasn't in place before, right? And most companies aren't, but like, what would you suggest as some of the top key moments for us to make a good cultured company?
Claire Goldman: I think it starts with transparency and, and being genuine, and I think that's got to come from the top. and that's something that Charlie and I are just kind of fairly naturally transparent in what we do. We have fun with what we do. I think when you work with your spouse, you, you've gotta learn how to have fun with it.
you gotta be able to laugh at yourself and keep rolling with it. So I honestly, I think. A lot of it's come from trial and error. Our first key hire in the office was a rock star, and he was someone that just really helped us drive the growth. And then from there, joining our peer group was really another catalyst for us that kind of took us from what I would say would be landscapers to landscape professionals and how,[00:04:00] Business donors and how to run a company.
Tommy Cole: Yeah. at the end of the day, I think it always starts with the people at the top and that's us, right? You almost got to look at yourself in the mirror and there's always a culture in every company. Good, bad, ugly, and it all starts with us on the top. And so you, you and Charlie have done a really good job of just being.
Humble people, transparent in the numbers, transparent in sales and operations. Like we don't know how to do this, but we know how to do that. How do we learn from these experiences where we fail? And it's just, you just repeat that process every day, which then in terms of good culture, right?
Leading a company with your Spouse
Tommy Cole: So explain, explain working with Charlie.
And I say that laughing because. As I see Facebook posts and Instagram posts, he is just a lovable guy. And I think everyone would want to work for Charlie and almost too much to their detriment to work with Charlie. Cause you and I have talked about this, especially when I visited you guys years ago, it's like, Charlie's the buddy and [00:05:00] everyone loves Charlie.
But like, do we get any work done with Charlie? Right. Instead of just being buddies and hanging out together. Explain that.
Claire Goldman: Yeah. I will never forget after one of our peer group meetings one of the guys in the group pulling me to the side and telling me I'm too hard on Charlie. And I was like, say what you have lost your mind.
Tommy Cole: Yeah,
Claire Goldman: So yes, Charlie is the world's most lovable person and he is fun to work with, but very difficult to work with because he's always having fun.
It's basically like having. A five year old in the office that has a high intelligence level.
I think there's kind of a line that I've had to learn to walk of you know, I can't expect this role strict. We're going to be really
Tommy Cole: Yeah,
Claire Goldman: productive all the time and all our conversations and, you know,
You know, I remember Jason telling me one time there's value in the bullshit and I took that to heart.
I was like, [00:06:00] thank you. I needed to hear that. So, I keep saying we need to add fun as one of our core values because it's probably one of our top values
. And it's definitely can be frustrating, but he is also very good at receiving feedback and understanding that at the end of the day, the way that we take care of our team and the way that we serve our clients and the way that we make all of our decisions the best way is going to be.
what's best for R& R landscaping. And so if, if you want to goof off during the staff meeting, that's probably not what's best for R& R landscaping. So we need to kind of sit down and prioritize and make sure we're all aligned on focusing on what we feel like is the most important things. And sometimes that means Having to keep him in line a little bit.
Tommy Cole: Right. Yeah, I get it. I get it. There's a good side of that, right? There's a lot of good that comes with that because. Unlike me, I'm the guy that is serious focused and like determined and we've got a mission to [00:07:00] accomplish to where I look like I have a pissed off face every day, right, which is good in the bad.
It's no different than Charlie. Charlie's like fun. He's playing cracking jokes. But getting work done definitely not in a meeting setting, but like, how do you, you know, keep that contained? And I think Charlie's done a very good job Later in his career than early in his career and and that's helped you as a husband and wife duo for a lot, right?
Claire Goldman: Yeah. essentially our responsibilities are kind of divided between office and field. So he runs operations in the field. and then I run the office. I run sales and design and all the other things that come with running the business.
Right. And so He is so relatable, and our little morning meetings that we have, they're 10 15 minutes. Every day is a different topic, and we have recurring themes that we just really drill into everyone. And I think that that transparency, the relatability, and his [00:08:00] willingness to be vulnerable in what he talks about with the team.
Comes across in a way that earns respect. And so when he does get serious and he does, he's gotta switch . And when that, when that switch flips and he gets serious, everybody understands like, okay, we gotta get, we gotta get real here. We gotta make sure we're focused and that we're performing at the level that we, we need to be performing.
So we try to keep the, shenanigans kind of focused at the office or internal and, you know, present as professional as possible as we can, of course, to our clients and out on job sites,
The importance of a Production Manager in Landscaping
Tommy Cole: Love it. Love it. So I have to ask another random question. You have a Gentleman there on your team known as Bo and you know There is thisit brotherly love between Bo and I is that would you say that
Claire Goldman: think we could call it a bromance.
Tommy Cole: Bo is your production manager explain the importance of a production manager to R& R [00:09:00] as Most companies or some companies are like what the heck is that role?
Like what do they do? And what? the importance of Bo, we love Bo, but there's an importance of a production manager on your staff.
Claire Goldman: Sure. So I think particularly given that we are in that custom residential world we are always dealing with lots of changes, making sure we are very high touch with our clients, and that we are providing this five star level of service from the time they call in until we finish the project and beyond that.
for us, what a production manager looks like is once the design and estimate is approved, and we are pushing this job forward, we are sending the deposit invoice, then from that point on that's where Bo is going to step in.
So. The sales team will hand that off to Bo, give all the information for the job, and then Bo becomes point of contact for the client.[00:10:00]
And this helps us to keep our sales and design people focused on gaining new leads and creating that backlog, and gives Bo the flexibility to really be focused on what's going on now. And setting up for future jobs. So his focus is making sure the crews have what they need to be efficient and successful on their current job sites, and to make sure that any jobs that are coming up are organized and ready to roll so we can rock them out in the field.
Tommy Cole: Love it. I think there are super key, important people to make sure where that's the job handoff packets and the communication with client and getting the crew set up and lined up for success and closing out jobs. It's, it's a very key position that companies need to understand. I think he's a, he's a great one at it.
And he's been with your company since. Since he was a young, young kid and I'm proud of, he's just always got a positive attitude towards things in life. And so he's in a great spot, [00:11:00] love him.
Dealing with Illness when leading a team
Tommy Cole: So let's talk about something that I've been wanting to discuss with you for a while. So in 2022 Claire decided that she was going to get sick.
We should, we should laugh about it now because, it was a turning point in your life and in your career. But. You got really sick and you went down for the count and then therefore you had to step away from the business and so did Charlie. Charlie said, I gotta go take care of my wife and, fast forward all that, you're healthy, life's great, you're taking it one day at a time and you have a new perspective on things.
That was a tough moment for you and the family and the business correct?
Claire Goldman: Yeah, I think that, you know, just to kind of give a little context as we entered fall of 2022, it was, it was in August was we were going into what I would [00:12:00] consider the busiest fall that I ever had on my calendar. We had the Italy trip planned with our ACE group. We had elevate that I'm chair of the committee for, it was the first elevate.
It was just a lot of things going on that we were all very excited about. And, August 10th of 2022. I led staff meeting that day at noon and by 7 p. m. I was in the I. C. U. And so, at that point, we had no idea what we were dealing with or anything like that. And I think looking back on things, I can tell you a million things I would do differently.
But I think one of the biggest issues that we had was that we just really didn't know how long I would be out or what was going on. I didn't want to stir up panic in the company or the community. So I kept it pretty quiet. I don't know if any of those were the right decisions. But it definitely, totally changed my life, changed Charlie's life and definitely adjusted our perspective.
[00:13:00] And I asked Charlie you know, if, if he could say what he learned from all of that, he said. The biggest thing that he could say is perspective and, you know, when he is stressed or overwhelmed at work and thinks about all of those days, we had 20 days in the hospital and for the record, I was stuck in the hospital with Charlie for 20 days.
So let's not even like go there.
Tommy Cole: That's another, another thing, right? Whoo!
Claire Goldman: yeah, yeah. So
Tommy Cole: You almost have to entertain Charlie in the ICU, right? Like, between the nurses and the doctors and all that, right?
Claire Goldman: Well, and, and it was, it was a huge abdominal surgery. And so he, he couldn't make me laugh. And so he turned it, he just shut down. He just sat in the corner silently. Cause he didn't know what to do. Cause he doesn't know how to talk to me without making me
Tommy Cole: fair for him.
Claire Goldman: yeah, it was brutal. But but yeah, I think that, that, [00:14:00] in general, our entire perspective has shifted. I think the biggest thing that we didn't account for was the fact, well, we didn't account for any of it, but I think we, we underestimated how important our roles in the company are. And the ability to kind of zoom out and see the whole picture. What we found was that our team kind of zoomed into their roles, but no one was connected or looking at the bigger picture.
Tommy Cole: So I think if I could go back of my biggest regret is that I didn't very early on call you or Jim or someone from the peer group and say, can you just come down for a few days? Get a grasp
Claire Goldman: on things. Mm hmm. Huh. I think that I honestly think that like one hour with our team, y'all would have been like, okay, boom, boom, boom.
Here's what you do. And so that that's probably a big part of it that I wish I, I wish I could have done that, but I also. each day, like [00:15:00] as I went through, didn't see the need for it until I came back,
Tommy Cole: Until you came back, you know, that insult small business. This is where we struggle, right? It's because the, the Charlie and the Claire are the glue that makes everything work, right? So you have the production manager, the landscape architect, the office manager, the crews. And they all work but it's like they work through Claire and Charlie to get their job done Right, and so you saw that as a holy crap Like we can't do that.
In fact, the business was trending downward, correct?
Claire Goldman: right? We were already seeing, some of our the, the lead slowing down. Like I think a lot of people did last fall.
And so we went from this like huge demand during COVID to now we've got to get out there and be a little more intentional about how we do things. So actually 10 days before I fell apart.
I hired a new sales manager two weeks before that I hired a landscape architect. So we had two key roles that were not on [00:16:00] boarded at all. but they were also kind of the answer to the problem. So, you know, had anyone had the ability to kind of zoom out a little bit and say, like, I need to regroup what I'm doing and really get these two onboarded quickly, that would have solved a lot of issues.
But again, like this is no one's fault at all. It's just, you know, you, you gotta learn from what happened and, and find ways to set yourself up in the future too. Not be so susceptible to that significant of a fallout. So when I came back, we were both out for two and a half months and Charlie was available via phone.
But he was just not. Not mentally able to even like process anything which is sweet and I appreciate and I definitely didn't really see that part of it. I didn't, I didn't know that that was coming. But anyways, we we were able to get back and regroup and kind of gain some traction [00:17:00] as a team, pick up some momentum got rid of some of the, players that maybe weren't, weren't the best for the position they were in.
And then we're able to roll through 2023 in an efficient way. We, we, I would say we're running like skeleton crew at this point. So we've, we increased our subcontractor work by 81 percent last year. And really ran lean internally to kind of make sure that our systems are where we need them to be.
So that we have the infrastructure in place to to handle the amount of growth. We're expecting.
Planned Growth of Sales
Tommy Cole: Yeah. So talk about that a little bit. So the growth you're expecting, so you're using subs and in house crews to stay lean, did the business take a little bit of a stunt in growth and revenue, and then now you're back up on the swing to expect back to the same growth and more growth?
Claire Goldman: Yeah, we [00:18:00] grew 2023 closed out about 11 percent higher than 2022. So some small growth. We were short of our goals. And I think that 2024 looks like it has the potential to just be exponential. And I say that because we already have half of our goals sold. So we've never gone into a year that way anywhere close to that.
So I, I think that means we're going to blow through it. And we can, we absolutely have the people in place. We just, the only position I'm hiring for this year is backfilling the field. So all the people we have in the field could all be exceptional crew leaders and could, could have some great support under them and go from there.
Stronger team from learned experience
Tommy Cole: Yeah. So your time away, Did you see value in making sure that, you know, let's say you step away again for a month or two. Not, not that it's going to happen again, but things [00:19:00] do happen. Is the team better built based on what happened in 22?
Claire Goldman: Good Lord, I hope so. We,
Tommy Cole: Yeah.
Claire Goldman: I, yeah, I do think that we all, we, I think we all are stronger for it. We're a stronger team for it. We, because it was hard, you know, I think there's, there's two kinds of people in the world. There's people who. when they can't see a way to win, they either cheat or they're, they quit, they just throw their hands up.
Or there's people that when they can't see a way to win, they're going to regroup, step back, and they're going to create a way to win. They're going to, they're going to find it and they're going to build it. And that's what we're looking for. And, and that's kind of where we are. I feel like we just kind of willed our way through 2023.
And it was the definition of grit and perseverance, but we're all kind of at a place where we've caught momentum where we have a groove, we're doing well. And [00:20:00] we were excited to see where 2024 takes us and excited to see how much we already have lined up.
Tommy Cole: Yeah. Yeah.
What I would challenge the audience is to, think about if they were to step away for three months. and really have no, a whole lot of communication, how would the business continue to go and who would take a step up? That needs to be asked of every business owner that is listening to this.
And, I'm sure you've jotted down a lot of things that need to take place the next time, if this does happen. But I feel like what has happened is there's a sense of culture and, and, and bonding that basically put this entire team so much closer together with that. if you do happen to have to step away.
That everyone knows what to do based on the experience. It's almost like if a tornado came and just sort of wipe things out, it's sort of builds people back together in a way that it's almost. inseparable. [00:21:00] And they're like, okay, if, if, Claire is not here, she would be doing this and she would be asking this annoying question she asks us every single day, right?
Or she would make sure that this job goes out smooth and she'd make sure that, right? And I feel like those players, that would happen naturally.
So I'm stressing to the audience, like be prepared for the tornado that could come at any moment. And what are you going to do? That would be like my advice to everybody, right?
Claire Goldman: Yeah, and I think, you know, just for full transparency for the audience to understand the situation. The biggest issue that we had as a company is that while I was, while we were out and down, we worked through our backlog. And so we essentially were working our team for non revenue producing work just to keep them going.
But what I, what was interesting to me is when I came back, the two big complaints that we had was that we didn't [00:22:00] have enough leads coming in and we didn't have the backlog. But what I saw was we had two. Two people who could be selling andinstead of communicating with our marketing team, we just told our marketing team, Claire's out, wait until she gets back and and just coast.
Whereas if we had just said, Hey, we need leads. Like there's so many things that that's just a general communication that I think. And again, and I don't want to sound like I'm blaming anyone because it's absolutely nobody's fault. It was a complete emergency that just happened overnight. But, it definitely shows that like some pretty simple solutions.
If someone with fresh eyes could have come in and just said, here we go. We could have got the ship back on track a lot faster.
Tommy Cole: yeah, it makes total sense. It's just like, like I mentioned earlier, you're the glue to make sure we're light on sales, where we're getting sales. How do we keep, you could sit there and monitor that, but I, I'm willing to bet that your team would be able to [00:23:00] respond 10 times better and go, let's keep this boat moving, right?
So you know, I'm glad everything's okay. I'm glad you're healthy. I do remember that time where we were headed to Italy and and there was no Claire and Charlie, so it was a sad moment, but we, lots of prayers.
Your direction and I'm, I'm glad you're here and everything's is much better today on a brighter note.
NALP Women of the Year Award
Tommy Cole: You are the 2020 NALP woman of the year. Holy moly. Congrats on that.
What did that, what did that mean to you?
Claire Goldman: You know, it was, it was exciting. It was a lot of, I guess, validation and affirmation of what we had built. And it was funny because I remember posting about it and one of our clients, Congratulations, but why does it have to be woman of the year? What, you know, why can't you just be like landscaper of the year or whatever?
And, and I totally understand that perspective. But I [00:24:00] had another friend who quoted, and I don't know who it was, but she said, You know, people can't be what they can't see. And so, I think to be able to be a female leader in this industry where we need, we need more representation from all kinds of age, race, gender,you know, the more differences we bring to the table, the stronger we all are.
So, when we can add a new perspective to things, it's always a great thing for the industry. So. The woman of the year was an exciting and award and absolutely an honor to get and then that, that's really kind of, I guess, what launched me more into my involvement with NALP. and and then now serving on the board.
So that's been a lot of fun.
Tommy Cole: that's great. You know, I think you hit it home where it's just the recognition. You've put in a lot of, a lot of work and a lot of work that's behind the scenes of. Doing the right things. It's going to NALP events. [00:25:00] It's putting your name out there. It's a male dominated industry. It's, working with crew guys in the field.
And,I think that summarizes of all the hard work behind the scenes that, that Claire has done to go, wow, that's kind of a big deal in our industry, and celebrate. So congratulations. I think that's a. One of the top honors. And now you're on the board and you travel
starting to speak now at any LP and now you're speaking in like An Auburn about things your role is kind of changing a little bit I've noticed on social media like you're also running R& R But you're actually speaking more do you like that and I would think yes
Speaking and sharing in the Landscape industry
Tommy Cole: But two, is there a, is there a push to do more of that because you have this platform of woman of the year and NLP and where you do, and you want to just spread the love and encourage other people to jump in this industry?
Claire Goldman: Yeah, I think the public speaking does not come naturally for me. I wish I was just a natural [00:26:00] speaker. But it is still absolutely terrifying and I take the opportunities because I keep thinking at some point if I keep doing it, it'll feel a little bit more natural. But it is it's really just a result of my passion for the industry.
And so when I shifted away from so much design work and into more running the business, it was a little bit of an identity crisis of I'm a landscape designer. So what, what does this mean for me? And so to learn that I am equally as passionate about teaching and coaching and advocating for our industry as I am about landscape design.
was a lot of fun and kind of a very big eye opener for me. So yeah, working with students at Auburn. We've worked with Tuskegee University students. We've been having a lot of fun just bringing awareness to the industry and what opportunities we have to really grow. Because people [00:27:00] still think, you know, if you're going to go into landscaping, you're just going to be on a mower for your whole life.
And there's nothing wrong with
Tommy Cole: Yeah.
Claire Goldman: But there's
Tommy Cole: Yeah.
Claire Goldman: more. To this industry that I'm just getting to parents and to students and just helping to recruit the workforce that we all need is just a big passion of mine.
Tommy Cole: Yeah. I think you should just hit the road and get into Winnebago and travel the country and speak at all these places, which would be great because you're motivating and inspiring. And so I encourage more of that to get out of your comfort zone and do that. I mean, we're sitting here today and this is not my ideal comfort zone, but I felt like I had a purpose.
And so here we are today. So, you know, I kind of think we're in the boat, we're in the same boat. We didn't sign up for this in the landscape world when I got an LA degree 20 years ago, but, you know, it's funny how life sort of navigates different avenues and you just take advantage of
Claire Goldman: Just say yes to the [00:28:00] opportunities and make the most of them and learn from them.
Tommy Cole: Yeah. So I follow you a lot on social media and you post some amazing things and I want to read this quote and. Tell me what it means to you. Learning to lean into discomfort and learn from it instead of run from it is one of the hardest things to do. But also one of the most rewarding growth experiences you can have.
Claire Goldman: Yeah,
I kind of had a lightbulb moment driving back from NCLC in Mississippi this year. I was listening to Daring Greatly, Brene Brown's book, and she was talking about how she sets up her classes, she's a professor, she talks about she studies shame and vulnerability, and she sets up the beginning of her classes with her students, with the understanding that if you're comfortable, Then I'm not teaching and you're not growing.
And so she, the expectation is [00:29:00] to not be comfortable. And she said she even has students come, you know, two, three weeks in and say like, I'm pretty comfortable. What am I doing wrong? And I just thought, what an amazing mindset. Like, what if, what if our team came to me and was like, I'm too comfortable, please, please push me, you know, give me some more.
So we really kind of have coined this mantra of like, get comfortable being uncomfortable. And what does that mean? And, and how do we lean into it instead of shy away from it? Human nature is to say like, ooh, this isn't comfort, comfortable. I'm gonna, I'm gonna step away. But to really just step into it and to get curious about it of like, why is it not comfortable for me?
What can I do to, to push through it? And then when you come out the other side of that, you're definitely going to be stronger. And I think the best way to think about that is, is like from a physical exercise standpoint, no one goes into a workout hoping to not sweat or feel pain, right? We, we want to feel it cause that [00:30:00] means that it's working.
So leaning into that discomfort is not easy, but it's definitely necessary.
Tommy Cole: I love it. Absolutely. I mean it stood out when I read that on one of your posts. I was like, oh, it just hit me so hard. It's because We chase comfort, right? The cold sweat, the hot, the hard challenges, the things we don't want to do, the tasks that are hard, the hard discussions. The hard projects we have to put in the ground, right?
Like all of that is hard stuff, but I'm truly believe that that's what made us in this position. We are is if everything was easy, then life would be completely boring. And so I try to try to talk tell my 12 year old is it's not going to come easy. You got to work for it and you just got to run into discomfort and, and, and hit it hard.
So. Last but not least, what's in store for Claire in the future and R& R and all that, like any, any big, hairy, audacious goals [00:31:00] for the year or the next five
Claire Goldman: You know, I think I've really taken a step back and. We definitely have growth goals, but our biggest focus right now is staying focused on the process, understanding that the goals are the goals are a result of the process and really focusing. On what we're doing, creating our habits, making sure that it's all coming a second nature to us.
And, and we know that those decisions are going to drive our end goals. So, you know, definitely more, more involvement with NALP and the board. R and R is definitely. Taking off and getting the leads that we need to get to really be focused on our ideal clients and providing the best service we can.
So we're feeling very optimistic and good. Our son is in the business with us. So that's, that's
Tommy Cole: Uh, a
Claire Goldman: And, so I think what's in [00:32:00] the future for Claire is just a lot of prayer.
Tommy Cole: lot of prayer, a lot of prayer for managing those people. Yes, I agree. You know, it's daily habits, equal yearly success. So it's the little habits that you do every single day that, that creates the big goals, right? Big goals can be scary but if you break it down in small bite sized pieces every day.
and stick to discipline and consistency. I think it'll all work out in the end. So, it's been a pleasure Claire R& R landscaping in Auburn, Alabama, go check them out. They've got a beautiful website, tons of awesome projects. And heck next time, maybe we need it. We need to have a, a Charlie and Bo
Claire Goldman: gosh, that would be a show.
Tommy Cole: that would be a show, wouldn't it? Anyways, it's been a pleasure, Claire, as always. Thank you so much for joining in and best of luck to you in the
Claire Goldman: on [00:33:00] Tommy.
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