Mower63 and white-collar career hopping

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by tonygreek, Aug 19, 2004.

  1. tonygreek

    tonygreek LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,915

    i thought i'd move this tangential topic to it's own thread....

    for anyone interested in catch-up:
    Mower63, I find it rather interesting that you come from a consulting background. You're not alone.

    3 years ago, I was a Sr. Mgr with Andersen Consulting/Accenture and decided to make a drastic change to avoid the 100% travel I was doing. I went from overseeing DaimlerChrysler's Dodge and Mercedes web development and eComm strategy to opening up a replacement windows/siding company and now am doing my due diligence on opening a landscape design and maintenance division.

    Entrepreneurship.... catch it!

    Dayton, Ohio


    Location: Palm Beach, FL


    Interestingly enough, I just stepped off a project in your neck of the woods. I spent the last 9 months flying into Dayton and driving down to Cincinnati for a construction project...400K sqft building. As for entrepenurial...I'm all for it. I figure if I can manage a 30MM design/build project (and everything in between), I can manage a property management / grounds maintenance company.

    How 'bout you...any advice on what you would have done different when you made the transition? Nice to know I'm not the only ex-consultant on the board....yeah....I'm going through airport withdrawal currently....must find Starbucks....arggggghhh....

  2. tonygreek

    tonygreek LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,915

    the biggest piece of advice i'd give anyone is one that i read in a thousand different business books and related articles:
    "bring twice as much money to the table than you think you'll need."

    if anyone plans on starting a moderately sized business, with actual employees and marketing budget, this is one to keep in mind. i always read the advice but never gave it a second thought. there are so many ancillary costs involved, as well as primary costs such as introductory advertising and equipment, insurance, etc.

    one bucket of money i placed a premium on utilizing was that of branding my company. i think everyone should view there business as a brand first and foremost, even if it is simply "Larry's Mowing" (loosely in honor of another local Daytonian/Bellbrookian). Every thing, action, and presentation you make should support your brand in a professional way. My replacement window/siding company is one where this is akin to the word of God. My target market is homes over 200k and therefore I've tried to carefully tailor my company's image as such. The advantage I have is that I've always been a services customer and not a provider, so when I see a guy sans shirt, smoking a cigarette, has a beater truck, and wants to mow my lawn or hang siding on my house for XX amount of dollars, he's already lost. My first sub-crew I used for siding left 85 butts on the lawn. The foreman didn't pick them up because "If they were the homeowner's, I didn't want to offend them." This was in the yard of a 500k house. I docked them and then added that if it happened again, they'd be charged 3.00 for every butt I have to pick up. Needless to say, we never did business again, and they were a well known company that sub'd on down time.

    Another thing I did was spend a year in the field installing with a very good, experienced hire I made. I started the window co after being repulsed by the Champion-type companies of the world, went to HomeDepot to learn how to replace a window, started calling manufacturers and visiting plants to produce my private label window. My actual experience in any of this was close to zero, but I hired well, told him up front he would teach me the ropes, I got my industry install cert and installed for the sole reason of knowing what to expect anytime a prospective, or previous, customer called re: any possible issue. I'm doing the same thing with the mowing and landscaping, which will launch in Spring '05. I have landscape designer who will do contract work, and 2 mowing crews consisting of people looking to move to a company where they can grow with it.

    And while I'm at it, and on an ironic note, due to insurance companies being spooked by black mold claims around the country, I will be changing my companies name, and the brand I've worked so hard on, so that my premiums do not rise a few hundred %. Exasperating story, but suffice it to say, it's not bad timing as the new brand name will pull in both companies under one umbrella.

    Not sure what all that previous typing was that just came out of my fingers, but sometimes the stream flows.

    Oh, and I would have prepped my wife that my salary would 100k lower than it was a year prior to starting
    Entrepreneurship and ADD make a fun mix....

    Dayton, Ohio
  3. Mower63

    Mower63 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 65


    I'm well with you on the funds situation. I've gone in figuring with plenty of cash and LOC to do what I need in terms of 'doing this the right way'. I don't want to rain on anyone's parade on this site as I certainly respect ANYONE who has gone through and started their own business - regardless of their experience.

    Like you I'm from a professional background and I've found it amazing how some of these businesses run themselves from a bar napkin - almost literally. I've been researching the landscape/property maintenance business for around 7 months now and think I have a pretty good grasp on how to get what I want and where I want. I also agree the level of professionalism is what will make the difference once you have a customer - the challenge will always be getting the customer. My focus is on the commercial segment yet I'm not too proud to say I'd take some residental accounts as filler work - albeit estates more so than just the basic mow, blow and go variety. I'm working on my master gardner license and would like to at least get an AA in landscaping out of the shear fact I still need to know how to do every aspect of the business - that's just me. However I also know I need to focus on the business to make it grow and the daily work details are best provided by my employees, who will be rewarded and given opportunities to grow with the company.

    I really believe in keeping the expertise in the company and providing a policy to limit any revolving door situation. I figure it will take a good 2 years of hard work to get the basis for moving the business in the mulit MM range - who knows maybe sooner. Right now my main challenge is due diligence (almost done), and then workman's comp insurance....amoung the other couple of hundred tasks to complete.



    HOOLIE LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,981

    Hey Tony & 63,

    Enjoyed reading your posts. Its always nice to get a fresh perspective on business. There's a lot of LCOs that don't really know whats going on because they don't have any real experience with the business side of the business. That brings the industry down in general, but the upside is, a well-run professional outfit (regardless of size) will shine above and stand out.

    The sad thing is, for a lot of customers, the quality of work is sometimes not as important as the professionalism of the company. I'm always thanked for returning calls promptly, billing accurately, etc.

    Looking forward to more of your insights.
  5. Mower63

    Mower63 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 65

    Well here's a strange twist to my current pursuit of an LCO purchase. The buyer had one (major) account that was for property management (fiduciary on the POA bank account). They refused to introduce me to the POA board prior to closing...bottom line...wanted a handshake deal on the account and wouldn't offer any guarantee. Therefore the goodwill fell to a big fat ZERO for that one and they wouldn't adjust the price for consideration....soooo I cancelled the purchase contract.

    Anyway, I'm off to look at some more opportunities starting yesterday.

    Hoolie, I think ANY business (especially service realted) all the good will is in the reputation you build with customers. So if you do intend on selling sometime down the road...references and customer testemonials for the potential buyer would be rather important. Since I've been looking for an existing business for awhile I can tell you there is not much value I can place on someone's word that 'this business has a great reputation'. I have to verify that for myself during due diligence. I'm sure you could teach me a thing or two...there's no education like experience itself.


    HOOLIE LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,981

    I'm in my third year of running my business, prior to striking out on my own, I worked for one company for over 10 years. Started out working the summers during college, then stayed on full-time. Should have taken the plunge sooner (never thought I'd stay with that LCO for that long)

    Anyway, like you said mower63, your reputation is everything, and from a buyers standpoint its hard to gauge someone elses reputation. I can attest that if you get to know your customers, and have them view you as a person rather than just "the grass guy", they stay loyal to you (for the most part). A good number of my customers will pop out just to say hi each week.

    Hoping to hire someone for next season. My strategy from the beginning has been to work solo for 2-3 years, build up a loyal customer base, and then expand. If you rush things from the beginning its hard to get a handle on everything. That's my philosophy anyway.

    Best of luck in finding a solid LCO to purchase.
  7. Mower63

    Mower63 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 65


    Sounds like a solid plan to me. I'm going to look at another LCO today. Equipment sounds like it's good but the accounts sound even better. Hopefully this one will prove out.

    I'm also thinking for the investment I may be better off just to get some equipment (new) and start on my own...however I need to pay the bills so...kinda chicken / egg thing.



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