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How to fail in the lawn business by someone who did it.

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by PROCUT1, Feb 18, 2009.

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  1. HenryB

    HenryB LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,848

    Very well said Dave!
  2. IN2MOWN

    IN2MOWN LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,993

    No problems till you start getting older.

    Ive been doing this for 15 years and the older I get the slower I get. I got to a point last year I needed help. Had to have it. I needed to take that leap. Right after I did I got a call to service 6 buildings that are part of a national health care chain. There is no possible way I could of done it by myself without putting in 80 hours a week.

    I grossed about $60,000 last year with expenses of around $13,000. That doesnt include what I paid out in taxes. This year Im shooting for six figures in gross income.

    A lot of guys in this thread have talked about what it was like 15 - 20 years ago and they are right. It was easier back then. There were a ton of companies out there but not like it is now. If I opened the phone book here in the Kansas City area I bet I could run through 400 different companies. The internet is HUGE now and people can get on there on various websites like craigslist and backpage and post ads for lawn mowings starting at $15.00 or less. They are new to the business and dont realize how much they are screwing themselves AND everyone else. It makes it harder on us. With that said all you can is drop your head and keep plugging away.

    I've also decided to expand into snow removal for 2010 and applications for 2011. One thing I have realized is that people dont want to deal with 2 or 3 companies. They want things to be easy for them and thats why they hire a company in the first place. Im going to start taking credit/debit cards also. All the things I mentioned have somewhat of a high investment but in the long it makes it easier on them and its more profitable for me.

    As someone mentioned before keep it simple, know your costs and bid properly. Dont try and compete with other companies. Ive given bids for customers and there are times when I hear that so and so will do it for X amount less. Its hard to explain to people that I have bills also and I know what I need to charge to make a living. The average customer is not smart when it comes to running a business. I have to talk to them like they are 10 years old.

    At the end of the day all I can say is that this business can be as easy or as hard as you make it. Its all up to you and you only.
  3. HenryB

    HenryB LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,848

    Another factor is cost of mowers ZTR's are $10k-$15k plus. Way overpriced.
  4. IN2MOWN

    IN2MOWN LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,993

    And again thats a part of knowing your costs and knowing what you NEED. Most companies dont even need a ZTR. They buy them so they can look cool and have something big on their trailer. Then they put them on yards and tear the hell out of the turf.
    hort101 likes this.
  5. torotorotoro

    torotorotoro LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 510

    a long time ago i had a 21" and a36" mowerdid it all myself.i got way too busy so i bought another 36" and hired a helper. did that for a couple of seasons.i bought a 52" hydro.i got done so much faster i did not need a helper any more .so i fired him. a couple seasons later i got so busy i needed a helper again.finally a few seasons later i got a 8mph 60"ztr. i got done so fast my helper had to run to get done trimming before i am loaded up ready to leave. the ztr they make now are so agile and fast my mowing time is down to a few minuts per yard.that is how a mow only co. can compete .they are very expensive but worth every penny if you have enough work,and always pay cash.
  6. EcoGreen Services

    EcoGreen Services LawnSite Member
    Messages: 205

    That's so true.
    It happens all the time, One account I bid on last year had 5 bids submitted.

    1) $37,800
    2) $39,400
    3) $36,000
    4) $35,950
    5) $14,000

    Bid 1-4 were from companies who knew how to calculate costs.
    It was a 2 year contract, but is being rebid this year because the "Winner" went bankrupt.
    I did the account a few years ago. Even if you calculated just labor at minimum wage and fuel alone was more than the bid. Never mind about 300 trees that needed trimmed and mulched.

    It takes 16 hours to cut with a 10 1/2' Groundsmaster 4100 and this guy was trying to do it with a 52" ZT :confused:
  7. slamjamrockinman

    slamjamrockinman LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 715

    Wow, this is getting very interesting, and a bit un-motivating. Great post Dave, it really explains the downside to this industry, the nature of unskilled labor. Dave's post shows how much people don't realize about this business. I hate to say it, but you should almost make it a sticky thread or post it in the starting forum, just so the newbies see the Reality of what this business is.

    Lmwer man, where are you in MN?? I know some parts, the market is garbage. But there is some areas where the market is still decent IMO.

    Could we hear from someone who used to do a ton of maintenance and are now branching off into more installs and skilled trade type of stuff?? I know there is some guys who have done this, would you mind shedding some light on this topic??
  8. LwnmwrMan22

    LwnmwrMan22 LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,373

    Dave -

    These threads are what's the truth behind all of the shiny trucks and new mowers.

    New guys, look around at all of companies in your area that have tried to grow big. 90% have moved on.

    I'm sold out to this industry. I went to college for 3 years (sort of, living in a fraternity house) and left, KNOWING I could make more money doing this business than a management degree, which is what I was going to school for.

    Now don't get me wrong. I LOVE this job. Yes, job, it is what it is. I don't care if you're running a $3M / year business, IT'S A JOB. YOU HAVE TO RUN THE BUSINESS. If you think you can just sit in an office and stare out the window, or sit on your yacht while guys do installs and cut grass for you, you're sadly mistaken.

    I have a cousin that does concrete work. He's 58. 6 years ago he was doing $3M / year in basements at $20k / basement on average. Last year his company grossed $80k. 1 basement.

    He's running a skidsteer for me plowing snow to make money.

    It's a job, you're always going to be working. You're going to be doing sales, you're going to be doing maintenance on equipment, you're going to be doing hiring and firing. You may not be in the field, but you will be going to your JOB.

    My point of the large properties, people find out they're paying $15,000 and want to bid them, so they get an in with management. Management says "hey you beat this price by 10%, you can have the account". They figure, heck, look at all the money I can make in one stop, no extra drive time, one location all day, sure, I'll drop my rate from $60 / hour to $55 and I can still make money.

    They do that the first year, and then the second year the LCO wants to renew for a 2 year contract, so the management says "sure, keep the price the same for 2 years, and we'll renew without bidding it". LCO does it because he's keeping the account for 2 years.

    Now in the meantime, a new management team comes in, with a brother-in-law that's been laid off and is looking for some money on the side. The new manager says "hey, we're paying $13,000 / year to have our grass cut, if you want to do it for $12,000, I can get you the account". Brother in law figures great!! I can make the house payment. He's already got a truck and rider mower, so he's on board.

    Now it's 4 years later, inflation, property taxes, fuel, groceries, everything in life has gone up 4-5%, and the price for mowing has dropped 20%, a -25% difference, let alone trying to get raises for employees.

    I don't mean to rag on the industry, it is what it is.

    I'm just throwing my 2 cents in. If I hadn't broke my foot ("Solo op - broke my foot" thread) in the late summer of 2008, I'd still be working 100 hour weeks. It's the only way to make REAL money here in Minnesota with such a short growing season.

    If I lived in MO, KY, areas where you had 7-8 months of growing season, I would work 70-80 hours / week solo and be rolling in the dough.
  9. EcoGreen Services

    EcoGreen Services LawnSite Member
    Messages: 205

    I started doing just maintenance and was getting bored senseless, Then added interlock. Then full service landscaping. It really took off after a few customers homes were on a local garden tour that was featured in a local magazine. Then added Irrigation. Then Water features.

    In my opinion it has to be a gradual building process. Interlock for example just the basic tools will cost you about 4K to 5k for a compactor, cutting tools, levels, Etc, Etc, Etc.
    Then when you start larger jobs you're looking at equipment like skid steers.

    But you don't have to start big. First job I did was in a subdivision of new houses. The builder just had really crappy wood steps up to the porch.

    I did 2 houses, Neighbors saw them , asked who did it. Ended up doing 35 sets of steps and 2 driveways.
    The biggest thing is to learn how to do it properly, With the frost and temperature swings here poor prep will come back to bite you.

    Water Features are fun to do. Again , with the right equipment. You need a small backhoe. The little B series Kubotas work great and are a flexible machine. Again , Get training. Getting water to flow properly over stone waterfalls for the right effect isn't as easy as it looks.

    It just grew as a result of customer demand. For me, I enjoy the design process and should be a certified landscape architect in the next year.

    Your local landscape trade association likely offers training and certification.
    Certification is key to being asked to bid by the larger design companies.

    Ask customers if you could use them as a referral, Nothing beats word of mouth.

    I have one lady I think i should pay as a sales rep. I did a patio with fireplace. Her driveway with some nice design features. two water features and a waterfall into her pool. When potential customers call her she even invites them over to look.

    Always good to butter up rich old ladies, LOL

    Being in a farming community, Instead of having too many year round employees I hire local farmers looking for some extra work on larger jobs. I schedule jobs between planting and harvest. They work hard, Don't whine, know how to operate equipment and generally have common sense and can resolve problems on their own.

    And the I rarely buy any equipment except handhelds and cutting saws new. Shiny doesn't make any more money.

    And be prepared for LONG hours. I work on average 75 hours a week.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2010
    hort101 likes this.
  10. UrbanAppealLawnCare

    UrbanAppealLawnCare LawnSite Member
    Messages: 24

    u know im not even gonna read through all the other posts on here, the original page says it all. its tru u rly do have to pay the debts and put some away before u can go get that sweet ass new walker, or whatever is ur vice. great post. something i will be showing my business partner as he preaches the same thing i know he will appreciate it
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