The company uses the color orange, reflecting Florida's nickname and also the equipment company Stihl, as a distinctive part of its brand.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF CITRUS PARK LAWN CARE.
Citrus Park Lawn Care
Owner: Denis Perry
Headquarters: Tampa, Fla.
Markets: Hillsborough County and portions of Pasco County
Services: Lawn care maintenance, design and installation, tree trimming, property cleanup, mulch and stone installation, sprinkler service and repair, and pressure cleaning driveways and sidewalks
Employees: 12 to 14 in summer; seven to eight in winter.
What was a setback for so many businesses in the last several years - the recession - was an opportunity for Denis Perry, owner of Citrus Park Lawn Care in Tampa, Fla. Employed as a regional manager job with a building supply company, Perry was making good money and traveling extensively. But when the bottom fell out in the housing market in Florida, so, too, did his job.
"I took a year to try to find another career in that industry because I was in it so long. I couldn't find anything in it. All of my competitors were downsizing," notes Perry. "So, I took the money I saved and decided to start my own business and do something I love and something that nobody can take away from me or pull the rug out from me ever again. It's going to be mine. I did some research and I fell back into lawn care and landscaping," he says.
Mowing lawns wasn't new to him; he'd been doing it since he was 8 years old to earn money for soda and bubble gum. In 2006, he started his own lawn maintenance company. "I had the money to do it right and it just took off," he says. "It's continuing to grow like crazy daily."
Filling a market void
His first order of business was to determine what services his business would offer.
"Originally, I was getting a lot of customers who would tell me that they were asking their lawn guy for things to be done, but the lawn guys would say they don't do that. I didn't want to be that type of a person. If I had a customer, I wanted to say, 'Yes, I can do whatever you want,'" Perry says.
He decided to offer a full range of services based on market demand. "I wanted to be a full-service company that would trim trees if they needed trimming. If you need some sod, we can do it. If you want landscaping mulch, we can do it. Plus, we can take care of everything on a weekly maintenance program. If you need irrigation fixed, we can do it. We even do pressure washing for our customers in the winter months, washing their driveways and sidewalks," he continues.
Citrus Park Lawn Care provides lawn maintenance, hedge trimming, bed maintenance, weed control, landscape design and installation, palm tree and tree trimming, property clean-up, leaf removal, mulch and stone installation, sprinkler service and repair, pressure cleaning driveways and sidewalks. The company's service area is primarily in Hillsborough County on Florida's west coast, and the city of Odessa in Pasco County. Perry tries to keep a tight ring around the service area to control expenses.
Citrus Park Lawn Care endeavors to provide a manicured look to its clients' lawns and landscaping. To achieve that, the company's approach is providing appropriate mowing and maintenance, proper set-up of a watering schedule and coverage, fertilization, bug control and weed control. Mower blades are changed often to ensure sharp blades for good cuts. The company's mowers use a mulching system to provide clients' lawns with the natural fertilizer of their own turf's clippings. Citrus Park Lawn Care cuts lawns at 4 inches to provide a deep root system, and lawns are cut in a different direction every week to eliminate ruts and a visible wear pattern.
Its full-serve annual program is based on 45 service days per client - weekly service from April through November and bi-weekly service from December to March. Customers are offered a 12-month payment plan to level annual costs.
A basic program includes mowing, trimming, edging, and blowing of the driveways, front door area and street. The premiere program includes all of those services, plus hedge trimming, cleanup and hauling away of all yard debris and weed control by pulling them and spraying them in beds, the driveway and sidewalk cracks.
Denis Perry didn't want to say no to his customers, so his company offers a full range of services.
Listening to customers
Citrus Park Lawn Care employs 12 to 14 in the summer months and seven or eight in the winter months. Perry makes it a point to hire experienced employees who can speak English, based on feedback he got from customers.
"That was a big thing that I ran into often back in the beginning was a lot of people would say they couldn't communicate with their lawn guy. They would tell him to trim the ligustrum and he'd look at them and shake his head and didn't know what they were talking about and didn't do it. Customers would have a hard time communicating with the crews because no one on their property spoke English.
"We have a good group of guys who have been in the business a long time. I want someone who has a passion for it. It's hot and it's hard work, but you have to care about what you're doing and the property you're working on and you want to make the customer happy," he says.
"We're all about image and character and professionalism. You can see that by our trucks rolling around town. All of our trucks are washed, our trailers are clean and our mowers are clean. The guys are in uniform: we all wear the same khaki shorts, khaki pants, orange shirts, khaki socks, orange hat and the same sunglasses. It's image and professionalism."
Citrus Park Lawn Care uses Wright Stander and Exmark mowers, as well as Stihl equipment. While the predominance of orange in his company's branding represents the state of Florida (citrus) and also is a stand-out for safety, what triggered the use of orange as the company's signature color is to color-coordinate with the orange Stihl equipment.
Beyond the orange uniforms and equipment, the website is featured in orange, which is the main focal point on all of the trucks and trailers, the signs, business cards and brochures. The company's five trucks all look the same and are signed the same. "Everything is focused on orange," Perry points out. "I even have an orange Jeep Wrangler."
Citrus Park Lawn Care's clients are 95 percent residential, focusing on high-end properties.
"It's just customer service," he says. "If they want something done, they ask and we get it done. We do more than we say we're going to do. We don't want to give anyone a reason to see anything that needs to be done because if we see it, we'd better be taking care of it."
Perry's employees know that if they see what he describes as "an eyesore," they're expected to take care of it. "It could be something brown, dead or yellow. It could be hanging and it doesn't look like it belongs there. You better trim it, you better pick it up. You may not need to take care of the whole hedge, but take care of the eyesores that are sticking out," says Perry.
"When people come home from work, they can see that their lawn's been serviced and cut, but they don't want to pull in the driveway and walk down to the mailbox and see a weed sticking out in the front or a shoot sticking out of the hedge and say our company was just there mowing the lawn and why didn't we take care of that?"
To ensure that quality control, Perry and his general manager drive around to check on properties. They take quality control seriously and often visit a property the day after it's been serviced.
The maintenance market in and around Tampa is every bit as competitive as it is in any sizable market, so Perry knows his guys have got to work efficiently, Each of the firm's service trucks is equipped with a GPS. When his guys aren't working on clients' properties, they're maintaining and cleaning their vehicles and equipment. "Everything is clean and organized, even the shop," Perry says.
One of the biggest plant health issues that Citrus Park Lawn Care employees work to address is irrigation. "A lot of people overwater," Perry says. "We try to explain to them that too much water is just as bad as not enough." The company does all that it can to educate customers on proper irrigation practices through emails and reminders left on front doors. The information alerts clients to needed repairs or maintenance and to adjust their watering schedules to meet seasonal demands.
In terms of business, Perry says the biggest challenge his company faces is competition from untrained newcomers out to make a quick buck and with little understanding of how to run or grow a business.
"What we're seeing new start-ups where a guy buys a trailer and puts a mower from a home improvement store in the back, knocks on doors and undercuts the price by half. They're not licensed, they're not insured. They're getting business," says Perry, adding that it's unfair to legitimate businesses and casts a bad light on the industry, in general.
"We have a tree crew that does a lot of palm trees for our customers. We're trying to do things by OSHA standards by tying off with belts and hard hats and safety training and we're seeing a lot of tree guys out there with their trucks falling apart and no lights on their trailers, shirts off, hats backwards and they're knocking on doors getting tree work at half the price. They're not licensed and that's the scary part.
"We pay taxes. We have workers' compensation. We have general liability," he says. Beyond that, his employees are trained to provide services based on using Florida best management practices and the Florida Landscape Management Association's code of ethics (he serves on its board of directors as secretary). Perry, who holds a commercial landscape maintenance license, strongly advocates licensing and certification.
"We're educated, we do things right. We operate by a code of ethics, best practices, we have our licenses and we're trained. It makes people feel comfortable with who they're dealing with as opposed to someone who doesn't have any of that. It takes things to a whole different level of professionalism," he insists.
Plotting future growth
Perry has plans to grow and expand, but one step at a time in its well-defined service area. This season he's adding another crew, purchasing another truck and trailer and learning to use The Service Program, a QuickBooks add-on-software program that will help his company handle the growth. All routing, scheduling, work orders and sales leads will be conveyed through that system through smartphones or tablets, which crews will have in their trucks.
Citrus Park Lawn Care employees are easily recognizable by their distinctive uniforms and pith helmets.
"The goal with that system is to have everything paperless," says Perry. "We're going to keep growing and moving forward. I don't see it stopping or slow it down for us."
Five years from now Perry sees his company growing from five trucks and 14 employees in the summer to 10 trucks and 20 employees.
Carol Brzozowski, Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a frequent contributor to Turf magazine. Contact her at email@example.com.