View Full Version : How did you start?

01-25-2006, 02:12 AM
How did you guys start doing what you're doing?

Im putting some thought to maybe reading up on some projects and doing some very small landscape projects.

Ive found a lot of DIY books, but I know in the world of electricity.....DIY people mess a lot of stuff up.

So whats your story and thoughts?

01-25-2006, 03:20 AM
What are you looking to do? Are you looking for equipment work, or just "hand" labor doing small stuff?

I started out doing lawn maintenance at the age of 13. When I was 16 I broke my arm in a mountain bike race and my dad took over my lawn accounts for a month. While he was out taking care of one of my lawns, one of my customers, who is a home builder, said he needed someone to landscape a house he was building. My dad who was an apple export salesman of 25 years was laid off about 2 years before and had been just working on our farm and taking life easy, decided he could handle the landscaping. We bid the job incredibly low, just to get the job as the contractor was getting outside bids, and we decided we needed some equipment. We bought our skid steer brand new, dad had very little knowledge of equipment whatsoever, so at my ripe age of 16, I did most of the negotiations for attachments, options, etc. This job got us started and as my business teacher has told me, when getting into the market, you might have to let yourself bleed a while before you start seeing profits. This couldn't have been any more true for us and my dad knew it, he went to business school too.

I think the first thing to do is just talk to people. Let's face it, people are price shoppers. If you can cover your costs to the point where you're not actually losing money on a job, that's the best way to get the experience you need. You won't make any money, but you'll more than likely get the job due to a low price. This could go on for a few months, it may take you at least 6-8 months to even start seeing profits. Our first year we made made a decent amount of gross profits, but hardly any net profits. In fact, that first job we did we lost $3K. Sometimes that's what it takes to get your name out there. We would rather be known for holding to our word when we said we were going to do the job a certain way, rather than cheap out and finish right on budget.

We are predicting a huge 2006 season, 5-6 landscape jobs on the books so far. I actually have a monstrous spring break project load in front of me. I have at least 5-7 days of excavating to do for one project, then 3 days doing some landscape demo, another 2 days building a road on another site, and a re-grade of a road and improving drainage which will pretty much finish off my 13 day spring break.

So what kind of work are you shooting to do?

01-25-2006, 03:56 AM
How did you start?


How did you guys start doing what you're doing?

Im putting some thought to maybe reading up on some projects and doing some very small landscape projects.

Ive found a lot of DIY books, but I know in the world of electricity.....DIY people mess a lot of stuff up.

So whats your story and thoughts?

It's a long story but I'll make it short -

Worked all my life as a kid, got a job at a local nursery in Chicago suburbs - Platt Hill Nursery, one thing leads to another, start working for the employees of the nursery at their houses, quit my job - I was making $7.20 per hour - left my job for $15 an hour working for myself - this is all the while going to high school - got in a bad car wreck, and out of the deal I got a 1988 Ford Ranger. Graduated from High School, went to Iowa State University, worked my but off every summer doing landscaping, graduated college, working ever since. And the rest is history... In give or take 11 years of doing this - I wouldn't change a thing. We specialize in stamped concrete, irrigation systems, ponds and streams, sodding, english gardens and outdoor kitchens. Basically everything outside. The only thing we don't do is lawn maintenance. Every dime I make goes back into the business - be it continuing education, trips to Oregon to visit wholesale nurseries, going all over the country to look at equipment and talking to various industry leaders... Oh, my fleet looks good too... Hopefully someday I can get away from 100 hour weeks. But I love every minute of it.

I also also like helping other people. I've been very lucky, I try to give back... If you need more info or help - feel free to contact me...

Aaron Zalaznik

01-25-2006, 10:15 AM
What are you looking to do? Are you looking for equipment work, or just "hand" labor doing small stuff?

Hard scaping strikes me as the most interesting. If I had to get more into complete Landscaping to start out I would do it....heck maybe i'de even like it more than I would think...

I want to do things like retaining walls, ponds, grading, drains... I like building, and I like the dirt work.

I have a project coming up for some property my dad owns as you've read....

i'll be demoing, excavating all utilities, doing some of the other misc excavation, and i'll landscape the property. So that should give more more ideas of what I like and hate I'm sure.

So as you've started out with these landscape jobs you just sort of learned the projects as you performed them then?

Thanks a lot.

01-25-2006, 12:34 PM
For the most part, yes. You'll learn from mistakes very fast as with anything else. Building retaining walls, the modular ones, are fairly simple. The natural stone walls that need to be placed with an excavator are a little trickier, but in reality they're fairly simple. I've set 4 stone walls with an excavator and I still have mixed feelings about doing them. They can be fun, but a real PITA at the same time. Either way, I suggest getting very familiar with an excavator before you start placing these walls. Having a 1200 pound rock up in the air and dropping it is no fun. The thumb actually gave out on me on one job, we were demo'ing a Cat 304.5 and I dropped a 900 pound rock about 4 feet up 2 feet above the top course of the wall. Thank god the wall didn't fall over or it would have slammed the machine, I was working very close to the wall. Ponds are quite simple, go buy the book and it will teach you EVERYTHING. My dad and our foreman actually attended a pond building class taught by a local pond equipment outlet and they learned 10X more in one day than you could teach yourself in a year, so that's something to look into as well. Grading comes with experience on machines, I've had about 500 hours in the seat of a skid steer and I still can't get it quite perfect the first time, that is until I slap the Harley on the machine, then I get it pefect every time. :cool:

01-25-2006, 02:27 PM
I stopped by Barnes and Noble to look at books while going to the bank....

Those books sucked quite a bit though....nice pictures of completed projects though....but thats about it!

Any suggestions?

01-25-2006, 03:47 PM
College publications. Some won't tell you how to physcially do the work, but some are extremely design oriented. I've looked at some of the landscape publications at my college bookstore and thought about buying one, but I'm so broke it wouldn't do any good. I would search extensively on the net and see what you come up with.

01-26-2006, 02:06 AM
re: books...

check with your 'county extension service' (ours is done by a state university)
they have lots of low budget pubs. also chek with university themselves for pubs

otherwise, ask lots of questions (you seem to be good at that, which is a good thing)

time on the job will be best. I suggest working for someone in the area and field for awhile (you might not like this occupation...) concentrate getting as much variety of experience as possible (hint, likely work for a small, but well tooled contractor) keep your eyes open for innovative businesses, you will want to find a 'niche' market and product / service, for $$$, and be willing to do 'anything' for fill work

when / if you go into business ... watch your expenses, consider leasing capital equipment, till you get the cash flow to buy. Spend any $$ wisely ONLY on equip that gets you an immediate return...Don't go buy a new pickup truck...don't grow too fast

01-26-2006, 02:46 AM
While leasing has it's advantages, I advise against it. Unless you're putting thousands of hours a year on your equipment, leasing really doesn't pencil out. You're having to hold on to it for so long that if something goes awry with your business, you're stuck with a piece that you owe money on, whereas if you get a loan and decide to sell, it's a fairly easy sellout.