From mowing to full-service lawn care

Brothers Cory and Chad Smith have built their extra jobs into a full-time, lawn care business, and they plan to continue expanding. Their business, BCF Lawn and Landscape in Somerville, Ohio, provides services in a 50-mile radius in suburban Cincinnati, primarily to customers in a four-county region. About 70 percent of the business is residential and 30 percent commercial. Providing the best possible service to customers and taking a conservative approach to expanding have been the key elements to the growth of their business

Keeping those two elements at the forefront of their plan has helped the brothers grow from mowing a few yards to servicing more than 120 lawn care accounts. About 40 of the mowing accounts include landscape care, as well.

Photos Courtesy of BCF Lawn & Landscape.
Providing excellent service is the primary focus for BCF. Chad and Cory Smith discuss growing their lawn care business.

Starting small

Cory and Chad were employed part time at other jobs when they began mowing lawns in 2004 to earn extra money.

“We started with just a residential-type lawn mower,” Cory said. Supplemented by a loan from their mother, they purchased professional equipment and began obtaining additional mowing accounts. “We moved to Cub Cadets and Wright Standers, which provide good service for us.” They primarily use edgers from Brown Manufacturing Co.

A high school football background provided the name for their business. Chad said, “I had gone to Thomas Moore College with several friends from high school. We had all played football in high school and called ourselves ‘Butler County’s Finest.’ We were talking about a name for the lawn care company and came up with that, using BCF in the name.”

In 2005, Cory and Chad began focusing on obtaining additional mowing accounts, and they delivered 5,000 flyers door-to-door. “We delivered them ourselves,” Cory said. “We moved into newer, higher end areas and obtained more accounts.” In the summer of 2006, BCF had between 50 and 60 accounts, and both Cory and Chad were working full time in the lawn care business. They now have two full-time and two part-time employees.

Challenges of expanding

Both Cory and Chad had worked part time for other lawn care companies, giving them a strong working knowledge of providing lawn care services. However, the bidding process represented one of the most challenging aspects of growing their business. They have learned to bid jobs more correctly through experience.

“Getting commercial accounts is stressful,” Cory said. “Things are down economically, and a lot of people are doing lawn work more cheaply. To obtain new commercial accounts, we get on the phone to ask businesses if they are accepting bids. We have learned to bid correctly by losing some jobs and finding that we had bid other jobs too low. We just learned by trial and error.”

Expanding conservatively

During their first year of mowing lawns, the brothers had saved enough money to purchase a snow removal blade for a pickup truck and began their snow removal business. They currently have four pickups with blades, and they transport their equipment in one enclosed and one open trailer.

They are learning the value of subcontracting in the unpredictable business of snow removal. “We have friends who do some snow removal part time, so if we have more snow removal than we can handle promptly, we subcontract some of the jobs,” Cory said. Snow removal provides about 25 percent of the annual revenue.

“We have payments on equipment now,” Cory said. “We make our payments ahead for the off-season; we pay our employees before we take any salaries for ourselves.”

Increasing the number of commercialaccounts has helped to expand business. Residential mowing accounts make up about 70 percent of BCF business.

Focusing on customers

“We do whatever customers want,” Cory said. In addition to mowing and maintaining landscape plantings, the brothers also install sod, mulch and decorative curbing.

“We use any type of mulch the customer requests,” Cory said. “We use a wheelbarrow to get it to the sites on the lawn where we’re placing it. Most of the mulch here in our area is the black, double-shredded hardwood mulch.” Their primary supplier of mulch is County Line Nursery in Camden, Ohio.

Maintaining good customer relations has been a major element from the start with an effort toward completing all jobs to the expectations of customers. “If there is a complaint, I go out just as soon as I can and fix the problem,” Cory said.

As in all lawn care and landscape work, weather is a major challenge to scheduling.

“If it rains, we try to fit two days worth of mowing into one. We may have to put off landscaping installs and other jobs so that we can complete jobs in the lawn care side of the business,” Cory said.

Looking at ways to assure customer satisfaction, BCF sends out annual customer surveys at the end of each season. “We ask how we can improve our services. We send a stamped envelope, and we get back replies to about half of those we send, and most are positive,” Cory said. In addition to door-to-door flyers, BCF has expanded its advertising into newspapers and magazines. “We offer specials with coupons for money off on lawn work,” Cory said.

Cory noted a growing interest among customers in decorative landscape curbing. “We are installing about 25 decorative curbing projects a year now,” he said. In addition to installing sod, mulch and landscape curbing, BCF also installs landscape plants, annuals and perennials. “We really do whatever work the customers want,” Cory said.

Family business

Cory and Chad share the operational aspects and management decisions. “Communication is really important in working with family, or with anybody,” Cory said. “We talk about things we need to do before making decisions.” Chad handles the billing and most of the paperwork tasks, and Cory handles most of the equipment maintenance.

The brothers continue to look for ways to expand their business. They are carefully looking at how to best expand their growing business while focusing on maintaining excellent service to their customers. Projecting an image that can be recognized, their name is on their trucks. “We wear jeans and T-shirts that have our company name on them,” Cory said.

Chad is currently in the process of obtaining a license to apply chemicals. “We just see that we are losing a lot of income by not being able to apply fertilizer or weed and grub control products,” Cory said. “With our being able to apply those products, we expect to be a full-service lawn care company next year.”

Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer and has been covering the green industry for Turf for almost 20 years. She resides in Mt. Zion, Ill.