The Kade Wilcox Podcast: Tanner Thetford
Posted By Kade Wilcox | May 5, 2021
Kade Wilcox: Welcome to The Kade Wilcox Podcast. I'm Kade Wilcox, your host, and I love small businesses. I love the leaders who lead small businesses. I love the journey of starting a new company and figuring out how to manage a people, culture, and vision, and operations, and finances, and sales and marketing. And so on our podcast, we feature local small business owners who are in the trenches and doing the work. And we learn from them. What's going well, what's not going well, things they've learned throughout their journey. So thanks for joining the podcast, and enjoy learning from others who are in the trenches and doing the work.
Tanner Thetford: If you're going to have the pain and the struggle like you might as well build something from it. If you're going to learn those lessons, let's learn. But the people, you know, speaking of Trenton, our operations manager, just watch him grow and watch his marriage change. Watch his kids change. Hiring people off Walmart, and now they're running parts of our business. And just seeing them realize something -"I can do this. I can be this with my life." - watching them really in those roles. I mean, that's the fun part; getting involved with the community, you know, being able to give, being able to sponsor sporting organizations that share our values and our mission. I mean, what's more fun than that?
Kade Wilcox: Thanks for joining the Kade Wilcox Podcast, and I'm really excited to have you as our first guest. Um, so for those who don't know who Tanner Thetford is, and about Mission Landscapes, tell us about the good stuff.
Tanner Thetford and Mission Landscapes
Tanner Thetford: Yeah. Well, thanks for having me. This is actually my first podcast. So it's a first for both of us here. I've listened to a bunch, but I've never been asked to be on one. So I don't know what that means for you. So I'm a Christ-follower. That's how we know each other. We go to Redeemer Church. I married way out of my league to a girl named Magen Lee. Now, Magen Thetford, coming up on eight years. I spend most of my time trying to keep her around, you know, because when you're, when you're that much better looking than me, it's, it's a full-time job. We have three beautiful kids, Myles, who just turned six. Truman, who will be five in July. And Maggie, who will be two in April. So we're full-time there as well. And then we're done with that. So we thank the Lord for the blessing of children, but three is good for us. So I actually, we/I own Mission Service Companies, same kind of deal. We'll be five with that on April 6th. So we've got a bunch of anniversaries and birthdays coming up, and we do everything kind of outside your home, whether it be from mowing to irrigation to landscape installation to construction, hydro-mulch, and turf, whatever it may be.
Kade Wilcox: That's awesome. So tell me about your entrepreneurial journey. Like, have you always been an entrepreneur? Did you always kind of daydream about owning, owning your own business, and running a business? Or, like, what has that experience been like for you?
Tanner Thetford: You know, I don't know. I don't really love the word entrepreneur. And I looked at the definition before, 'cause I just feel like it's so overplayed. Um, but according to the definition, we all are them. Um, so I had a mobile carwash when I was 16. Um, which, you know, most of the guys are like selling flowers door to door at five or six years old. You know you hear all these stories. But you know, when I get into a place, I always, my mind thinks like how we could make it better or how could we start something else to improve on it? So I guess I'm more wired that way, probably very similar to you, just knowing you and your story. But my journey started selling life insurance right out of school. Um, I had a few jobs. I graduated from Tech in 2009. Like, you know, the housing bubble burst, like, in April, and we all graduated in May.
So I moved to Dallas. I was in a fraternity here. Most of my pledge brothers were still in Lubbock. And I just said, "I need a little break." Um, I did about 36 job interviews in Dallas in the span of about ten weeks. It got to the point where I was saying, "Hey man, if you're just seeing me because we have a connection like I appreciate it, but let's not waste our time." Nobody was hiring. Um, I did something with a buddy; it didn't work out. I came back to Lubbock. You know, I love it here. I always wanted to come back here. It was that 14-month little hiatus that didn't really work out for me. So got involved in selling life insurance and doing insurance, and passing those tests. Um, I worked with a real close person in my life, ended up kind of falling apart and not in a very good way. So during that time, I'd met another guy we'd gotten into the oil field, which is what kind of introduced me to service companies.
We had routes about trucks and those sorts of things. That fell apart, too, about three years later. Um, during that time, we had two kids at this point. We, you know, you learn a lot about relationships if you're working with people, how different we all are, you know, and I tell this story. I realized the common denominator is me. So I probably need to look at myself and see what, you know, I maybe did wrong as much as I felt I was right at the time. But you know, we moved in with my parents, gave away our dog, put our house on Airbnb. We got sued by our HOA for doing so. It was a really dark season. Um, we had Mission at the time. We had started it when we were at when I was at the oil field company just to help some people out to kind of diversify.
So I had two young kids under three, a wife who wasn't working, um, a small business that was barely staying afloat. And honestly, Kade, to sit here and tell you like how we made it. Um, God's graces. I mean, I had friends, four friends that just gave us money with nothing in return. They didn't ask for interests. You know, uh, I'm trying to get emotional just talking about those guys. It just made such an impact on me. Um, thankfully, we've been able to pay them all back this last year, but you know, without God's grace, without friends, without people that love us. I mean, I didn't do anything. I wasn't like this wheeler-dealer. I just, I guess God humbled me, and I was able to ask for help, but so we ended up kinda turning Mission around. We had one, one-yard crew, turned into two. And now it's kind of this 34-person, $2 million a year business that's hopefully going to continue to grow. But you know, my journey was really hard.
“Hang tight, stay where you are.”
Kade Wilcox: Yeah. So would you say you got into it almost out of necessity, you know, when, when the old service job, uh, you know, kind of fell through or fell apart? Do you feel like you kind of turned to Mission, you know, as a necessity, or did you have, at that point, like a really strong desire to kind of create something out of nothing and make it into a legitimate business?
Tanner Thetford: I would think both. Um, you know, I'm kind of, to one of your questions, I'm definitely that type that I mean, if I went to work for somewhere, I would figure out some way to start on my own. I mean, it's just, I've been that way forever. It's like, you know, in college, if we were having a party, I planned the party, I raised the money, I put it together. It's just how I've always been. People kind of lean on you that way. Um, we hadn't mentioned. We had families involved. I had friends involved. I had family members involved. And I wasn't just gonna walk away from it. You know, I, I'm thankful that I always knew I was where I was supposed to be because when you move in with your parents and you're, and you're trying to sell your house and it' won't sell and all that kind of stuff, everybody tells you go get a normal job.
Um, and through Christ growing me in those areas, and through my prayer life, I just knew like the message was hang tight, stay where you are. And obviously, through friends, we were able to kind of rough it for a while. Um, I'm very thankful for that cause I would've bailed. And now I, you know, looking back on it and a message for younger entrepreneurs as you cross this stuff, you'll be thankful for the struggle. You'll be thankful for the hard times. And I know mine isn’t over and as I'm sure you are too, but I wouldn't change anything. I would not change a thing. Maybe some of the weight I put on because of the stress, but that's about it.
Kade Wilcox: Yeah. Fair enough. Yeah, that really good. Um, what, you know, when you talk about the struggle, and you talk about failure, and you talk about some of these things that you're learning as you go, like, what are some of the things that jump out to you that you feel like, you know, that you've learned that had it not been for the struggle or had it not been for failure or mistakes? You know, you wouldn't be where you're at almost five years in, you know, and for those listening, I mean for a business to make it five years is not a small thing. Um, you can look at any statistics anywhere, and you'll see that the majority of small businesses fail in the first couple of years. So to make it to five years is a big deal. So when you kind of reflect and think back on the last five years, what are some of these critical things you've learned, either through tough times or a failure, that have really kind of helped you get where you're at now?
Being in Kindergarten
Tanner Thetford: Yeah. I think you look at it, and you know, I grew up in a family that my mother sells Mary Kay. She's been a top dog there for a long time. My dad was a realtor and done radio. I mean, my granddad owned a big plumbing supply store here. So I saw entrepreneurs. I saw people that work for themselves. We grew up very lucky. We grew up very privileged, you know, especially in Lubbock, Texas. Um, so you kind of think that you deserve that stuff as you get older, and you're entitled to it a little bit. I came out of school that way, and I think his life kind of kicks you in the teeth a little bit, and you realize you're a very small fish. I mean, I could tell everybody, you know, Mission's in kindergarten, you know, which means we can put our shoes on. We can read a little, write a little, but we have so far to go.
And I think through that struggle and through that pain, it makes you look places. Um, it's the reason, you know, very few teams win super bowls over and over. Cause they relax. Once you, a lot of people, get successful. They get caught, they get comfortable. But when you're struggling like that, um, you realize, I don't know what I'm doing. I can't do this by myself. What I'm doing is not working, and you look to outside sources, and thankfully we look in a world, you know, people like you who bring leaders in. Um, or, you know, the John Maxwell's, the Dave, Ramsey's, the whoever they - Matt Chandler's- maybe what you're looking for. Um, you can go get from these people that have experienced life. And that's what I did. And that's what I continue to do. I mean, I sit here today. Like I don't have it figured out. I don't have it all together. We don't have a ton of money in the bank. I mean, we're, we're not a ton different from where we were. Um, but we have a lot more of the tools and the resources because of those moments, a lot of the systems, and the team in place that I feel very confident in our future, but it's no guarantee.
Kade Wilcox: Yeah. That's really good. Thanks for sharing all of that. Um, I will have Hunter edit that part out where you used my name and then John Maxwell, Dave Ramsey, Matt Chandler. I'll make sure he removes my name from that sequence.
Tanner Thetford: Hey, you may be that for this area in Lubbock.
Kade Wilcox: Ha yea, who knows. I know I love, uh, learning from leaders, and I know I love small business, for sure. What are some of your favorite parts about owning and running your own business? We'll get to some of the things you like the least in a minute, but when you think about things that, you know, you wake up thinking about, and you go to bed thinking about, and these things that just really bring you joy, uh, what aspects of running your business come to mind?
Building an Airplane While You’re Flying It
Tanner Thetford: Well, other than it fits with me and my personality, um, you know, if you're going to have the pain and the struggle, like you might as well build something from it. Cause you know, if you're going to learn those lessons, let's learn it. Um, but the people. I mean, it's, I'm sure that's the answer, but you know, you see a guy you hired off for minimum wage on Indeed. And now he's, speaking of Trenton, our Operations Manager. Like just to watch him grow and watch his marriage change, watch his kids change. Hiring people off Walmart, and now they're running parts of our business and just seeing them realize something like, "I can, I can do this. I can be this with my life." Um, watching them really accept those roles. I mean, that's the funnest part. Getting involved with the community, you know, being able to give, being able to sponsor certain organizations that share our values and our mission. I mean, what's more fun than that? And now teaching some of these lessons to others. So I can't think of anything else, but other than the people. And I think about the people we don't know yet that will be involved in this organization who are still in school or who are in a job they don't like that we can maybe bring in. Um, that really that's exciting.
Kade Wilcox: Yeah. That's, that's really good. I couldn't agree more. I think my favorite thing to do is building teams, you know, and building a culture. And so I, the whole people thing, um, it can be challenging, but, um, man, it's rewarding and rich and, um, you know, brings, it brings a lot of joy. What are some of the biggest challenges that you've faced or are facing? You know, when you think about being a business owner when you think about the challenges that come with the good? What are some of those things for you personally?
Tanner Thetford: Well, when you look at the systems and the money and, uh, taking care of customers, doing jobs over and over the right way, the way you want - that's the hardest part. I mean, you have customers and employees that they're people with different expectations, different payment grades, whatever it may be. Those are challenges that never stop. And then as you're trying to get better, as you're trying to adapt, I mean, our business is somewhat seasonal. We're coming out of our, you know, the winter, which is slower for us, but it's like trying to clean while everybody's still putting messes around. You know, it's just a long, slow process 'cause you can't stop. You know, we're not in a place where we can go, "Okay, everybody, stop, we're going to fix all this stuff. And then we're going to start again." You know, so it's trying to kind of organize that as you go.
And as I mentioned in kindergarten, I mean, we're about to get the first grade, I guess, but it's still something that is so challenging to do. And I think you just learn like it's going to take a long time. I mean, we live in the right now world when you think it's supposed to be that way. But, um, that's, that's just not the case it is. So I think the biggest challenges are just taking care of customers, communicating with all the things you have going on, and then dealing with my inefficiencies, which is taking on too much. Um, that's, I'm always a too much guy. You want me to go shopping for your barbecue party, I do know that because we will have plenty of food. But when you get inside, it's just a lot.
Kade Wilcox: Yeah, no, that's good. Thanks for sharing all that. There's so much, uh, truth there. Kind of building an airplane while you're flying it, you know? It's like you said. It’s not like you can pause, you know, serving all your existing clients while you try to fix some of the things, some of the gaps that you want to really focus on. So, you know, balancing progress while continuing to serve the people you have. Yeah. It can create some tension.
Finding Time to Cast a Vision
Um, I kind of want to start talking about some of, you know, kind of the core elements of a business. And so I really feel like a lot of times people over-complicate business. And I'm a real simpleton, so this works out well for me. And so in my mind, I’ve tried really hard to think about all of our businesses in a few categories. And I'd really love to pick your brain and kind of hear what you've, what you're doing, and what you're learning about each of these categories. And the first category is a kind of vision and goal setting. So for you as the leader of the organization, as one of the owners, what does it look like for you or y'all's team to kind of think about vision and to think about goals and objectives? Um, what's that look like for you guys?
Tanner Thetford: Well, I think it ties in good with the last question, because as I sit here in the office, I really care about the product we put out in the service we provide. Um, but I own the company and I get the most benefit from it. And, you know, just kind of always the way it'll be. So the only way to make the guys that you hire and the girls that you hire show that is to have the vision of where they can go and not only for Mission the organization but for the employee, the individual. Um, I think what I learned, Kade, is that I'm so far down the totem pole of understanding this, that I've gone to others and tried to find their 20, 30, 40 years experience and put that in place. And I think that's honestly my whole role now of, you know, where are we going as an organization? Can we get there? Does it make sense? Does it fit into who we believe that we are?
But also, these college kids or these post-high school graduates at work here, can we put a vision in their mind? Um, but they have a future here or that their time here with us ('cause a lot of its short term) will be beneficial to them. So I spend a ton of my time trying to get to know these guys. I just believe God made everybody part of a body. Um, you know, as the Bible says, no one's more important than the other. Most people see me as important or, and I just don't think that. So it's was like, what did God put in your life? What are your passions? What are you, what do you want to do with your life? And if it fits here, let's figure out a way you can fit here forever. Um, when you talk about vision, it's more for me like a macro scale. I think getting to know these people individually, too, and how do we kind of push them in those directions?
Kade Wilcox: That's good. Do you, do you just do it organically? Like when you have time, like, you know, do you find yourself simply only thinking about the vision and the goals and objectives of Mission, you know when it comes to mind? Or do you have, like, a normal rhythm? You know, you look at it quarterly, or you look at it annually or, like, what, what is your practical approach to thinking through vision and thinking through goals and objectives? Or do you have one? I mean, it's okay if you don't. I'm just curious what that looks like practically for you.
Tanner Thetford: Well, you know this. I've probably spent the last year, March to March, getting Mission into my organization to a place where I can spend time on that. Because it's so easy in the day-to-day life to let these phones and emails distract us and then stuff like that, I mean, no one's checking on that. No one's asking about that. That's just part of you want it or you don't. So it's such a discipline. Um, and while I got anxious and depressed by that for years, I just said, you know what, let's hire the people, put the systems in place to help with all this, so I can be free to do that. Because I do see it as so much important. So, um, I've actually done a lot of that in the last few weeks and I'll do a whole lot more of it in the coming months, but I think it's number one priority because if you get in the car and don't know where you're going, it's kind of pointless.
Kade Wilcox: That's right. Yeah. No, that's a great analogy. Yeah. It's really hard, isn't it? You know, because you, like, you just said, you get kind of bogged down in answering all the, all the customer, you know, phone calls or emails. You get bogged down in, you know, did the invoices go out and what's the AR? And you know, it's easy to kind of get caught up in the machine of the business and you know, you never get, kind of, get beyond that. And then you don't know where you're headed, you know, and yeah, it's really critical.
Bob Goff, and one of the things he talks about in his book called Dream Big, which I'd recommend everyone read. But, one time he was, I don't know sailing across the ocean or something and, you know, if you're sailing across the ocean and you're just like one degree off, just one degree off, instead of Hawaii, you're going to hit Japan or whatever. You know, it's honestly the same thing with business.
Like, you can think, "Oh, we're close enough." When you look up in 12 months, 24 months, 36 months, and you're on the opposite side of the earth, you know, it's a big deal. And I don't feel like as leaders, we structure it enough, you know? We get so wrapped up in, kind of, all the moving parts. And then all of a sudden we look up one day and we're like, man, you know, I haven't thought about really specific, measurable goals and objectives. I haven't thought about really how we're doing in these things. I haven't thought about where we're going to be a year from now or three years from now. So I can really relate to that.
Nurturing and Cultivating Culture
Um, what about culture? I mean, you've talked a lot about how much you enjoy the people side of your business. And so how does your organization, you know, look at the culture, your organization? What kind of things do you do to try to nurture and cultivate it? Um, just anything related to culture that comes to mind.
Tanner Thetford: Well, one of the things that we're doing is this week, we're actually moving. We're putting us, we have a warehouse where we keep our equipment and we have these, we're actually in Hub City Workspace with Jacob Hubik. We've been here for years. We're putting together, um, offices and warehouses together. Cause I mean, there are guys, I don't even see because we're not, we're across town from each other. So one of the main motivations of that was to be together. So I can get to know these guys, you know. Putting Christian on your, on your company name. And we named it Mission because I feel like this is my mission. This is our, you know, to share Christ with those around us. And I think, you know, we get called out on that a lot, which is funny. It's like, if you do something wrong, obviously you're not a Christian, but not to get into all that.
But it's funny. Um, but showing that, showing that on a daily basis, um, showing people that you genuinely care that you love them and we want that to be our culture and who we are. But I think, I think it goes back to what we just talked about. It all starts with your vision and where you're wanting to go and your goals. Um, cause if that's not in place, your culture is, it's nothing. Because people won't believe you, you know? But I think the people that are involved here, they're young. I mean they're 18 to 24 and I know they don't want to work for, most of them don't want to work here the rest of their lives. So my culture is, you know, we care about you. If you're going to show up, work hard, um, put some time in, we're going to pour into you and what your dreams and visions are, which it's so rare. Cause I mean, I think for the one or two, of the five success stories, we had to hire 50 to 60 people to get those people. Because for a long time we put people over the business and of profits because you think that's right and it's wrong. If you, if you don't make money, you can't pour into the people, because there's too much stress around it, trying to keep the doors open. But if you manage and budget and discipline right, you have the freedom to do that kind of stuff.
They Won’t Be There Forever
Kade Wilcox: That's interesting. I'm going to come back to that in a moment. Cause we, our experience, and there's no right or wrong experience. I mean everyone's experience is their own experience, right? And they're learning from it and it's shaping their future. I'm going to come back to that and speak into, you know, just what we've learned about people and clients and finances. Cause our, our philosophy would be the opposite of what you just said. But you said something interesting about how the employees you have are likely not looking to be at Mission forever. And so how have, how have you kind of embraced that and how do you approach, you know, investing in those individuals while simultaneously thinking about the good of the future of your company? Like how have you experienced that? What's that realization been like for you?
Tanner Thetford: I think it's trial and error, you know, you can go to these meetings and say this kind of stuff. And one would go back to trying to free my time up and putting the offices and the people together. We're going to do, you know, Bible studies here that are once a week that are optional. Um, we're going to bring in realtors. We're going to bring in financial coaches. We're going to bring in and just introduce them. You know, a lot of these, a lot of our people like they don't see themselves as being able to do a lot of these things at a young age. But when you teach them money as a tool, time as an asset, um, let's learn how to use them like you would a hammer or a saw or a mower. You know, they start to change the way they think. And I think it's, you know, I put a lot of it on them.
I'll look up to our guys and I'll just say, "Hey man, if we can help in any way you let us know." And very few take us up on it. We have one of our better managers. He's like, "I really want to build homes. Well, that's what we work for. I mean, I, you know, I'll go introduce you to every guy we know and say man, glowing recommendation, he just graduated from Tech. He wants a job and I'll just tell him, man, put two years in there and watch, watch what you could do. Um, but if they don't ask me, I mean, I say it, I put it out there. And if they don't come to me, I don't go back. Cause it's, you know, we're not doing it for you, but we will help.
Kade Wilcox: That's pretty awesome. I feel like it's a rare thing when employers truly and fundamentally want what's so good for the individual that they would free them up even to figure out how to leave, you know? Like we want to equip you and, and uh, celebrate your aspirations. And if that means we're just a short stint on your radar to invest in you, to help you accomplish what it is you're actually looking for. You know, that's a really rare thing. So I admire that about you and that's a rare thing. I mean, what a gift, you know, to the people on your team, um, you know, because you mean it.
Tanner Thetford: Yeah, and I hope everybody watching this, I hope they know we mean it.
Kade Wilcox: Yeah. It took me a long time to really mean it though. Like, I feel like I've said it for a long time, but it's probably only been within the last, I would even say maybe six months to a year where like, I actually believed it in my soul, you know? Because we're trying to build something and we want to be an organization, we want to be a culture that no one ever wants to leave. And so it took me a while to kind of, kind of let go of my own aspirations about having long-term team members and, you know, an organization that no one wants to leave, and go, "Oh, you want to start your own business? Well, let us help you do that." Or, you know, you want this different role and even if it's not in our organization, you know, we want to invest in you in such a way where, where we love you so well, and we invest in you so effectively that you could accomplish your goals and ambitions just like we're accomplishing ours. And they're helping us do that. But even though I always said that in my head, it took me a while to kind of truly, you know, really want to do that. And so I admire you for, for doing that.
A High Tide Raises All Ships
Um, you know, the third element of business that I think is really critical is operations. It's your delivery model, how you're providing a service to your customer. So maybe share a little bit about how you look at Mission's operations and your delivery model and things like, you know, how do you evaluate if your operations are healthy? How do you approach process improvement? I'm especially interested to hear how you do this, because like you've said a few times, you're pretty far removed from the work that you're actually doing. And so how do you, approach operations and operational improvements?
Tanner Thetford: Well, I think this is where, you know, an entrepreneur is such a click deal. But if you're not wired for this, if you're not made to deal with the stress and the pressure and have, you know- and I don't think it's an arrogant thing - I think if God didn't make you do this, people need to be careful. Because this, I mean to grow and to get, this is why most businesses fail, I think. Because it's so hard to figure out what works and it just gets so heavy that you can't see through those weeds. Um, but for us, as far as the operations and stuff, I mean, you realize without them, you can't run your business. I mean, you can't. And I think there are so many people that are wired to be number two, three, four, eventually number ones at these companies, and they go out on their own. And then, you know, we just live in this, if-you're-doing-good culture, I'm doing worse. And that's just not the case.
So, you know, the better you do, the better Lubbock does, the better your company does, the better we can do. It's like, why don't we work together and, like, make this high tide makes all ships rise kind of approach. But with our operations, I mean, it's, it's all we do. So in the maintenance, in the lawn, there's a whole lot of things to pick on, right? So you do the yard perfectly but leave a gate open, you get a complaint. You do the front yard perfectly but forget to do the alley, you know? So it's, and people just pick on that kind of stuff. And it's hard to make these guys notice. Cause every yard is different, everything. So we've had to really pull back and we stole this from, I think probably Ray McDonald. We call it "the pickle system", where it's just like when you get to these yards, here's what you do.
We actually cut our, one of our businesses from six crews down to three because we couldn't do it. Couldn't do a good job. Um, we weren't making money. You know, you can build $10 million and you can lose a hundred thousand or you can build a hundred thousand and make 10. You're doing better as you're smaller. So we've really had to be - and I think you see that with complaints, you see that with employee satisfaction. You know, if you're burning people out you see that in revenues, profit and loss. If you're not making money, you have to go in and really start from scratch. Um, and in this business particular, there's a whole lot to it. As far as, you know, I'm sure there's a lot of business that way, but in service businesses more than products.
Kade Wilcox: Sure. How do you get customer feedback? Like you've mentioned a lot some of these things related to, you know, customers. How do you get customer feedback? How do you organize it? And then how do you kind of learn from it to apply to some of the changes you make in your business?
The Art of Getting Feedback
Tanner Thetford: Well, the good news is when they're not happy, they always give it to you free of charge. It is readily available. And they're generally right. They're generally right. We're terrible at this. Um, we've got to get better at it, you know, and that's one of the things on the docket for this year is how do we get ahead of it? How do we ask? How do you know, I don't want to be those annoying people with emails and phone calls and texts and stuff, but we do want to know what you think because I do think it's the only way to get better. Um, so mainly it's from complaints. You know, we'll take complaints. You know, we left 10 gates open this week, a couple of dogs got out, the last thing we want. Okay, now we're going to take pictures of the gates. It's a requirement, sorry. Um, but to get out in front of the good news, you know, we got to get better at that. We're just not good at it yet.
Kade Wilcox: No, that's good. Uh, it'll be fun to see how, what process you implement to receive feedback, and then how you're able to use that feedback to shape the way that you deliver your service as a way to grow. I do like that about the service industry. Nearly every business we own is a service. I mean, even if it's a product, it's a product that's serving someone and it can be really hard to kind of systematize getting feedback, both positive and negative so that you can absorb that and apply it to what you're learning. And so I'll look forward to talking to you in the coming months to see what you did to implement that. I'm sure there's a lot we could learn from you on that side.
Um, you know, the fourth thing I think of, the fourth category that every business I think should focus on would be finances. And so what does that look like in y'all's organization? Like how do you manage the finances? Do you have a CFO? Do you look at monthly reporting? I mean, like, just again, as practical as you're willing to be. Um, one of the biggest regrets I have is we didn't take finance as seriously soon enough. And so I always love hearing, um, you know, what others are doing as it relates to just, you know, managing finances and trying to work towards healthy finances.
Healthy Finances = Time and Discipline
Tanner Thetford: You know, I got lucky a little bit when I went because I was not an accounting guy. I got one - the oil field company I worked for had a QuickBooks desktop and nothing was ever entered. So that thing was, so I got to go in and learn that accounting system, um, from scratch. I got to hire people and it took forever, but I got decent enough with it that we can manage it and learn enough the tax and accounting rules. Um, but we're, again, walking into kindergarten, we can count, we can subtract, but we can't do anything else. I do have a CFO. It's a, he's actually my partner'. His name is Daniel. Um, the same kind of thing. You know, we're just, we're, we're green there, we're learning, but he's built for these, he's wired for these, he's done a good job. I think it's simpler than people want to admit. Whether profit and loss, that's balanced, those sorts of things, but it also takes a ton of time and a ton of discipline.
Um, you know, I don't know that we've ever really been profitable here. You know, it's so much check-to-check. It's so much, "we have money here, let's take it out of that." We try not to deal with that. I mean, that's not what we want to do, unless it just makes a lot of sense. We eventually want to be a debt-free organization, but we've gotten really serious about our jobs and our numbers now. And you have to. You know, I think the villain's always in the movies, always the rich guy, right? And it's almost, you feel bad for making money. You feel bad for charging people. Well, that's gone here. You know, we're going to be fair. We're going to be, we're not going to be cheap. We're going to charge good prices. We're not going to nickel and dime. Um, but we're not going to be for everybody either. Because I know that the families that we touch and the, you know, we have 34 employees. But when you look at the children and wives and spouses and those sorts of things, you look at 200 people that are relying on us to make decisions and to make money.
And we want to give like you all and be a part of the community and do those types of things. So again, I would say we have a long way to go, um, on our finances, but it's a huge priority here.
Kade Wilcox: What do you think some of your biggest hurdles are financially to, you know, kind of getting ahead? You mentioned almost living month-to-month, so to speak. So what do you think some of the things that have to happen for you to, kind of, shift that, if you will?
Tanner Thetford: Well, part of it's on us, you know? How do you bid on jobs? You know, how do you go to a house and bid a sod job? You're guessing all the time. Well, what if you run into issues? What if this is, you know, what if this is - we uncover an old tree and then we've got to - so bidding those, right? And taking the time to do that is very important because we're not going to be there. Try not to be the company that says, "Hey, this is a five-hour job." Well, it ends up being 15. Um, I'd rather eat it than do that. And then having the prices fair and taking the time to work through the models; getting the materials at the right price and figuring out ways to cut costs there. But it's, it's a guessing game, you know, it's construction more or less. And I think when we're, you know, like I said, we come in higher than most because I don't want, I'm not going to come back and ask for more if I can keep from it.
Kade Wilcox: Yeah, that's good. Uh, it feels like to me, 10 years into this whole, uh, business ownership thing that it's a constantly evolving journey, you know, related to finances. Like, we're really better now than we ever have been. And we're still really working through, you know, the best way to do it and, uh, working through projections and decision-making based on finances. I mean, there's, there's a lot of moving parts to it. So thanks for sharing all that. And again, we'll be excited to see what you learn over the coming months as you continue to focus on it.
Tanner Thetford: Well one thing is that the mowing, sorry, and the mowing prices haven't changed since the seventies or eighties. And there are so many companies that do this, that we just do it in increments of five or 10. So you're just guessing which really keeps that market down. So anybody listening, if you're mowing guy goes up, just know you're probably still getting a really good deal. Because I mean, there are yards where I live, that there were $40 in '82, now they're $45 now. So it's just, it's just harder to change because there are so many options.
Kade Wilcox: Is that why - you think that's why the pricing model of that particular service has stayed so low? Just because there are so many people who do it from a high school kid during the summer, all the way up to an established company?
Tanner Thetford: And they can make it, and they can make good money. If you're not trying to grow crews, and you're just running one or two crews, I mean, 40 bucks a yard makes a lot of sense. But you know, we've taken some heat because we've really gone up on our prices, but we only do, you know, going back, we only do 10-month contracts. Now we don't do just mowing. It's just, it doesn't work. It doesn't work if you're trying to do it at scale.
Kade Wilcox: Sure. Yeah. And build a team?
Tanner Thetford: Right.
Valuable Content is Key
Kade Wilcox: You're not just doing it seasonally, you know, with one or two people. Yeah. It makes a lot of sense. What about sales and marketing? Like what's your company's approach to growing revenue? Like, what have you done? What have you seen that's worked and not worked? Like what, what are some of your thoughts there?
Tanner Thetford: Well, where are the eyeballs? You know, where is the attention? It was, you know, whatever's cheap and makes sense. That's obviously social media. Now we have a media team that does all of our videos and posts and that sort of thing, which we just started last year. Trying to get better at that, but you have to, I mean, that's, that's where the people look at. You stop at a stop line, look left to right, they're all looking at their phones. Even the drivers. Um, so, and then I know it's always cheaper to keep current customers, so, you know, we started mowing, we added irrigation, we added hydro mulching, we added turf, we added sod laying. You know, we added all these services because you know, people ask you for them. And it's like, "Hey, do y'all do this?" Well, we've also done things like - "Do y'all the trim trees?" We really don't. We don't have the equipment. We're not good at it. And there's a ton of great Lubbock companies that do it. So we'll partner. Same thing with building fences. You know, we get asked to do that all the time, and I got tons of buddies that do that. They do a great job. They're better than us.
So trying to pick and choose what makes sense. Um, but you know, if you and your beautiful family are my customers and you need an irrigation system and we can do it, I want to be able to do it. Um, so we can, we're trying to become kind of vertically integrated into those lanes. 'Cause, that's the best marketing. People like ya? Let's keep it. But when it comes to new acquisitions, you know, it's gotta be social media.
Kade Wilcox: And has that worked for you?
Tanner Thetford: Social media? Yeah. I think this year has been fun because we really got into it last year. And I think our, I think our traffic on our Google and Facebook and phone and texts has been awesome.
Kade Wilcox: What would you attribute that just to good, consistent creative content, digital ads, including good photography and visual branding? Or kind of all of it? Like what, what would you attribute to some of that lead generation related to taking that seriously?
Tanner Thetford: I don't know if I would say anything we do is good yet, but we're getting there. I think part of it, you know, when I got into life insurance, it's like, you know, they'll buy from you if you've been here a while. So as we've been here, I think people recognize us now and we have a little name recognition. Uh, we've got some good cust- we have great customers out there that have helped spread our name. So a lot of it's more just being established for a little bit longer. Um, but yeah, I mean, I think we're going to try to put out quality stuff, quality ads.
Kade Wilcox: That's really cool. I mean, really what I hear you saying is doing your content creation and trying to take that seriously has really supplemented serving the existing customers you have well. And just being a recognizable brand. So for some people, marketing can really be the primary driver of new revenue for others. It's really supplementing the services you're providing, the way you're nurturing your existing customers. And it's really just kind of keeping you top of mind and, you know, and being a brand that people begin to recognize because they start hearing about you from your existing customers. Is that what I hear you saying?
Tanner Thetford: Correct. I mean, when there are so many options that they're like out of sight, out of mind, you know, so many people can see your trucks driving around, but they don't even know what you do. So to tell that story is like, who wants to hear about scalping? Who really cares, like, what it is. So we're not just going to show us your scalping. We're going to tell you why we do it and what we're doing it for and how it affects the grass. And hopefully, that helps. I mean, I don't know who's watching those videos, but they're going to be there and we're going to continue to try to add value in those ways for free that they didn't just riffraff and talk about how great we are.
Kade Wilcox: Right. Helps build trust.
Tanner Thetford: I hope so.
“When You’re Trying to Communicate...Texting Doesn’t Work.”
Kade Wilcox: Yeah. That's good. That's good. Okay. A couple more questions for you. What are some of the tools you couldn't live without? Like, as a business owner, as the leader of the organization, what are a couple of apps, you know, what's a tool -it doesn't matter whatever it is for you -that you just couldn't live with that.
Tanner Thetford: Well, I'll leave out the mowers, and the hedgers, and the weed eaters. I'm an Apple dude. You know, just a decision's made. So I've got more Apple stuff than ever. But, uh, in fact, I got two things in here, but when it gets into like QuickBooks online, we couldn't live without just because it's all in there now. They got us. Slack and Jobber we couldn't live without. We do everything there. Because when you're trying to communicate as a team like that, you gotta - texting doesn't work.
Kade Wilcox: Yeah. What's Jobber?
Tanner Thetford: Jobber is a, it's a kind of a place for service companies to schedule. Um, so like when we get on there, we'll put your name, all the notes in it. They put pictures there. We can kind of keep up. And when you have 11 crews running around town, my managers can look on their phone, see what's been completed, what's ready to bill, that sort of thing.
Kade Wilcox: That's awesome. Cool. That's good. How about, uh, is there a single app that you find yourself using every single day?
Tanner Thetford: Me? No, 'cause I don't want, I don't want to mess with that. Between our Google sheets, Slack and Jobber, those are the things.
Kade Wilcox: That's good. Uh, if you could only give one piece of advice, um, you know, to another small business owner or an aspiring entrepreneur, what comes to mind?
Don’t. Work. Scared.
Tanner Thetford: I think one, um, figuring out if you're made for it. Figure out if you're built for it. I mean, it's trendy, but it's really, it's challenging. It's really hard and you cannot do it alone. I mean, I have the greatest team around me now that I look forward to working with that we invest in each other's lives. Um, and if you are, you know, go all in. Don't work in a fear mindset, don't work scared. It's going to be hard. It's going to be a challenge. It's not going to happen fast. And I think, you know, fast relative to - you were saying y'all are 10 years now. And it's really a lot of fun. Um, four or five years now, it's kind of getting fun. So it just takes a while, but I think if God's placed something on your heart and you can really believe you're wired, you know, the world needs it. Don't worry about the competition. Really. Don't worry about what's out there. You get in, find your lane, find your niche, and go after it. And if it doesn't work, hey, you never leave worse than you were.
Kade Wilcox: Right. Yeah. No, that's really good. Um, well, I'm really, I'm really proud of you. I think you've done an amazing job and I'm really proud of your resilience. I can relate to some of the challenges you face in the first couple of years. And a lot of people don't have the stamina or really the grit to be able to kind of work through those. And there's nothing wrong with that. I mean, like you just said, it's not for everybody. Not everyone wants or can do it, and there's nothing wrong with that. But I'm really proud of you. You've done a great job. You've built a great brand and I'm really excited to see where you're at in the next five years and congrats, you know,, for making it five years, that's a huge milestone. And so I'm glad to be able to celebrate that with you.
Tanner Thetford: Well, I appreciate it. I don't, again, I feel, and you may feel the same way. I feel very inadequate. Like I didn't do that much. Um, maybe other than just the ability to sit in a dark room and think it's going to be okay. Keep getting up, like, what time is it?. Um, but I appreciate you saying that. It's been a lot of fun. We love being in Lubbock, and we love being a part. And I look forward to hopefully doing more of that as we continue to grow.
Kade Wilcox: Yeah. I've no doubt you will. Well, thanks for your time today. And for joining the podcast.
Tanner Thetford: You bet, man. Best of luck to you and all you do.
Like What You're Reading?
Tips, tricks, and answers to your digital questions.