Expanding business (questions)

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by thewoodfactor, Dec 22, 2007.

  1. thewoodfactor

    thewoodfactor LawnSite Member
    Messages: 2


    I have been in business for a few years, just working myself and a friend to pay off school. But im graduating, and im looking to expand. In past seasons ive run across things im unsure of, and throughout the season i made a list of questions that i wanted to get everyones advice on on this site:

    1) Leaves- What is the best way to do fall cleanup? i have seen people bag and dump them, and others use blowers and a leaf sucking machine for the truck.

    2) Aeration- When you aerate with sprinkler systems, how do you make sure you dont hit a head? ive heard people say tag them, but how do you find them to tag them?

    3) Payroll- What software/companies do you use to do your payroll? Ive heard bank of america has free payroll services, and i use quickbooks for billing, do you recommend either of these for payroll as well?

    4) Mulch- In the past, I have just dumped new mulch on top of the old. Is this acceptable, or do you have to remove the old mulch at certain intervals? What about "turning over" the mulch. ive heard this term, does it just involve raking the mulch and picking weeds? how often do you do this?

    5) Employees- I am not sure how to divide up the work next season. I plan on having crew of 2 people working full time doing cuttings alone all season. But with this 60 or so accounts, there is going to be alot of mulching and misc work in the spring to go with the cuttings. However, this work will only last a month or 2, not into the whole summer, so i cant hire a second crew just for that work. How do you handle this?

    6) Hedges- I have always in the past just trimmed the hedges down a few inches, so they are tidy but still following their original shape, not perfectly square or even or anything. If i try to make them square, it is going to cut them too short in some places and expose the twigs and look ugly. I have always just trimmed them leaving them unsquare, but a customer has been complaining about it. What do you you usually do with your hedges?

    Thank you for any advice.
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  2. IN2MOWN

    IN2MOWN LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,993

    1) Everyone has different ways to clean up leafs. I go in a circle and mulch them and throw the bagger on and pick them up.

    2) Have your customer turn each station on and then mark all the heads with flags. You can get the flags at Home Depot or Lowes. Dont forget the valve boxes either.

    3)I use Gopher software for invoicing. I dont have employees yet but I heard QB is great for payroll.

    4)I just put the new on top of the old unless the customer wants the old raked out. Weeds are pulled and beds are re-edged before the mulch is installed.

    5)I dont have employees but 60 yards depending on the size can be done in 3 or 3.5 days leaving the rest of the week for the other stuff. Make sure your routes are tight, equipment is working good and your guys know the have to get the work done.

    6)Square them up. You need to explain to the customer that there will be some bare spots but those spots will fill in over time. The more light that is allowed to reach the inner areas of those bushes the heartier they will become.

    BTW, get ready for about 300 different answers ;)
  3. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,448

    1. Depends.... in some areas guys blow it out to the street for municipal pickup without bagging. Some bag and put it out with the customer's trash. Large volume guys around here mulch, put it in large pails, dump it in the truck. Commercial guys sue big leaf vacs.

    2. Ditto in2mowin's response.

    3. I'm a solo. No comment.

    4. I usually remove mulch. It can develop some molds and fungus, but plenty of guys just mulch over it. I compost the stuff.

    5. I refuse to handle that. My life is so much simpler as a solo. That limits my growth/billings, but it's what I am comfortable with.

    6. One of my favorite subjects. And one of my best sales tools. After you have shaped them some with the trimmers, take a hand snipper and cut off selected "branched groups". Most hedges will only grow new branches where there is sunlight and air circulation. The cut branches will not grow, instead they will sprout new branches, sort of like water spouts, just below the cut. These will then grow more foliage, completely blocking sunlight and limiting air circulation within the shrub. That means that only the outer canopy of the hedge will generate new foliage.

    By slectively hand pruning some "bunched branches" you will promote healthy new growth under the outer canopy without destroying the look of the hedgerow. Then, when squaring the hedges later on, there is new growth under the canopy ready to fill in and exploit the sunlight and air circulation. No bare spots. This may take two years to be effective, but it works.

    If you don't do this hand pruning, there are two choices. Let the hedge get bigger and wider every year, or trim it back and get bare spots. When I see an overgrown hedge on a new client's property, I explain all of this, and within two years I can have that hedge back to it's intended size and shape, without ever getting any bare spots. This technique works, but it does take time. I charge for that time.

    Holly's are a different animal, as are many other privacy shrubs. This works for privets very well. I like to sell quality over quantity, and that takes some research and study. BTW, I have learned most of whatever horticultural expertise I have being a volunteer gardener at a famous state owned arboretum, called "The Planting Fields" in NY. You can Goggle them up... but the directors of the various gardens there are the best of the best, and that is who I continue to learn from.

    There is much more to hedge trimming... for instance, most holly's are specimen plants, not privacy hedges, but when they are row planted, topping them will cause them to stop vertical growth and fill in, creating a very interest hedge... much better than a privet hedge IMO. Nellie Stevens Holly is a great fast growing choice for such a hedge planting.

    You will find that new installations (plantings and design) are MUCH more profitable than mainetance is, and a whole lot more fun to do. But, it's the maintenance that gets you the planting jobs unfortunately!
  4. IN2MOWN

    IN2MOWN LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,993

    Just to expound on #2. Buy flags for the customers and leave them at their house year round. That way when they call you can just tell them to have them marked by the time you show up. They keep the flags.
  5. thewoodfactor

    thewoodfactor LawnSite Member
    Messages: 2


    Im not sure what you mean but cutting out the "bunches". could you expand on this?

    so your saying you do cut them down to the sticks as well..?
  6. Whitey4

    Whitey4 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,448

    Take a look at a privet or a boxwood. The outer canopy makes the shrub look quite healthy and full. Spread an opening on that outer canopy. You will see that there is one pruned larger branch and growing from that will be several maybe as many as 8 little branches coming off that bigger branch, and all within an inch of the outer canopy. Those smaller branches are where the visable foliage of the outer canopy grows from. These little branches will have profuse foliage on them, all within an inch of the outer canopy. Under those little branches with all the foliage is nothing... but branches.

    Trim that hedge by more than an inch, and you have a bare spot. What I am suggesting is to selectively hand prune some of these litle "bunched branches" . Trim that main branch about 3 inches below the outer canopy. That will remove these small "bunched branches" by removing the apical branch, this will force that main branch to grow newer branches under the outer canopy, and if it has sunlight and air circulation, new growth will begin 3 inches beneath the outer canopy. What you are doing is installing small skylights into the shrub. Removing the apical branch, along with it's near outer canopy lateral branches will force the newly cut apical branch to generate new growth inder the outer canopy as long as it gets some sunlight.

    Then, next year, with this new growth, when you take off 2", there will be another apical branch with some lateral branches and foliage ready to fill in the new opportunity to exploit even more sunlight.

    Yes, you will create some small holes in the outer canopy doing this, but they are not noticable from more than a few feet away. The shape and form of the hedge will remain, and astetically, will not look any different.

    This is how estate gardeners maintain walkways from being over grown by very mature hedges, without creating bare spots. This is how they do it at the "Planting Fields" that I mentioned. They have thousands of hedges... and on 90 year old plants, and not a bare spot in the bunch. Those "maze hedgerows"? The ones where you enter it like a mouse and try to find your way out, when every hedge looks just like the last one? This is how they are pruned. First a hedge trimmer for shape, and then selective hand pruning of these "bunched clusters" to allow for growth under the outer canopy.

    Now, what you have to answer is: Do I have the time to do this, and will my customers listen to why I might charge more for this kind of expertise and time?

    There is a retail company in NY that says "An educated consumer is our best customer". I charge about 20% more than my local competition. I won't quote a customer unless he is willing to walk his property with me. I point out how I can get his hedgerows under conrtol, and explain how I will do it. I take pH samples on the spot, and often tell him he doesn't need to spend 30 or 40 bucks on lime this year, the pH is fine. I let them know that I know my stuff, and his property will be cared for as if it were my own.

    This is all fine and good... for me. I'm a solo guy, and love anything that grows. This sort of maintenance may not fit with your business plan. I sell quality, not volume. There is nothing wrong with either business strategy, but one needs to build their business charter on one approach while likely sacraficing the other. If you are in a territory with some mansions and some middle class clients, you can perhaps do a bit of both.

    Whether or not you choose to incorpoate this sort of thing into your business plan depends on your goals. Still, it's I think, good knowledge to have. Most people will live with bare spots, because they don't know they can be avoided, or aren't willing to pay for that level of service. My goal is to do my client's properties the way i would do my own... that does tend to cost more. The price shoppers are not people that will become customers of mine.
  7. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    1. The absolute easiest, best way to do leaves is when I can deposit them somewhere on their property.
    Well, I'm sorry, it is, which is another way of saying there is no easy magic trick to it.
    Now the second best way is to just do them, as in, get started and don't stop until they're done. You can try and think of the perfect way but what I'm saying is I still use blowers + rake + tarp and the longer I spend thinking about it the longer it takes LOL!

    2. I've tried to get the home owner to mark them but it's best to mark your price up a little then DIY here is how: First buy 100 flaggots at HD or Lowe's. Then Sprinkler systems have control boxes, ask the customer when you could access this (with or without their presence). Read the directions on the box most are all the same thing basically you want to run Manual stations. The lawn is divided into sectors like 1-5 or 1-7 but most control boxes have settings 1-9 or so. Set it to Manual 1 and let it come on, if takes 1-2 minutes sometimes but if it doesn't come on you're doing something wrong, once you hear the water squirting deftly mark those in the LAWN area only you can skip the flower bed ones. Once all sector 1 are marked go back to control box and Manual to sector 2, keep doing this until you hit an empty sector then try the next sector and if that one is empty as well then you've covered all the sectors.
    > When you're done aerating, get your flaggits! This is a good way to see if you've missed any spots as well, works great.

    3. I do gross - expenses = profit, pay the taxes on that, the rest is mine to do with as I see fit.

    4. I ain't removing no mulch LOL, but what I can advise is to learn to spread it thin, keep doing that, it will keep from getting too thick over the years and also you will get more coverage for the customers money (less cubic yards needed) and this will make your prices more and more competitive over time. Rake cover thin is about 2 inches, hand spread you can get it down to 1 but I will say that one is a trick and I only do it for designer / color mulch (it's just not worth it otherwise).

    5. Stay solo, suck it up, save your money and keep upgrading your equipment and keep doing that year after year. Then once you have some niiice stuff like 20-30 or 40-50g worth of equipment all paid for and about 50-100g saved, expand. By this time you will have all the answers to any and all of those questions, which is to say if you have questions then just wait until you have employees because the questions never end, so you will need all the answers.

    6. Round or square, a few bald spots is ok, you get better in time. Do as the customer requests best you can, I don't know what to tell you here, take a chance and hope not to flub it up or have them keep complaining, your choice.

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