PDA

View Full Version : Hope For Companies Just Starting Out


JimLewis
01-26-2012, 04:41 PM
So I've told this story a few times over the years here on Lawnsite. But it's been a long while since I told it. I was sharing the story with someone here in a PM and I figured maybe it was about time to share it again. The membership here has mostly changed over the past 5 years so I would bet most Lawnsite members here haven't ever seen this story before. I'm hoping maybe it will inspire some of the smaller companies just starting out.

I started my company 16 years ago. I was totally broke. And had been for years. Always living paycheck to paycheck - like many Americans. I started with about $1000.00 available on one credit card. With that, I purchased a used $50 MTD 21" mower with a B&S engine, a stick edger, some big black garbage bags (to throw grass clippings into) an ad in the paper, and a $50 old rusty truck bed trailer that I got off a farm out in the country. The main color of the trailer was rust. But you could still see some of the original yellow and brown. It was a beauty, let me tell you! The only vehicle I owned was my baby - a 1980 metallic blue Camaro. I installed a towing package on the back of this Camaro and pulled that ugly trailer around with my crappy equipment. And that was my set up. I didn't even have a blower. I just used the broom from our apartment to sweep off people's sidewalks and driveways when I was finished mowing.

So here I was driving this "classic" Camaro down the road towing this ugly trailer. Because the camaro sat so low, the butt end of the trailer sat really high up in the air. I didn't know that they made receivers that went up and could adjust the height of your ball. So I just had a straight receiver and ball and the trailer always sat at this funky angle. To add insult to injury, the trailer squeaked really loud! With every rotation of the axle you'd hear this really loud "squeek...squeek....squeek" as I drove down the road next to you.

I would give anything for a photo of that setup. But I don't have any. I created a mock up of what my set-up looked like on Photoshop. (see photo below).

I drove around in this set up for pretty much the entire first year in my business. In the winter, I was finally able to save up enough scratch to sell the Camaro and buy my first pickup.

But one thing I remember vividly was coming to stop lights in the summer and another LCO or landscaper from one of the big companies in town was parked next to me at the light. You all know the drill....you see another landscaper.....look over at his setup... nod your head and maybe waive a little - just out of respect. Well, that's not what would happen to me. I got laughed at. Badly. I remember this one time I stopped at a light and these two Hispanic guys were in a big Isuzu truck or something. Really nice huge bug truck. Really nice trailer. all nice equipment. They worked for the biggest company in our town. And the driver didn't notice me at first. But then after 10 seconds he just sort of glanced over at me and then glanced back at the set-up I was towing behind me. Right then he instantly started belly-laughing. He poked the passenger as to say, "Ha! Check this fool out!" And then they were both just cackling laughing at me and my set up. I just sort of smiled. It was pretty horrid looking, I knew that. I agreed with them. It was pathetic and it was funny. It didn't really offend me too much. I knew where I was but I also knew I didn't really have any other options - yet.

But I had a dream. I said to myself, "That's right. Laugh it up guys. But you just wait. One day, I'm going to own one of the biggest lawn care and landscape operations in town and you're still going to be working for someone like me, making $10 an hour. Just give me a few years and we'll see if you're still laughing."

Fast forward 16 years later. In many ways I've realized that dream. We're not the biggest gig in town. But we're one of just a handful of pretty good sized companies. We have 28 employees now and will have about 35 by the middle of this summer. We currently have 14 trucks on the road any given day and more coming this year. We have two nice big shops (one open, one enclosed). We did a little over $2Mil in sales last year, which ain't bad for a guy who started with literally nothing. Below is a photo of our open shop. This is just 5 out of 14 trucks we have in this photo. I haven't been able to really get a good photo of all our fleet yet.

But we've come a long way from the young 24 year old kid who was riding around in a Camaro pulling a crappy trailer with crappy equipment.

Point is; if you have a dream and work hard enough you can get there. Your dream may not be to have a big company like mine was. But whatever it is, hold on to that dream! Don't give up, even when it looks like giving up is the only option. You can accomplish your dream. It's just a matter of will.

I hope this helps inspire a few people.

.

KrayzKajun
01-26-2012, 05:03 PM
Thanks Jim. You are a true inspiration.
Posted via Mobile Device

GMLC
01-26-2012, 05:16 PM
Thanks again for the great story. It keeps me going at it!!!

93Chevy
01-26-2012, 05:25 PM
Thanks for sharing. I didn't want it badly enough...I sold my business a year ago, but I'm happier working for somebody else...for now. Who knows what the future will hold.

94gt331
01-26-2012, 06:49 PM
Thanks for sharing your story. I have a story like yours also, but your way a head of mine. It's cool to see over time how far you came with your buisness. When you where growing your buisiness was it allways steady growth or do you have years where you feel you really didn't grow or get any farther? And do you plan on growing any bigger? It would be nice to see more pepole try allittle harder in life because you can do anything you want to in life if you set a goal and work for it.

Florida Gardener
01-26-2012, 06:57 PM
Thanks, Jim. Great story. One thing I want to point out is that you have been in the game for 16 YEARS. This is what I think most people don't get. You have to be in this for the long haul.

There is another guy on here; Az Gardener, whom I admire his business and what he does. He has been in this game a long time too.

You have to put in the time, but I agree, if you have a dream, work hard, you can get wherever that "successful" place is to you.

LindblomRJ
01-26-2012, 07:17 PM
Jim, that is an awesome story. Amazing what hard work and a never give up mentality will get you.

Many can learn from your business savvy. Many can learn from your technical knowledge. Excellent story.

Richard Martin
01-26-2012, 07:24 PM
You sure this isn't a picture of Topsites?

http://www.lawnsite.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=238180&stc=1&d=1327613412

JimLewis
01-26-2012, 07:27 PM
There is another guy on here; Az Gardener, whom I admire his business and what he does. He has been in this game a long time too.

I agree. A professional all the way. He's been a big help to me over the years as well. He helped me out with a huge landscape project we did in the Phoenix area a few years ago for a family friend. And we had the opportunity to have dinner together and spend some time after dinner together last year after the 2011 I.A. show there in Phoenix. I really love the way he runs things. Great guy.

JimLewis
01-26-2012, 07:29 PM
You sure this isn't a picture of Topsites?

It probably is. But unfortunately, I used to be pretty scrubby myself. So that's a pretty accurate description of what my set up looked like in 1996. The difference is that TopShites probably still has a set up like that to this day. :laugh:

MarkintheGarden
01-26-2012, 07:40 PM
Great story Jim! Gives us all a little hope of a brighter future.

Do you miss the old Camaro? I know you don't miss that old trailer.

LindblomRJ
01-26-2012, 07:42 PM
You sure this isn't a picture of Topsites?

http://www.lawnsite.com/attachment.php?attachmentid=238180&stc=1&d=1327613412

It probably is. But unfortunately, I used to be pretty scrubby myself. So that's a pretty accurate description of what my set up looked like in 1996. The difference is that TopShites probably still has a set up like that to this day. :laugh:

TopShites would have dodge on the tailgate of the trailer. He started out with a dodge Omni he upgraded last year to a Neon with a bumper hitch. :weightlifter:

The dodge theme and mega fail reminds of a more pathetic Al Bundy from married with children.

Richard Martin
01-26-2012, 07:52 PM
I have a picture of his trailer on one of my computers. I'll have to dig it out one day.

1st class grass
01-26-2012, 08:04 PM
Great story!!! Thanks for sharing.

JimLewis
01-26-2012, 08:13 PM
Great story Jim! Gives us all a little hope of a brighter future.....Do you miss the old Camaro?

Yes. I love classic cars. Especially muscle cars. I'd love to have just about any classic car or muscle car from the 60s or 70s. I'd really love to have a little bit older Camaro. Like a '67 or '69.

Before that I had a Datsun 260Z and a Datsun 280Z. Also had a dodge charger. LOVED those cars. I love speed! I've been thinking about buying a newer Mustang GT lately. Rented one last year on vacation in Palm Springs, CA and I felt like I was 18 again. Exhilarating!

MarkintheGarden
01-27-2012, 09:51 AM
Yes. I love classic cars. Especially muscle cars. I'd love to have just about any classic car or muscle car from the 60s or 70s. I'd really love to have a little bit older Camaro. Like a '67 or '69.

Before that I had a Datsun 260Z and a Datsun 280Z. Also had a dodge charger. LOVED those cars. I love speed! I've been thinking about buying a newer Mustang GT lately. Rented one last year on vacation in Palm Springs, CA and I felt like I was 18 again. Exhilarating!

Me too, I love that old steel, I had a 66 Chevy Impala SS convertable. I would buy a hot rod and rebuild it if I had the space and time to do it. The newer retro look cars are nice, but pricey.

A friend of mine started his sign business 20 years ago, at that time he had a 67 Firebird and used it to do his first several sign installs. I remember helping him strap a ladder to the roof, that looked as silly as your camaro with that trailer. He sold it to get a truck. Now he has a 67 camaro that spends most of it's time waiting for him to complete the restoration.

There is an old hot rod in my retirement plan if not sooner.

coolluv
01-27-2012, 11:37 AM
I agree. A professional all the way. He's been a big help to me over the years as well. He helped me out with a huge landscape project we did in the Phoenix area a few years ago for a family friend. And we had the opportunity to have dinner together and spend some time after dinner together last year after the 2011 I.A. show there in Phoenix. I really love the way he runs things. Great guy.

Jim is a class act all the way. I'm sure glad that a few of the vets stick around here and help us out. Its the only reason I still come here.

Thanks Jim and all the other vets that help us out and inspire us.

Dave...

APLUS LAWN CARE
01-27-2012, 12:20 PM
Thanks for that story. It is truly inspiring.

rywnygc
01-27-2012, 01:00 PM
Great story Jim. I have the same goals. I want my company to be one of the first names a person thinks about when they think maintenance. It would be nice to hear some more of the story. Ups and downs, times you wanted to throw in the towel, things that made you plug away even harder.

I started when I got out of the Army. I had a rusty POS dodge ram with a 21" in the bed. Now, two seasons later, I have a nice looking Superduty (lettered up), 2 trailers, nicer mowers and a spray rig I am building for pressure washing. I won't say how much I made last year, but it was about 1200% more than the first year and we expect to tripple it this coming season. 2013-2014 winter is our go big or go home mark. As of now we are debt free but we plan to take out a sizable loan at that point to move into commercial snow removal. I believe that anyone with the heart (and sometimes stomach) to do it, can succeed in any business. My father in law told me that I would never make any money doing this up here....too much competition and crap economy. Now he is coming to work for me. You just never know.....

coolluv
01-27-2012, 04:39 PM
I used to work for one of the largest construction companies around. This was years ago. 2 brothers owned it and they started with nothing and ended up turning it into an 80 million a year business with operations in 3 states and over 300 employees. They had a huge shop with about 8 bays and a big office building on about 20 acres.

Inside the shop tucked back in a corner was this old beat up crappy looking pickup. It just sat there,and I thought why the heck did they have this old truck sitting here, I thought maybe they were going to restore it or something. Then one day my curiousity got the better of me and I asked the shop foreman about that truck.

Come to find out it was the truck they started the business with and the owners just couldn't get rid of it for sentimental reasons.

I remember walking over to it and looking at it with more respect than I had in the past. I thought that was pretty cool.

Dave...

steve4611
01-27-2012, 04:56 PM
Great story, Jim. Inspiring indeed. You deserve everything you have earned over the years.

It reminds me of something my Grandpa told me when I was a teenager. "The only time you should look down on someone, is if you are helping them up, off the ground"

I don't look down on the guys with very low-budget set-ups, but I can't help but to chuckle a little bit. I still give a nod and a wave, though.

unkownfl
01-27-2012, 08:18 PM
Those crappy setups scare me. Not only from the stand point it could kill someone going down the road, but that I and everyone else has new competition on the block. They can afford to work for less than I can and probably have a bigger margin.

JimLewis
01-27-2012, 08:21 PM
That's an awesome story Dave! I wish I had that old Camaro and trailer myself. I'd pay good money for it. It's always nice to remember where you started. Keeps you humble.

steve4611
01-27-2012, 09:23 PM
Those crappy setups scare me. Not only from the stand point it could kill someone going down the road, but that I and everyone else has new competition on the block. They can afford to work for less than I can and probably have a bigger margin.

My ultimate fear is the kid pulling the lawnmower down the street. All the ambition the world and $0.0000 overhead. It keeps me up at night.

MarkintheGarden
01-27-2012, 09:50 PM
My ultimate fear is the kid pulling the lawnmower down the street. All the ambition the world and $0.0000 overhead. It keeps me up at night.

Every time I see this I give them some encouragement and tell them to charge as much as they can, even suggest how much sometimes.

One kid had a couple lawns on the same block as me. Well after some time his dad called me for lawn service. The kid has grown up and is now serving in Afganistan. I now have six lawns on a short block and will be going to his homecoming, we hope soon.

JimLewis
01-27-2012, 10:07 PM
I don't worry about the kids just starting out or the really small companies just starting out. True, they can do work a whole lot cheaper than we can. But I don't vie for that kind of client. We're vying for the more up-scale clients. And these are the clients those new start-ups usually can't touch. Because my client isn't interested in a smaller company without much experience. They're looking for quality, a whole lot of experience, reliability, and a company who has been around for a long time - a name they recognize. These small start-ups don't have any of that. So we're really going after totally different markets. For the most part, they aren't my competition.

Also, very very few ever really make it very big. Every single year I see dozens and dozens of new 1-man or 2-man operations with a truck, a rake, a mower, and magnetic sign on their truck. And most of them don't last more than a few years. Very few of them ever grow beyond the point of having one crew.

But there's always that chance that they could! I start to worry about them when they get 4 or 5 crews and I start seeing a LOT of their trucks around town. Then they're starting to be a little bit of a threat.

headz77
01-27-2012, 10:16 PM
I have never understood the obsession with the "competition". There is enough work to go around for the guys who know what they are doing and offer more than just a low price. I am in the same market as you, Jim, (though much smaller) and we have probably never even bid the same job. BTW- I enjoy your posts.

Florida Gardener
01-27-2012, 10:23 PM
I have never understood the obsession with the "competition". There is enough work to go around for the guys who know what they are doing and offer more than just a low price. I am in the same market as you, Jim, (though much smaller) and we have probably never even bid the same job. BTW- I enjoy your posts.

Yup, I'm not really concerned with "competition." if your works top notch along with customer service, you don't have to worry about all the new start ups.
Posted via Mobile Device

steve4611
01-28-2012, 07:10 AM
My ultimate fear is the kid pulling the lawnmower down the street. All the ambition the world and $0.0000 overhead. It keeps me up at night.

I guess I should have put a smiley face after that. I really don't fear them at all, or any competitors for that matter, just making a joke.

You have to assume that all of your customers have or are going to be approached by your competitors. My philosophy is not to give them a single reason to switch companies. Most of the time it works, occasionally, it doesn't. That's the life we chose.

unkownfl
01-28-2012, 03:19 PM
Well I guess I'm different. I usually don't bid anything outside of my small route. I like to go home from lunch and not have to use more than a tank a week in fuel on my truck. I usually have at least 5 homes in neighborhood. Usually 8-10 homes on a street. When I start to see other coming around it kind of irritates me losing one or two a year on the street to a low baller.

Penncare
01-28-2012, 05:16 PM
I never knock someone for trying. Most of the newbies will come and go. Went to look at a location to bid recently and was there last year too. Person who got the bid last year did not even show up this time and neither did many others. Last year there were almost 30, this year a handful. This year all companies that are legit and can provide a good service so whoever of us that gets it the customer will get great service; though likely at a slightly higher price. The guys I really think should be worried are those that start by taking out a large loan and have all brand new slick equipment and the payments that demand feeding. If the person with the crappy setup fails, he or she can just start with another plan or career and he has a net worth of 0.00 just like he did when he started; however, the person who borrowed heavily will likely have a net worth in the negative even after they have taken all his nice stuff. I tell people a good analogy is buying ladders when you have no experience using one. If you buy the biggest one first thing, if you fall it will take a lot longer to recover than if you had started with the short ladder.

unkownfl
01-28-2012, 06:09 PM
I like the ones that have all the payments and then get out. I normally buy all their equipment so I can replace mine at a 1/3 of the cost.

Lugnut
01-28-2012, 06:46 PM
Great thread with a motivating story. I'm going into year 5 now and have gotten a good start on reaching my goal but theres still quite a few years of the 100 hour weeks ahead of me.