Turf Magazine - February, 2009
Staying Ahead of the Competition
Buckeye EcoCare continues to grow by adding services
|Photos Courtesy of Buckeye Ecocare.
|Hydroseeding on the 35-acre hospital site.
rocket science,” says Mark Grunkemeyer, owner and president of
Buckeye EcoCare. “Ask people what they want, then give it to them on
schedule and honestly at a competitive price, and you will grow your
business,” he says.
He’s proved that point throughout the time the
Centerville-based company has been serving Dayton and the Miami Valley area
of Ohio. They now have approximately 7,000 clients, servicing 3,500 acres
of commercial properties and 3,100 acres of residential properties.
Grunkemeyer started the business in 1984, when the
national lawn service company he had been working for was about to be sold.
Armed with experience, and an associate degree in turfgrass management from
The Ohio State University, he had a game plan.
He launched the business as Buckeye Custom Lawn Care,
conducting a soil sample for each client and personally maintaining the
property based on those results. By the late ’80s he’d grown
the company to a size that required hiring additional personnel.
|Smiling faces show the heart behind the Project EverGreen lawn makeover, which served the double role of
thanking a service man and his family and giving back to the community.
When the first environmental activist scare occurred
in the early ’90s, he changed the company name to Buckeye EcoCare. “I
realized how important it was to not only operate an environmentally
friendly company following integrated pest management [IPM] procedures, but
also to deliver our message to the public. We developed a statement that
explains what EcoCare stands for, and incorporate it in our literature and
post it on our Web site,” he says.
Employees make the difference
In successful service companies, the employees buy
into the mission and work to ensure they deliver what it promises.
Grunkemeyer concentrates on establishing that level of staff
accountability. The first step is hiring responsible people.
He says, “Finding good personnel is one of our
industry’s major challenges. Every year we send a letter to all the
regional two and four-year colleges offering turfgrass programs, reminding
them that we are seeking energetic, young graduates who are willing to work
in our environment. We want good people from any age or ethnic group that
are seeking a career, not just looking for a job.”
New employees start on the commercial properties,
working as lawn technicians under the supervision of experienced crew
leaders. “After they’ve worked six months to a year in that
position, we can determine if they’re the right fit. We assess their
work ethic, attention to detail, how they react to added responsibilities
and how well they work with people. We encourage them to keep growing
professionally, and the good ones respond. Over 80 percent of our lawn
technicians are licensed,” Grunkemeyer says.
Lawn technicians that pass the assessment evolve to
route manager positions. Once they are trained and licensed, they are
assigned to a specific geographic area and become responsible for every
aspect of that route, including inspecting the properties, making the
applications and completing the paperwork, communicating with their
clients, handling the sales, responding to the callbacks, and anything else
needed to “take ownership” of their route.
Grunkemeyer says, “We provide them with a fully
equipped truck, technical and clerical support and all the other resources
required to do the job. Eventually, they become responsible for the
revenues with financial incentives for them if they grow their route every
The company holds weekly staff meetings to inform
technicians and route managers on programs or product updates, and alert
them on what to watch for.
|A route manager discusses a lawn issue
with one of his clients.
Grunkemeyer says, “The big, national companies
probably do a better job of flinging fertilizer than we do, but we do a
better job of property assessment and looking out for our clients.
Following our IPM program, about four years ago our personnel detected a
change in chinch bug activity. The pests were attacking irrigated Kentucky
bluegrass lawns rather than drought-affected turf, with one generation of
chinch bugs appearing in late June and a second in late August. We changed
our program, moving the typical summer insect control application to a late
spring and early summer application, as always, based on IPM observations.
That dramatically reduced our insect callbacks.”
The business side
Buckeye EcoCare has 30 people on staff from early
spring into December, and 10 to 12 of those are year-round employees. Five
or six of the full-time employees are on the outside maintenance staff,
working on trucks during the winter months. The others are on inside
maintenance, handling the computer work, getting out the annual renewal
letters, and calling unsold leads.
Grunkemeyer has used the Real Green Systems computer
software program since that company came on the market. He says, “Our
office staff makes all the computer entries. During the season, the route
managers turn in hard paper copies of the invoices left with their clients,
which include all the details of the applications, and those are entered by
the clerical staff.”
The company offers prepayment discounts to their
residential clients, which generated about a 30 percent response in 2008.
Route managers come in one day a week during the winter to call their
clients, thank them for their business and ask for the renewal. If the
clients have prepaid, they call with a thank you and let them know they
look forward to working with them again in the spring.
The current lawn care program for residential clients
offers a maintenance level with five visits per year, a
“groundskeeper” level with six visits per year, and a
“premium” level with nine visits a year. The maintenance level
includes five timed-release fertilizer applications, spring preemergence
crabgrass control, two applications of broadleaf weed control and grub
protection. The groundskeeper level adds core aeration in either the spring
or fall, and the premium level covers all that plus monthly growing season
checkups and preventive disease management. They also offer three
earth-friendly programs labeled green, greener and greenest.
|Attention to detail is evident on this property, which is under the Buckeye EcoCare
premium lawn care program.
||The landscaping and meticulous lawn add value to this home.
Grunkemeyer says, “We use a combination of
granular and liquid products if the customer has no preference. All of our
lawn care accounts are serviced by a single operator, primarily our route
managers. Their trucks are set up with dry boxes that can hold dry
fertilizer and combination products. A walk-behind broadcast spreader is
mounted on hooks on the back of the trucks. Each truck has a 600-gallon
capacity sprayer with auxiliary pumps, hose and hose reel. About 80 percent
of the tanks are split into one 400 and one 200-gallon tank, providing the
option of an additional application on one trip, a really nice tool for the
The tree and shrub program was added 13 years ago, and
two trucks and operators are devoted to that service. “It accounts
for approximately 10 percent of our overall business, with about 90 percent
residential clients. It’s chemical maintenance based on strict IPM
procedures with only affected areas treated, even with the dormant oil
applications. We deep-root fertilize, treating only plant materials in the
zero to 3-year-old range,” Grunkemeyer says.
An interior and exterior pest control program was
introduced four years ago, and at this point is a single route with one
person servicing the entire city.
The seeding and sodding service has gradually evolved
over the last 15 years. Grunkemeyer had observed the performance of tall
fescue lawns compared to bluegrass lawns during the region’s hot
summers, and started aerating and overseeding the bluegrasses with
turf-type tall fescues. Next, he bought a slit seeder for hand-slice
seeding, then, when drought conditions hit and more lawns needed major
repair, he purchased a tractor and tractor-driven slit-seeding machine.
Grunkemeyer also expanded the business to handle lawn
installations. He says, “As some of our clients moved from an old
subdivision to a new area, we’ve recommend having their lawn
professional put in their lawn rather than a builder or developer. That
expanded the lawn installation business. We don’t try to compete with
the sod suppliers, using sod primarily in the high-traffic or
high-visibility segments of the site in conjunction with the slit seeding.
Green Velvet Sod Farms is both our sod and seed supplier. We completed our
largest seeding project last year, a 35-acre hospital property that took a
combination of sodding and hydroseeding.”
Buckeye EcoCare had a strong 2008 season, with only
the seed and sod installations down from the previous year. The tree and
shrub and pest control services were flat. However, residential business
showed 9 percent growth and commercial business 25 percent. “Most of
that double-digit growth came in April or May. It was so rapid our crews
were working straight through just to keep up. While we love new business,
I’d prefer a more manageable rate of 10 percent net growth each
year,” Grunkemeyer says.
In 2009, he is devoting more marketing and advertising
dollars to stimulate growth in the lawn care segment of the business.
“When I first started this company 25 years ago, a wise person told
me, ‘If you’re standing still, all your competition is passing
you.’ I’m determined to never let that happen.”
Grunkemeyer believes in giving back to the industry
and the community. In December 2008, he completed his second term on the
board of directors of the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation (OTF). He was
instrumental in developing OTF’s Statewide Turfgrass Economic Impact
Survey, which showed an impact of $4.2 billion, with more maintained acres
of turfgrass than statewide soybean production.
In June, Grunkemeyer and staff members teamed with
Green Velvet Sod Farms on a Project EverGreen Green Care for Troops
project. They replaced a chinch bug-riddled lawn with a combination of seed
and sod, donating all materials and labor. The recipient was Steve Stolly,
a former Air Force pilot and current reservist. He had been repeatedly
deployed over the last several years. Grunkemeyer says, “It was
rewarding for all of us to play a role in thanking him for his service to
Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a
communications and market research firm in Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has
been involved in the green industry for over 40 years.