“We’re aggressive. We’re superaggressive,” says P.J. Kapfhammer, co-owner of Maumee Bay Turf Center (www.maumeebaylandscape.com) in Oregon, Ohio. One look at the ever-expanding scope of the company shows that he is perhaps understating things.

In just three years, Kapfhammer and Co-owner Brad Morrison have built a widely diversified company with 40 employees that maintains landscapes, sells professional power equipment, constructs athletic fields, installs irrigation systems, plows snow and more. “If you call us for something that we don’t do, we’re going to figure out how to do it,” says Kapfhammer of the company’s aggressive approach to doing business.

Just three years ago, he was running a lawn maintenance business and collaborating during wintertime on a plowing business with Morrison, then a local landscape and athletic field contractor. “Three winters ago, it was incredibly dry. We weren’t plowing, so we weren’t making money,” explains Kapfhammer. “Brad and I sat down to talk about how we could diversify, so we wouldn’t be hurting when it didn’t snow. We drew up a game plan in about 20 minutes, and we’ve been following that plan ever since.”

Photos courtesy of Maumee Bay Turf Center.
Brad Morrison, left, and P.J. Kapfhammer formed the company three years ago and have been following their original, aggressive business plan ever since.
One of Maumee Bay’s seven loaders is deployed during a snowstorm. The company operates more than 40 trucks and pieces of snow removal and deicing equipment to quickly serve the needs of its customers.

The need to diversify went well beyond winter work. “We were seeing a shift in the lawn maintenance business; there were many other contractors who were taking on work at really cheap prices. The profit margins were so tight anyhow that I thought, ‘I can’t compete with them that way, so maybe there’s a way to make money off of them,’” he says.

When they joined forces to create Maumee Bay Turf Center, Kapfhammer and Morrison included an equipment sales and service division. Now the retail center offers Hustler mowers, as well as Echo and Tanaka two-cycle equipment and many other brands and types of outdoor power equipment. The service department is an engine service dealer for Honda, Kohler, Kawasaki, Briggs and Stratton, and Tecumseh. They also sell products such as fertilizer and, says Kapfhammer, “anything else you might need outdoors. We want to be a one-stop shop.”

In fact, the approach of trying to serve all needs of all customers is a trademark of the company. “If a customer calls us to wash windows, we’ll be out. It’s unbelievable what people have asked us to do, but we have the workforce leaving here every day. All we have to do when we take on any job is to figure out how much we have to charge per man-hour,” says Kapfhammer.

Currently, about 70 percent of Maumee Bay Turf Center’s lawn maintenance accounts are residential; the other 30 percent are commercial. “Usually, our commercial jobs are pretty large. They might want us to come install 3 or 4 acres of sod, for example,” says Kapfhammer. Ten employees are assigned to this division.

One niche market that’s growing especially quickly for Maumee Bay Turf Center at the moment is high school athletic field construction and maintenance. “We’re now servicing 95 to 100 high schools for their everyday needs, everything from infield mix to Turface drying agent,” says Kapfhammer. “We’ve also installed single fields, as well as entire athletic complexes, and we’ve done both natural and synthetic turf installations.”

He says this market, in particular, works on word of mouth. “One booster club sees a beautiful field we’ve done at another school, and they realize they want a field that nice. So, they call us.” In addition to the new field installation jobs, two full-time crews handle athletic field maintenance such as spraying, fertilizing, topdressing and aerating for high schools. They also do line painting before games.

Maumee Bay crews excavate an athletic field at Clyde High School in Ohio prior to installing a Mondo Turf USA synthetic field. Huge investments in heavy equipment allowed the company to get the job done two weeks ahead of schedule.
Maumee Bay recently reconstructed and laser-crowned this natural-turf athletic field at Perrysburg High School in Ohio. This fall, the company will be installing a new synthetic field at the school.

“We’ve found this to be one of the hottest things we’ve got going on at the moment,” says Morrison. Many times, the maintenance staffs at the schools don’t want to maintain the athletic fields because of the chance they might do something wrong and be under fire from coaches and booster clubs. “Or, sometimes, we’re called to bail them out. If the wrong mix gets put into a sprayer and damages the field, for example. We’ve seen it all, and it’s fun to help in those situations, because athletic fields are a real passion for us.”

To further help its customers, each year Maumee Bay conducts an athletic field educational session/open house that attracts top turf experts, as well as representatives from 150 high school, university and parks and recreation grounds maintenance professionals.

When the company was formed, its biggest equipment investment was into a fleet of Kubota tractors. In the three years since, especially with the strong demand for their athletic field construction services, Kapfhammer and Morrison have purchased dozers, excavators, loaders, skid steers and, most recently, an $80,000 tractor equipped with laser-grading technology. “We’re one of the only companies around with one,” says Morrison.

The pair says the significant equipment investments haven’t been nerve-wracking, because they have confidence in the company’s plans and the energy to continue to make Maumee Bay successful. “All we know how to do is work,” says Kapfhammer. “We’ve invested millions of dollars in heavy equipment so we can jump on jobs at a moment’s notice,” adds Morrison. The pair has made a commitment to putting profits back into the business in the initial years, allowing them to purchase rather than finance equipment whenever possible.

Winters are no longer slow times of the year, either. The company has expanded its list of plowing customers and now handles a number of major commercial accounts using more than 40 pieces of snow removal equipment. It has also become a sales and servicing dealer of plows, salt spreaders and other snow removal equipment. “We’re open whenever it snows. We’ve had people drive two hours to get a plow fixed at 3 a.m., because they know we’ll be here,” says Kapfhammer. “Every time it snows, we’ve got 30 trucks leaving here and we’ll have at least two mechanics in to take care of our equipment if it has problems, as well as our customers’ equipment.”

In just three years, Maumee Bay Turf Center has become a leading provider of lawn and landscape maintenance services, as well as power equipment sales, snow removal, athletic field maintenance and more.

Selling and servicing equipment, whether lawn care or snow removal, allows Maumee Bay to purchase equipment for its own needs at a lower cost. “Not only do we sell the equipment, but we get all of our equipment at cost,” says Kapfhammer. For example, when the lawn maintenance division recently needed a new, larger hydroseeder he made a call to Turbo Turf and Maumee Bay is now a dealer.

All the parts of the company have to work together, he says. “Today, you’re crazy if you open an equipment dealership and that’s all you did. Some of the old-timers will make it because they have their longtime customers, but a lot of the new guys aren’t going to make it. There’s not a lot of profit in sales anyhow, and with competition from the Internet and other places, it’s even tougher. For us, we’re the end user as well as the seller.” Another example of that strategy playing out: Morrison and Kapfhammer are golfers, so they opened a driving range with batting cages to let them work on their own games.

They also have an unusual approach to working with their competitors. “If someone is going to beat me on price, I feel, ‘Why not be buddies?’” says Kapfhammer. “I’ve probably started six or seven other guys in the lawn maintenance business. If I know they’re good workers, I’ll give them 20 accounts to get them started, and I’ll steer people to them. Then they can come buy mowers from me. It’s the same with snow removal. We’re friends with all of our competitors.”

Not surprisingly, with its diverse business undertakings, Maumee Bay added a full-time accountant to its staff to keep all the financial figures in order. It also recently added an ASAE-certified mechanic when the company began offering automotive repair.

The pair is still following the same aggressive business plan that they drew up three years ago. “I thought it would take five years to take off, but within a year we had hired 15 more employees and we couldn’t keep up with demand,” says Kapfhammer.

Morrison attributes the company’s success to its aggressive approach and its customer service.  “It’s all about service, just being there for the customers,” he says.

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