Mentor moment


Jim Mosher launched Landscape Plus of Toronto in 1984, with a passion for design, professional workmanship and natural, often reclaimed, materials. He has grown the business into a sought-after and recognized company. At the Landscape Ontario Awards of Excellence ceremony in January, Jim and his team won the Dunington-Grubb Award, for the construction project with the highest overall score. Jim and Landscape Plus are enthusiastic community supporters, involved in several charities, including the Fight to End Cancer. 
 
What sets a landscape company apart?
One thing we have at LP now is sort of Simon Sinek stuff, a really strong sense of “why” we do what we do. I’ve worked really hard to develop that with myself and also with our people. So we get to take properties that people already love, but perhaps sense something is missing. And we get the opportunity to make the spaces even better, and it’s really satisfying; it’s fun, it’s a buzz, we get to be the problem-solvers and the creators — and it’s exciting. I think that excitement is really palpable to clients; they can feel it and see it. 
 
What have been your most significant career challenges?
You start into the business to make some money and because it’s what you know — it’s sort of like the summer job that never ended. And there was this assumption, at least by me, that because you know all about the tasks, that you know something about the business, and no one will be able to understand or get inside the business if they don’t know the tasks. I learned that thinking is fundamentally wrong. 
 
Whether it be clients or employees, everyone sees the world differently and makes decisions in different ways. And if I’m going to have any point of contact, trust or understanding of these people, I need to adapt my behaviour and present information in a way they can digest and understand. That took a lot of work, because I would often dismiss people or ideas as flat-out wrong. However, if you’re going to manage and inspire people, or if you’re going to sell, you had better look at yourself first. 
 
Why is the numbers side of the business so important?
As a business owner, I can’t stress the importance of understanding true costs enough. Our goal is to create inspired, beautiful work. We also need to create a platform that can sustain our staff with living wages in one of the most expensive cities in the country, while providing opportunities for their growth, as well as the company’s. We also want to use the business as a platform for doing good things in our community, because if we’re waiting for government to solve all our problems, we will wait a long time.  None of these things can happen, unless we are on top of the numbers. So understanding that you have your hourly rates and your office overhead, the material costs and your insurance, and so on and so forth, then applying margins and having the confidence to go out and sell — numbers are critical. 
 
It’s your responsibility. If you’re going to create a business, put people on your team and have them buy in, you need to know those basic fundamentals or you’re doing those people a disservice. Often in our industry, I can’t help but think that people aren’t good at math. The line between costs and revenues will one day meet, and then you’re done, and all your people are done. Our industry needs to learn how to cost. 
 
The disparity between quotes coming in for jobs is just unbelievable sometimes. I think the mistake is that people start at what they think the price should be, and work backwards. 
 
You have to start at the base, and then work up to establish price. Don’t establish a price and then squeeze everything else down, including your employees, to maintain what you believe the market will tolerate. If you work the right way, you start at the building blocks of wages and salaries, and all your costs, and work your way up to arrive at a number that is real for your business. Now, you have the basis for a business with inspired staff and quality work, and at the end is a sales problem or challenge. That’s what you need to focus on, not squeezing the low guy, but figuring out how to present your business and your work in such a way that you can achieve sales.
 
Do you have a favourite mentor to recommend, or a question to suggest? Please write to editor@landscapetrades.com.