MIKE BOTKIN – CENTRAL FLORIDA LANDSCAPE M&A PLAYBOOK – EP.88
My guest in this episode is Mike Botkin. You might remember Mike from episode 48 where he described acquiring B&B landscaping in Orlando, Florida with his investor equity raised entirely from Twitter.
Well, he’s acquired a bigger one and has raised a holding company called Benchmark Group to buy and build a vertically integrated lawn care and landscaping business in central Florida. In addition to Mike’s new acquisition and holding company, we also talk about systems and policies he’s implemented at B&B, how he hires and routines members of his team, and benefits from scale and vertical integration.
Mike has become a great friend of mine over the last year, and I always leave our calls thinking we should have hit a record. I’m glad we were able to do so for this episode and mark this momentous event in his career.
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If you are under LOI, please reach out to August to learn more about how Oberle can help with insurance due diligence at oberle-risk.com. Or reach out to August directly at [redacted] in sponsoring? Send me an email at [redacted] Transcript:
It’s really good to see Mike and there’s been a lot that’s happened since we’ve last been on the podcast together. Lots of phone calls in between. I’ve heard the updates as we’ve gone through them. But it’s exciting to get to share a few of them here on the show.
Can you first give kind of a brief 30-second overview for those who haven’t heard the first episode we’ll link to it still, but for those that haven’t heard it, can you give us a quick 30 to 60-second background on who you are, the business you bought and then a little bit about what you’ve done so far?
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, first, I think what you’re doing in the small business and investing categories is unbelievable. You’ve given so many people a platform to share their stories, and it’s really been life-altering in terms of the network and connections that you’ve even opened my world to. And you just being a voice to bounce ideas off of them has been incredible.
And I appreciate that more than I could ever say. So next time you’re in Orlando, dinner, and drinks for me for sure. The last time I was on, we just acquired landscaping. We were. Shoot, I believe 30, 45 days. And I was drinking out of a fire hose, which I thought was ending soon. And it wasn’t a firehouse.
We bought that in central Florida, just outside of Orlando. And we were going through all the normal transition issues and the highs and lows and everyone goes through. And our goal was to always grow through acquisition and we thought it would take a lot longer than what it did. And once we got the playbook for how to manage B&B and go through and see around the curve we fast forward in our acquisition plan and we just acquired. It’s called Justin’s Superior Lawn Care in Orlando, Florida. And here we are. We closed on October 1st.
Excellent. And so bringing us up to the present day, there was one other fun story that we had chatted a lot about where you actually had an acquisition offer to buy B&B. Pretty quickly after acquiring it. And after our episode, he shared just some of the rough details about what type of offer they made.
And were the things you were weighing in terms of, should I sell or should I keep the business for longer? And what was your thought process through that time?
Yeah. Absolutely, Mate. And you were a phenomenal sounding board during that process as well. We had some interests pretty early and I do think a lot of it is a credit to your podcast and the spotlight you put on us. And people that were following me on Twitter just started reaching out like, Hey, I want to buy a home services business, or I want to buy a landscaping business, or can you walk me through some of the deal modes?
And just in conversation, we had two people that I got pretty deep in conversation with. And this was all within the first a hundred days. And we got through an LOI on one And we were pretty much almost gonna be at the finish line. The deal didn’t work for us or for them. I think it was bad timing on both parts in the sense of we were okay with selling, just because there were turned and you and I had a big conversation about this of the return would just be we’d be stupid not to take.
I mean within a hundred days, the return that we could have had would have been unheard of, and it would have allowed us to have a platform to go do more and do it again. And something just kept saying believe in what you got and keep going. And I shared that thought with the potential buyer and we just mutually agreed. This isn’t going to work for either one of us. We should just walk away. We’re gonna continue doing what you do. You’re obviously going to be successful, I hope. And we hunkered down and dove in and the fruit of that was really— when you’re so clouded in your day-to-day version when you’re going through the deal process and it makes you look at things differently and you just get so overwhelmed with it. At least I did.
I don’t know if other people do, but I certainly did and caught up in a lot of, the scenarios of what happens, and in retrospect, we probably lost focus for 30 days going through that when we’re about to close and then we delay and then our instincts kicked over and we decided not to move forward with the acquisition and we called back.
And once we cleared that hurdle, we were able to really dive into it. See what happens. And we made some pretty remarkable discoveries. In one discovery, which I kick myself every day for not understanding or knowing before about our unit economics. And when we made the change that we did, we fired a third of our customers.
We raise prices considerably between 20 and 40% of our, another third of our customers. And we kept the notes the same. And we transitioned from a 60 – 40 residential commercial business to a 90% commercial business. And we solidified our playbook and we tested that and it worked and worked and we’re like, great.
We got the playbook now. So to answer your question and not to be long-winded. It was a phenomenal opportunity that, it’s up to us if we sell or not this early. And then our instinct was to pull back and not do it by pulling back and not doing it. We only made the business better and more successful, and it allowed us to go out and show we can do this.
Our vision is correct. Our strategy is correct. Our operational tools are correct. Less than four with our goal from the outside always lower, which we drove through acquisition.
Yeah. And one dynamic that we talked about a lot during that time also was that once you’re in the business or in the industry and you own a company within whatever space you’re in, it becomes much, much easier to go acquire that second or third business because you already own one. What did you find and come across other deal opportunities to buy other companies after having owned B&B landscaping?
And one of the groups, this is like a phenomenal resource. I almost hate sharing this. Every landscaping business needs a candidate or needs a shop that can fix yourself, or get supplies round up just blades and stuff like that. It’s like the Walmart to landscapers and the guy at our mower shop kinda built a relationship with and he started tipping me off as just keep your eye open, keep your ear out if anyone’s struggling or anyone just getting fed up with this stuff or if anyone’s looking to sell or mentions it, let me know and share.
Now, if the guy would call me or text me, like, Hey, you should talk to so-and-so, they’re looking. And we had LLRs on a few businesses pretty early, and again, it just for timing was not right. And it was important for me and my partner investor to do it right. And it’s not about how quickly you can acquire what you do with them when you acquire them. And if it was going to distract or hurt B&B, which was our foundational business, or it was going to hurt the new acquisition then we were not going to do it and I gained so much more respect for transitional items by owning B&B for other businesses. And I think in retrospect, we bought too small of a business with B&B. It was doing sub 800K in revenue. It was intentionally bought small.
I joked with you about this before. I hate search forms and I hate searchers. A lot of searchers actually helped me and guided me. And one that you’re very familiar with and very close with. I was going to be a great ally and resource and a tremendous resource. But listen, I grew up on the wrong side of the tracks, right? So I value every dollar in the world. And especially when someone gives you money, to be a steward of someone’s capital, I think is the greatest gift and the greatest responsibility you can have as a business owner or a searcher. And if I’m going to take someone else’s capital, the only way you can return it is to have it invested.
And I think as a searcher when he takes someone’s capital and you search for a year or two years or three years, whatever your term is, and you don’t acquire a business, I think you should be ashamed of yourself quite frankly because of your whole goal. Get a deal done and have a return on your investment and investor’s capital.
And so we wanted to have a business and let me learn the industry and let me learn the ins and outs. And let me see if we could really prove it. Cause if we could prove it with a smaller business, yes. There are differences and their nuances going up levels of businesses, but it’s blocking and tackling.
And we picked an industry that was specific. Because it’s blocking and tackling. We bought small for a purpose. If I failed on this one and we had to bail out of it, I knew our thesis would have been wrong. And if it was correct, then we were able to scale much quicker. And I look at owning the landscaping as getting a master’s or doctorate in small business.
And then I was able to graduate with a really tremendous amount of responsibility and confidence and take other people’s money to go do it even bigger. And my point in saying all this is, I always tell searchers every time I talked to them, just go buy one, stop looking for the home run ball, it’s going to come your way and you can swing go by and go prove yourself as an operator and listen, my background is picture-perfect for operating. If you look at it, you could say this guy doesn’t need help operating. I was the chief operating officer of an investment company that had $800 million in assets. And over 250 employees here are insured to me.
So I had all the background of it, but man, it’s totally different when you get a $10 an hour guy. His wife’s pregnant They have another kid that’s sick, their car just breaks down and it’s Monday. They don’t get paid again until Friday. And they’re coming to you with every problem in the world and looking at you with their need for all the answers. And I think searchers would be better off buying a business, proving their model, and then going out and raising double the capital or whatever capital they raised, which essentially is what we did with B&B.
Yeah, that’s a concept that we’ve talked about a lot. And the idea that the Nick Haschka approach where you just go buy something small, that’s fairly easy to find and acquire. And then through that business, that’s when you go buy the bigger business that you would’ve wanted to buy anyway from the start. And so if you think of it like that concept, that we’ve talked about a lot, how long from your acquisition of B&B to your latest acquisition has it been?
We close on B&B on December 11th, 2020, and we just closed on Justin’s on October 1st, 2021.
So you acquired it in December 2020, but do you remember when you started searching?
Early August is when I found the deal. We had capital raising closed within 30 days of me attempting to raise capital and via Twitter. And we talked about this and told her about our previous podcast. And we had the deal done by the middle of November. And I just waited until December to close.
But to answer your question, when we start with searching for that one pretty late in the game, and this one with Justin’s. Also, it was pretty late. We found the deal in June. We went to the capital in July. Close capital, middle of July, and then have been in closing and LOI and negotiation since then. And we closed on October 1st.
And how did you find Justin’s? Was it through, did they reach out to you, or was it through some of these warehouse folks?
Completely off-market. We actually haven’t convinced them to sell, which I thought was a great thing because you shouldn’t want to really sell if you’re trying to sell your business. I know everyone has other business ventures and everyone wants to stay there and retire. No one does. So going off-market was a better strategy and it really came about, I just started seeing their trucks and I was like, that’s a nice shot.
That’s a nice truck. That’s a good neighborhood to be in. And I saw them in a distinct neighborhood. So Justin’s has almost a thousand plots and it’s all residential sands, a few local places, but it’s a residential lawn care business.
I do not prefer residential landscaping or lawn care, but We have a stranglehold on a neighborhood that is called Celebration. There was Walt Disney’s master plan community. And it’s like a gigantic commercial property to us. That’s how we think about it. But Yeah.
To answer your question, they are off-market. I saw them in that neighborhood constantly and I previously lived in the neighborhood.
So I knew what the HOA was like, and we just started contacting them. And I actually used a broker that we use for B&B. I called him as I need you to reach out to these people and see what the deal is. Just because if someone in your industry reaches out, a lot of people they’ve done shot cause they think you’re phishing for information.
So we strategically used a broker previously to reach out and get the conversation going for us And also to see how big they were. Cause I didn’t know if I just kept seeing the same truck or the same two trucks or if they had 10 trucks, I had no idea.
And so can you talk about SBA and non-SBA earlier. So one of the things you would’ve been thinking about too, just doubling back a little bit with potentially selling B&B was that would give you perhaps more capital to go out and buy a platform acquisition, basically what Justin’s is, but it sounds like keeping B&B actually made that process quite a bit easier in buying that platform acquisition. Is that true or what were some of the benefits you’ve seen? The benefits and cons to continuing to own B&B while going after that larger platform acquisition?
I think keeping B&B and proving out our operational advances that already had allowed me to have a ton more credibility when we were trying to raise capital for Justin’s and it allowed us to also not be in our hurry for a bad acquisition, right? Because there was no timetable. If we just kept it, indeed there were no issues.
We were going to keep doing it. And we were growing at an enormous rate. When you look at it, not even in our first four years of operating yet we are almost going to double the business within the first year and I think what really helped with B&B, Alex, and with buying Justin’s, isn’t even so much the acquisition. It’s the days after, right? And I don’t mean this negatively, but I think anyone can acquire a business, whether you use SBA or use investor capital like it’s not hard to offer someone money at a fair market value.
The concept is not difficult to grasp. What’s difficult is what do you do after acquisition? Things that I didn’t do at B&B for two months or three months or four months, I’ve done immediately at Justin’s and it’s having a positive impact and positive offense on the business.
Whereas I didn’t know, or I was gun shy or just nervous about implementing on B&B and I took those lessons and essentially tried them out. And saw they worked and just put them right over on Justin’s and it’s working beautifully. And that allowed me again to have a master’s or doctorate in small business operations.
And I think that’s the benefit for Justin’s is I’m able to go back on the experience of transition and also it’s not just me saying it I’m able, we are close in location. So my original investment in B&B and Justin’s are about 30 to 45 minutes away from each other in terms of our warehouses.
And I have my general manager of B&B come over to Justin’s a couple of times a week, I’m able to say don’t listen to me, listen to him. He’s the one I ran from a crew leading up to the general manager in the span of a couple of months with me. And he’s the one that was on the other side of me.
And from any of these processes that we’re working together. So listen to this guy and I’ll tell you the good, bad and ugly about me and what we’re going to do and what we’re about. And if you keep your word on things, and if everything I’m saying in terms of employee benefits is going to happen or now. And for him, the general manager of B&B is named Nick, Hey, Nick, show them, this is how we do X, Y, and Z. This is how we do A, B, and C, and it’s been tremendous to have them to lean on. We will be much better off at Justin’s and our future path by keeping B&B than we ever could have.
I’d love to hear a little bit more about some of those processes you said that were really quick to implement at Justin’s, but would have taken longer at BNB. By the way, I also loved the tweet you had a little while ago about hiring a GM from Chick-Fil-A. A lot of podcast guests, a remarkable number by at least three or four of Think Like an Owner podcast guests have mentioned Chick-fil-A as their best business.
Not necessarily because they’re like the finances, but like just the customer experience of Chick-fil-A and how they’re always really quick, very friendly. No matter how long the line is, you can always get through. They don’t usually make mistakes. And so I just love to hear about hiring a champ Chick-fil-A but also just broadly, what did some of these other processes that you implemented at Justin’s that were quicker than B&B?
Let me touch on the Chick-fil-A thing for a second here. One of probably the biggest issues, why people don’t want to go into residential HVAC or plumbing or landscaping for home services, is because the clients are painting in the box and they’re demanding. And whether their bills are 50 bucks or 500 bucks or 5,000 they want to be treated like they’re the queen of England. And I knew that was going to be an issue. And I experienced some of that in my previous acquisition in B&B and I thought, okay.
We can just sit here and take this on the phone and not have any real defense for it, but if we can control and set clear expectations and be friendly with customers and service the customers, but also set expectations, or this is what we’re going to do. This is our new process and this is how we’re going to behave.
I thought it would give us a tremendous leg up on our other competitors. And I went out to find the best that I possibly could. And we looked at a broad question: who has the best customer service anywhere. And food can also deal with hourly employees and who can deal with that level of interaction between our employees and customers.
No matter what the ticket item is, I couldn’t have been more fortunate. It’s an absolute home run that we were able to attract her. And she’s a former educator and high school teacher. And so think about even that with having to teach high school-aged kids, which aren’t former educators as well.
So I clearly understood how to do something and the problem solving the issues that they have. And so that helps our employees, but just the customer service. And I’ve already seen the impact of that hire with the customers and just her ability under fire to be able to solve any issue for customer or knowledge.
We don’t even have to solve it, just acknowledge it and show we can follow up with something. So that was crucial for me. And I think it’s setting us apart from a lot of other home service businesses. And before I go on the process, I think just stick to the hiring first. Yes, we recruited and hired her. And we were recruiting to hire a couple of other outstanding individuals to help us in this process. But we wanted to go into this with a huge focus on employee retention, not recruiting.
We feel like we are treating our employees right, and we’re investing in our employees and we’re providing resources financially, operationally safety, and career path-wise. That we wouldn’t have to spend so much time recruiting. And I think recruiting is great. I love where you have to go through the employees. I don’t ever want to be in a position where we need to recruit an employee on someone else’s timeline. I want to reprove employees on my timeline. Hey, if we hire X, it’s going to allow our company to do Y. Hey, if we get this employee, this will really blow this part of the business into another level, or this will solve a ton of issues for us.
I never want to be someone who leaves on a Friday and oh shit, we need someone on Monday. Like I never, ever want to be that no matter what level of the business we are in for us. So we are putting a huge focus on employee retention in all that means Alex says we’re paying above market value. We’re treating them respectfully.
We’re treating them like professionals. We’re providing them resources to be better at their jobs. This means safety, equipment, training, better equipment processes in place to take care of the equipment so they can work more efficiently because nothing sucks more than 100 degrees in July or on or five years in July in Florida, and you’re out mowing the yard and you can’t get your equipment turned on and you’re just standing there sweating like you just jumped out of the oven and your company doesn’t work and it sucks. And so we’re taking huge prior to that. And we were focused on that.
Now with processes. Some that we did at B&B, that we immediately implemented adjustments. And this is like a funny one, but no smoke. In this industry, a lot of guys smoke cigarettes and I don’t have a problem with some of their smokes. I personally don’t, but I look at it because I care about the equipment. I care about your uniforms and I hope you do too as well. And you’re in a truck with four or five other people, eight hours a day, maybe someone else doesn’t like smoking. So it’s a blanket roller show smoker. So I’ve spoken to the trucks because I care about the trucks.
I don’t need the trucks smelling like cigarette boxes. What do you do with a cigarette when you’re done smoking it, you throw it out the window or you’re third in the truck. That’s not taken care of and that’s disrespectful to throw it out. And also maybe the property owner doesn’t want them to smoke.
So that was an immediate role. We did not smoke, which you’d be surprised that they take back on that. Basic things, right? Cleaning your truck out, cleaning your bed out, cleaning your trailer, or washing your apartment, taking inventory of your equipment, and having route sheets. The customer’s name that you’re pulling up to, and any notes that you may have about this business are substantially larger than B&B.
B&B literally did not have a route sheet. So Hey Alex, where are you going today? And I’ll just rattle it off their head. And it’s what? There’s no way you can do that successfully for a sustained period of time. And these people were the exact same. I’m like, I don’t know, maybe I’m the idiot of this group, but we’re going to have route sheets because I can’t remember all these places I put the customer’s name or their address and any issues and any proactive thing.
So when Mr. Smith walks out the door, you can say, Hey, Mr. Smith, how’s it going? If we can provide good service, we can take care of our employees and we can have good customer interaction, customer service, man, how can you not win in this? So those were some of the early things. And the overall theme that we’ve done in the past couple of weeks is the acquisition, which is everything we’re doing needs to show our employees and our customers that we care about the facility, the equipment, their day.
Here’s another one. The time-in clock was like a punching thing. And I would die every time I see it messing up just because it does eight employees write their times there. And then what happens is they argue on Fridays with the guy on the payroll, which payroll meant the previous owner about their hours and it’s just not efficient. And as an employee, think of that as employed, you got to be nervous every Friday that you’re going to be paid incorrectly. Like that sucks. So we went to a software program and they have an app on their phone and they log in through an iPad and they see all their hours and it’s just like little, tiny things and they make such a big difference.
And I showed on the iPad how to clock in. Like showing them how to make fire back in the day. It’s just funny to see, but it has such a huge impact on them. You gotta do it.
Yeah. Diving into hiring and processes a little bit more. What are some of your training regimens or processes for new employees? I imagine there’s lots of turnovers, but hopefully a little bit less since you’re paying above market and you’re working on retention, but I imagine there’s still quite a bit of turnover. What kind of training processes do you have?
Absolutely. So going to a time where there was a huge hire and we just have to hire people. And we can get it exactly how we want it if we’re constantly keeping the recruiting door open and we’re hiring ahead of things and being prepared for things that allow us to train properly versus throwing you a shirt and saying, get in the truck and go, and that’s not responsible.
That’s not responsible to the customer because you don’t have a skillset.
So what we do is if you can look at four weeks. A new employee spends one week with one crew doing one task. So it could be nothing but edging, all he does is actually an entire week. The second week he spends with another truck and all he does is use the weeder.
And the third week he spends it doing blowing or weed control or trimming. And by the fourth week, I sat down with each of those crew leaders and our general manager. And we’re essentially having an open conversation about the employee.
What is he good at? What is he weak at? Can one of these be improved? Has he shown up every day? Just getting overall feedback because a guy can fake it for a day. A guy can fake it for a couple of days. You can’t fake lawn care and landscaping for a month, either you’re about it or you’re not.
And it’s let us rid of people that could be problems and it’s allowed us to really keep good employees. And it’s also allowed us to train. So think about it. You go through a month span. The only thing you don’t know how to do is mow and that’s a good asset for us. They’ve gone through a week. They now know how to edge a weedy spray and training and all these other tools. So now they can get on any truck which is hugely valuable to us.
And one thing that’s helped us here on Justin’s is, so I’ll give you some background on Justin’s history. They were founded by the guy, Justin in 2000, and in 2018, he actually sold the business. To practicing attorneys and your attorneys have run the business and he has been arms distance involved in the business since selling it.
And he’s still here. So a big piece of this about Justin’s was how would Justin feel about new owners and about us taking over and. I can tell you it’s been a godson bag. He is now in a more active role. And he is with us full time and has a guy sitting across the table from me that I can call on or ask or jam with who started the business literally himself and his brother in one trap and grew the business to an exit and then stayed on through other owners and is now with us in a more prominent role.
To have a guy that knows every customer, every yard, every neighbor, every employee background, and is aligned with our vision is an unbelievable tool and asset that’ll help us operationally and moving forward that is we didn’t plan for it to be this well brought into from him. And it’s been great.
Yeah, absolutely. And I think there’s one other level up that I think we need to go to because you now have a new holding company benchmark group that you’ve raised and as an extension of your thesis in lawn care and landscaping and in Central Florida, can you talk a little bit about how that came about? We’ve had calls about it, but folks who listen, probably don’t have much background on some of your thinking during this time leading up to raising your, holding company here.
Yeah, absolutely. So our goal from the beginning was to always grow through acquisition. I think you can grow organically and you can build it over time. But my thesis was to grow through acquisition and various specific parameters. And we did not want to escalate. I don’t believe in the SBA in terms of what I’m trying to do, because while I haven’t background for this, and obviously we prove ourselves out with the first one, the SBA is 100% transactional.
They want their check on the first every month. And if you’re doing bad, Hey, make sure you pay us. If you’re doing great. Hey, come get another loan from us. I wanted a partner that I could jam with. I can share ideas with you, tell me yes or no, and say, Hey, don’t turn left, turn right. And having just another person to call on is a tremendous asset.
And so with the holding company, we’ve proved out a B&B model that this can work now, what’s a level up, essentially. we created Benchmark Group to go acquire other landscaping businesses and the landscaping businesses and the landscaping industry I’ll just give you a kind of a big picture of what we’re looking at doing.
You got lawn maintenance, you got landscaping, which is very distinctly different. You got water management or irrigation, you’ve got tree service. You got the supply chain, meaning your wholesalers or nurseries or your rock and stone distributors and a couple of other subcategories. But we feel like there’s a massive play involved in being a one-stop-shop provider of vertical integration. So we are taking it from the farm to the customer’s house that provides us tremendous leverage and opportunity to capture as much margin. Being quite frank, it allows us to see a lot of cash coming back to us, which is my job is to be the steward of this capital and the steward behind our vision and our strategic goals.
And if we can vertically integrate, then that’s a win for everyone. And I think I should talk about our partner here for a second, because it’s kind of a funny story, and it goes back to our original raise. I knew I was just on our ally before I ever raised capital.
And I knew the purchase price. It was very fair. I thought it was fair. So we needed to raise capital. And I did not want to go to SBA at all. Same Leslie, who’s also very active on Twitter and just bought an HR company, had an idea of sending an email out with people that needed deals or wanted to deal and contacted me. And we talked about us, Hey, I got one for you. Cut it out there. And the feedback and reaction to the deal that I sent them, which was Justin’s were overwhelming. It was just the best way to describe it. And it’s funny. There are guys after one other. Put me down for 50K or put me down for 75K or pick it up. And it’s like, what? You don’t even have my phone number. What do you mean? Cause we’re down for 50K like you’ve lost your marbles anyway. So we ended up pretty quickly weighing more in the one partner than the other that was able to facilitate not only this acquisition but also our entire thesis.
And that is extremely important to me for a few reasons. The partner had an operational background. They had a home service background and not from a funding level, but from, they were true operators. They ran a home service business and they know what it’s like, and they scaled it and had great success with it.
And now they’re in positions to do what they’re doing with us. And it was important that they understood operations and home services. So I can use them to jam and to have my ideas with, and it was also important that they also had the financial resources to pull the deal off, but also provide those resources financially to finish a thesis because go back when I talk about B&B, It is extremely distracting to be an operator as well as fundraising, as well as trying to get a deal or close a deal.
That’s almost three separate jobs in itself. And I thought it’d be a disservice if every year or year and a half or six months I was out fundraising or trying to close deals by myself. And I wanted a partner that could remove that from us. Now that’s not to say we won’t ever raise again. If we need to. But we don’t need the capital to improve our thesis.
It would just be an extreme birth capital. If we get to that point Alex, I’ll be on a beach somewhere and you won’t be doing a podcast interview with me because I’ll be with my friend. Which is a good thing. I’m half kidding. Obviously, if we can prove this out and the partnership, mental law to also have intangible resources available.
Now I’ll give you an example. A couple of months ago on Twitter, probably two months ago, it became at least on my feed, pretty prominent of these autonomous mowers. And what’s going to happen in the industry with VC money during its autonomous mowers. I reached out to our now partner and I said, Hey, have you seen this as interesting within a phone call? He got a hold of the VC and got back, that’s insane. Just the natural resources are unbelievable. So we couldn’t be happier. We couldn’t be luckier.
My original investor, JD Ross, and I’m extremely proud of what I’m about to say. I think this is my shining moment to a large degree. We were able to provide an enormous return relative to the time of money invested into our original investor. And my greater pride is that not only did he receive a return, but he reinvested back into our hometown. And that means that he’s taken another bet on me. And I just couldn’t be happier about that.
To circle back and answer your question on the whole account, our goal is to acquire more and more landscaping businesses. We have a geographical area that we’re looking at and then may expand someday. But the best part about our partners, there’s no timetable. It’s about getting this one right. And then we’ll open the door for more acquisitions and it’s going to be about doing that one right. There was no term on this. It just does it right when we’re ready for the next acquisition, we’ll be ready. And we have the capital to do it. And if it takes a year, it takes a year.
If it takes two years, it takes two years and it takes next month, then we’ll do it next month. And I have that ability and patience is just unbelievable. And it’s not common.
So now that you have a larger holdco to make investments out of, are there certain opportunities just in terms of businesses and business models that opens up within landscaping? You’d mentioned buying a garden center or distributors who could supply rock and dirt and trees and all that other stuff. Are those opportunities perhaps a little bit easier to go after now that there’s a larger pool of capital that you could use?
Absolutely. So all that outside of just the resource of someone else is also aligned with us to grow our partner for what we’re looking for. Money will never be the reason we change it in the door or get the deal done. If you want to see proof of funds, here you go. Money will never be the reason we can’t do a deal.
Now we’re making sure we’re not being stupid money and dumb money. And we’re going to a shrine. We’re going to hold to our thesis which requires discipline. And listen, the capital is there for us to use when needed, but I can’t trust us enough. I have to do this right and continue to prove the model, just because someone has capital that can be allocated to acquisitions. If I shit the bed on this, ain’t gonna be there much longer. So it’s a lot of pressure to do this correctly and do this right. And if we do that, we can just go find what the best fit is far. Next acquisition and money will not be the issue because we believe in buying at a certain multiple that’s fair for us.
Can you talk about some of the benefits of a more vertically integrated landscape and lawn care business? There are things like you could save money on some of your material costs, but there have to be a lot more options within a vertical integration for new efficiencies and perhaps some benefits to scale.
So I look at those as a logistics business. We just so happen to provide lawn care or landscaping when we get there. It’s logistics primarily for lawn care. About half of our revenue is landscaping work, which there’s a difference between that. But our lawn maintenance is a logistics business, right? If I didn’t tell you what business I was in. We have trucks. We need to have good route density. We need to have efficient fuel costs, or we need to get from A to B as best and most efficiently as possible. You wouldn’t know if I was in a trucking business or a landscaping business or an HVAC business, you have no idea.
So I look at us as a logistics business. We just so happened to, instead of dropping off some pallets as a trucking or hauling company, or focusing it along and then getting back in the truck and doing it again. Our fleet is master, master, master of what can have synergy as we get bigger. And that means we have better pricing on vehicles, even though right now, the prices are insane, but we’re able to have fleet management.
We’re able to buy pre-bought fuel at cheaper pricing. Everything you do bigger, you’re able to get better economics on. And in terms of scaling like operations within other industries or within the landscape industry to other subcategories, thinking about your house or your business that needs care.
If you have grass, we want to be the sod provider. If we can be the sod provider from the farm, and then we can also be your installer, and then we can also be the guy that maintains it. We can also be the guy that does the spray treatment on it. And then, oh, by the way, we can also be the guy that waters it.
And we can also be the guy to turn the trees and prune them and take care of them. And then also we can be the option in each of those categories that provides us a tremendous advantage against our competitors who may dabble in some of those other areas, but they’re not experts or they’re not fully into those other areas.
So I think what I’m saying here, that it’s a tremendous battle to achieve or to win. And that’s why a lot of people have said they want to do this. And many have been able to accomplish it. So I understand the feat that’s in front of us.
And that’s why finding a partner that was patient with us was the most crucial thing that I was looking forward to, the most critical thing I was looking for. So we’re doing this one step at a time. We are in lawn maintenance, we are in landscaping. We dabbled in the other areas, but we are looking at the other areas for our next acquisition. And that is really only to serve the customer better.
And along the way, we’ll see the financial impact, right? If we’re buying sod from our own sod farm we just got a margin in our sub-companies should be better because we’re buying more volume and then we should be able to install it at a higher margin. So all of those things vertical integration helps out.
Within those vertical integrations, it sounds like it would make a lot of sense to have a strong regional focus within Central Florida, where you are. Do you imagine that slowly expanding over time, or do you think you would expand out directly from Orlando, or do you think you’d create new concentrations of operations in different cities and you’d leapfrog out to other cities or just figure out central Florida first and we’ll go from there?
Like I said, other people have, you can operate in different geographical locations of a landscaping business and you can have different categories in different locations. For me, I only want to go somewhere where I have an advantage.
And I have a buddy that has drawn the line that no matter what he does, he just wants an unfair advantage. And I say that all the time and my unfair advantage for me personally is in Central Florida. I know Central Florida. I know the builders in Central Florida because of my previous background. I know because of my ties to city planners and commissions and builders and developers and land purchasers, I know exactly where developments are going. I have a list on my wall of where they are going. So if we start attacking those areas ahead of time and get customers out of that area early, and we’re the main focus in that area, then as it blossoms, we should blossom with it and just catch that tailwind activity that is. If we stretch outside of Central Florida, the team would have to be right. The service would happen to be right.
And we would really have to feel comfortable about our operations in Central Florida because naturally my time and go more towards the new operation. That’s a big thing to juggle and I’m still learning how to manage two different locations and two operations, even though we’re 30 minutes to 45 minutes apart from each other, one does commercial and one does residential. So I’m learning that at this moment. So we’re not ready to go outside of our area.
But when we are obviously that’s a positive thing.
What are you most excited for over the next year to accomplish?
Getting this one right. And that’s kind of a bad answer for you, I imagine. But we can prove this one. That also means her operating B&B, right? This means now as a whole we’re operating two locations properly, we are being good stewards of capital. We are executing the strategic vision, and that will only give us more confidence in the next acquisition, which is our plan.
Sometimes you take a step back on a current day-to-day focus in terms of revenue and customers. You know, you have to maybe drop some, maybe raise some prices, maybe remove some because they’re not convinced because a hat I did find no matter how big or small because I bought one size landscaping business and I just bought a whole different another size of a landscaping business. They get to a point where they just take all customers and there are some customers that just don’t make sense. And so you do have to step backward. So it’s a learning bout in this business, this new one, and then getting our process right. And organization right. And proving our model again. Our thesis ties a lot of centers around landscaping businesses that are owned by service people.
What I mean by that is they are started in a trough or they joined way after another service they’re service owners that just so happen to own a business. And we feel like our grandkids can come in and take that high quality of service, which a majority of them always have because they’re service people at heart and add in the business layer and just completed and move it forward and little tweaks here and there, like getting rid of the union time clock or getting route sheets, that’s obvious to us, but that’s not obvious to some owners. And a lot of them are because they’re service owners. They’re not business owners. So we look for service owners that we can acquire their business and add good business practices to.
Thank you, Mike, so much for sharing a little bit of your time. So much fun to chat with you as you acquire B&B and now Justin’s and get to chat with you frequently, going through all this has been a lot of fun for me, and it’s been fun, building a friendship. So I’ve really enjoyed that a lot, as I always love to have you on the podcast, I’ll have to have you again on your next acquisition next month. Probably I assume something quick.
Yeah, absolutely. Hey man, if it’s next month, then we’re cranking here. And again, man, I really appreciate the friendship. And the guidance and the advice and just sometimes an ear to listen to, and I hate our phone conversations sometimes because you’re, so caring and you just always ask the question first and you always want to know what’s going on in my life. And I feel like every time we hang up, I’m going to ask you more about your life and what’s going on. I just appreciate you always being there to ask and listen. That’s a tremendous asset you have, man. And I really appreciate everything.
That’s incredibly kind of you and feel free to call me anytime you have my number and we text all the time. So you’re on my list of, if you call, I’ll just pick up like no matter what I’m doing. So I’m looking forward to the next one.
I appreciate you so much.