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Finley’s Tree and Landcare
Digitized Operational Processes Enable Exponential Growth
Finley’s Tree & Landcare, Inc is a family owned and operated business with over 45 years of experience in the Los Angeles and The South Bay areas. The company operates three primary service divisions: maintenance, which includes mowing, edging and pruning for commercial accounts like large HOAs or business facilities, tree trimming and removal, and a construction division.
With a strong reputation in its market, the Finley’s Tree and Landcare has grown exponentially in the past decade. The company has expanded from roughly 50+ employees in 2015 to 130+ employees today. Along with its growth in the labor force, Finley’s has also grown its portfolio of services offerings to include design, custom stone and wood working, tractor services and pool installations.
Paper-based Operational Processes Inhibited Future Business Growth
When Brandon Reitmeier joined Finley’s, the company employed roughly a 55-person team. Brandon’s role was to help expand the business. The business was at a point where it had scaled as much as possible with its existing paper-based processes. Future growth would require a fundamental shift away from paper – to digitize and streamline the company’s processes and workflows. “We needed to expand the business through the computer rather than through a pad of paper and pen,” said Brandon.
The first step was creating a database for containing information critical to the business operations. This information would then be made available for communications between Finley’s team members, Finley’s and its clients, and finally Finley’s and its vendors. “The more clearly and quickly we can make information available to our team, clients and vendors, the more quickly we can take action, and the more profitable we can be,” said Brandon.
From his previous role as a Project Engineer at Northrop Grumman, Brandon understood the importance of first understanding and defining the various business functions and process flows before beginning to build out a database. This meant working with the ownership team, supervisors and even field technicians to understand the current business and then consider how it can be improved upon. After identifying and documenting existing processes, they evaluated them. Were the processes effective and efficient? Were there opportunities to augment some processes to streamline the flow? Only then did they look at the entire end-to-end operation to determine how they could eliminate every piece of paper involved and shift it to a digital platform connected to the database.
“I signed up for free trials on every database platform out there. After trying four or five and being disappointed each time, I found Knack. I was very familiar with pivot tables and using Excel, and Knack’s user interface and drag-and-drop functions were similar,” said Brandon.
The familiarity of the interface meant that Brandon could build his database independently, without relying on anyone to make changes. “We need to be agile, but I knew my first attempt wasn’t going to be the final product. I didn’t want to be constricted by someone else’s timetable, availability, or fees,” said Brandon. “And the simplicity and straightforward approach of Knack’s interface – out of everything I’d seen and all the price points – Knack is just a smashing hit for us,” Brandon added.
After building the database application, Brandon walked all of Finley’s team members through every function of the database. He also created exercises to run through, ensuring that everyone felt confident opening the application and using it every day. “I wanted them to look at this and love it. My goal was to make everyone’s life easier, and it’s turned out to be nothing short of that. In fact, introducing the database in its mobile format has led some employees previously reluctant to ‘work with a computer’ to not only embrace the benefits of working digitally, but to seek further knowledge of the database functions and education with alternate software platforms such Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook.” said Brandon. This success has led to expanding the app, its functionality and the tasks it’s able to streamline for the business.
Automating Scheduling Workflows Generates More Time for High-Value Work
Before Knack, Finley’s Tree Care division scheduler would need to manually send an email to each client once a schedule date had been solidified. Thanks to the app, that task is now automated. When the scheduler changes the status code of a job from ‘approved’ to ‘scheduled’, the app automatically sends the client confirmation based on the scheduled parameters entered into the job’s record. “It’s one less thing the scheduler has to do each day.
Even though Finley’s now has a team of over 130 people, less than ten percent are office personnel handling all the entitie’s administrative matters. It’s a full workload, so the more our overall processes can be streamlined, and the repetitive tasks automated, the more time we can give back to our employees for value-added activities,” said Brandon. Following up with clients who have unpaid balances, tending to prospective clients, and having additional time to work with active clients has improved cash flow, the Finley’s bottom line and the customer experience.
Increasing Project Win Rates and Revenue by Optimizing Marketing Initiatives
“I was having the hardest time getting our project managers to remember to bring photos back to the office. I needed the photos to market our products and services,” said Brandon. He solved that challenge with Knack. Now, when a project is completed, the project manager can’t change the job-status code until they take a picture of the finished project and those photos are uploaded and stored in Knack.
Now, when project managers meet with new clients, they can show examples of other similar projects the company has completed. Whether it’s a pergola, a fireplace, or a pool, photos are coded in Knack by project type, making them easy to find and showcase. “Now the project manager can pull up photos on his iPad, filter for project type and bring up a variety of photos in seconds, in front of the customer,” said Brandon. Customers give feedback that very few, if any, other landscape construction companies are able to do that. “It separates us from our competition and gives us an edge,” said Brandon.
The value of building Finley’s database in Knack also shines when it comes to its email marketing initiatives. The database of customer contacts has grown to nearly 20,000. Brandon sends a quarterly newsletter and achieves a greater than 50% open rate. “It’s mind blowing to me that we can stay connected to our customers in that way and bring in additional business by storing their contact information and reaching out in a timely way. There’s no way we could have done that without Knack,” said Brandon.
Improving Accounts Receivable Processes Speeds Payment Receipt
Prior to Knack, accounts receivable information, and managing delinquent payments was tracked using a large binder that held all unpaid invoices. The invoices were arranged alphabetically, by account name. While the information was there, it was difficult and time consuming to see the longest outstanding invoices. It took 30 minutes to an hour to thumb through the binder in an effort to identify the list of most delinquent payments. As the company grew, this process would become even more difficult as the list of accounts expanded.
Getting all the account information into the Knack database enabled an entirely new timesaving process. Now, at the push of a button, a summary report of unpaid invoices is generated and sorted from most delinquent to most current. “That creates an instant quick-hit list for staff to run through each week. Our accounts receivable numbers shrank immediately,” said Brandon.
Digitizing Job Scheduling Drives Competitive Advantage
Before Knack, job schedules were posted on whiteboards. There was a whiteboard for each of the company’s geographical work zones. “If you had to switch times, you’d have to erase it and move others around. Or if someone accidentally brushed against the board, the information was gone,” said Brandon.
In Knack, all schedule information is stored in a digital calendar. It’s color coded, so each estimator has their own color and each work zone color coded as well. When a caller requests an estimate, the office staff person doesn’t have to get up from their desk. They can look at their computer screen and instantly see availability and slide people into the schedule.
It’s a significant business advantage. Under the old system of checking the white board and then calling the estimator to confirm availability, it often meant appointments were scheduled three or four days out. The slow response time gave other companies the opportunity to provide an estimate as well.
The new digital calendar system allows Finley’s to be more agile and lock in business before competitors have a chance to bid. The digital calendar gives real-time visibility, showing if an appointment is canceled or a window of time opens up on the estimator’s schedule. Sometimes an estimator can be scheduled the same day. It’s reduced the idle time that occurred when everything was kept on paper by the estimator, and increased the business win rate.
Data-Driven Business Insight Enables Continuous Improvement
The Knack application has allowed the company to aggregate over ten years of customer data. When all the company’s processes were paper-based, it was impossible to see the trends and patterns that would give meaningful insight into opportunities for improvement and growth. “Being able to mine this amount of information tells us where it’s best to spend our time, what markets to push into for construction services, and so many other things. It’s invaluable,” said Brandon.
Being able to mine this amount of information tells us where it’s best to spend our time, what markets to push into for construction services, and so many other things. It’s invaluable.Brandon Reitmeier, Finley’s Tree and Landcare
What’s Next for Finley’s Tree & Landcare and Knack?
From team members coming up with new ideas to Brandon spotting processes that could be streamlined, there is always work underway to improve the business operation and the user experience for Finley’s team members.
Currently, for legacy reasons, the company’s maintenance division isn’t integrated into Knack. “It’s so straightforward and billed at the same amount each month, it wasn’t an initial priority. But I want our maintenance field supervisors to be able to pull up all of our maintenance properties and contacts in Knack just the same as our Tree Care and Construction supervisors can. Similar to moving estimator appointments on a digital calendar, having our maintenance routes digitized will allow for a much simpler and straight forward process for modifying existing routes, comparing profitability of existing routes, and focusing on the highest margin accounts.” said Brandon.
It will streamline their workday and enable them to quickly see the accounts that ask for add-on jobs – from fixing sprinklers to replanting flower beds – they can focus on those accounts to drive additional revenue. “Maintenance supervisors will be able to pull up the top ten accounts who purchase extras. Then, if they have 30 minutes available, they can drive to one of those clients and make sure they’re keeping them happy,” said Brandon.
“Knack has been life changing for everyone here. We wouldn’t have been able to double our labor force in two years if we weren’t running the operation on the Knack application. There’s no possible way we ever could have done that,” said Brandon.