Changing focus

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by jaclawn, May 6, 2000.

  1. jaclawn

    jaclawn LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 490

    I am considering changing the focus of my business and would like to hear some opinions from others who may have been in the same situation as myself. <p>First, a little background so that you know where I am coming from. I have been doing the &quot;Green&quot; thing for about 10 years now. I started as a mowing only contractor, part time. After about two years, I went full time. At this point I was working solo, and making a decent buck at it. At about the same time, I started getting requests for some landscape work. I did some clean-up work, renovations, mulching, pruning… not getting into any major projects like complete new installs or hardscaping. <p>I found that I was not able to fit all of the landscape work into my mowing schedule. With weather being a large dictating factor in mowing, I always found myself behind on the landscape work. You can put a landscape job off for a week without it taking twice as long to do, with mowing, if you are a few days behind, lookout. Sure if you are behind on landscape work, you may have a few upset customers, but the work is not nearly as time sensitive as mowing.<p>I was at the breaking point. I hired a helper, and was able to get the mowing route completed in 4 days, leaving 2 days per week to do landscape work. This was my original plan, but without the helper. So, I was using a part time helper 3 days per week, one day mowing, and 2 days landscaping. It worked out well, until the helper quit. I was overwhelmed at the amount of work I was faced with. I was not able to complete it on time, and had angry customers. <p>I continued this way, all the time having trouble finding and keeping good help. I have thought/tried everything, and short of adopting a 17 year old son, I have come to the conclusion that I am going to have to be a solo operation once again. I simply cannot put up with employee car troubles, no notice of needed days off… <p>Currently, most of my work comes from my regular mowing customers. I like to be the full service guy for them, cutting, mulching, pruning, fert… The customers like the one stop shopping, knowing that there is no &quot;passing the buck&quot; when it comes to problems, knowing that I am there every week to take care of problems when they are in their infancy. <p>The biggest problem with this type of setup, )mostly full service accounts( is that everybody needs the same things at the same time. For example, in the early spring everyone wants a clean up, now, everyone wants mulch, in the summer, everyone needs shrub attention… This plays havoc with my mowing schedule. IT also makes for some unhappy customers, when some will have to wait for their mulch or whatever. People seem to want things done yesterday. <p>So, at times, I am faced with overwhelming amounts of work. I end up working very long days and weekends just to keep on top of things. <p>I have been thinking of changing the focus of my business. Late last season, I thought that I may concentrate strictly on turf. Mowing, fert, maybe some de-thatching and aerating. This would eliminate the landscape work. The thing that I don't particularly like about this is the fact that the mowing is still there, and so time sensitive. <p>Over the winter, I had given some thought to going landscape only, and dropping the mowing. I would still have liked to do the applications, as they are profitable. The problem with that is that most all of my landscape work comes from mowing customers. Would a customer be likely to have someone else do the mowing for them, while I landscaped? I don't know. Another downfall to this is the fact that the landscape work is often heavy and hard, many tasks simply too large for a single person. Another downfall to this is that you must keep looking for work. Much like on any other business, you have repeat customers, but it is not like mowing, where you are pretty much set for the season. That means more advertising, bidding, estimating; that all takes time.<p>Since the 2000 season started, I have been doing some serious thinking. What if I were to go into lawn applications full time, and drop the mowing and the landscape work? I can see many plusses, as well as some drawbacks. <p>The applications that I currently do are my most profitable services, with the possible exception of maybe plowing. I know that the apps have a much broader market that mowing and landscape work. How many people have the lawn treated, but cut it themselves??? There is also a higher barrier of entry into that field. Applicators must be licensed, and have knowledge of turf pests. Anyone and their brother can have a mower and a pickup. Also, the equipment investment is lower than what I currently have. I have much invested into equipment, $50K plus, and I am a single operator. All that costs me to maintain and insure. With applications only, I can eliminate a good chunk of that. I would also be able to reduce the amount of warehouse space that I currently occupy. <p>Now, there are some downfalls to doing applications only. I would need a much larger customer base, 300+- customers to keep busy full time. That means a lot more advertising, bidding… That also means that I may have to cover a larger geographical area to get that number of accounts. I am currently in a 10-minute radius. I don't think that I could be that concentrated with applications only. <p>Another downfall is that I would need a larger operating capital than what I am used to. I am sure that once things got going it wouldn't be a problem, but coming up with the money for material to treat 300-400 lawns in March may be a bit troublesome. ( I know about pre-payment, and also open accounts). <p>Another thought is the long-term health effects. Currently, I treat about 30 lawns, and take the proper precautions when doing so, and feel rather safe about doing so. If I were doing that all day, every day, would I be causing myself a health risk???<p>The biggest thing that appeals to me is the fact that the applications are not nearly as time sensitive as other work. Sure they do need proper timing, but if you are 3 days behind on your route, who would know? With mowing, that is another story. Also, I have not had a vacation other than a weekend since I started mowing. Simply can't schedule anything of any length in advance. Don't know for sure if August will be slow this year or not. Can't make plans in advance. With apps, I could &quot;double up&quot; before and after, and take a vacation(something I desperately need). Can't really double up on the mowing, it needs cut when it needs cut. <p>Now, another downfall; People love to hate lawn care companies(fertilizing companies). They seem to be less loyal than to mowing/landscaping contractors. Perhaps they are not living up to their promises? Perhaps people aren't doing their part? I don't know, but I do know that people seem to make changes more often than with mowers. I know that the lawns that I treat that I also am full service on look great, but, I am there each and every week, and can spray that one weed before it becomes many. I can treat for grubs as soon as the damage becomes visible to my trained eye, not wait 6 weeks like an application company. Could I deliver the same quality of service only being on the property once every 6 or so weeks? <p>Another thing that concerns me is that fertilizing is not a necessary service. In times of economic downfall, are people likely to put that off? You can't really do that with mowing. Are people spending their &quot;fun&quot; money on treatments, and when the fun money is tight, they stop spending???<p>A plus to the apps is that if I were to lose a customer, I would only be losing a tiny part of the pie, not like now when one lost customer accounts for a larger chunk of revenue. <p>It seems to me that this may be the way to go. I do have one commercial mowing only account that I would like to keep. The money is great, and I like the work there. I would only need to keep a minimal amount of equipment to service that account. It would also give me a tiny bit of security. <p>I don't think that this transition can happen overnight. IT will probably take a few years to complete, acquiring new customers, and dropping old ones. I hate to lose some of these customers; we are on such good terms. Most don't even ask price anymore, or even get bids. Just do what needs done they tell me. <p>So, if you are still reading this, and not asleep by now, let me hear your thoughts. Is it worth going from 30-40 customers to 300-400 customers? If so, how does one market the fertilization end of the business successfully?<br>
  2. osc

    osc LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 502

    Jaclawn:<br>I have the same problems basically. If you had dependable employees you could take on all the work you wanted. I turn down lots of work every week because I don't have enough help. I have 4 workers besides myself but not everyone works at once. Usually one of them has to be off work for a few days here and there.<br>I too have started doing the landscape install jobs and they are quite profitable but they chew up too much time and the lawn care side starts to suffer or vice versa.<br>I'm in the process of finding more employees and I am seriously thinking about migrant workers. White boys and girls do not want anything to do with hard work in my area.<p>At any rate, good luck with your decision, sorry I didn't have more advice.
  3. MOW ED

    MOW ED LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,028

    I have been in this for 5 years now (what some consider part time -18 acres per 2 day mowing cycle) and each year I expand a little to the side. I have pruned shrubs, edged, installed mulch, put up x-mas lights ect. But the main reason I got these jobs was the mowing. My core customers referred me to their friends neighbors and family and they all have different needs. I stay in mowing for the guarantee of income. I have slowly branched out to fertilizing (only 10 customers this year) and I can see your dilema being mine. I got calls that the dreaded dandelions were invading some of my new customers - I had to take time to spray. Set me back mowing 2 hours. <br>I am lucky in the fact that I work for the fire department and can usually find a guy that needs some side money when I need a helper. I have not considered having employees because of the strain I have seen it create when issues come up. Its hard to be a boss to someone in one respect and a co-worker in another.<br>We have 3 colleges in the area and there are job boards in these places. I personally have never used them but I know guys that have with ok results.<br>It sounds to me like you are a little confused as to your future direction but you have to put the pencil down and see what the profit potential is in each area of interest and then ask youself what amount of risk you are willing to take. <br>For me the key is maximizing my income during the amount of time that I am working. It can get overwhelming at times but I personally thrive on the stress.<br>The application end that you refer to can be profitable and I see that in my business. I get asked for other services such as core aerating, lawn rolling, tree spraying and feeding. Some I do others I sub. You can only do so much as 1 person.<br>Keep plugging at it, there are others that constantly ask the same questions as you. Good luck and sorry for the rambling letter, I feel a little philosophical today.
  4. EarthWorks

    EarthWorks LawnSite Member
    Messages: 135

    I sold the mowing part of my business a month ago. It became too much for me to control. I could not find a person qualified to take care of it and be resposible. I prefer landscape installations and irrigation. That is all I do now. I love it and am really busy. I think margins are much higher too. I have 3 guys working for me. I would take more and start another crew to work two jobs at once but I cannot fing the right supervisor for the second crew.
  5. TylerAssociatesLLC

    TylerAssociatesLLC LawnSite Member
    Messages: 43

    how much did you get for your accounts??? did the equipment go with it?<br>
  6. EarthWorks

    EarthWorks LawnSite Member
    Messages: 135

    I gave away 4k/month billing for $1,500. I know I could have gotten a lot more but I didn't have time. I was too low on labor and didn't want to train new. I kept all equip (paid for). I basically just wanted it out of my hair. (what there is left of it) The person who bought it has retained 95% of accounts. I think the 5% he dumped because they were out of the way. I don't blame him. Now I can concentrate on landscaping. By the way we agreed to send each other business. So far working out great.
  7. cutting edge

    cutting edge LawnSite Member
    Messages: 194

    One of my previous jobs was an assistant store manager for a grocery store. I discovered then that if employees feel that they are not receiving &quot;fair&quot; pay they will only work hard enough to keep their job. Today it is hard to find someone that will work eight hours for you and give you ten hours worth of work. In my opinion if you pay fast food pay you get fast food workers - someone that is in a temporary position until something better comes along. <br>What we have to do is find someone that wants a lifetime career in the lawn and landscape business. Then we have to keep this person by providing frequent raises, free training, bonuses, as well as time off. Once we find that person that wants to work in this business then it is up to us to keep them.<br>Sorry for the rambling. <br>
  8. HOMER

    HOMER LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,180

    Has nayone tried giving percentages to their employees as an incentive. I specifically mean if they get out and drum up new business have you considered paying them a percentage of the account that he picks up? How much would be fair for both parties if a plan was drawn up like this?<p>Homer
  9. bondlawn

    bondlawn LawnSite Member
    Messages: 47

    Jaclawn, it looks like all of us have the same delima that you do. It looks like help is always the biggest issue. <p>Homer, let me tell you about a deal that one guy in Tenn. is working. 13 years ago he started out with one mower, trimmer edger, and blower(we'll call that a set). He hired a kid to help (went through a few to find a good worker). When he could afford another set he bought it. He then rented the set to the kid and put the kid to work as a contractor (the kid furnishes the truck and trailer). They pay the expense of maintenance and any help and then split the remaining money 50/50. This guy goes out and finds the work and sends his contractor out to do the work. He has continued to do this for the past 13 years. Currently he owns 24 ztr's and has 20 of them out on jobs at any given time with all of the contractors he has working. He says that at any given time 2 to 3 mowers will be in the shop for repair (he now has a full time mechanic). Last year his contractors cut just over a million bucks worth of grass and he pocketed over 350K. He no long cuts any grass himself - he just looks for new business and checks up on the crews out working. In my opinion 350K ain't bad money.<p>I'm still a one man band, but this fall will be buying another set and next spring plan on putting me a contractor to work. I've got to at least give it a try.
  10. osc

    osc LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 502

    I read of such a company in Tenn. in one of those Walker magazines. It intrigued the heck out of me and I thought of doing the same thing in my area but I can't even find enough people who want to be contractors to get started.<br>So, I'm back to the migrant worker idea and it just so happens that one of my customers has a good source for these workers and I am making arrangements.<br>I really believe that the economy is so good <br>that we have a labor shortage. U.S. unemployment is below 4% now. I am happy about the economy but people between the ages of 18-24 have no rememberence of a time when a job was hard to get and a good job was precious. <br>My advice to jaclawn is to bid every new account high and try to fill a reasonable schedule with very high dollar work. A schedule that you and a helper can manage and if he doesn't show you can still make it.<br>If someone had told me how screwed up I was going to get I may not have started this business. I make money but I have no time off and all the customers I want to dump refuse to let me dump them, they call and bug me to death and say they can't find anyone else. I'm in lawn care purgatory.

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