View Full Version : Looking for your expert advice on start up

Big Money
10-01-2011, 12:39 AM
I am in the process of researching what would be needed to start a part time lawn-care business and is my approach on the right path?

Personal Info
I live very close to Hershey PA with my wife and three daughters ranging in age from 13 to 18 years old, with my oldest in her first year of college.
I've worked for my employer, (Large company) for over 25 years and have a very good job with perks (company car, expense acct, home office...) that also allows me some flexibility in my weekly schedule. I make a very good living (should gross close to a 100k this year) but lately, the stress of the job and working someone else is starting to wear on me. I know I am very lucky to have such a great job and I do appreciate it, and I'm not looking to leave it anytime soon. This would be the reason the business would be part time.

Start up Plan
I currently have start up capital of around 10k. With this I would purchase a used truck for no more than $2500 and a trailer for no more than $1500. (They are out there, I've been researching them) I would then purchase a used 48" to 52"zero turn, small push mower, good trimmer and good blower for $4000. I would use approximately $500 - $1000 for additional start up costs (phone, storage, advertisement) and bank the rest (Approximately $1000) for unforeseen expenses.

Business Goals
1) Secure 12-14 residential customers and 0-2 small commercial customers. Starting out, I do not want anymore than 14 customers per week. I would hope to cut between 4-6 on two week days/evenings and finish the rest on weekend.
2) Target specific areas of town with flyer handout. Estimating between 200-300 flyers required for a 2-3% call back (between 60-90) hopefully landing the preferred 14 customers
3) Get top dollar customers. Currently large landscaping companies are charging a minimum of $38.00 per yard, my goal would be minimum of $40.00 for that same yard. I know this can be tough with the economy the way it is, and being new with no name recognition in the business, but I truly believe that if Im only looking for that small amount of customers, I should be able to pick and choose my customers.
4)Grow 20%-40% (3-6 customers) per year and add help as needed.
5) Develop relationship and customer loyalty by providing 100% customer satisfaction.
6) Take portion of profit for new equipment and repaying initial investment. I full expect not to make much money if any the first and second year of operations.
7) Determine if this is a business that can be grown into something in 5-8 years and if this is for me.

I know this is not an easy profession and being 48 I am getting into it late in the game. However, if this is something that can grow, I would hope to be off the mower by 55 and managing the business while growing it.
If it is determine after the first year that this is not for me, I would sell my equipment for what I could and any loss chalk up to a life experience. I have no problem losing all of my investment if that should happen. I've put this money aside for the opportunity to try something different.

I apologize for the long message, but as you can tell I've put a lot of thought into this and will continue to as I don't expect to start the business until next spring. (Will be looking to purchase my equipment through the winter)

My question is, am I missing anything in my game plan. Is it just a pipe dream and I have no idea what I'm getting myself into? This is not something I just picked randomly. In my early 20's I worked for a landscaping business and enjoyed the work.
Am I on target for the equipment I am looking to purchase for the services I plan to offer. (Mowing, trimming, blowing, light clean up)

Again, trust me I do get it, I know I am extremely lucky to have such a good job as I do, and I do not see myself going anywhere for quite awhile.
However, with my oldest in college and another one on her way in two years, any additional income is welcomed.

I look forward to reading your expert advice!

10-01-2011, 11:14 AM
Being in my first year of business I may offer to point out a few things I noticed.

1.) You may want to consider investing a little more in a truck. Yes, there are $2500 trucks out there, but you would be hard pressed to have that truck last you more than 1 season without having to sink some money into it. A good reliable truck will benefit you in the future with much less downtime. Especially if it is going to be a part time business, there are going to be some weeks where it will be difficult for you to service your accounts due to weather, let alone if you truck is broken down.

2.) Your expected return calls on flyers is high. You may get 2-3%, but that only adds up to 6-9 calls not 60-90. In my experience, 1% is more likely. I would explore your other options such as local newspapers you can run an add in, placemat ads, etc. I would also consider budgeting for company shirts and such. Purchases like this will definetely help establish your company image.

3.) We are approaching the best time of year to get good deals on equipment. There are less options as we approach winter, but if you keep an eye out on craigslist, ebay, etc. you will undoubtdly be able to snag a nice piece of equipment at a good price.

4.) With that being said, I am assuming you have little to no experience operating a zero turn. If you are looking to charge a premium for your services, you will have to be certain you can provide premium quality. Without any seat time on a ztr, this will be difficult to do. There are too many guys who do not recognize the art in cutting a lawn. I'm not saying this is you, but you will have to be able to lay down a very nice cut if you expect to be able to gain the premium customers, especially being a new business.

Other than that, you are off to a very good start. Keep reading the forums on here as they provide excellent information and learn as much as possible. Keep the questions coming too, as it helps others as well who may have the same questions. Hope i could provide some helpful information. Best of luck to you.

Big Money
10-01-2011, 01:13 PM
thank you very much for your response, I really appreciate the information.
Great points on all and will definitely take all into consideration!

10-01-2011, 09:23 PM
Takes money to make money....

I agree that a Z is harder than you think. How big is your property, can you practice on it? You might want to consider a used Belt WB unit before you jump into a Z. Allot of used stuff out there take your time and look for the deals. I do this full time for 7 months and back inside for the winter months, I have operated that way for about 10 years now. I have just recently joined this site and I am pleased with how professional most of the senior guy's act on here with very good advice. I would spend the rest of this winter researching and getting you name out there so people know your intentions next year.

I do hold a Bulk mail permit and it works when timed and targeted right. Go talk to the post master they will go over all the details with you, my first shot ended up with 2 calls. Not to far from you, we went to Hershey a few weeks ago.

Good luck with that:)

10-01-2011, 10:04 PM
Well if you making 100k why dont you take up golf or get a girlfriend it will likley be cheeper and mor fun than lawncare.

Lawncare is my passion but this business is super expensive to operate and super cometitave.

Big Money
10-02-2011, 01:32 AM
that's for the info!
Sounds like you're in the Hershey area. If you don't mind, I may reach out to you in the near future for additional advice as I move along starting up the business.

Thanks again

Big Money
10-02-2011, 01:35 AM
I play golf now, (not well) and my wife wouldn't care to much for the girlfriend!
Call it mid life crisis but I'm going to give this a try! Part Time anyway.

10-02-2011, 09:07 AM
Nice beginings of a business plan you have there. Most fail to have any such vision. I think you can accomplish your goals! I would also suggest as much networking as possible. Its free! Get active in your community, attend professional events and reach out to everyone you know. You will be turning away work before you know it!
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Big Money
10-02-2011, 11:50 AM
thanks for the words of confidence!
Actually working on the networking now and hopefully see some benefit in the spring when the I hope to go "live" with the business.

10-02-2011, 08:51 PM
I play golf now, (not well) and my wife wouldn't care to much for the girlfriend!
Call it mid life crisis but I'm going to give this a try! Part Time anyway.

Well if the wife wont share lol.....
Im 46 I started 4 years ago worked part time 18 months, this is my second lawacare business and I hope to be in business till I die.

I bought a bunch of used (slightly in most cases) at very low prices, should I have too sell out I would make money on thet part of the deal. Seek out good deals on good equiptment and you wont loose on that end.

I do mainley "highend" accounts similar to what your seeking. That market is very difficult to penetrate. They already have a feller that does great work and are loyal to him. I got most of mine from being reffered from our local nursery who a close friend and his sister manage. Should realestate start selling and buliding start back its eaiser to get a foot inthe door so to speak.

10-08-2011, 03:03 AM
Are you looking to just cut grass or do a whole business? The reason I ask, is that all my friends from up north tell me the real money is in snow removal, and and just cutting grass you'll end up starving. I figured your part of PA might be the same.

While not this exact one, (I know it's out of your budget) you could get something like this: http://cgi.ebay.com/ebaymotors/2003-FORD-F550-DUMP-TRUCK-W-9-WESTERN-SNOW-PLOW-BLADE-STAINLESS-STEEL-8-BED-/300607764891?pt=Commercial_Trucks&hash=item45fd9e799b just look around and find a decent priced used one, then you could build a leaf box on the back for Fall clean-ups and then plow in the winter for more cash. On top of that, you'd always have a dump handy for whatever you get into.

Big Money
10-08-2011, 10:05 AM
AaronNC thanks for the reply.
From what I understand, there is money to be made up here in snow removal. I actually looked at purchasing a lawncare/snow removal business. The kid was selling 30 yards he did weekly, 2 x Exmark walkbehinds, 6x12 enclosed trailer and two trucks, (1984 x F150 and a 1987 ford dump with a blow.) With exception of wear and tear, it looked like he kept good care of his equipment. He wanted 25k for everything, and he did say he made the same if not more plowing in the 2-3 month season vs the 7-8 month season of mowing. After seriously thinking about it, I just thought there were to many lawns for me starting out and I would not be able to give them the amount of time to provide a quality service since my plan is to keep my day job and start out part time. (12-15 lawns with a commercial account thrown in would be great)
Also, since I will be keeping my day job, and never knowing when it is going to snow, I just couldn't do it.
However, if I can grow the business meet my 5 year goals, snow removal will be part of the next 5 year plan!

Thanks again!

10-08-2011, 08:48 PM
Sounds like a good plan to me. I would trade what you are currently driving now in on a 5-10k full size truck with an 8 foot bed. Also be prepared to have absolutly no life during the mowing season with a full time job, 14 accounts, maintenance, and three kids. I would get a sit down mower. At 48 your going to feel it after standing all day.

Darryl G
10-08-2011, 09:04 PM
I would spend more on the truck, skip the trailer and Zero turn and get a 48 inch walk behind with sulky (hydro if you can - Exmark Viking or Turf Tracer HP are nice) and ramp into your truck. Then as you expand you can evalaute your needs relating to a trailer and Z rider mower. A walk behind is way more verstile and a better first mower in my opinion.

Big Money
10-08-2011, 09:43 PM
thanks for the suggestion, I never thought of ramps into the back of the pick up! Based on suggestions, I think Im going with the walk behind!

Thanks again

Darryl G
10-08-2011, 10:05 PM
thanks for the suggestion, I never thought of ramps into the back of the pick up! Based on suggestions, I think Im going with the walk behind!

Thanks again

They make portable arched ramps with straps that attach to your bumper. The arch is so the deck doesn't hang up on the edge of the gate, and the strap is so the ramp doesn't kick out if it does hang up and spin the wheels. You can also buy or have a folding full width ramp made and mounted instead of a tailgate. Someone on here had one for sale off a Ford recently...looked nice.

10-12-2011, 03:33 PM
Spend more money on the truck, get a full size with an 8 foot bed... get a used trailer ($500-$1000) and get a used walk behind. I know Exmark offered 0% financing for 2 years when I bought my walk behind and they have similar, if not, the same deal going on all the time.

At least you have a plan... most that want to start in this industry will just wing it and hope for the best.

I started small like yourself my first year, business grew fast but obviously you can control that part of it.

Good luck man!

10-12-2011, 11:17 PM
Seems like you have a good handle on business and what will be profitable for you. From my experience this year (first year back since the 90s) your premium rates will be hard to achieve, especially being the new company in town. My area is saturated with part time mow guys and there seems to be severe downward pressure on rates. I'm doing 3-4 mowing estimates for one landed job, and door hangers and fliers did not work at all.

My guess is the way you described yourself you live in a decent neighborhood and have friends and business contacts in the same economic strata. This is your best advantage because these are your best potential customers.

Good luck!


Big Money
10-12-2011, 11:49 PM
thanks for the response!
I live in a middle class neighborhood fairly close to some very up scale areas that are driven by the Hershey Medical Center. There is a very good mix with a lot of young people who mostly handle their own yards, but there is also quite a bit of older people who look for someone to come in.

I know getting those top dollar accounts will be very hard and I do not expect it to be easy, but I'm willing to wait if needed. My goal is 12-15 high dollar accounts but I'm willing to wait it out if needed and only take 6-10 if I can get them and work from within them to get other accounts in the same price range.

Thanks again for all the valuable advice, I really do appreciate it!

10-13-2011, 10:47 AM
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