Lawn care or small engine repair? I can't decide what to do...

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by rm25x, Mar 5, 2010.

  1. Jay Ray

    Jay Ray LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,510

    Local large dealer here put out a mailer with these special prices for spring maintenance doing and checking everything, I think they had free pickup & delivery for a narrow early window of time, but not now when things are picking up a bit:

    push mower $89
    riding mower $229 (but no hydro maintenance if those are servicable)
    zero turn $299 (but no hydro maintenance included if serviceable)

    Seems like a small operator with personal service could beat those prices but it would be difficult just to stock the filters needed. Maybe stop by a dealer on the way home every time you pick a mower up for service. They all get so far behind I doubt they would care, probably glad to sell to you.
  2. rm25x

    rm25x LawnSite Member
    Messages: 187

    Wow those prices are insane! I can't imagine them actually getting those prices. I am sure they are though.
  3. Roger

    Roger LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,933

    Do the small engine repair - no question in my mind.

    The issue is skilled vs. non-skilled work. Not many people can do small engine repair easily. It is not nearly as easy-to-get-started as mowing. Mowing is something that nearly everybody can do -- no trailing, no education, no special skills, nothing unique. Save all the rebuttal that the work looks bad, ... many customers don't care anyway. Start up costs can be quite low.

    If you can do small engine repair, you have a skill that is much more unique. You have tools and equipment that others do not. Sure, many of the LCOs on LS may be well equipped, but the general public, ... not so much.

    Marketability is directly related to the skill levels and experience to do the job.

    Of course, we know nothing about your competitive situations in your area. This would be very important in being able to make a small engine repair shop successful. If you are filling a niche that needs to be filled, you are placing yourself in a good spot.

    Do you have spreadsheets related to a business plan for a small business of engine repair? If not, that would be very high on your to-do list. You need to have some idea of how much work you need for the first year, how much you need in expenses to be fully-equipped (or to the extent you need to get business). You need to know what you need for insurance, business licenses, marketing, etc. Your zoning requirements may forbid you from running a shop from your home, no matter how well equipped and convenient your shop might be. From your plan, you will have an idea of what you need to charge to be profitable in six months, twelve months, or whatever is important to you. Just saying "I'll charge $40 because the local dealer charges $60" is not sound business smarts. You must know your costs to the best possible extent to determine what you NEED to charge to earn a profit in your time frame.

    Nearly everybody can cut grass, not everybody can successfully repair small engines. No-brainer in my mind, if your business plan makes sense. Remember, you are first a business man, then a skilled mechanic.
  4. rm25x

    rm25x LawnSite Member
    Messages: 187

    Thanks for the constructive post. As of now, I just took a job at the local hardware store as their sole mechanic. Figured it will give me steady pay while I work on getting my own thing started. I am not under near the pressure now.
  5. JCLawn and more

    JCLawn and more LawnSite Fanatic
    from MI
    Messages: 5,274

    Some people that I know charge a bench fee for small jobs. So like a minimum of $25 or $20 on a job.
  6. rm25x

    rm25x LawnSite Member
    Messages: 187

    Just thought I would post an update to this thread. Thanks again to Roger and everyone else for taking the time to add your suggestions.

    Its been almost a year now. Still working at the same hardware store, but just part time (25 hours a week). But, they have sent me to some more service schools over the winter so I have even more certifications under my belt for my own business.

    Also, being that they put me solely in charge of both parts and service, I have been able to try out some ideas I had and have been able to see how well they have worked, or in some cases not worked as well as I had hoped.

    My plan is to find someone to take my spot and leave the hardware store over the next few months though. I don't make a lot of money, and there's no benifits there. I have other sources of income as well. Not sure if I will get a small engine repair shop up and running this year, but it will happen. I just do not want to rush it and set myself up for failure.

    As for the business, I have been working on a business plan, but at this point its just some basic stuff. My business will be unlike any other small engine repair facility, as I feel they are all outdated. I mean most make the customer leave simple things like chain saw chains and blades to be sharpend and make the customer have to make another trip out to pick them up. It takes 5 minutes to sharpen, why the inconvience?! So I want to have a nice waiting room, where they can sit, enjoy a drink and watch some TV while they are being taken care of. Auto dealerships can do this, why can't I? Its all about good service. Thats just one of many ideas I have.

    Still looking at options for where the business would be, and area competition, etc. The economy is a big factor as well, as I think more people will end up having to go back to mowing for themselves, leaving more stuff that needs to be fixed. Also, people will pay to repair their stuff instead of just replacing it due to money, but at the same time I need to make sure that the area and market will support people being able to pay for their stuff to be repaired. Michigan has been pretty hard hit. But if I can keep my overhead low, so that my rates will be affordable and still allow me the profit margin that needs to be met I will have a heads up on the competition.
  7. whosedog

    whosedog LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 730

    Do you have the type of personality that would draw people to come to you instead of your competition? From what I see the mechanics that have a gregarious personality,get a lot of business just because people like them.One I know in particular who's making good money at it, usually always has customers who will come by with coffee and donuts for the guys just because it's like a neighborhood hangout.When it's raining you can barely get into the place because of all the lcos stop by to drop off work then stay to chat.People will go to him even if his prices are higher just because he's like an old friend. He also gets rent from guys that can't park by their house,because of zoning laws,so they pay to park their rig by him;he lives there so it's a secure location.Myself I'm not that kind of person ,I like my privacy too much;but if you are friendly that way and don't mind chatting up the lcos I would say go for it.
  8. ecurbthims

    ecurbthims LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 487

    Working out of your home garage on other peoples equipment,might be illegal in your area,it is in mine .A way to go mobile is to get a tailgate lift ,you can probably do most of your service work right on the tailgate ,I used to do that with motorcycles years ago .Mobile also helps with insurance as your not responsible for theft of their equipment while in your possesion waiting for repair .Also,there is no reason to low-ball as a small engine mechanic ,at least not to the point you stated earlier .If the other shops are $60.00 ,you will get plenty of work @ $55.00 .Remember,its tough to raise your rates especially with good long term customers ,so start high enough your both happy .Dropping everything to sharpen a saw chain sounds great for the customer,but unless you have nothing else you are working on,or a ton of available staff ,this will only serve to put your other work further behind .Car dealerships have lots of staff,with a few lube technitions who would handle wiper blades and light bulbs and belts .What do you do if you have 20 customers bringing in blades to be sharpened on the same ? sharpening the blades takes time,so does making the invoice,collecting the payment etc,so your 5 minute sharpening takes 15 minutes that you left a job in the back for.
  9. rm25x

    rm25x LawnSite Member
    Messages: 187

    Good points.
  10. lawnkingforever

    lawnkingforever LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,280

    I know a guy down the road who owns a repair shop. Great guy, he has done numerous repairs for me. He has even done work on my Ferris, he is cheaper than my dealer and has a quicker turn around time. This guy is always busy, he charges about $45 hr, which is alot cheaper than the closest ATV or mower dealer charges. He is in a perfect location, in the country a little bit, but not too far out. Everybody owns ATVS, tractors, mowers, ect.. around here. He has a steady stream of work for sure. Who ever mentioned the point of not repairing cheapo equipment is right. He does alot of work on residential tractors, but he won't even look at cheap trimmers, he tells the person to throw it out.

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