The green industry is awash in small family businesses. Landscape and lawn services lend themselves to the personal service that a small, customer-focused outfits can provide. Yes, there are corporate giants, but there’s still plenty of room for the hard-working entrepreneur to make a comfortable living.
Patricia (Patti) Beres is a perfect example. Raised by a family of green industry professionals and married to a corporate landscape and pesticide manager, four years ago she struck out on her own. And while her company allows her to raise a family and succeed in business, changing the world just a bit is also on her agenda.
“Four years ago in late February, my son and I were walking our dog when we saw a lawn care company spreading fertilizer when the ground was still frozen. The area we live in has been nicknamed Lake Country due to the large concentration of lakes for the land area, and I was concerned about fertilizer runoff,” Beres recalls. “I spoke my frustration out loud by saying ‘If we had a lawn care company, we could do such a better job.’ My oldest son agreed and said, ‘Then why don’t we?'”
When Beres returned home she sent emails to friends and potential clients inquiring if they would appreciate a more “earth-friendly” lawn care service. She received more than 40 positive responses. That germ of an idea grew into Be Green Lawn Care, LLC, an organic-based lawn care company serving the greater Milwaukee area.
“We had the knowledge, experience and passion for the work,” she says. Business has been doubling every year since, mainly by referrals and word-of-mouth.
Judging from her childhood inclinations, Beres might be considered a likely candidate for a career in the great outdoors. As a child, she thought she could talk to flowers and trees. “I would hold a doctor’s stethoscope against the bark of trees to listen for a heartbeat,” she laughs. “I love nature and its inhabitants; whether people, plants, animals or insects. I think we can all coexist happily and respectfully.”
When Beres graduated from high school the thought of a career in lawn care never entered her mind. Instead she joined the Army because she saw that as an excellent way to fund her education. “They had a great GI Bill program at the time and it was my best avenue to go to college,” she recalls.
She picked up some business education while in the U.S. Army and added to that after her military stint while working at several jobs and attending Marquette University in the evening. After college, she worked as a product manager before devoting herself to raising a family. Then, while her children were all attending school, she went back to work as a substitute teacher and took on more classes. She feels she was well-prepared to take on the challenge of running her own business when the opportunity presented itself.
“I don’t know if my boys will want to do this after college, but it’s been a great avenue to learn entrepreneurship and develop a strong work ethic,” she says. “I’m so thankful for this business.”
All in the family
The Beres family does the majority of the lawn work, although part-time employees come on board during extra-busy times and special projects. The business mainly serves residential clients, with a few small apartment complexes and commercial accounts.
“I am fully capable and occasionally work in the field, but usually leave that to the younger male members of the family,” Beres says. “I am most beneficial to the company working in customer relations and developing our sales and marketing. My son Robbie is a major contributor to the business, not only in production, but as our main mechanic and technician.”
Robbie is working on his degree in mechanical engineering at Milwaukee School of Engineering. Sons Jacob and Jeremy also contribute do production and help in the office, as well.
A menu of options
“We have different programs available depending on what our clients want. We offer an all-organic option, and we love to do that,” adding Beres, admitting that only a small percentage of her clients request all-organic service.
“Some all-organic clients don’t mind living with a few weeds and may even enjoy wildlife that comes to nibble on clover,” she adds. “Most clients prefer an integrated approach. We have a variety of all-natural and organic- based products. When given a natural choice that works, are clients are glad to use it.”
Although the organic products might be more expensive she says her company is able to compete pricewise with other quality companies in the area because her program is designed for four seasonal visits compared to their six or seven lawn treatments.
“We pride ourselves in choosing enhanced efficiency nutrient technologies that improve nutrient uptake, promote larger root mass, reduce turf stress and minimize nutrient runoff and leaching,” Beres explains. “Most of the organic-based formulations in our program are coated with a biochemical catalyst that improves nutrient availability and uptake.” The result is an increased root mass and a dense turf that crowds out weeds and is disease and pest-resistant.
Although Be Green endorses natural solutions whenever possible, it also judiciously uses herbicides when there are no other options to control weeds. “There are clients who don’t want a single weed in their lawn,” she says. Even so, the goal of her company is to increase the overall health of the lawn so that it resists weeds.
“When we make the turf healthy, it grows its immune system, it’s more resistant to pests and diseases,” Beres explains. “If we need to use chemical controls, we usually spot spray to minimize herbicide use. Once we have our lawn healthier we use a fraction of the chemicals.”
Beres has carefully researched her pesticide options, and always opts for the least toxic alternative. “Chemicals that have ‘caution’ labels are usually just as effective as the ones that are labeled ‘danger,'” she notes.
Not wanting to over-extend her company financially, Beres budgets to acquire one new piece of major equipment addition every year.
“We didn’t want to go out on a limb and get into debt buying equipment,” she explains. “After the restaurant industry, lawn and landscape companies have the greatest rate of failure, which can be due to excessive debt.”
Beres loves her last equipment investment, a Permagreen spreader/sprayer. “It’s versatile because you can use either liquid or granular fertilizer and saves a lot of time,” she says.
Embracing social media
Beres understands the importance of social media and Internet marketing. The company’s website, http://www.begreenlawncare.org, looks professional and is easy to navigate. “I’m a big believer in local businesses, and the Web designer is actually a client of ours,” she says.
LinkedIn is a favorite. “I enjoy posting articles and getting feedback there,” she says. The company also has a Facebook page. “Through social media, I’ve made many great connections and have been successful sharing important information with thousands of people who I may have never reached otherwise.”
To really grow a business, though, the local connection is critical. “I belong to a wonderful group of women called Women Making An Impact, consisting of female professionals and entrepreneurs who support each other and the unique aspects of being a female business owner,” she says.
The company also increases local visibility by participating in various local educational events, environmental fairs and even parades. BeGreen’s mascot, “Be Green Man,” is a big hit with both children and adults.
Beres is a frequent speaker at community events. “I love the educational part of my job,” the former substitute teacher says. “People love their lawns; they don’t always know what makes them grow or the effects that typical chemical care can have on the environment.”
Likewise, she is concerned that the “green industry” is heading for greater restrictions as lawn care companies continue to pour on chemicals indiscriminately. “There are laws banning pesticides in Canada, and several states, such as Oregon, have either banned several chemicals or are considering bans,” she says. “I really want to change how pesticides are implemented by the lawn care industry before it’s too late.”
To that end, she is looking to expand her business and add more staff and equipment. And even further down the road, she envisions possibly franchising her concept.
“I think the terms ‘green’ or ‘holistic’ have almost taken on a negative connotation, because people and businesses are claiming to be green, but they are not! It’s just a word that has become linked with money-making,” Beres exclaims. “The difference with us is that we actually provide green services, and we live green. Our family is green, inside and out.”
Beres believes that with more and more consumer awareness of the environment, the way that lawn care companies offer services need to be re-evaluated and updated. Blanket chemical use is no longer an option. “It is going to require change for our industry to remain viable,” Beres notes. And she is ready for the change.