Interview with a Plant Advocate: Mike Senneff, Texas
Mike Senneff serves as Treasurer of Green Plants for Green Buildings, a 501c3 that communicates the aesthetic, environmental, productivity and health benefits of plants in the built environment. He was inducted into the PIA Hall of Fame in 2011.
What came first, your love of growing plants or growing a business?
Plants. I started growing and propagating plants at home when I was in was in my teens. After high school I spent 8 months in Hawaii surfing and developing a lifelong appreciation for tropical plants and the environment they create.
Back in California, I went to work for Rancho Verde, a tropical plant nursery in Olivenhain, CA and learned some things about nursery production. Realizing that the horticulture business was a place I wanted to “plant” myself for a while, I formalized my education with a BS degree in Ornamental Horticulture from CalPoly, San Luis Obispo.
My love for growing a business is an outcome of the way I was raised. My father, who had a law practice, is also a successful entrepreneur. My brothers and I grew up in an environment where discussions about business models were always in the background.
When you created your company what did you envision it to be and how does that compare to what it is today?
That was a long time ago…32 years. I thought it would be more of a boutique business in a local market and I would be highly involved in horticultural operations. With time came growth. More than I would have wildly expected. Today Plant Interscapes provide horticultural services in seven Texan geographic markets serving over 2000 customer accounts. I find myself focusing on people and business processes to improve our overall customer experience rather than honed into horticultural practices.
What did the first 10 years in business tell you about yourself?
I realized I had a passion to grow a business. It was not just executing on my plant knowledge. I became much more aware of the financial aspects of building a company. There is a concept explained by Michael Gerber who wrote the e-myth. You are either a technician, manager or entrepreneur. I gravitated towards being an entrepreneur.
How do you start your day?
The first thing I do is read a scripture of the day as soon as I wake up. I get them pushed to me via K-Love Radio and YouVersion, an online bible app. I meditate on those, say a prayer of thankfulness and get started. It starts with setting my daily #1 priority to accomplish along with several other secondary priorities. I check in with my executive team for a daily 10 minute huddle. They report on what is new as well as their priorities for the day. If anyone needs anything beyond that I will take the one-to-one conversation offline so that the others can move on with their activities.
If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?
Not much different than what I’ve done. I’m blessed to have built a tremendously successful company with thanks to so many dedicated team members. I want to continually focus on the big picture of who we are—not just coming to work each day, but living out our purpose. For us at Plant Interscapes, that purpose is to Improve Life and Business by Enhancing Environments. We continually look at our staff and responsibilities towards them. How can we provide resources to enhance their livelihood through fair compensation and great benefits? Some of those are monetary such as Health Insurance, 401K and PTO. Other benefits include company chaplains and resources through RightNow Media.
If you could go back in time and share some advice with your younger self, what would that advice be?
Do a better job separating work from home life. As an entrepreneur, work and home conversations tend to blend. I would try to more deliberately stop the dinner business talk and engage more in family conversation. It takes a little discipline and you have to be willing to NOT have the conversation. I’ve also noticed that in general, the younger generation is a little better at setting business talk aside when the time comes to enjoy personal time.
As a GPGB Registered Trainer, what have you learned from being in a room full of architects and talking to them about plant benefits?
I’ve learned they are eager to learn. They appreciate having outside resources speak about plant benefits specifically. I also realized many architects are analytical and do not open up readily in conversation. Seems they are calculating everything that is being presented and hold their thoughts tight.
Can you say a little more about this? What is the best way you have found to get them to open up and engage with you?
There are some tried and true practices for getting agreement. Architects appreciate the plant benefits data in our presentations but to get emotional agreement, it is important that I do my homework before I arrive and when I talk to them, I make statements that I know they agree with, and preface those statements with “Would you agree that…” and I nod my head in agreement as I make these statements. I invite them to engage in conversation.
What are you passionate about?
Improving the life experience for those that benefit from our horticultural and holiday décor services. I enjoy building a business that is sustainable and provides opportunity to the stakeholders (team members) that we’ve chosen to be part of our team, and where they have chosen Plant Interscapes to be an organization where they can develop their careers. We have a 5-step career path, the final step being certification by National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP, formerly PLANET). This is a certification that they have earned as an individual and should they choose to leave Plant Interscapes, it stays with them as long as they continue to invest in maintaining it.
What is it that makes your heart sing?
Growing the business. I get excited when we bring new customers on board, especially in competitive situations. I really am pleased when we bring a regional customer on board who has multiple service sites. We make it easy for them to do business with us because they are dealing with a single vendor. It’s very efficient for us to have a single conversation and win covering many locations.
What’s the most fun you’ve had with plants lately?
Probably planting new exterior in-ground and containerized plants at my wife Kim’s and my new lake house. We bought several Asian containers and sub-irrigated them. We also found older plants in our greenhouse and incorporated them into the landscape. The result is outstanding! If I could only keep them moist enough in our Texas heat between our weekend visits.
Most valued book on your bookshelf?
Too many! As I mentioned earlier the e-myth is outstanding. I heard the author Michael Gerber speak in person at an ALCA event and he was incredible! I also like SPIN Selling, Hyper Sales Growth and the classic, Scaling UP by Verne Harnish.
What is your favorite software program or app and why?
Mobile field applications for sure. We have a new app that we are utilizing to capture technician work hours and send them directly to our payroll system. We plan to integrate that to contract job costing in the future. We are beta testing an app that allows us to generate replacement plant workorders from the field providing faster installs and a shorter cycle time.
We’ve all heard the saying “you can’t manage what you don’t measure” , the principle being that management success depends a great deal on what you are measuring. What do you measure that may surprise us and which you feel contributes to your company’s success?
We measure a lot. Top of the list in operations is labor gross margin and replacement gross margin. What revenue is received for each against their direct costs? In sales, we measure number of presentations per week, average contact size and closing ratio. Number of days in the sales cycle is crucial. Administrative measures include accounts receivable past 60 days. Some of our most important measures are customer care calls exceeding 7 days, and our Net Promoter Score survey results, which we measure every 100 days using a 3rd party survey company.
How do you involve your staff when an important company strategy decision needs to be made?
We have off-site strategic planning meetings every 90 days. We bring in our top leadership team including CEO, CFO, President, VP of Sales, VP of Operations, Business Development and Holiday Coordinator. It’s always facilitated and the outcome involves annual and quarterly priorities to move the company forward to our common goals.
Where do you see the interiorscape industry going in the future?
There is a nice emphasis on healthy workplaces. Plants play an integral role in the biophilia requirements of the built environment. I think we will continue to blend our services to include plants in the outdoor spaces as well. Not the extensive landscape, more in the detailed urban spaces which are underserviced by the larger landscape maintenance contractors.
How do you manage the balance between work and personal life?
Stop work! Make a conscious decision that at 5:00, 5:30 or 6:00 whatever is right for you, stop. If you can’t get it done during work hours then you need to look at your overall effectiveness and improve that. Sure, there are special projects that extend beyond these general stops, and there are occasional big project deadlines. But those should be the exception. We need to stop and focus elsewhere to recharge our batteries to be ready for the next day.
What do you think the interiorscape industry will look like in 10 years?
That is a real crystal ball question! I would hope the focus on Biophilia continues and plants are recognized to be an integral part of the healthy built environment. The hospitality industry will always recognize plants as part of the ambiance and a component to a “sense of arrival” for their guests. In the office environment, we need to continue to show how plants not only look great and have an aesthetic appeal, but also provide a strong return on investment providing stress reducing benefits and contribute to productivity improvement for employees.
What’s your superpower?
Jesus Christ! I hope to have a healthy perspective in setting my mind on the things above, not only on the things that are on earth.
What makes your business unique?
We’ve worked on this a lot. Every company needs to know what sets them apart from the competition. How do you answer the question of “Why should I do business with you?” For us, at the moment, it’s this:
- We’re the only horticultural services company serving all major cities in Texas
- We have a 90% customer retention rate over the past 30 years
- Of the top 10 hotel chains in Texas, Plant Interscapes services 100% of them
- We’re the only company guaranteeing 1 hour response and a representative on-site within 24 hours
How should a plant advocacy organization like GPGB go about creating an awareness of plant benefits in the minds of CEOs and CFOs?
This is the most important question. If C-level executives are going to entertain the use of plants, it’s not going to be because they look nice. It’s going to be because they provide value to their business. And more value than the money spent on the acquisition of plants and services. This value may be in marketing and differentiation of their business to separate them from the competition, or it may be in the benefits plant provide to their workforce.
What professional business resources do you use to help you run your company? (For example, business coaches, industry networking groups, etc.)
We realize we need to look outside our industry for business coaching. Business is business and the challenges faced by us in the interiorscape field are similar to others in unrelated industries. I am a member of Vistage, a CEO peer group with incredible facilitators and speakers. Others in our organization are members of C12, a similar CEO roundtable that emphasizes building great businesses with a greater purpose. We strategically plan our future with quarterly off-site meetings facilitated by an outside organization.
Interview with a plant advocate as told by Mary Golden.
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