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Would i be wasting my time cutting grass?? mow vs hardscapes

Discussion in 'Lawn Mowing' started by mrusk, Jul 19, 2003.

  1. mrusk

    mrusk LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,260

    I am 17, hardworking as they come and love working out doors. The past couple of months i been reading up in here everything i could about mowing. I was all ready to go buy a mower and start up a mowing company in the spring and continue with it full time when i graduate high school next june. However i've recently been working with a homeowner building some pretty nice retaaing walls and paver walk ways on his property. The 1st day the guy helped me. Now i do all the work and he sits in the house. I lay the base, tamp it, level the first course and then build the whole wall. The guy is only paying me 10 bucks an hour, but all it is is practice. I am realizing i enjoy this and i think i am half decent at it. I also think i could make more money doing this then mowing grass. I read alot of posts on how people just mow to get the other jobs and to get there name out. Can i still get pleanty of wall/paver jobs without mowing? I always here alot of landscapers say they want to get into pavers and such but when ever they send there workers out to mow all day there is always proablems.

    So which is the best way to go. Also, how do i get protential customers to take me a 18 year old serious and want to pay me as much as the big dogs? I figure my best bet is to do some work is a prime location for free under the stipulation i can permentaly have a big 'Quality job done by..." sign permentaly placed.

    I guess i am just rambling now, but give me some advice.

  2. muddstopper

    muddstopper LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,341

    Let me put my .02 cents in. I think almost any business that you are willing to work at will eventually pay off. But I have found that by being versitile enables you to grow your business in the direction that you want it to go. At 18 years of age you are just getting started in your working life and will soon find out that you will be lacking all of the nessicary skills to succeed at anything, but as you gain experience you will make fewer and fewer of the wrong decisions and more of the right ones. Since you are thinking about starting your own business I would suggest taking a few business courses at you local community college. Most business succeed or fail because of lack of proper management and not from lack of hard work. I know your queston was should you do mowing or hardscapes and I cant answer that for you, But I hope my answer will help you make the decision that is right for you.
  3. tiedeman

    tiedeman LawnSite Fanatic
    from earth
    Messages: 8,745

    I would first look and see whether or not you need a contractors license for building these retaining walls. Also Look into start up costs, overhead costs and how well you enjoy it. Also think about how much time and effort you want to spend in getting it up and going
  4. Jay9437

    Jay9437 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 37

    I started out 15 years ago with two customers. I now have five quality commercial customers and around 17 residential customers on a regualr basis. I do most of the work myself with some help from my wife. Granted i have gone though quite a few customers in the past. I started this business while i had my full time job because of elimiation of certain job positions and have never regretted it. Making very good money. O did i say i was 50 years old when i started this business, Do quality work and be dependable is the best advise i can give you. Good luck :)
  5. yardmonkey

    yardmonkey LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 341

    Interesting question.

    I started out on my own just over 3 years ago and I thought I had to learn how to do everything in order to have enough business. I have since learned that (at least in this market) there is unlimited work in every direction. You could do nothing but mow, nothing but landcape installation, nothing but garden work, nothing but treework, nothing but hardscaping and stay plenty busy. I'm glad I have been versatile so I could explore various kinds of work. Its all interesting. And then there is the concept of full-service - doing it all for a limited number of customers.

    I have not done a lot of hardscaping but from my limited experience I can see that this is quite a specialty. Anyone can get a mower and start mowing - there is plenty to learn about it but you learn as you go. Brickwork seems to require a lot of patience and there are skills to aquire. Also it is one thing to lay down some pavers, but getting into retaining walls can get tricky. It may involve permits, blueprints, engineers, inspections, etc., as a poorly made wall can collapse and cause lots of damage or even kill people.

    I took on a job last year that was very interesting. A customer wanted to extend a windsor block wall all along the back of the yard. The existing wall was like a 10 foot half circle against the fence and maybe 6 blocks high. I had to tie into this and extend it out 100 feet one way and 50 the other way. The ground sloped front to back and side to side so it was tricky. The main thing of course was just getting the first row in level. Man that was a project though. Took a while. I learned quite a lot from it. Researched proper technique on the Pavestone site, called the Pavestone rep with questions, asked questions on the lawnsite landscaping forum, and learned by making mistakes. The wall looks great and the customer is very happy. This basically created a large long garden bed which she has had fun planting up.

    I told a friend of mine about this. He is one of the top landscapers around here. I was surprised to learn that he does not do this kind of work. He says he does not have the patience for it. He asked if he could refer such work to me. I have not pursued more such jobs as I stay busy all the time with existing customers.

    Anyway hardscaping can be very satisfying work. You can probably charge quite a bit for it, though lots of guys here make quite a bit just mowing. If you like doing the brickwork and stonework, then you should probably just go for it. There is plenty of that to be done and probably a shortage of people who are really good at it. Probably landscapers would give you plenty of business.

    Be sure to check in with the Commercial Landscaping forum right here on this site. It is not as active as the mowing forum, but there are some very experienced hardscapers there who will be happy to give advice.

    Also you should take photos of your work. You can show potential customers pictures of work you have done. And/or they can just go to an address and have a look. And of course eventually you develop a reputation and you will have more business than you can handle.

    Just have a vision and make it happen!

    Good luck................
  6. yardmonkey

    yardmonkey LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 341

    And just to address your question more specifically - don't even think you need to get into mowing or anything else just to get business. It can take time to get started and to figure out how to get business, but I think it would be best to just stick to the hardscaping if that is what you want to do. If you aren't getting enough business it just means you need to get the word out more. Also, this type of work can be done year round, whereas the mowing can be seasonal. Some mowers who do other things may save hardscaping jobs for the winter. But many customers want it now. The Windsor wall project was very difficult (and less fun) for me because she wanted in done right then (in the spring) and I had tons of other jobs to do. And these were all little jobs, like one-hour lawn mowing. It is cool to have big projects lined up and just be able to work on them without distraction. And very satisfying to see the result....
  7. barnard

    barnard LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 618

    I would start out mowing first. you have minimal start-up money required . As you grow and develope customers you can upgrade equipment. Mowing is repeat business and not as likely to be feast or famine. It will probably be easier at your age to get the lawn jobs. Best of luck to you. don't try to get too big to fast(debt).
  8. TLS

    TLS LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 7,943

    While Hardscaping can be a BIG profit maker, it can also sink you.

    First of all, it's VERY hard work. Very physical in the lifting, digging, preparing, then you have the 85lb block, gripper loads of brick in each hand, wet sawing, dry sawing. None of it easy physically OR mentally.

    Then there's the whole "your always looking for a new customer" ordeal. With mowing, you get a customer and keep him for 20 years or more. In and out, week after week, almost a set income.

    Some hardscaping jobs, no matter how much "cushion" you added in, end up eating up WAY more time and materials then ever imagined. Next thing you know, your just taking money from one hand and passing it to another.

    My one good Buddy does Strictly hardscaping, and I often type up his proposals/contracts on my computer. So I see what is involved, and I see his pricing techniques. Some times I suggest that he may need to up his prices, seems like he's stuck in the 80's with his pricing. BTW, some of these jobs are $30K + jobs and I sometimes wonder if he's clearing a couple grand after he pays out for materials and labor.

    Which is the next thing. You NEED to hire LABOR. Almost impossible to do SOLO.

    Then you have customer DEADLINES....have to be done for Julies wedding in August.....Blah blah blah. Pressure.

    Then you have the necessary tools for it. Bobcat,track excavator, or backhoe? All over $30K. Wet saw, demo saw, block splitter, brick caddy, brick grippers, gloves, kneepads, brooms, shovels, Vibraplate, Jumping Jack, on and on......

    WAY more equipment needed for Hardscaping vs. Lawnmowing.

    But if priced out properly, and worked efficiently, it can be a VERY profitable niche.

    Hope this helped a bit.
  9. mtdman

    mtdman LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,143

    I did this a little before I started my mowing company. I liked doing it, for a while. It's hard work, and if you don't have the right tools, it can hurt after a while. I didn't like it enough to keep doing it, went for the mowing stuff instead. If you get into big jobs, you are going to need some big equipment, and that costs money.

    If you are serious about it, go find the local paver distributers in your area. That's how I got work when I did it. The guy gave us a class in building walls, walks, etc, and set us up with a few easy accounts. Maybe you could even work with another company for a season or two to get things down.

    My main focus in my business the past few years has been getting as many regular customers as possible and busting my butt on them all season. I am beginning to look at other ways to make money in slower times, like the spring and fall, so I don't have to bust my butt all year long. Other services, more fall and spring clean ups, etc. Versatility is a great asset in business. Put all your eggs in one basket, you are setting yourself up for failure.
  10. mrusk

    mrusk LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,260

    Guys i gave alot of thought to what you guys said. To build the company that i dream off, i figure i better go into mowing and hardscaping. As you said, anyone can mow, it takes skill for hardscapes. In a year or two if i start getting lots of hardscape jobs i could always send a crew out mowing by themselves if i can find some hard working honest guys. I been talking to alot of landscapers in the area and they all say once they have more than 2 or 3 mowing crews going they end of spending loads of money on mower repairs each week. The two year old mowers look like they been through vietnam and back. In the last 2 weeks i bought a lazer z, gas powered target wet saw, and a wacker tamper. I am jumping in head first. Some people may thing i am wasting my money jumping in head first. I don't. People spend 30k for 4 years for a college education and when they get out they don't even know if they will find a job. I spent 12 grand and with my hard working two hands and determination, i don't have a doubt in my mind that i won't succede. My short term goals are to graduate HS. Then i will go to the local Community college for horticulture. During the spring and fall i will try to do night classes. But during the winter i will take as many business classes as i can. The CC has a real good horticuture proagam that even focuses on managing a landscaping company. Around the end of Feb. i will be trying to get lawns. I turn 18 May 12. On that day i will have a legit business all in my name with FULL insurance. I have a teacher that has been mowing for 35 years. He has been downsizing for the last few years because he is getting old. He send he can get me as many lawns as i want for free. Hopefully that works out.

    Sorry for rambling, but you guys are the only ones that have as much passion for the industry as me.


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