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VOL. 129 | NO. 92 | Monday, May 12, 2014

 

Technology Keeps Hatcher’s Landscape Business Booming

By Amos Maki

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Whether it was pagers, two-way radios, fax machines or the Internet, Michael Hatcher has always been quick to embrace technological advances as a way to help grow his small business, the landscaping firm Michael Hatcher & Associates Inc.

“Landscaping, it was never considered to have much technology and was always thought of as a more hands-on business,” said Hatcher, who founded the company in 1984. “But we’ve always welcomed technology and that’s where we are now, embracing the technology with the (applications) available on the smartphones and smart pads.”

The company recently reinvented its entire office system to integrate it with smart mobile devices. Today, his employees no longer “punch” an old-school time clock. Instead, they check into work with their mobile devices. The new system helps him know exactly where his employees are, what they are doing and what type of materials they’re using, which helps with everything from ordering supplies to deploying employees.

Michael Hatcher, right, of Hatcher and Associates reviews order details with Hubert Turley in one of Dabney Nursery’s greenhouses. The two businesses have been neighbors for 30 years. 

(Daily News/Andrew J. Breig)

“They actually clock in with their phone or pad,” Hatcher said. “Then when they get to a location they log in and it overlaps with a Google Earth system so we know where they are at all times. All of that information goes back to a software program so they know exactly how long they worked on a yard and what they did, what materials they’ve used.”

The company is currently beta testing an irrigation application where his employees can come into a client’s property, take pictures and use GPS technology to show on a Google Earth map where each piece of irrigation infrastructure is located.

“When a service technician goes out they pull it up on Google Earth, walk to where a sprinkler head is and through a drop-down system identify which zone it’s in,” Hatcher said. “If we get a service call we’ll be able to pull it op on our system and send it to the technician in the field and they’ll know exactly where the problems are.”

Hatcher also credits having an education with a significant amount of business training as a key to his 30-year run as a successful small-business owner. In addition to hands-on, “in the dirt” training, Hatcher’s landscape contracting degree from Mississippi State University included a healthy dose of business courses, which he said helped him develop a keen sense for how to organize and operate a business.

“This is for all kinds of professions, whether you’re a civil engineer or a surgeon, they don’t really train you for running a business, things like accounting and banking and all the things that can make a big impact running a business,” Hatcher said. “I think having that foundation has really paid off in the long-run.”

Another key to the company’s sustained success has been diversification. Today, Michael Hatcher & Associates offers a wide range of services, including landscape architecture and design, construction, horticulture and maintenance, outdoor lighting and swimming pool installation. The company serves individuals, businesses and governments.

“The reason we’re in those things is because in a customer-based business we wanted to offer our clients a one-stop shop,” Hatcher said. “It helps your whole business. When one segment of the business goes down the other side can pick it up. Diversification gives us a steady cash flow.”

The number of the company’s employees has grown along with the number of services it offers, from three employees when it was founded in 1984 to around 92 today. Hatcher said having happy, empowered employees has been central to the company’s longevity. One of his first three employees is still with the company and a second was with the business until he passed away last year.

“Trucks and equipment, they come and go, but our biggest asset is our human capital,” said Hatcher, who made the company an employee-owned business in 2008.

Hatcher also said loving what he does for a living, getting up every morning and looking forward to the day’s opportunities and challenges, is a trait necessary for happiness and achievement.

“It’s been a lot of passion and a lot of motivation,” Hatcher said. “Those are two of the things that have kept me going.”

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