Managed growth keeps a company strong

Photos Courtesy of Leeper’s Lawn Service.

Attention to detailis evident on theproperties maintainedby Leeper’s LawnService.

Established by Chris Leeper in 1984, Leeper’s Lawn Service, Inc. is celebrating 25 years of serving Fort Wayne and the surrounding area of northern Indiana. Cory Leeper joined his brother in the business shortly after it began. They’ve grown from a two-person company to the largest family owned and operated lawn and landscape company in the area.

The company was recently voted the number one lawn and landscape service in a best of the best selection program featured in both of Fort Wayne’s newspapers, The Journal Gazette and The New Sentinel.

Cory, Chrisand John Leeper (leftto right) are picturedjust outside the officeentrance to theLeeper’s LawnService, Inc. facility.
Total maintenance of the propertiesincludes flowerbed and container plantings,like this pot filled with assortedannual flowers.

Chris initially offered only fertilization and mowing, but soon realized that he needed the whole package to attract more customers. He and Cory gradually added aeration and dethatching, the multiple-step lawn care program, pruning and mulching, the landscape design build division and snow removal.

Cory says, "We started out small and grew a little bit each year, expanding our services and customer base while controlling the growth. That’s been our philosophy from the beginning. We just turned down a major project because we couldn’t fit it into our schedule without taking a chance on lessening the quality of the product we deliver to the client."

The brothers grew up on manicured turf. Their dad, John, was golf course superintendent for the prestigious Orchard Ridge County Club, and was well-known and respected throughout the community. "It was the combination of his reputation and our hard work that has made the company a success," says Cory. "Growing up on the highly maintained turf of the course, we saw the concentrated effort needed to produce superior results. It gave us a great background for this business. Dad provided a lot of input, too. Now that he’s retired from the course, he’s working with us to continually improve our operations."

Managed growth

As the client base has expanded, so has the need for more employees. Those numbers swell to 60 from March to around Thanksgiving. The majority are seasonal, full-time personnel; a core group of 10 works full time, year-round.

Cory says, "Some of our employees have been with us for 15 to 20 years. They know our program and our standards. That’s essential to having key employees. Because we offer a broad spectrum of services, we’re continually training and cross training, building on the abilities of our staff to deliver top-quality work. We have state licensed, certified applicators and an insured maintenance staff. Our key people have the education, experience and flexibility to pitch in to do whatever it takes to get the job done."

More employees led to more equipment and the need for more space, so the company moved into a larger facility two years ago. They had outgrown the previous location in just seven years. The new location has indoor storage space for all the company’s equipment, except their trucks.

Growth has also brought the need for concentration of responsibilities. Chris, company president, focuses on the landscaping segment of the business; Cory, vice president, on the maintenance segment.

Landscaping

Leeper’s landscape design and installation services now cover everything from renovations to new installations for residential and commercial accounts. Along with the plant materials and water features, they tackle the hardscape work, including patios and rock walls.

The landscaping service area extends to Indianapolis, Ohio, Michigan and western Indiana, encompassing a 200-mile radius from Fort Wayne. Depending on the season and the projects in process, two to three crews concentrate on landscaping.

The city of Fort Wayne is one of their clients. In the fall of 2008, they planted 3,000 trees in parking strips, commons areas and city parks. Cory says, "These trees were part of the city’s ongoing beautification project. It’s a good step for the community at large and our crews feel proud to play a part in it."

The added visibility of the company’s trucks at the job sites made it a good step for Leeper’s, too. They’re savvy marketers, keeping the company name and image at the forefront of everything they do. Ideally, many of the landscape clients generate additional business by becoming long-term maintenance accounts.

Hardscape and landscape features accent this property maintained by Leeper’s Lawn Service.

Lawn maintenance

The maintenance division services are offered within Allen County. There are 13 mowing crews that work five days a week. Each crew is equipped with Stihl weed whips, Echo backpack blowers and Toro mowers: a 62-inch zero-turn Z Master, and 44 and 21-inch walk-behinds.

"We don’t track mowing accounts as commercial or residential or by size, just by overall sales," notes Cory. "For example, we maintain a lot of condo/villaminium associations. One association may consist of five villas, while another may have 200. We maintain well over 2,000 properties. Maintenance makes up about 58 percent of our overall sales; fertilization contributes 10 percent; the landscape division generates around 27 percent. The remaining 5 percent comes within the miscellaneous category."

Bright begonias filling a well-maintained bed accent this property.

Working the Web

The company’s Web site (www.leeperslawn.com) is a key part of the marketing program, and recently underwent a year-long makeover. Cory says, "It’s more modern and even more user-friendly. We’ve kept all the features, but made them even better. The background colors are different, with multiple shades of green. We’ve added photos of key personnel and more photos of the neighborhood properties we maintain and of specific properties showing details of our landscaping and maintenance work. All of the site pictures are bigger, sharper and scrolling, with more definitive verbiage. The combination of photos and information gives visitors a good feel of who we are and what we do."

The site has an estimate request form that generates at least three or four requests a day in February and March. Cory says, "Chris and I make all the estimate calls, setting up the meeting times. Chris takes the appointments for those interested in landscaping and I take the maintenance appointments. It gives us the opportunity to meet the potential clients and give the company a ‘face.’ They find out that their business is so important to our company that one of the owners wants to talk with them about it."

Leeper’s Lawn Service’s precision maintenanceis reflected in this shot of theLaCabreah Villa property.

A new feature was added to the Web site earlier in the year. It solicits additional business by offering a new service: small engine repair. When Chief Mechanic Chuck Krumrine joined the company three years ago, he brought his regionwide reputation for excellence with him. Operating within his own 6,000-square-foot shop, he maintains Leeper’s fleet of 28 trucks and all the tractors, skid loaders, mowers, spreaders, trimmers, blowers and anything that needs preventive maintenance or repair.

Cory says, "We have quite a few customers who use our lawn maintenance program, but do their own mowing. We decided to build on that relationship through this service. We pick up the piece of equipment, bring it to our facility to fix it, and then take it back to the customer. We’re also finding something we hadn’t planned on: other lawn and landscape companies are bringing their equipment to us for repairs."

With 25 years in the marketplace, Leeper’s Lawn Service has become adept at anticipating its clients’ needs and meeting them. They’ve found the Web site to be a 24/7 tool to keep the company name and image at the forefront for their clients–and potential clients. It’s one more step in growing their business.

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.