Winter is already threatening to pack up, and leave the South. Winter isn't gone yet, but parts of Texas are already pushing above 80. One famous Groundhog predicted an early spring.
Which, to us, only means one thing: the lawn care season is soon.
While many lawn care companies are scrambling to call clients and line up their schedules, they are also thinking about how to improve efficiency.
On efficiency, we always hear this question: "What is the best lawn care crew size?"
Let's figure it out:
One-man crews are, almost universally, the most efficient. One man working alone always has something to do, and suffers from the fewest interruptions. Does that mean we should all be using one man mowing teams, all the time?
To paraphrase our CEO, Jonathan Pototschnik: "Absolutely do not build your lawn care business on one-man crews." Jonathan believes that one-man crews can work in special times of need, but you shouldn't build your entire lawn care business on them.
When we work in teams, we make each other better. Two-man crews are more sustainable, and therefore more productive over time, because:
- Team members can hold each other accountable.
- Routes won't fall apart if one person calls in sick.
- Team members will have higher morale and are likely to work for you longer.
- Most jobs provide enough work for two people to be working at the same time.
There is one major exception to consider: if you are the owner, and you are working out in the field, then you are going to be far more motivated to get work done. That means you will always achieve a level of efficiency your that your employees may not. If you aren't ready to permanently leave the field, or you're swamped with jobs after a rainy week, you can work very efficiently alone.
Two seems to be the magic number for efficiency. There is very little downtime, if any, as both of your crew members should have something to do on every job. They keep each other accountable, and if they work well together, this is almost universally a better setup than a one-man crew.
Over a short burst, you can get almost the same efficiency from a two-man crew that you might get with one guy working on his lonesome. If one guy can do 10 properties in a day, then two guys should be able to finish 20.
As your business grows, asset management becomes a challenge. Two-man crews are usually the best for taking full advantage of every last one of your trucks (without adding wasted time), so you can use your assets as efficiently as possible.
Usually, with a three-man crew, you have two guys working non-stop, and one guy waiting around in the wings, trying to find something to do.
For most lawn care owners, this is less than ideal, but you can make it work for your business. For example, if you have a very dense route, your third guy can run over to the next yard, and start working there. Or, you can get some good marketing done by sending your third guy to post up some door hangers or a quick nine-around.
This clever use of the third man can help you cut down on fuel usage and wasted driving time. However, three-man crews are difficult to scale, and can often limit you on employees, which might not be smart in an employment drought.
How Do You Decide on Crew Size?
The only way to know for sure is to test. Mix and match your crew sizes each week. With each crew size, ask yourself these questions:
- On average, how much time did it take for each job?
- How many man hours per job?
- How much money did we make per property?
- Could this team get more done by working on a different route?
Here's a great video from Mike Callahan of SimpleGrowth where he talks about what you should be looking for:
You will run into problems as you experiment, so don't call it quits too early. If your three-man crews seem to be lagging behind, head out to the field and watch them work. As problems arise (for example, "why are all three of you working on the front yard at the same time?!"), solve them one at a time and restart your experiment.
It is a great idea to run these tests at the start of your season, before it gets really busy. Don't be afraid to run a little slow for one week, if it means it'll save you tens of thousands of dollars in the long run. You might be surprised to find out how productive your three-man crew can be on a very dense route. Or, you might find that two-man crews really do make you more money.