Flawed Business Model?

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by wooley99, Jun 21, 2007.

  1. wooley99

    wooley99 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 269

    I apologize in advance for the length of this post. I appreciate your opinions.

    I retired from the USAF six weeks ago (a few years earlier than I'd planned). While looking for a "real job" I started a lawn business. I started with what I'd been using for my yard: 28" Snapper rear-engine rider (the official mower of Forrest Gump), Toro 22" S/P, old Crapsman 21" S/P and electric everything else. I put $3K in a business account, got legal, signs, ads in the local weekly, some stuff I didn't have yet and went to work. The first week bought a Ryobi multi-trimmer and yard sale blower, edger, tiller attachments.

    The plan was to not go into debt, let the business build until it could support itself and buy the right equipment. When I had the money to buy the gear I hoped to have enough experience to buy what I really needed instead of what I thought I needed. So far so good. I've had enough business, mostly one time clean-ups, side jobs, handyman stuff, etc and a few regular lawn clients to still have $3K in the bank and about $1K in accounts receivable. My prices must be about right judging by the 50% rule mentioned on this site. All the customers have been happy. It's all good right...

    Now the problem - It takes me 2-3 times longer to do a job than a pro would. I anticipated that and thought I could survive on 1/2 the hourly rate until I had the gear and the experience. I've gotten better at estimating - not good but better. With experience the yards go faster, and now each yard isn't the first time I'm doing it so the extra stuff I should probably have charged for is already done. Now the biggest holdback is equipment I think. What I didn't anticipate is that the extra time I spend mowing is time I can't spend getting more business. As much as I love the "Gump" a 3/4 acre lawn takes a while 28" at time.

    I think it's time to blow some money on a hopefully good used 32-36 WB and commercial trimmer and edger.

    The question - What else am I missing or screwing up?

  2. Runner

    Runner LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 13,497

    How big are the lawns you are doing? Are they real small like 5000 sq. ft.? If not, I would skip the idea of the real small wb. Go for a machine that is going to cover some ground and cover it adequately. It will pay for itself over the small ones in the long run. If you are fresh out of the AF, then just do it right.
    You HAVE the right idea of not taking on the debt, though. I just don't want to see you spend more money and not get much more cutting power than you have right now. As a standard, we have always said that 48 is a bare minimum, even THAT is very small. Personally, I would get the largest deck you can fit onto a yard. A 60" is like an industry standard and works well. You will knock down more area and be able to do more jobs - because let's face it...there is NOT that much money to be made in each lawn. You have to do more.
  3. JFizzle

    JFizzle LawnSite Member
    Messages: 95

    I think runners advice was good. I'm also curious about the size of your yards and how many.
    In my opinion, it would be good to get a good walk behind and I also think a good 21" is extremely important.
    I started out with my dads Ryobi push mower and the same Ryobi multi unit you mentioned. My first upgrade was to a nice Snapper 21"
    We now have about 40 accounts anywhere from 1/2 to 1 acre in size. This last week I purchased two new Honda Commericals and love them! In my opinion, if the majority of your yards at the moment are smaller, I would drop $1000 on a good smaller commercial mower because its something you will use forever. After you build your business a bit, then decide what your needs are for a larger mower.
    Good luck man!
    What did you do for the Air Force?
  4. bohiaa

    bohiaa LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,220

    Sounds like your right on track....

    this is waht I did, and I Quickly discovered that my client base determains what type of equiptment I purchase, also where you want to go or stay,,,
    there is a fine line with equiptment, a 21" mower is that a 21", you know the limits with it, Now a walk behind, has it's limits, you cant cut a 5 acer field with it, you can,,,but you will kill yourself, now a 53" ZTR has it limits, you cant cut a 25 acer field with it, " the brush hogs would out bid you.

    I hope you are getting the understainding Im seeking here, there is a fine line there with equiptment, that 's Y your customer base determains what to buy

    Sounds like to me your experance what everyone else has or will,
    these are common business issues....
    no one can tell you what to do,,,, you your self knows waht you need and where you want to go. or stay...

    Good luck my Friend
  5. johnb143

    johnb143 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 14

    I'm a frequent lurker, but I've got some firsthand experience with the Snapper rider. I inherited one with the commercial property I own. It was on its last legs when I got it...the engine was losing compression, and would quickly overheat in the Florida heat. Anyway, one day when it was fighting me, I parked it and mowed the property with my 21" mower instead. And guess what...the 21" took the same amount of time as the 28" Snapper deck (which I attribute to the 21" being quicker to turn than the turning radius with the rider's little wheels).

    Anyway, the Snapper found a new home, and I bought a 48" belt-drive walkbehind demo from my local equipment dealer. Spent less than $1500. And my mowing time went way down. My only complaint with the 48" is that I have a sloped boulevard strip along the road that has a weird angle that the 48" has problems with...for that a 36" would be better.

    I'd suggest this. Plan on mowing with your 21" mowers for a week or two, during which time you sell the Snapper rider to a homeowner who wants to ride. Then take what you get for the Snapper and a little bit of your savings and get a wider cutting machine that is appropriate for your customers' lawns. Good luck!
  6. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    I understand but this is completely normal, I would advise you keep your plan on track before making a big purchase that could be as much a blunder. Took me 4 years before I had a brand new Wb, 5+ before I got a Z, you know I think a lot of folks make the mistake of buying all that great equipment right off the bat... No doubt what you have holds you back, but you'll also have a better appreciation for the whole thing once you do get new equipment, PLUS the experience you've gained will help keep the new piece running a lot longer (thou you might not see this until later).

    I started with some really old commercial Wb's, these had to have been some of the slowest on the market (still had the older style 4-speed transmission, all the newer ones have 5 forward gears)... Decrepit, too, it used to take me 45+ minutes a yard all day long, but one tolerates this.

    We all had to or have to go through this, it's part of why I have such an attitude today, once you go through this once and you look back, you tend to see how it really isn't as easy as it looks (or as everyone seems to think).

    Because it is a challenge, a real one at that. I would advise you continue to gain experience and DO buy some equipment but do it one piece here and one there, as you can afford it, according to your plan.

    Stay on track man, don't jump the gun, you'll be fine.
    I would keep an eye and an ear open for a used Toro Wb in the thousand dollar range or so.
    That's what I did, far as 2-cyclers do consider a 4-mix stihl somewhere as well, but again stick to your plan first.
  7. mdlwn1

    mdlwn1 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,443

    Sounds like your head is in the right place. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. The lessons you will learn from mistakes carry far more weight and lasting impressions than any general advice. Bohiaa's answer.....couldn't have said it any better. You are beginning to understand a cycle that will never end as you grow your business.
  8. Grits

    Grits LawnSite Silver Member
    from Florida
    Messages: 2,994

    I cut in about the same area as you. Currently I have a 48" WB with Jungle Wheels and a 32" WB with Jungle Wheels and a couple 21" mowers that I try not to use. I believe this is a pretty good combination on mowers for this area....especially to start out with. I plan on getting a 60" Z, but I don't see the need for it right now....maybe in a few more years. A lot of the backyards around here have small gates that the 32" barely fits through. So I think a 36" is about useless for this area. Keep an eye out for a used 48" WB. Look in the Lawn & Garden section of the American Classifieds. Lots of times you will find equipment in there for cheap. The American Classifieds is a free publication that comes out on Thursday of each week and can be picked up at most gas stations or the entry way of Wal-Mart. When you get your WB, go ahead and get some Jungle Wheels for it. You can order them online at mowpart.com. They have the best price on them from what I have seen. I think $220. Get you some Gator mulching blades too.
    For your handhelds: Make your way towards Gulf Breeze and find The Tool Shack. It is an equipment rental place, but they are an Echo dealer and have what you need in stock. The guys there are great...first class all the way. You should definitely buy from them. You really need commercial grade hand-helds. They are relatively inexpensive and won't let you down. But if they should quit on you for some reason, the guy's at The Tool Shack will get you back making money fast. Hell, just get with me and I will go with you to the Tool Shack and I will help you shop! For real. The handheld equipment you have now is going to give you headaches, they WILL quit on you in the middle of a job...it's just a matter of how soon. Trust me, I know from experience. I once had top of the line residential Husqvarna handhelds (trimmer and an edger). Good stuff for a homeowner. Once they started getting used on a regular basis, both of them quit within 2 weeks of each other. Neither was a year old! I fixed the trimmer and keep it on the trailer for a backup and so 2 people can trim if need be. But it is on it's last leg. Again, get up with me and I will let you try out my equipment and let you come to your own conclusion. I'm just trying to let you learn from my mistakes. I'll PM you my office number and maybe we will get together this Sunday or something.
  9. AJ Lawnscapes

    AJ Lawnscapes LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 322

    I like it, wish I had your start up capital.

    Started my on a whim, with $150 and my own equipment for home.

    I know your pain with the personal home mowers, but hey, they work. I do a 75/wk job with a 36" 11HP Murray. Funny thing is that their 48" Ariens is broke down, same with their John Deer, and they can't afford a Gravely Z :) :)

    When time came I purchased an Echo SRM210 Trimmer -- very easy to start. Best Trimmer I ever owned, and it's got a 5 year warranty on it :) :)

    GL to you. I have a heck of a time estimating.

    My advice: Never back down from your price. I did that the other week. Quoted a customer $125 for mulch, didn't quote labor, gave him a bill for $270 for 2guys laying 3 scoops of mulch in 3 hours (weeding, edging, etc included) I backed down to $175 -- didn't lose money, but still lost money in my mind. I'll never back down again.

    Anyway. GL to you.

  10. fiveoboy01

    fiveoboy01 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,988

    I like Runner's advice.

    36" is certainly more productive than your 28" rider. Mainly because it likely will have a faster ground speed, provide a better cut, and if you get a dual hydro, it will be even MORE productive than the same deck and engine size equipped with a belt drive.

    But you should go bigger if you can. I started with a 48" WB, and that's good for some yards but I'm up to three 1+ acre properties, and it takes longer. If you can go 54" or even 60" walk behind, you will cover ground a LOT faster.

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