Whether on a rifle range or on a lawn, Tim Gaunce is a straight shooter.
Tim Gaunce owns and operates NorthEast Lawn Care, based in Coventry, Rhode Island, and he’s also an expert rifle marksman. This past July he made the 700-mile drive to Port Clinton, Ohio, to compete in the Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) National Rifle and Pistol Championships. Authorized by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1903, they’ve been held at Camp Perry on the shores of Lake Erie in northwest Ohio since 1907. The CMP, NRA and the Ohio National Guard jointly conduct the matches.
The matches take place in July and the first week of August, when lawns are usually dormant in Rhode Island. It’s the best time of the summer for him to make the 11-hour drive and compete at Camp Perry.
NorthEast Lawn Care
Owner/Founder: Tim Gaunce
Headquarters: Coventry, Rhode Island
Markets: Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts
Services: Lawn fertilization, weed control, insect control, lime applications, core aeration, fall overseeding
Employees: 3 full time
Gaunce describes the event as the “Super Bowl” of rifle competitions. He shoots a rifle similar to an AR-15, using no scope, at distances from 200 yards to 600 yards. He placed 63rd out of a field of 1,400 in his division.
“Those guys and gals are mostly military so get to practice a lot, and have the advantage of having free ammo. So it’s hard to compete, but I really enjoy it,” says Gaunce, who started shooting when a good friend, a champion marksman, talked him into shooting at the local range. Always an avid hunter, it didn’t take long for him to get into the competition.
When Gaunce returns to Rhode Island, he gets back into lawn care mode. He and his three full-time employees provide seasonal fertilizing, weed control, lime application, aeration, overseeding and winterization.
“Our basic service involves five applications a year,” explains Gaunce. “We really like using LESCO brand fertilizers from John Deere Landscape. They tailor specific mixes for the New England, and they work well in our region. Our clients deserve no less,” says Gaunce.
NorthEast Lawn Care generally starts a treatment program for each new client’s lawn with a soil test by C.L.C. Labs, Westerville, Ohio. Many of the soils that he encounters in his market are acidic so optimizing the pH level for turfgrass health is essential.
“That right soil balance is an important part of a turf management program,” says Gaunce. “In New England we get more than 30 inches of rain a year, which extracts calcium and magnesium from the soil. Acid soil restricts growth. The lime treatment neutralizes the acidity.
“We may add lime at spring feeding levels, along with preemergence herbicides, together with fertilizer. We like them to green and grow quickly to shake off the winter, but not so fast as to damage root growth,” says Gaunce. Too much nitrogen promotes too much growth, which can create lawn disease problems and it also makes it harder to keep up with mowing.
His firm’s second treatment, generally applied around Memorial Day, gives the turf an additional nitrogen boost along with crabgrass control. Summer applications typically feature smaller amounts of fertilizer along with spot weed control. The late-fall round of granular feeding is very important for greening up the lawn and helping it store carbohydrates for the winter so that it emerges in the spring healthy.
Gaunce says the goal of his small company is to provide clients with value for their dollars, not the lowest price.
“I think we’re priced competitively. Our service area contains mostly middle income properties and a few high-end clients.”
As part of the customer service program, he notifies each client by mail or email two days prior to treatment. He also offers clients a 10 percent discount for prepaying for their yearly services and a $20 discount for referrals.
“In fall we do quite a bit of aeration and overseeding,” says Gaunce. “We get some thatch buildup from the compacted soil and we address those issues, as well. Often, we’ll add lime at this time.”
NorthEast’s turf fall program focuses on fertilization and grub control using Merit, but only in lawns where grub damage is evident.
The biggest disease problem he encounters on his clients’ lawns is snow mold, especially after a long, snowy winter. Typically, his market gets anywhere from 35 to 40 inches of snow a year. But some years, it can get much more.
“There’s not a lot we can do about mold other than try to carefully prune the brown spots and get the ground ready for first application,” says Gaunce.
Gaunce got his start in lawn care working for another local company, Seascape Lawn Care. He was with the firm for 10 ears and is grateful for the training and the experience. However, he decided to start NorthEast Lawn Care so that he could concentrate just on seasonal applications, and eliminating mowing and tree services; services that his former employer offers.
Camp Perry’s Unique History
Camp Perry, Ohio, host of the CMP and the NRA-sponsored National Rifle Matches, boasts a unique and varied history. Purchased in 1906 and named after Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, the American naval commander who won the Battle of Lake Erie during the War of 1812, it presently serves as the home of the 200th Red Horse Civil Engineering Squadron (Ohio Air National Guard) along with hosting other militia and ordnance functions, including army reserve training.
During World War I it was a training center for Army officers and marksmanship instructors. In 1943 during the height of World War II it was designated as a prisoner of war camp. At one time it contained 2,500 German and 2,000 Italian prisoners. Many of them worked on local farms during their internment there. Locals say that some of the POWs stayed in the region and never returned to their native countries.
Today, of course, Camp Perry is best known for its national firearms competitions. The annual month-long competitions feature a variety of divisions including the CMP National Trophy Rifle and Pistol Matches, the Pistol and Rifle Small Arms Firing Schools, CMP Games rifle events. In addition, championship awards are given in three divisions sponsored by the NRA: National Pistol, Small-bore Rifle and High-power Rifle Championships.
“I wanted to specialize and do one thing and do it very well. Customer service is at our core and we listen to what our customers want in a lawn care service. My biggest worry is to manage our growth, always with an eye toward customer service. It’s our bread-and-butter,” he adds.
Gaunce says he is planning for slow but steady growth. Rather than signing up everyone he can, he believes that by providing quality service, the word-of-mouth of satisfied customers will keep his company busy. To that point, he attempts to kee the same technicians treating the same neighborhoods each round. That accumulated experience for the individual properties gives his team the knowledge to apply what is needed when it is needed.
“Our technicians get to know the properties they service, and so the customers gets to know who is on their lawn. And we always take plenty of time when it comes to treating a clients’ lawn; we feel it’s important to get the job done right the first time and not rush through the work,” says Gaunce.
During the off season the group distributes advertising flyers to homes, along with bulk mailings, but the majority of new business comes from word-of-mouth and referrals. “Really,” says Gaunce, “it all leads right back to customer service. People talk, and when they see us out and about in their neighborhoods and see how well the lawns we service look, well, it doesn’t take long for the phone to ring.”