Marty Grunder is one of those people who is extraordinarily successful at more than one thing. He is President & CEO of Grunder Landscaping Co. in Dayton, Ohio which he started in 1984 with a $25.00 mower bought at a garage sale as a way to make money for college. In 1990 as a senior at the University of Dayton, Marty’s company grossed over $300,000.00 and his story appeared in The New York Times. Today Grunder Landscaping is an award-winning company that employs 40+ professionals with annual sales over $4.5 million.
In 1995, Marty formed Marty Grunder! Inc., a business consulting company to provide speaking, training and consulting services to entrepreneurs and business leaders. A highly sought after speaker and authority on personal and business success, Marty has spoken all over the U. S. and Canada. Marty’s book The Nine Super Simple Steps to Entrepreneurial Success was named the Business Book of the year at the 2003 Independent Publisher Book Awards.
Marty is a committed family man, actively involved in his community and making a positive difference in the world. He has become a close friend and valued colleague so I am sharing some of his insights with you.
You’re a successful entrepreneur and speaker. What things have you learned about communication that works in the workplace and from the stage?
Communication, or rather good communication, is something I have worked on my entire career. I learned early on, when I started my business at the age of 16, that the ability to get your point across clearly and the ability to get people to do what you want and need them to do and still have them love/like you would be paramount to my success.
I think the most important part of communication is to understand who you are communicating with. If I am speaking to some of the team leaders at my landscaping company, I have a different way I communicate than if I’m speaking to a group of leaders from a large corporation. For example, if I’m trying to get a point across about the importance of customer service to my team, I might tell them a story about the great service I received from a pizza delivery man. The leaders at a company, I might tell them a story about the profitability of companies that focus on customer service. You always have to pay attention to what resonates with the group you are speaking to. Another thing I try to do is use as few words as possible. I’m not a fan of using big words or trying to impress the listener with my broad knowledge of the English language. I’m not saying it’s bad to do that, but understand I’m a landscaper by trade. I have a degree in business, but I really am a regular guy. Being able to adapt to the environment is an important part to successful communication. I don’t fake it, I am sincere, but I do use different styles depending on who I am talking to.
You speak to and consult with entrepreneurs in the green industry. What do the most successful of those entrepreneurs do to grow their businesses?
The most successful entrepreneurs listen to the client. They are the boss. The most successful entrepreneurs are constantly talking to their clients via surveys, personal follow up (the best way) , focus groups, and the like. They are completely committed to client satisfaction in all they do. It’s actually amazing the number of business owners I see that don’t get this. This basic building block really can make an enormous difference in the success of your business. I think there is a tendency to think that many clients are “out to get you.” I used to think that myself as a young entrepreneur. Then one day I just decided to operate my business as if most people are reasonable, honest people, and I have found, without a doubt, that is the case. If we have a problem with a client, we ask them what they would like for us to do. Your customer is the compass for your business; they will tell you what you need to do. I teach my ‘students’ to ask their clients three questions. They are, ‘what should we keep doing?’ ‘What should we keep doing?’ And ‘what should we stop doing?’ It is amazing how much you can learn from this exercise.
Are there differences in how you grow a traditional and mature business and how you grow a start up?
I suppose there are some differences. When you are a part of a start up, you have no reputation to leverage and you have to work really hard at getting your name out there. Mature businesses tend to get a certain amount of business from their past clients and referrals and their history of work. However, other than that, I would argue that business really is business. I think entrepreneurs at times, make finding success way too hard. For example, in this tough environment, there is a tendency to invest in new areas of business. The dentist gets into other cosmetic offerings, the landscaper starts remodeling, the accountant starts human resource work and so on. In many cases, it would have been better for the business owner to work harder in the areas they have expertise in and tried to dig a deeper well. Before you go venturing off in other areas, make sure you have let your current customer base know what you offer. Take them to lunch, go see them, spend some time. Relationships are what sell, especially in this environment. I have been able to maintain my landscaping business quite nicely, not by offering more services to more people. But, by making sure our clients know about all our offerings and spending a lot of ‘face-time’ with them. A new business and an entrenched one both should be making sure they are talking to the client and asking them for referrals and making sure all their needs that you can effectively serve are being met.
You’ve had former President George W. Bush in your home. How do you see business people playing a role in politics to make a positive difference?
I think we need to listen to both sides, but I don’t think we have to be quiet. I am afraid that the wants and needs of the small business owners have been and are being overlooked. 70% of all job creation in the last 10 years in the US has come from the small business sector. We are important; we need our voice to be hears. However, just like we talked about good communication a few moments ago, it’s important to go about this the right way too. We have to stay on our message and we have to talk about how the success of a small business can help a community. There’s nothing wrong with speaking up. When I had the President into my home, I did so because it was an honor and a thrill for my family. But also understand, I had an opportunity to talk with him one-on-one for 15 minutes. I made several concerns known to him, one of which he actually had someone take some action on for me. This is what happens when you get involved. When you do nothing, nothing happens. We need to get involved.
In addition to your busy career you have a terrific family. What do you do to balance sometimes conflicting demands of business and family life?
Balancing family and business is very tough. But I’ve managed to find a happy medium. Having clarity of purpose, good people, and a good plan make it achievable. The key is that you communicate your plan to anyone who can help you with that plan. Most Americans spend more time, money, and effort planning their vacations than they do their lives and businesses. We wonder why our loved ones are frustrated with us working late, missing family events, and the like. A lot of times, the frustration is rooted in the entrepreneur’s lack of communication of the plan to the folks who can help you achieve it. Tell your team at work what you are trying to do. Describe what a win looks like as clearly as you can and then do the same at home. If you’re in a start-up, your family needs to understand that might mean some late nights and the like. If you’re struggling right now, it might mean working late to make some sales or do the job of two since you’re running ‘lean’. Whatever the case may be, one thing is for sure, success comes from balancing family and business. If you find the motivation for working so hard, you can generally put a lot of meaning to your work. As a mentor of mine often reminds me, ‘success is applause at home’.