Considering Adding Lawn Mowing Contracts

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by BeautifulBlooms, Oct 19, 2006.

  1. BeautifulBlooms

    BeautifulBlooms LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 613

    Hello, I am a co-owner (With my wife) of a small landscape company that has primarily been landscape design, maintenance and small construction (NO SKID STEER WORK ALL HAND PLANTING etc.)

    I am considering offering lawn mowing programs to our current customers in hopes of transitioning to having full time mowing crews to compliment our landscape crews. I know going out and getting lawn mowing contracts may be easier than getting full season landscape contracts, but I also know that keeping the lawn customers happy is probably much harder. I know the competition is much greater in lawn mowing than it is with landscaping, and I also know that the equipment needs are much more expensive than we have had for the landscape work. Basically the scope of our landscaping requirements (all hand labor, minimal equipment needs (blowers, hand tools, etc) seems to be much less than the need for mowing practices.

    What I am wondering is how should I go about making this happen? I know lots of opinions there, but I'll take them all. We will charge $45 an hour (next year) for landscaping with less inputs than for lawn mowing, I can't possibly charge more than $45 for lawn mowing can I? Well I guess I know I can but will I get any customers at that rate?

    We already have 2 trucks 2005 Chevy 1500 silverado w/ Crew Cab Long Box, 2006 Chevy 1500 silverado w/ long box. Is this truck more than capable of handling a trailer with mowing equipment on it? I know an enclosed trailer would be nice but also unecessary at the beginning of this venture. The trailer I have for landscaping would not work for mowing equipment, so i know I would need to find a decent trailer for hauling around the equipment. If I know I will not fill up a full weeks worth of mowing, can I get by with just one single mower, string trimmer and backpack blower? If my mower goes down in how long can it typically get back up and running (knowing full well I cannot handle the mechanical side of things quite yet)? 1 day, 2 days, a week? I know it depends on the service personnel but just a general guideline.

    Any help would be desired. I look forward to hearing back from all you established companies.

    Mike Harrington
    __________________
     
  2. PMLAWN

    PMLAWN LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,535

    What equipment do you have for landscape? What dollar value and maintenance requirements?

    Now What do you thing you will have invested in Maintenance tools? Lawn mowers are a lot of money and take a lot of maintenance.
    I would feel that you need to charge more to cover the cost
     
  3. gandk06

    gandk06 LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 509

    The lawn care brings in constant money, week after week, which is nice to help pay for the new equipment you need. You already have happy customers, I think, so that would be a place to start to get your lawn care going. I am in the same area as you and yes you can charge more than $45 per hour for mowing.

    Good luck
     
  4. BeautifulBlooms

    BeautifulBlooms LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 613

    Here is the scope of my business so far. (We added the maintenance division in September 2005. prior to that we were just landscape design)

    Financed Equipment
    2005 Chevy Silverado 1500 Extended Cab/Long Box. $350/month (5 Years)
    2006 Chevy Silverado 1500 Long Box $350/month (5 Years)

    Outright owned equipment
    Metalframe trailer with 1/2" plywood sides, (Capacity 4 yards of mulch but only 1 yard of soil, used mainly for hauling debris for cleanups and plant deliveries, $300 purchase plus $1500 repairs to axle)
    Simplicity reartine rototiller
    Billy Goat walk behind blower
    Stihl 18" Chainsaw
    Stihl 18" Gas hedge trimmer
    2 small electric hedge trimmers
    2-Husqvarna Backpack Blowers
    Lesco Broadcast Spreader
    Tree Dolly
    2- 3 gallon Solo Backpack sprayers (one for roundup one for lawn herbicides)
    Assorted Handtools, tarps, hoses, watertimers, extension cords, etc etc etc

    This season the hours worked were approximately:
    April 1 - November 30 (45 hours each per week) Me, and my wife
    June 1 - August 31 (25 hours each per week) 2 summer college students
    September 1 - November 30 (30 hours per week) Fall helper

    Our college students made an average of $7.50 per hour, and our fall helper is making $9 per hour. My wife and I were able to make enough draws to pay the bills, make our IRA retirement contributions and still have some fun spending money for vacations and GOLF! and we already have enough money set aside from our profits to pay ourselves through March next year. So all of the profits this fall go directly to purchase of equipment for either more landscape stuff or possibly the lawn maintenance division.

    Next year we plan on having a full time seasonal (April 1 - November 30) helper (hoping to retain our fall helper who is interested in learning the business and possibly going back to school.) We want to be able to supply work for a full time crew (2 people) of landscape maintenance just for maintenance jobs, and then another crew full time seasonally on one time landscape jobs, either installations, ripouts and replantings, etc etc etc. And if it looks good enough we would have a part to full time mowing crew, which would then require an extra truck.
     
  5. Runner

    Runner LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 13,494

    I can se what you're looking at. I can tell you, the idea of offering mowing services CAN do one thing. It can act as a foot in the door to upsell additional services. However, if you've been pricing your landscape install right, don't think that yo are going to make at mowing what you've made at landscaping, because you won't...not even close. There is no question, that mowing is very LEAST lucrative operation of the ntire green industry. You CAN make money by running a seperate mowing crew, but you have to do alot of them. That's the only way to do it, - make it up in numbers. The gross to overhead (margin) just isn't there like it is in other operations. The one benefit of it is, that it is steady, and therefore relatively predictable - especially if you shoot for higher quality properties that are irrigated.
    The repairs can kill you though, if the equipment is abused. Sometimes, it's bad enough when the equipment ISN'T abused. Also, your crew(s) have to be able to get in and get out. Even a little bit of added time can equate to a break-even on a property - or even worse yet, a loss. Many people don't realize jus how fast the stuf adds up. I see it all the time. 2 guys standing around a trailer waiting on a third to finish blowing, and several other things of this sort. The stuff adds up FAST. If you're paying your guys $8 an hour, that's about $32 an hour you have going out. This includes times like what I described, along with windshield time, down time, time at the shop that is non-billable hours, and even the time that they are standing in line at the gas station waiting to bu buy cigarettes. Then of course, Jimmy decides he has to run back in to get a box of donuts. well, you can multiply ths by how ever many guys you got in that truck.
     
  6. firefightergw

    firefightergw LawnSite Gold Member
    from Texas
    Posts: 3,340

    Blooms, do you feel that $45 an hour in landscaping is all that you can get in your market. Down here in Texas the going rate is $75 to $85 an hour for a crew of two. A lot of people don't think mowing is all that profitable. It can be if done right. If it is just you and your wife doing the maintenance it is very easy to be profitable. If you have a crew of two are three, you really have to have the numbers and track your labor cost.

    A two man crew can do 25 lawns a day with a 36" walk-behind, two weed-eaters, an edger, and two BP blowers. Most people will tell you that when it comes to mowing a good rate would be $1 a minute or $60 an hour. If you price your lawns at $30 a piece, on average that means that you will bring in $750 a day, doing 25 lawns. If you pay one guy $8 an hour and another $9 then your labor cost is $17 an hour. Typically you can do 25 lawns with the set-up I gave you above in about 10-12 hours depending on the size of the lawn. Therefore your labor for the day will be about $204 at 12 hours. That leaves $546 a day for other expenses, taxes, etc. and the rest is profit.

    You don't need a big fancy trailer for your equipment. The trucks you have are more than adequate. We actually use a small 4cyl. Ford Ranger to keep fuel cost down and put our 36" WB on a 4X8 trailer, everything else goes on the Ranger including a commercial 21" mower for those spots we can't get the 36" into.

    Hope this helps.
     
  7. DuraCutter

    DuraCutter LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 806

    Very true. The part about the cigarettes, so true. Or the hour long lunch, that happens often. There is a built in inertia to speed in people, and if you can't make good dollars, it overtakes your cash flow. Personally, I believe there is money to make in lawncare if you go with multiple crews and large numbers of projects other than residential. I'm afraid that lawn cutting will steal profits from your landscaping and it will drag your business down. Unless you do large numbers of properties, stick to landscape. Talk to equipment dealers in your area and you'll find one that will give you great advice. Listen to what he has to say though. I didn't when I started the lawn cutting business. I spoke to a dealer who knew what he was doing and he warned me that lawncutting was cut throat and I didn't listen and I learnt the hard way that lawn cutting needs to be a leader to better work from the properties, not the main bread and butter of your company.. unless you go huge... good luck!
     
  8. PMLAWN

    PMLAWN LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,535

    Please do not take this the wrong way but this is what will get you into trouble. First I will disagree with 2 guys doing 25 lawns in a day with a 36 inch mower.even if the lawns are small you will be at a house for 20 min + you will be very hard pressed to work a crew for more than 10 hours all summer long. and than you will only get about 8 hours of production out of that. take away drive time and maybe 15 - 20 in a day-- and that is working them hard-----8+9 is not 17. But will work out to more like $22 an hour, And if you are using guys that get 8 and 9 an hour expect even less production from the crew
    So with that lets plan on 15 at 30 is more like $450 a day with about $220 in labor. This will be more real,
    Figure about 30% to 40% overhead so maybe 180 or so a day to run it so now you are down to maybe 50 or so a day off the truck. Not bad, but lets think about that.
    You are in Cheese land. How many weeks a year do you mow, 28?? You pay for this business all year and the overhead to keep it. You will make 50 a day or 200 a week-- 28 weeks so you are talking about bring in another $5600 a year-- maybe-- and this is when it is all working right, How many years will it take to build that great route that can make good money??
    will the 8&9 dollar guy just wait each year for mowing to start up again, Heck no so you will spend time training all over again each year. You will be doing a lot of maintenance to the equipment to keep up with the work and a lot of head banging to keep up with the employees.
    There is a big difference in running this business part time for extra money and running it for profit after paying all bills and making enough from the business to support the total business and support a person as well.
    I feel that Runner has a better grasp on what has to happen for profit than Firefighter. There is no doubt that money can be made in this business but what do you need to invest in time-- money-- headaches-- labor-- and for what profit. Think long and hard before making a jump
     
  9. Runner

    Runner LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 13,494

    Exactly... (except for the part of Runner having a better grasp) - I dont have a good grasp on ANYthing!:laugh:
    But the figures of hours in a day, and the amount of lawns done, are just not realistic with 25 - unless they are postage stamp size and all lined up in a row. How often does THAT happen - especially 2 days in a row,..let alone 4 or 5.
    The other thing is, is the labor costs. 8+9 does NOT equal 17, - unless you're doing it illegally. If that's the case, let's not pay taxes, insurance, or manybe a few other bills. Now we ARE making better money.
    Anyway, like PM said, 8+9 equaling about 22 per hour is true,..and that's on the LOW end. This is just like what I mentioned in my post....I said. "If you're paying your guys $8 an hour, that's about $32 an hour you have going out." Also, as usual, he brings up a few other good points, as well.
    Now, that was based on 3 guys,...not four. So,...bottom line, is be realistic, and take advantage of advice from experience that can actually explain some real numbers that do exist. This will no doubt add some insight into your future decisions in this industry.
     
  10. firefightergw

    firefightergw LawnSite Gold Member
    from Texas
    Posts: 3,340

    I am quoting myself because I don't think you read what I posted correctly. What I said is 8+9=17 and also that leaves $546 a day for other expenses, taxes, etc. PMLawn, I don't want you to take this the wrong way but my crew of two does do 25 yards a day with the equipment we have. There is another company on here that uses a crew of three and does between 30-40 a day. If your operation only clears $50 for every $750 you bring in then you have way too much overhead.

    My post was directed to the original poster that was asking for input on whether he should get more involved in maintenance. It never ceases to amaze me that many on here say that mowing route is not profitable. I can assure you that every stop we make, all year, is thoroughly tracked. I know when my guys show up, when they leave and what each of those stops costs me in labor, insurance, advertising, maintenance on equipment, new equipment purchase, etc. ,etc. I know my gross, cost, and net profit to the Tee. I don't intend on sharing my entire business model on here. The numbers I shared earlier are very close but still leave many things very vague. I like it that way. You just shouldn't assume that because these numbers do not reflect your operation that they are flawed.
     

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