Brian Cotter is the President of Durham Artificial Grass (established 2018) and Lloyd’s Grounds Management Professionals (established 1963). He and Leon discuss the lessons he’s learned growing a family business and the effects of climate change, employee shortage, and COVID-19 on both his well-established business and new but rapidly growing business.
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Special thanks to Cleveland Clinic for helping us for you today's PEO leadership's snippets podcast. Welcome to our snippets Podcast. I'm Leon Goren, CEO and president of PEO leadership, North America's premier peer to peer network and leadership advisory firm. Today I'm very excited to welcome Brian Cotter, the president of Durham artificial grass and Lloyd's ground management professionals. Durham's artificial grass is family owned and operated since 2018, providing artificial grass and various accessories in southern Ontario and the GTA. Lloyd's grand management professionals is also a family owned and operated business founded in Scarborough in 1963. It started with nothing but a lot more and a few hand tools. Brian recently joined PEO leadership and as a member of Pat seven, led by Miguel Gonzalez. He's been an awesome addition to the group and the larger PEO leadership community. Brian, it's great to have you with us here today.Brian Cotter:
Thank you, Leon. It's nice to be here. We're excited to share some information.Leon Goren:
So I thought we'd kick it off a little bit in terms of some history. And I know you were sharing this with me just moments ago, but it's too good of a story to pass over. So how did you get in this business? Brian?Brian Cotter:
Well, it was interesting. I was 16 years old in high school, you know, thought I had the world at my fingertips. I was dating this beautiful girl, who actually is my wife, currently only wife. We've been together for many, many years. Her dad came home for lunch came in the backyard and said, Who's this fellow? So Kim introduced me and he says, oh, nice to meet you. How come you know? Like, I mean, like, what are you doing? No, I'm taking the summer off and relaxing. Next thing you know, he comes out of the house with a purple work boots in his hand throws them over to me and says try these on. So I tried them on. Yeah, they fit pretty good. He said, Okay, good. Let's go jump in the truck. He brought me out in the field. At that point, and I've been in business ever since my parents kind of lost their mind. Because when I got home and told me I got a job. And when I was doing like, you can't do that you're allergic to everything. fresh cut grass does pollen, you name it. So I started in the business. And a year later, my allergies went away.Leon Goren:
That's amazing. This is a while ago. So Brian, how many years have you been married?Brian Cotter:
We have been married, you put me on the spot here. 34 years, July 30. It'll be 34 years.Leon Goren:
That's awesome. So that original business, you obviously started your own business and you got two businesses going. And family businesses, obviously your wife everybody's involved in it. But you mentioned also the, you know, differences in running a family business, some of the challenges you had in the early days. And maybe there's a couple of lessons we're sharing with everybody.Brian Cotter:
Absolutely, that in the early days, as a family business, we didn't have employment agreements, there was no roles, responsibilities results, there was really no way of holding each other accountable to what we were supposed to be doing. We just kind of went on the although do their job. It's all good. They're having a slump, a lot of it. We didn't have budgets and accountability meetings. The one big thing we changed in about 2012, 2013 is we brought in employment agreements, targets for production targets for sales, job descriptions for everybody roles, responsibilities, results. And it really made quite a shift. For us. One of the things we firmly believe in the family business is that if you're a family member, you want to work with us on our team, you have to have two jobs somewhere else. It doesn't have to be in this industry. But you have to have two jobs in another company to understand that there is rules and why we have to follow them. And that somebody is not just being a PR that day, we were trying to make sure that we're we're being responsible and successful.Leon Goren:
Did you you've gone through that process a few times with a guess a few family members. How does that work? Actually have they've been successful? It's sort of finding those other jobs, doing the jobs and then eventually joining it.Brian Cotter:
So I would say yes, for the most part, actually kind of a funny story. One of my daughters was not allowed to work with our family business. She was not a cultural fit, she did get a couple other jobs. And then recently, as in two years ago, she has joined the company business, the family business, and she's very, very successful. She learned a lot from working at the other companies understanding that you have to show up on time there is roles, responsibilities and results. Learn how to speak on the phone, because believe it or not, the younger generation has a tough time answering phone calls and speaking with people on the phone carrying on a conversation. She's done wonderfully. And it's worked out really well.Leon Goren:
Now, the two business and one is you know, just just thinking about this whole artificial grass that I'm going to ask you the climate change because as we're doing this, right, you look at Europe and what's going on the fires, the fires out west, everything's changing. That business must be growing by ads, even in our neighborhoods. I see it now starting to pop up everywhere.Brian Cotter:
So luckily, our artificial grass business was registered four years ago. and it has outgrown our business has been around since the early 60s. That's how popular it is right now, for several reasons, their environmental reasons. Number one, the water conservation, we're not putting nitrates on the ground, which is from fertilizers into our water systems. We don't have a lot of chemicals we can use, but the ones that we do typically are being overused the drought, so that's coming in now July in August, even in the GTA and surrounding area or grasses, all going doormen, people don't want to see that they're having been tracked into their house. It really does have a big impact. I always say that the most unnatural natural product, we have his grass. Everybody wants Kentucky Bluegrass is not from our climate. It takes so many resources to keep that alive. We're punishing the environment by actually trying to keep real grass alive. I'm a horticulturalists certified. And I'm putting artificial grass in the ground. It has its place it has its uses. It's not for everywhere, but it's definitely saves a lot. There's a hotels in Las Vegas, actually, that have nylon, artificial grass on the roof. And it's been proven that it slowed the fire down on the hotel enough for the firefighters to get up there and put the fire out and save a good part of the hotel.Leon Goren:
Wow. That's amazing. That's in the last four years and it's grown like that. That's incredible.Brian Cotter:
It's it's a, it's been a ride, it's definitely a challenge to keep up to. It's something we welcome. And it's it's definitely grow and change quickly, especially with the economy we've seen in the last four years.Leon Goren:
Yeah, it's sort of possibly the question around talent that because, you know, I hear this everywhere, right? Everyone's dealing with talent, you got a company that's growing at an incredible pace here. How are you dealing with the talent? Are you are you facing the same issues everybody else is facing today?Brian Cotter:
We are facing issues with with talent, what we're finding is, we don't stick to our own industry to find talent. We're hiring on attitude, right fit to our culture, and commitment. And we will teach them the skills that they need to do this job. It's definitely challenging to find the right fit person, it takes quite a while, you know, the old days used to be hire slow and fire fast. I don't look at it that way quite so much anymore. We definitely have to invest more more training into our team, make sure they're the right fit and invest in them as much as they invest in us in their time. It's a challenge as we grow the last couple of years has been more challenging, especially with COVID and the restrictions to bring people on board. That's pretty much our number one challenge, I would say right now.Leon Goren:
You guys were open probably right through COVID as well, right?Brian Cotter:
Yeah, our grounds maintenance company was due to sanitary conditions, because part of maintaining the properties is looking after litter. Certain buildings we look after, are involved in the food industry. So they have 18 to 24 inches around the building. There's no vegetation allowed. So help keeps rodents and whatnot away from the building. And then obviously, with the snow removal, that's number one concern for people in the winter. So we were fortunate we're we had about a six week window where they shut down and then we're allowed to open back up again and operate.Leon Goren:
And I know you shared location with me because you're not like right in the GTA or so it's not like a pool of talent anywhere close to you. You're actually I'm from recruiting from everywhere. We are.Brian Cotter:
People pretty much say that we're in the boonies, we have no public transit here, the 407 is not far from us. The 401 is about 10 minutes south of us, we're pretty much north of Bowmanville, north of Curtis area. So they need their vehicle to get here. And then in the wintertime, even in a snowstorm they need to be able to get to our facility in order to get out to work. So that definitely adds another spin into finding some talent that we can pull from,Leon Goren:
I guess you're not faced with it. I want to work three days a week and two days at home in your world.Brian Cotter:
No working from home. Because we move around so much, we kind of need people to come to the yard and we pay them from the time they leave the yard to the time they get back because like especially our grounds maintenance, they might move around from four to 12 sites a day. So we can't have like a construction site. You go to the same site every day for weeks on end. That's not the way our business works.Leon Goren:
So how are you dealing with the whole inflation element? I think your costs are rising. Your Labor's a problem. You know, you're trying to recruit they're driving, you're moving artificial grass. The gas costs must be crazy. Yeah, what what's life like here with?Brian Cotter:
It's interesting. We order all of our materials tractor trailer loads. So typically, we have a small bulk of time where we can lock our prices in. And then we add that at the time we ordered let's say we ordered July 1, we project we're gonna go to order the next load and we asked our material suppliers, what are your projected costs going to be for our next load? That's helped quite a bit because what we can do slowly Increase our prices where we need to, to try and keep up to it before we get hit with an increase bills where our clients aren't getting hit with a with a bigger increase the artificial grass company, we're always selling to new clients. It's not an ongoing contract. So we're fortunate that way where we can creep things up a little bit. And with our labor, what we did is rolled out a health care spending account this year, where if they have a gym membership, prescriptions that aren't fully covered, any of those types of things that would typically come out of their pocket, they bring the receipts in, and we have a set amount per year where they're allowed, and the company will pay it for them. Of course, it's a taxable benefit. But we will pay those costs for them to try and help with some of the increases. And we also rolled out a photograph and video competition this year, where they have to send in the Krewson and videos, short videos less than a minute and pictures to our marketing manager. And he's going to pick the top two victory categories and the top two videos where we're going to give up some monetary bonuses if you will, to the to those people as well. So they're not getting cash stuffed in their pocket just to show up to work, they realize that there's there's more to it than just that, you know, put a little extra effort in and you're gonna get a little extra effort back to help offset some of your costs as well. I know some of our team members are also carpooling to try and absorb the costs and share it out as well.Leon Goren:
Do you just through your own eyes? I mean, I'm watching all these different industries, you can never predict inflation, right. But if what you're seeing and costs today moving forward, do you see the same type of inflation? Or is it starting to settle down a little bit?Brian Cotter:
To be honest with you recently, it's starting to settle a little bit, I hope it's not just a blip in the map. Because I mean, you know, since last year, costs have escalated more than probably anybody would have imagined in such a short period. For instance, like gas and fuel. I had a funny conversation the other day, a couple of the team members in the air pay only paid $1.60 Today, that's amazing. I had a chuckle they didn't want to wreck their their highlighter the day when I'm thinking of$1.68 while I remember when it's 49 Nine. What quite a difference there. Luckily, we're seeing some things so down a little bit. I talk to other business owners that are much larger than we are and then some other industries. They're not as optimistic. But they also have admitted that they've seen some softening. So we're we're we're staying optimistic, we obviously have to keep our eyes open to rising costs and trying to absorb and mature them. But we are seeing a little bit of softening happening, which is encouraging.Leon Goren:
That's very insightful. And it's something actually that I've started to hear around the different groups to different industries. Everybody's got their phone set, it's actually now starting to slow down and a buck 68 for gas. That's actually quite a drop. So-Brian Cotter:
Compared to six weeks ago, that's quite a drop.Leon Goren:
Yeah. So anyway, we will hold our finger fingers crossed on this stuff. Brian, I want to thank you for joining us today and sharing your insights and your stories. If anybody's looking for either some of that management, professional services management and or artificial grass, you know where to reach Brian you could do through the Global Leadership Exchange or you could just give them a give Miguel a call. And I'm sure Miguel will connect you with Brian. So on a side note, if you're interested in our live webcast, the way forward live and or any other snippets, please take a moment and visit us peo-leadership.com. You'll find on our site various previous recorded webcasts which include guests such as Morgan Housel, Professor Janice Stein, Rob Chesnut, Dr. Jason Selk, the list goes on, as we cover such topics as mental health leadership, the new world and a host of others. Thank you for joining us today and we look forward to seeing you again shortly.