Lessons I learned from a $15 million dollar a year lawn care business.

Have you ever wonder what secrets the big lawn care business owners know that you don’t? Maybe from time to time you wished you could sit down and talk with such business owners and pick their brains for a little while? Well we may not have talked to the owner of such a large company, but we have talked with an employee that worked for one. He shared quite a few business lessons that were learned over many years. This information should help you get a jump on your business growth and avoid pitfalls this company got caught up in.

He wrote on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum “a few years back, before I started my lawn care business, I worked for a nice sized lawn care company. At his peak, the owner topped out at revenue of $15 million a year. There are many lawn care companies out there that are bigger than him. My current lawn care business is not even close to the levels he reached, but to me this is proof there is money to be had in the lawn care industry if you play your cards right.

My previous boss made it big because he wasn’t afraid to spend and share his money. He paid folks to go around and bid on jobs. He had the cash and wasn’t afraid to buy out other competitors when it made sense or when they had something he didn’t have, like a fertilizer spray license. When he went around town to bid jobs, he would kiss everyone’s butt, being super nice and congenial. He made everyone feel like they were his best friend. He also knew how and when to keep his over head costs down.

I think for the most part, he knew his costs and spent the right amount of money to get the work he wanted. In all reality, his service really wasn’t any better than his competitor’s. In a lot of cases I found that certain services really could use improvement. But he had a knack for picking up 2 customers for every one he would lose, so when you can do that, you still grow.

As he grew his business, I noticed he began to slack. He had a very good business mind, but once his interest waned and he stepped back from the day to day operations, the quality went out the window. At a certain point, it was all about the bottom line. His supervisors tried to meet his financial objectives by cutting cost, using any means possible. As he became even more detached from the weekly operations, he stopped knowing what was really going on.

For example I can remember a supervisor decided to save money, he would send 3-4 guy’s out for a contract that needed 6 men. When that specific commercial contract came up for renewal, they lost the bid and lost over half a million dollars. All because the attention to detail just couldn’t be done with half the guy’s needed.

My boss used to say to me, there are only 3 things that make a business successful.

1) Time: Being the right person at the right time. I’ve seen others not market at all but they were good so over time they built a solid business, through word of mouth. That’s time.

2) Luck: I’ve seen guy’s get rich and not know a thing. That’s luck.

3) Money. I’ve seen lawn care business owners get started quickly by going out and buying a decent mower and then put out 75,000 flyers. That’s money.

He would say, the first thing you need to ask yourself is, are you a landscaper or a lawn boy? Do you know what your doing? Any yahoo can run a mower. Any 12 year old can cut grass. But the key to success is to be a pro, convey that you are a pro, and do pro work.

How much money have you put into your door hangers or flyers? How many have you put out? How much hussle have you really applied.

Near the end of my time with this company, I watched the business slide downhill more. A foreman that had been there for over 5 years was only making $9 hr. Now I don’t think every guy needs to make more money, but when a guy has proven to have your company’s best interest in mind, you want to hold onto them. Money is one part of the equation on how you hold onto them. Another part is respect. Saying things like good morning, or thanks for doing such a great job, maybe even, let me buy the crew lunch for doing so well this month, would have benefited the company tremendously. Our employee turn over rate increased over time and that was due mostly because employees didn’t feel respected enough. More money would have helped for a short time, but respect and praise, I felt was even more important.

To be successful you have to fire under productive guys and praise the productive ones. If you have a really productive crew, or one that gets compliments from the clients, you have to praise them and give them a bonus. If you had a more profitable year than last years, again, do the same. Include your employees in your business discussions. Ask them what they think of this or that. Stroke their ego’s. All employees need that from time to time.

I know I feel awsome when a client tells me I am doing a great job. Another thing, never complain in the morning. Never get on a guy’s case before the jobs done. If a guy needs a talking to, do it before they go home not before they start work.

More things you can do to improve your business is to have monthly lunch meetings with your foremen and best guys. This will keep you and them on a more personal level and make sure every one is on the same page. Have one clean up crew that is trained in detail so when a comlaint comes in, they can hit the place hard and make every one happy. Have the foremen check in with property managers when they get to¬† the commercial sites and before they leave. This keeps your company in their face and gives them 2 times a visit for any issues to be brought to light for the next week’s service. Also, you need to personally supervise your foremen. Time permitting, make sure each week of the month, 1 lawn route gets a drive through and the managment gets a talking to. This make sure every thing is top notch and puts you as the owner in a friendship position with management.

Your employees are out there making you money. You can be the best salesman that ever existed, but to succeed, you need your staff out there following up and keeping the work and you looking great.”

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