A family business delivers the complete package to their clients

Photos Courtesy of Saranie’s Lawn Care.

Ryan Saranie works with the New Holland tractor that was added to the equipment arsenal to handle larger commercial accounts.

The Saranie family has steadily increased its lawn care operations in Stuttgart, Ark., and the surrounding area. Saranie’s Lawn Care, LLC, co-owned by Raymond Saranie and his youngest son Ryan, now serves a customer base almost evenly split between commercial and residential accounts.

Services offered range from fertilization and lawn and plant bed weed control to seasonal cleanup, edging and mulching, flowerbed installation and maintenance, shrub installation, and shrub and small tree trimming. Mowing accounts for approximately 80 percent of earnings.

The business started 23 years ago when Stephen, Saranie’s oldest son, was about 14 and started mowing neighborhood lawns during the summer. When early fall football games beckoned, Saranie volunteered to step in to keep the mowing accounts on schedule.

In 2002, Ryan decided to continue the lawn care as a second job, so him and Saranie formed a partnership and expanded the company’s services.

Crew member Daniel Espinoza does the trimming workon this job site. Raymond Saranie uses a zero-turn mower for close mowing around trees and shrubs.

“Up to that point, all we’d offered was mowing,” says Saranie. “We got the necessary certifications for the commercial applicators license so we could add fertilization and weed control to our services. We’re also certified for plant installation. We already had a base of mowing customers, many that had been with us for years. They knew our commitment to quality and dependable work, so when we offered additional services many signed on.”

Saranie says, “Ryan handles 85 percent of the on-site management. I tackle the administrative details and the paperwork, the basic mechanical work on the equipment, and chip in on-site as scheduling allows.”

The workload increases starting in the early spring and peaks from May through September. Staffing increases to meet needs, with up to six employees joining the workforce. Stephen returns to the business during the summers and fits in some of the specialty mowing during the spring and fall. His 13-year-old stepson, Cody, joined the crew this past summer.

Finding personnel was a concern when the company expanded beyond family members. The Saranies contacted a friend who owns a small manufacturing. Raymond says, “He recommended a Hispanic man who worked for us all summer. With that track record, he moved on to a full-time position at one of the local plants, but recommended one of his friends.”

Crew members Serafin Hernandez, left, and Daniel Espinoza tackle the string trimming at one of the job sites.

That’s been a continuing pattern, with each new employee referred by a current or past employee. The majority of the seasonal employees are Hispanic.

Much of the business expansion has also come from word-of-mouth referrals. Saranie says, “We maintain a Taco Bell property, working as a subcontractor for the lawn service company holding the contract with the franchise owners. They’re based in Little Rock, 60 miles away. It wasn’t cost-effective for them to send a crew to service a single site. They contacted us based on a referral.”

Inquiries from those seeing the company at work also led to new business. “The Taco Bell is located on a high-profile corner. Our visibility there has produced more new business than anything else we’ve been able to track. Taking on that one-site client has definitely been worthwhile for us,” Saranie says.

The company’s first paid advertising is its Web site (www.saranieslawncare.com), which launched in June 2008. It has already led to one year-round contract with a new commercial client. Saranie says, “If it leads to one or two good new accounts a year, it will pay for itself.”

Targeted growth

The Saranies aren’t actively seeking new business for their non-mowing services. Instead, they’re working toward expanding services with their existing clients to provide a more complete package. They’re willing to customize a program to meet the preferences and needs of each account.

Saranie says, “We’re not planning to go after the application business on its own. That takes a whole other crew of people, more management oversight and greater investment in specialized equipment. We’d rather have the existing crew provide a broader range of services at one site than have multiple crews hitting more sites with a single service.”

The company works with a range of commercial clients from individual businesses to churches and cemeteries. Their largest commercial account is Stuttgart’s public school district. When the individual campuses went out for bid in 2007, each was awarded independently, and the Saranies maintained one site. For the 2008 bidding process, all campuses were contracted to a single company. It’s a full-service contract, covering fertilization, weed control, landscape maintenance and mowing.

Saranie says, “A campus doesn’t look good if you leave it partly done at the end of the day. So, we’ve added equipment to finish the larger sites in a day and smaller sites in half a day. The city does monthly ditch work on the areas surrounding the school campuses, but the district wanted a more consistent appearance. We purchased a Woods ditch bank mower to tackle that. We also purchased two New Holland tractors. We use mid-mount mowers on most of the areas and bought a Woods batwing finishing mower to cover the larger, open areas.”

Generally, the entire crew workd on a single site under the supervision of one of the owners. It takes the full staff on the campuses, with the mowing, string trimming around the ditches, fence lines, landscape features and buildings, edging the walkways, and blowing debris from parking lots and other paved areas, along with any needed applications. The work is organized to effectively use the smaller equipment: two 60-inch Woods zero-turn mowers; one 42-inch Walker mower with a bagging unit; a 36-inch, commercial, John Deere walk-behind mower; and a 22-inch Toro mower. The arsenal of trimmers and blowers are mainly Stihl units, with one Shindaiwa and one John Deere trimmer.

Saranie says, “We only use the 22-inch mower occasionally for tight areas at residential sites and those awkward, enclosed spaces at commercial sites seemingly designed by architects that never did much yard work.”

Ryan Saranie concentrates on mowing around one of the landscape features on aresidential job site.

Another area targeted for growth is tied to the regional sport of duck hunting. Many corporate entities, organizations and individuals own duck hunting camps, an acre or 2 of property with a cabin or trailer to house those invited to join in the seasonal hunts. Saranie says, “These are often outings for clients, so the appearance of the site is an important part of the experience. Contracts for year-round property management cover the mowing and general landscape maintenance.”

Whatever the account, Saranie Lawn Care has found there’s no secret to achieving customer satisfaction. As Saranie says, “It’s all about delivering the services as promised, doing a good job and being reliable.”

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.