Two brothers offer customized services for their clients

Photos Courtesy of Keyman Lawncare, LLC.
Kevin, left, and Dan Keyes pose by one of Keyman Lawncare’s fully equipped vans.

Quality, customized service is what it’s all about for Keyman Lawncare, LLC. “We don’t want to be the biggest. We do want to be the best,” says Kevin Keyes. “We tailor our services for each lawn, making sure it gets whatever it needs, when it needs it.”

Based in Verona, Wis., Keyman Lawncare serves the Madison area. The business was launched as a mowing service in 1986 by Dan Keyes. Starting from a one-man operation with a walk-behind Scag mower, Dan had built up to 50 accounts by 1996 when he formed a team with his brother Kevin.

Services

In 1997, they added fertilization and pest management, with Kevin managing it as a separate division. Kevin started with a premium five-step program, offering four-step and three-step options, and that’s still the major focus. He opted for low-phosphate granular fertilizer with a controlled-release nutrient package adjusted to regional and seasonal needs.

“We don’t just do a straight program,” he says. “Each treatment is a two-step process, with two trips over the lawn. Our technicians bring out the spreader first, inspecting the turf as they apply the fertilizer. Each van is equipped with an assortment of treatments for problems with weeds, disease or insects, but we don’t want to put down anything that lawn doesn’t need. We take an ecologically friendly approach, following the principles of integrated pest management [IPM] and focusing on prevention and monitoring first, with control measures used as necessary.”

As service technicians apply the granular fertilizer, they’re also scouting the lawnfor problems.

Keyman is equipped to handle broad­cast weed treatment, which some­times happens with new accounts, but for existing clients, if weeds do appear it’s usually only on the edges of the property. Kevin says, “We’ll spot-treat any weeds that may have popped up and take appropriate action if we find a lawn is susceptible to or has a disease or insect problem.”

Both divisions have expanded the range of services. Along with the basic mowing and trimming, Dan’s division has added pruning, landscaping and snow removal. Kevin’s division added a 100 percent natural fertilization program in 1998, along with lawn rolling, fall core aeration and overseeding, spring dethatching and soil testing. Perimeter pest control and Talpirid mole control were added in 2007.

“We don’t telemarket trying to up-sell our clients if they don’t need additional service,” says Kevin. “If the technicians do spot insects around the foundation of a home or mole activity on a property, they will note that information and recommend the service in the paperwork we leave. We don’t automatically sign them up for the service; we allow our clients to make that decision. The only specific service we will call to promote is the fall aeration. It’s so important to the overall turf management program, we encourage all of our clients to sign up for it.”

The company does stress proper cultural practices. They’ve developed their own cultural practice sheets and review and update them each year. Instruction sheets on how to mow, water and keep thatch to a minimum are included in the packet left after the first fertilization trip in the spring. The fall sheet covers how to prepare the lawn and ornamental plants for the winter.

Either Kevin or John Lawyer, his assistant manager, will make one midsummer call to each client to see how they think the lawn is doing. “That gives us an opportunity to address any problems they may be having and to thank them for their business,” says Kevin.

This approach has proven effective. Kevin’s division has grown to over 2,000 accounts, 75 percent residential and 25 percent commercial. Homeowners associations (HOAs) are included in the commercial percentage, with each HOA counted as one client.

“I’ll have eight or nine technicians in the field, with additional part-time personnel to help with the dethatching and aeration,” says Kevin. He added Lawyer as assistant manager eight years ago. A full-time administrative assistant handles most of the division’s in-office details. “I try to spend half of each day in the office and half in the field,” says Kevin.

All of the technicians take part in a weeklong training session before outdoor work begins each spring. Along with a review of cultural practices and weed, insect and disease identification, it covers all the products that will be used throughout the year and how to apply them properly, and it addresses any new practices and new pricing. The majority of the sessions are conducted in-house, though a supplier such as Lesco or Reinders may present a session. Kevin says, “The technicians are required to take and pass tests at the end of the training to ensure they understand the importance of the regulations.”

The company taps into the educational resources of the University of Wisconsin and the OJ Noer Turfgrass & Education Facility in Verona. “We attend several of the university training courses and the OJ Noer Field Days,” notes Kevin. “Like all my employees, I also learn every day on the job.”

Keyman Lawncare’s spray systems are equipped with electrical reels to wind up the hoses.
 
Kevin tries to spend half of each day in the office concentrating on interacting with clients,while a full-time administrative assistant, above, handles most of the other in-office details.
 
The Turf Tracker Stealth gives technicians the ability to cover an acre, spraying, spreading or both, in about a half-hour.

Equipment

The division’s technicians work from GM or Dodge 1-ton vans, which are GPS-equipped and large enough to hold the necessary equipment and materials.

Each van carries a Lesco walk-behind broadcast spreader, and is equipped with one 150-gallon and one 50-gallon tank so they can mix two different products. The spray systems use Flojet and Hypro pumps and have electrical reels to wind up the hoses.

Kevin says, “We also have four ride-on units with a 200-pound capacity rotary spreader mounted on the front, and a 40-gallon tank with a spray boom that can extend up to 12 feet mounted on the back. Three of these are the Prowler unit from Soft and Green, Inc., which is no longer in business. The newest machine is the Turf Tracker Stealth from C & S Turf Systems.”

Controlled growth

A renewal notice is sent to each active client the first week of January, and says that no reply is required if they wish to continue the services they received the previous year. The packet also contains a listing of all the services offered along with the pricing information. Clients for the perimeter pest control have increased each year due to that insert. Renewing clients can choose to pay after each application or they can prepay and receive a 5 percent discount.

Kevin says, “Though the majority opt for the automatic renewal, it we haven’t received a response prior to the start of our spring services, we’ll make a call to the client. We tell them we’re setting up our routes and will assume they do want the same service unless they contact us saying they don’t. It’s an extra step, but a courtesy they appreciate.”

Keyman Lawncare has established a pattern of controlled growth. They develop a flyer to send out each spring selecting specific areas they’ve targeted for potential new clients. There are prepared with door hangers in all company vehicles that personnel can place within a neighborhood where they’ve already established a good base of clients. The company vans and trucks are all well-marked to serve as additional marketing tools and each technician wears a uniform with the company logo on it. They also promote their services on the Web site, www.keymanlawncare.com.

Kevin says, “While all these marketing methods do generate new accounts, the majority of our new business comes from referrals. We offer a $20 coupon to our existing customers if they refer someone that does decide to sign up for our services. That offer is included in their renewal packet and listed on our Web site, yet we’ve found the main reason our clients recommend us to others is they appreciate the quality service tailored for their lawn.”

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.