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New to the business and need your suggestions!

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by jlcljayne, Oct 9, 2006.

  1. jlcljayne

    jlcljayne LawnSite Member
    from midwest
    Posts: 4

    I have been searching posts on this site for months and it has been an awesome resource for me. I am starting my lawn care business in the spring of 07 and would like some suggestions on a few things. My finances aren't an issue as we have been cutting our bills down to where my wife basically supports us and all my income is extra at this time. I have about 5K to start with now outside of purchasing a new truck...which I need anyways. But first...a short bio so you know where I am coming from.

    I realize I could work for another company for a season to get my feet wet and gain some experience but I don't think it would take long for me to want to get started on my own...and then I would be getting a late start in the season...so I would rather just prepare..get started at a slow pace and research and learn.

    I am located in the Wichita, KS area. My only experience with lawn care is my personal residences. I have designed and installed 4 sprinkler systems, sod and most recently seeded a few lawns for friends. I have a background in construction so I can usually pull off new projects after researching the ins and outs. I also have many years of sales and marketing experience so building rapport and closing the sale is not a problem.

    My weakness is I have little hands on experience and have never run any mower larger than 22". I believe I will just need some practice...kinda like the first time I jumped on a ditch-witch.

    I have run my own construction company so the admin part will not be much of a problem. The main problem I am having is that I have done soooo much research that I am now more confused than ever on a few things.

    #1 Truck? I just sold my car and will be buying a new truck this week. I am looking at base model 1/2 tons with manual trans and V6's. I know they are not the ultimate work trucks but I have towed muscle cars with V6's on large trailers...not ideal but can get it done. Am I on the right track here?

    #2 Trailer? I thought about an enclosed for security and nightly storage benefits but servicing, access and filling up promotes some challenges. Steel floor opens for hauling dirt or gravel or wood floors? I like the open trailers with the rear fold down ramp and the front-side ramp too...but the trick is keeping all your weight forward so loading this right without moving stuff around everytime seems like it could be tricky...what do you all use?

    #3 WB? I am leaning towards a 36" as I will be doing 100% residential at first and have the rear gate issue. Should I get a 48-55" WB and a 21" for backyards and price my jobs accordingly? Velky? The first ride on this might be interesting...I will definately practice this before I try to make $$ on it.

    #4 Insurance? Just kidding...definately!

    If someone has the time...can you answer this for me.

    Knowing what you know now and you got to restart your business and get new/used equipment, what would you get? What mower, size, blower, edger, etc.

    #5 Accounts? As a solo op, how many accounts can I realistically do in a days time with lets say a 36" wb...mow, edge and blow? Lets keep it simple and say there is 10 minutes between each job for travel. I am just looking for a general idea for the amount of lawns that can be cut in an 8-9 hour day.

    #6 First years advertising? Besides door hangers and flyers door to door, what methods were successful during your start up? I realize I will be able to gain accounts from other accounts in the future but am wondering how to get going this next spring.

    #7 What to do after the fall cleanups and before the spring season. I know taxes and selling for the next year but what other things do you seasonal guys do to keep bringing in some money? I was hoping to build almost full service relationships with lets say 50-60 clients and offer them additional service when the grass is not growing...fencing, painting, light remodel and landscape design. At the end of the season then send out a list of services offered during the off season...???

    I will leave it all at that for now...I will be asking "newbie" questions for the next 20 years so be patient with me.

    I would like to say that I am an avid forum user and have noticed how helpful people are on this site. Its nice to meet you all and I am looking forward to hearing from you!

  2. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 21,653

    ***** Keep saving your money, keep reducing your cost of living, it never stops so the longer you do it, the better you get. *****

    As for experience, I felt like you did: Suffer along and learn the hard way, it hurts but it's fast and dirty and you're done with it in 1-2 years the worst is over and by then you've got a rolling start.

    #1 - Learn to take it REAL easy on the gas, drive like an old man. Even with my 3/4 ton, if I PULL the trailer instead of just easing it along, my transmission suffers. I would get a used one, basic, no frills no thrills. I paid $1,400 for mine 4 years ago, but I do know a little something about working on them, still...

    #2 6x12 single axle with 2-foot steel sides, open. Just remember you need a class-III trailer hitch on the truck and always load most of your weight on top of the axle and towards the front - Basically you want a little more weight on the tongue than on the rear, if your tongue is being lifted, that's bad.

    #3 I've never owned anything smaller than a 48" deck but I did start with 52" float decks (the 48" in most cases is a fixed deck). Learn the differences but I recommend a float for starters (it's easier, and believe you me, it's still a tough one), I'd say at least a 40" - 44", as for the 21" I don't play with that, if my Wb don't fit I don't service it, but this is your choice.
    As for the velke, the first week or three are a bit interesting but it's not bad, and by the way, a Ztr is not more comfortable (trust me, I have a sit-down model), so a velke is just as good a way to go (oh, and BIG difference vs. walking)... On that note, DO walk the Wb from time to time so you're in shape to do it, case the velke craps out on you one day.

    #4 Start shopping around and keep on shopping. Prices in my area range generally around 600-800 / year but I pay $400 / year, see what I'm saying is shopping around pays off but I looked long and hard.

    #5 Starting out, plan on 4-5 maybe 6. Not trying to be funny but that's what I did, realistically and honestly.

    #6 Newspaper ad, but NOT the classifieds! Try a small box ad and be prepared to do some experimenting so whatever money you spend, be prepared to lose it. I tried paper after paper until I hit one that did good, and still does. btw, classified ads attract folks looking for lawn 'boys' (high school kids), I don't know why this is so, but so it is.

    #7 Fall cleanups run into february for me, by march I start going over every piece of equipment to make SURE it is g2go because once the poop hits the fan, sometimes my equipment doesn't see another complete maintenance for 6+ months at a time - Sure I lube it daily and sharpen blades, but the better of a shape it's in when the rush starts, the longer it will hang in there.

    ***** Keep saving your money, keep reducing your cost of living, it never stops so the longer you do it, the better you get. *****

    Hope that helps.

    PMLAWN LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,535

    Only t&t answers at this time, it's late:laugh:

    Truck, I would like to see a V8. if you are always pulling it will be a better rig to drive. faster to pick up speed at the lights (and all we have to sell is time) and just a nicer combo that will get better gas mileage because of less work. AUTO!!!!. For pulling always get an auto trans. (unless you are talking 1 tons and up with designed manuals), in the smaller trucks it is not worth it to run a manual. and just more work:laugh:

    Buy an enclosed trailer and you will love it. Bring everything with you and lock it easy, stay dry in the "heavy" rain. Bathroom, storage, billboard,
    They just about give open trailers away. you can find a 6X12 for under $1000. bucks just buy 2 trailers. If you run your business right it will pay for itself and than you have both for many more uses.

    PMLAWN LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,535

    WB-- We had 21-36-44-48 in WB's and the most usefull on the residential and also the most efficent was the 44". I think most off the gates I saw were 48". But I live in an area that had a lot of new fences. It depends on your area. Most of my small stuff was 5000- 8000 feet of turf and the 44" fit great. If you buy a 36" you may be looking to trade up soon. but you can get into a 36 a lot cheaper than a 44-48. I used fixed decks on all my 36" and flote on 44" and up. Your area may be flat and fixed will work well.
    Whatever size you buy, Go Hydro,
  5. newbomb

    newbomb LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 391

    I recomend making do with the 1/2 ton truck for the first year or two. Get a 36" walk behind and 2 pushmowers, Get a good straight shaft weedeater and an inexpensive handheld blower. You can load it all in the truck and park it in the garage at night. If you cut small residentials you should be able to do 6-8 per day and make $200 a day or so. Get enough equipment to get started but develop your business before you buy too much. As your business grows upgrade your equipment. You must be profitable first and foremost.
  6. extremerc76

    extremerc76 LawnSite Member
    from NJ
    Posts: 93

    as for the velke, try walking behind the mower for about two weeks first. walking behind it is sometimes hard enough in some spots, then bolt on the velke and try riding around in a parking lot for about twenty mins. i have a 32" wb, i wanted to go with a 36 or bigger but i already had too many accounts with gates and couldn't drop them because of mower size. if you stick to residential you should be fine with 32/36". the velke is the best thing i ever did to my mower, cutting lawns in alot less time now, and not walking!

    PMLAWN LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,535

    # of accounts. No way to answer. If an account takes 8.5 hours to do. Can not be done in an 8 hour day:laugh:
    I believe the number is meaningless anyway, What you need to do is figure out what you want/need to bring in as far as income, You need to figure what your overhead and carrying costs will be. Nothing is ever paid for --It all has to be paid for from the work it generates.
    You say you want to work an 8 hour day, ?5 days a week? or 40 hours, you will not be productive all those hours --lunch and windshield time so lets say 6.5 a day times 5 = 32.5 hours a week production. Times 30 or so weeks. (I know you ask about winter work but lets stay here for now) so about 975 hours of work a year, Your overhead has to be divided by this for each piece of equipment and tool and maintenance time and office time and advertising and all insurance. Let say you buy a 4000 dollar truck and expect it to work for 2 years and be junk so 2000 a year / 975 = $2.05 of every hour of production needs to go to the truck. Do this for every expense and you will reach a cost of doing business for each hour, for kicks lets say $15 per hour add you direct costs like gas and string, things get used up as you work and soon you will get an overhead number, For kicks again lets say $17 total now. Let say you want to take home $15 an hour so before taxes you need $20 an hour for labor so 37 now total. You need the business to profit and think a 15% profit margin is what you want so add another $6.53 to the Price total and get to $43.53 or $43.50 for every hour of actual work sold (these are just fictitious numbers and not true to life)
    So if each job takes 1/2 hour you need 13 a day sold at $21.75 or $282.75 for each day. (which is a very low number)

    We have no clue how long the properties in you area will take you. Just know that you need to figure out what you need and how much work each day to produce that. Than sell that amount of work
  8. guven

    guven LawnSite Member
    Posts: 205

    I started like that,
    I still want to keep my set up, I love it. I cut small residentials,
    If I push I can cut 13-15 a day. but most of time I cut 6-10 depends on the how big the yard.
    If I were you I can start small and simple
    no big truck and save gas .

    PMLAWN LawnSite Gold Member
    Posts: 3,535

    You will get a lot of responce to start small and build. And it is a good way if you can do it. But a small truck can only carry a small mower. A small mower can only cut a small amount of grass in X amount of time. So you will make a small amount of money. and have an even smaller amount left to invest in better equipment. (which you have to do to make better money)
    So you push a small mower all year and end up with $2000 left to buy a new mower. Which is $4k so you mow another year and now can buy that mower. Two years in and you still are not really making any Real money. Year 3 you are starting to make a little more with the new mower but the trimmer and blower and the edger are starting to wear out. so that money will need to be used to fix and replace. And that new mower will not fit in the small truck, So out to get another truck to pull the trailer---which you need to buy so maybe another year or so to build up to that and than even more equipment and so on--- How old are you and how many years do you have to boot strap. And when will the wife say GET A REAL JOB!!
    Think hard about what you can invest in the business and the return on the investment. How long you want to work just for the business and not for yourself. Plan out the next few years and really discuss with your wife what to do. Can you make a bigger investment now and reach the good profit point faster. The most important part of any business is the money. Spend 80% of your time planning the money and 20% planning equipment.
  10. Down2EarthLawns

    Down2EarthLawns LawnSite Member
    Posts: 191

    I totally agree with PMLawn. The analysis seems as if there is alot of experience with these #'s. I'm a newbie, too, with a similar background and plan (oddly enough). If money is not really an issue when you are starting up, then why get equipment that you are HOPEFULLY going to grow out of in the next year or 2? My arsenal is all new, commercial grade, and it gives me plenty of room to grow. I don't want to hit a wall of equipment restraints unless I retain so much work that I have to add another setup. Buy the larger truck, a 16 ft trailer (I prefer open), and start out with the confidence that it you are equipped to handle whatever you feel like taking on. Not very many people start up without financial issues, so I am taking advantage of it. Because I probably won't be enjoying that luxury for the next couple of years while I am investing in MYSELF.

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