Turf Magazine - August, 2008

CENTRAL FEATURES

Promoting Professionalism

Precision Lawn Care stands out from the competition
By Patrick White
Photos Courtesy of Precision Lawn Care.
Precision Lawn Care co-owner, Angie Eichhorst, mows a customer’s lawn using one of the company’s four Dixie Chopper zero-turn mowers.

Beth Gaines and Angie Eichhorst, owners of Precision Lawn Care in Iowa City, Iowa, want their company to stand out from the competition. Not because they are women working in a male-dominated industry, but because they are committed to quality, and to running a professional business.

“This is a business where customers tend to turn over lawn care companies, but our retention rate is very high,” says Eichhorst. “If we lose a customer, it’s usually because they’ve moved away.”

Gaines (with Eichhorst as a silent partner) started the business in 2001 after gaining some experience in the industry. “When I was in school at the University of Iowa, I worked a summer job with a local lawn care company,” she recalls. Realizing she would have an opportunity for greater income running her own company, she started Precision Lawn Care (www.precisionlawns.com). “I didn’t know anything about the business, I just knew the physical labor end of it,” she admits. Fortunately, Eichhorst, who joined Precision Lawn Care full time in 2003, has a master’s degree in business administration and could focus on that important end of the operation.

“The first thing I did was place a small classified ad in the local newspaper and that drummed up about 10 customers,” says Gaines. In the years that followed, Eichhorst adds, “We knew we needed to do a little bit of advertising, so we put ads in the Yellow Pages. We also have the phone number prominently on our trucks.” Since that time, she says, word-of-mouth marketing has been the most important factor in the company’s growth in the community of fewer than 100,000 residents (including students at Iowa University).

Precision Lawn Care has grown steadily since its inception, expanding its client base an average of approximately 25 percent per year. “It’s been a good progression,” says Eichhorst. “We had some numbers in mind that we wanted to achieve, and we’ve been fortunate that we’ve been able to do that. Given that we try to do very high-quality work, the growth doesn’t surprise me, though.”

“Given Angie’s business background, it’s very important to her to watch the numbers and chart our growth,” adds Gaines. “I’m more of a ‘go get it’ kind of person, and I just keep trying to get bigger and bigger.”

Currently, the company provides mowing, weed control and fertilization services to about 300 customers weekly. The service area has been broken into four regions to improve scheduling efficiencies and minimize driving times and distances.  There are six employees (in addition to Gaines and Eichhorst), five of whom work with the owners in the field and one who runs the office operations.

In most cases, the mowing teams work as two-person crews. “We like that arrangement a lot, although on some of our larger jobs we will have two different crews meet up,” Eichhorst explains. She runs the mowing operations, while Gaines works full-time on weed control and fertilization. “We do five applications on most customers’ lawns every year, so as soon as I finish with one round of applications, I immediately start on the next round,” Gaines explains.

The existing customer base is about 70 percent residential; the remainder of the accounts are commercial, including condominium associations. Both offer the opportunity to build rapport and spread the Precision Lawn Care name, says Gaines. “I think all of our employees enjoy meeting and talking with homeowners when we’re visiting their properties, and on commercial jobs, our trucks and employees are seen by a lot of people. So, both help to build word-of-mouth about the company.”

During the busy season, mowing is usually performed six days a week. “The schedule is pretty tight. Any rain days typically push us into the weekend,” says Gaines. “It’s not something we ideally want to do, but that’s sometimes what we need. We don’t like to be on customers’ lawns on the weekends, but most of them are very understanding.”

This season, rain has been particularly problematic as Iowa experienced storm after storm after storm. In fact, Precision Lawn Care’s 3,000-square-foot shop with overhead doors was flooded. “We had about 3 feet of water in the building,” says Gaines. “Fortunately, we were able to pack all of the equipment and inventory up and get it out before the area was evacuated.” The only casualties were some basic shelves inside and a large pile of bulk mulch outdoors.

Out in the field, Co-owner Beth Gaines focuses on services such as weed control, fertilizing and aerating.

As women working in the almost exclusively male lawn care profession, both Gaines and Eichhorst say they have been well received by the local community. “I think sometimes it surprises people, especially when we first started the business,” says Eichhorst. “Most people know us now, and it’s been a positive experience.” Employees, as well, have been respectful of their roles. “We work just as hard, if not harder, than they do to set the standard,” she adds. Precision Lawn Care is also helping to introduce more women to the lawn care business: three of the company’s six employees are female.

Precision Lawn Care uses matching silver F-150s and company uniforms to present a professional image.
 
A 3,000-square-foot shop helps the company store and maintain its fleet of equipment.

Precision Lawn Care runs Dixie Chopper zero-turn mowers, as well as Toro walk-behind units and Lawn Boy push mowers for small, tight turf areas. The company uses Echo two-cycle trimmers, hedge clippers, blowers, etc. Fertilization and weed control services are provided using a 200-gallon, truck-mounted sprayer, a PermaGreen ride-on spreader/sprayer from Lesco (now John Deere Landscapes) and Echo backpack sprayers.

All equipment is purchased rather than leased because the intention is to maintain and keep it as long as possible. “We haven’t really turned over any equipment,” says Gaines. “I self-taught myself how to maintain it after learning very quickly that it can take a long time to get your equipment back when you drop it off for servicing. I’ve found that doing as much maintenance as possible myself has saved money and downtime. We have four Dixie Choppers, including the first one I purchased when starting the business in 2001, and they all still run great.”

Precision Lawn Care uses QuickBooks for billing. “We send invoices monthly, and give customers 30 days to turn payment around. We really try to stay on top of that, and that’s one of the main tasks for our employee in the office,” explains Eichhorst. On a few occasions, customers have paid via credit card using PayPal, but she says the company hasn’t opted to offer credit card payments because it’s not something that customers have voiced interest in.

For Precision Lawn Care, everything is about serving the needs of the customers in a professional manner. Employees arrive on job sites in matching Ford F-150s, all silver with identical logos. “We also have a very strict dress code for employees. Everyone wears the company uniform with our logo,” says Gaines, who feels that presenting a professional image is an important first step in doing the job right.

“We’ve instilled in our employees to take pride in what they’re doing,” adds Eichhorst. “Our customers are paying for a service, and our work should look more than good, it should look excellent.”

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who is always on the lookout for interesting and unusual stories.