Jerry Schill: Why building a sustainable business requires more than going ‘green’ Featured

7:44pm EDT January 28, 2014
Jerry Schill, president,Schill Grounds Management, Jerry Schill, president,Schill Grounds Management,

As the owner of a commercial grounds management company, I know a lot about sustainable practices in landscaping and snow removal. Propane-powered mowers, bio-nutritional fertilizers and green waste recycling are some of the ways we’re helping protect the planet and create healthier places to live, work and shop for our clients. 

But for business owners, sustainability is about much more than being environmentally conscious. Whatever your industry, you need to build a sustainable business that’s healthy and profitable. And just like in landscaping, that sometimes requires pruning.

It may seem counterintuitive to cut something back to help it grow, but as experienced gardeners know, strategic pruning is essential for healthy growth. A plant wastes a lot of fuel and energy trying to feed an old limb versus a new limb. To rejuvenate the plant, you cut it back. Removing the old wood, allowing the new wood to regenerate and grow.

For business owners, strategic pruning can mean the difference between surviving and thriving. Your products and services have to create value for your customers. If you don’t step back and take a good look at your business to be sure the marketplace values what you sell, you’re destined to fail.

Two years ago, we decided to assess the health of our business. Juggling too many balls was reducing our profits. We said, “Here’s the piece of the business that makes the most sense. Here’s where we can provide value, support our families and the community, create profit and build our enterprise.” So we started trimming and even cut off a few limbs.

Today, we’re a dramatically different company. By becoming 100 percent committed to commercial work, we’ve focused our staff and our operations on serving the customers who place the highest value on what we do. Profits have more than tripled over the last two years.

Change isn’t easy. It can even be painful. You may have to learn new ways of doing business. But if you don’t, your business will not remain sustainable. 

How do you know when you need to make changes to improve the health of your enterprise? If you’re not being innovative and strategic in your business, if you’re no longer focusing on what your customers value most about working with you, or if you’re crossing your fingers and hoping things will get better, it’s time.

Building a sustainable business is not just about creating a better environment. It’s about making sure your business is going to last. Here are some tips for building a sustainable business: 

Get help from experts: Look to trusted business advisers and peers for help in evaluating the value stream of your business and how to improve it. Working with a professional peer association like Vistage also can help you learn from the successes and failures of other business leaders and find the courage to make hard choices. 

Reward innovative thinking: Solicit ideas from employees on how to deliver greater value to your customers. Create a culture of innovation to keep your business ahead of the curve. 

Evaluate carefully: Unhealthy parts of your business can sometimes be fixed if you deploy different methods or retrain your staff. Explore all your options before making big changes.

Act strategically: Set clear goals for where you want your business to be in five or 10 years. Let your vision guide your decisions. 

Monitor continuously: A sustainable business requires constant monitoring and unwavering focus. ●


Jerry Schill is president of Schill Grounds Management, a commercial landscaping and snow removal company serving many of the most prominent retail, commercial, industrial, apartment and condominium properties in Northern Ohio. For more information, visit