Become a full-service lawn care company

Photo Courtesy of Shawn Bailey, Bailey’s Lawn Service.
This écurb appeal revival_ by Bailey’s Lawn Service enhanced the appearanceof this commercial site.

With over 30 years’ experience in the green industry, Bill Carey, owner of Master Lawns LLC, based in Hawthorne, N.Y., has watched the trends come and go. He started Master Lawns four and half years ago determined to focus on a central objective: to create good-looking lawns. The company now provides fertilization and pest control programs for lawns and shrubs, aeration and seeding, liming and other additional services, except mowing.

For Shawn Bailey, owner/operator of Bailey’s Lawn Service based in Hagerstown, Md., expanding services is part of the long-term game plan. While he’s been “serving the local community for the past five years,” his business is on a part-time basis as he works toward completing his master’s degree in business administration. The company is both a source of revenue and the building block that will become the core of his business expansion. Like many in the lawn maintenance business, he started with mowing. It was a service he knew he could do well, the initial investment was manageable, and it gave him the flexibility to work around his college schedule.

Analyze the options

While pricing is always an issue, it’s the quality of the service that keeps clients coming back for more, notes Richard Zito. He started working in the green industry while in high school. He’s owner of The Green Machine, based in Bloomfield, Conn. Fertilization was the major focus when the business began in 1974. It’s now grown into a multiservice lawn, landscape and irrigation company.

As Zito points out, when potential clients are shopping around because they’re not satisfied with their current lawn care company, their complaint is usually about the quality of the service they’ve been getting, not the price. So, when considering new services, make sure every aspect is focused on delivering a consistent level of quality that will meet the standards your clients expect from your company.

Carey says, “At Master Lawns, we go through an evaluation of a potential service based on our ability to stand behind it. We need to be confident that we can produce the results that meet our service levels. Then, we need to determine if that service can be provided on an economically reasonable basis, both from our perspective and in terms of selling the service to the clients. It has to work both ways.”  

Often, the addition of add-on services is prompted by client requests. That was the situation for Zito with both irrigation and landscaping services. When several clients began asking about those services, he researched the regional market and determined the demand was great enough to support the costs of providing it. The Green Machine added irrigation installation and maintenance services in 1982 and expanded into the landscaping services in 1985.

They started mowing and plowing snow in 1990, again because clients were requesting them. Zito says, “That’s backwards from the standard entry into the industry, but it’s worked well for us. We only provide mowing and plowing services for our existing clients, those already being served in one or more of our other service packages. We take full responsibility for those yards.” That multiservice approach helps build the bottom line and it gives Zito more control over the company’s image. “We don’t want the one-shot customer,” he says. “When our truck stops in front of someone’s house, I want that property to look great.”

Master Lawns seeks client feedback, and Carey makes sure he connects with every client at least once a year. He says, “We want to make sure we know what they want so we can determine if it’s a good fit for our company to provide it for them. Adding more services to the same client is our desired means of growth rather than spreading over a larger area with a smaller service package.”

Another consideration is the training involved. Some new services, such as ornamental plant maintenance, that may appeal to a broad range of clients could entail nearly staffwide training. Other services may be more efficiently provided with a crew dedicated to that task.

When the new services require technical expertise, such as irrigation or water feature installation and maintenance, these companies check out the training package offered by potential suppliers, as well as the training resources available through industry-related organizations and educational facilities.

Photo Courtesy of the Green Machine. Photo Courtesy of Steve Trusty
The Green Machine trucks are designed to draw attention. When one is parked in front ofa property, owner Richard Zito wants to be sure that property looks great and just as wellmaintained as the company’s headquarters, pictured here. The owners of this site prefer a natural look for the small plant bedalong the fence between the walkway and the swimming pool.

The cost considerations involved in delivering a service will vary with different aspects of the business. Be sure to factor in the crew setup, cautions Zito. The Green Machine uses two and three-person crews for their mowing and cleanup services, with each crew driving a truck and pulling a trailer loaded with equipment. When site-to-site travel is needed, the staff time costs of multiple employees are involved. So, those crews work within a 15-mile radius of the company headquarters with their routes plotted to keep travel time to a minimum.

Their lawn and landscape fertilization and pest control application routes are each handled by one person, a service technician who also is the driver of the fully equipped truck.

Those service technicians can travel farther and still be efficient. Some go out 45 miles to service the beach areas where quite a few of the company’s clients have their second homes. Zito says, “We try to schedule those routes so the service technician has a full day’s work within that area, which makes it even more cost-effective.”

Working with the weather

Adding snow and ice management can provide off-season cash flow for companies in the northern region, but the amount of work is dependent on the weather conditions of the season. The costs of equipment and keeping adequate personnel available must be carefully matched to the potential profits.

Spring and fall cleanup services are other options to extend the season. The Green Machine started doing spring cleanups in the early stages of company development. “The spring cleanups were a way to get our lawn operators out doing productive, visible work early in the season,” says Zito. “We’ve found that the early cleanup not only has clients’ lawns looking good, they’re also prepared for the preemergence applications when the timing is right. So, it’s become a great add-on to our service package.”

Full-yard landscaping and more limited landscape renovation are add-on services that can be tailored to the expertise of the company and the needs of its clients. The winter season is an ideal time to meet with clients to develop the designs and sell the projects. Cash flow can be generated by charging a direct fee for the design services or by requiring an upfront deposit to place the project on the spring schedule. Many companies prefer the second option because their crews can begin working in the spring as soon as the weather allows.

“Curb appeal revival” is the term Bailey promotes on his Web site and with potential clients. It’s a service that can be offered any time of the year for commercial or residential property owners who have allowed plantings to grow out of control and are lacking either the time or expertise to correct the condition.

Bailey says, “It’s basically creating a better look for the property that usually entails more trimming and cleanup than major renovation or planting. I’ll recommend the service, then assess the conditions and give them a quote. The initial cost is reasonable, with the results often prompting them to sign on for a regular service package.”

Bailey parlayed that into additional business by connecting with a property management company that was handling a group of foreclosed homes for a lending entity. Initially providing the curb appeal revival led to general mowing and maintenance services that kept the sites ready for showing to potential buyers.

Photo Courtesy of Steve Trusty
Shade-loving plants make a cool addition to this poolside planting.

The subcontracting option

Subcontracting allows you to offer services you don’t currently provide, but take the time to thoroughly research the pros and cons before you set up the connections. Your clients want results that meet the standards they’ve come to expect you to deliver. Check out the quality and customer satisfaction levels of the potential subcontractors, and determine how any customer complaints will be handled before you start the working relationship.

For Bailey, who isn’t looking to extend into services that require additional personnel at this point, it’s a good fit. He’s developing reciprocal relationships with other owners of small businesses that provide services that meet his quality standards. That expands his offerings to chemical applications, window washing, pressure washing, handyman and home renovations services and house cleaning services. Those companies can offer lawn service options to their clients, growing the business for both of the companies involved.

Any time you add a service to your arsenal, take the steps needed to make sure all your current and potential clients are aware of it. Carey says, “Post it on your Web site. Include a listing of all your services in every mailing to your clients. Prepare a brochure or door hanger to place in the neighborhoods you’re already serving.”

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.