Here is a great story on how a lawn care business owner got burnt out then took a break. When he finally got back into the game, he realized how much he had learned over the years and those lessons really helped him get his business going much faster the second time around. He wrote on the Gopher Lawn Care Business Forum “I did Residential lawn care from 1982 to 1995 then did strictly commercial until 2004, when I gave the business to a family member. I have been doing real estate for the last bunch of years and I’m finally fed up with that! I plan on starting a new commercial maintenance business this spring. I just went down and filed for a corporation last week and will have to get my pesticide applicators license re-done.
I initially started out by myself with a mower and a blower in the back of an old station wagon. I built my business up to where I had one crew with 2 guys helping me. I was always trying to build up to the point of not having to do the daily mowing myself but instead have my crew do it. The problem was the residential customers wanted to see me there and not the crew. I would listen to their problems/ requests and take care of them right away.
The customers knew I cared and would go the extra mile to make their yard look special. A hired crew just isn’t the same as the owner when dealing with residential customers. So as I tried to remove myself from the day to day mowings, some of my residential customers quit. At that point, I decided I would experiment more with commercial customers. As I focused my marketing on them, I picked up more commercial jobs. After a while I decided to get out of servicing residential customers completely and gave the rest of my residential customers to a guy who was just starting out. That allowed me to turn all of my attention to commercial clients.
But then I learned their was a down side to commercial lawn care customers as well. With them I found that I spent most of my time on the phone with a manager or property manager or owner. They are not at the site usually so phone communications had to be done often. The crew had very little interaction with the customer or the customer’s tenant.
After all that my advice is if you want to work it yourself and maybe hire a helper or two someday, do residential. If your goal is to build up to a point where you mostly work out of the office and have a crew or two then do commercial.
Residential customers are much more satisfying if you like to do gardening and take pride in your work and do not want too much stress. While commercial customers are much more business like and much more stressful with their business operations, payment terms, etc. You can make more money with them though.
For a while I felt like, I had it made. My son in law was running the day to day business with the crew and I was doing the office work. I was personally making $3,000 to $4,000 a month after paying everything. But something happened. Maybe I got bored but what ever it was, I basically got side tracked. I turned my attention to getting my real estate license and began making more money doing real estate.
So as time went on the income from landscaping went down but the income, and demand for my time, from real estate went way up. I really didn’t sell my lawn care business but I more gave it to my son in law and I did real estate full time. That was working great until a couple of years ago when the market came to a stop (and so did my income). My son in law who is a great guy, seemed to get tired of running the lawn care business and he quit doing it. Next he went to work for the county. He really appreciated the steady checks and benefits!
So now here I am, starting from scratch yet again. I am confident that even in this slow economy I can pick up some commercial acounts and be doing good in 6 months or so. I’ll start out doing all the work myself and hire as needed but I think i’m going to stay at one crew with me running it. There is much less stress that way.
Besides the mowing, what I of the secrets I do to land more bids is to offer commercial properties, building maintenance services like graffitti removal, steam cleaning, and roof cleaning. Flat commercial roofs need their drains cleaned and inspected during winter. One plastic bag can cause a drain to plug and water to build up. I also offer curb painting, and inspections.
Looking back now I think I learned a lot. My business slowed down because I stopped working it. I stopped trying to get new jobs, stopped calling existing customers just to see if they needed something. Stopped driving by the job to check the work, etc. I got pretty burned out! Once I got on the idea of gettitng my real estate license, I put the landscaping on the back burner and focused my attention on the new career of real estate. The lesson here is you can do whatever you want to in life, just be sure what your leaving isn’t better than what your switching to! In my defence, back when I got my real estate license, the real estate market was HOT and I made some serious $$$. It’s too bad that lasted for only 2 years and then I lost ALL that I made.
Why did I succeed with my lawn care business when my son in law couldn’t. First of all I did residential lawn service by myself for about 10 years before I started seriously doing commercial. So I had experience. That experience gives confidence when your talking to an owner or store manager. You simply can’t get that out of a book. Back when I started, I became a Certified Master Gardner through my state university. It gave me a good base education. I also took several landscaping and marketing courses thru the local community college. The marketing classes had the most impact on my success.
In the end though, I guess you could say I had that entrepreneurial spirit. My son in law did not have the entrepreneur drive that I did. He was a real good worker but didn’t have a clue on how to run a business and management clients.
For you new guys out there: I’d advise to start small and grow as you learn. When I first started out, I could not have walked up to a Walmart regional manager and convinced him to let me bid and ultimately win the bid, without the experience I received from years of practice.