As you may or may not know, I owned LawnSite.com. I sold it in 2006 and managed the site until 2012. I still read the site often. Below is some good reading – it is a post from a member who talks about looking back when he started his business.

Mow Mony 01-11-2014 03:40 AM

Reflecting back and looking ahead, 10 years in…

I sat down spring of 2003, the spring semester of my freshman year of college, and I thought to myself… do I really want four years of debt, a degree with no guaranteed job, and the possibility of more schooling just to get a decent job? Or should I drop out now, stop taking on more debt, and commit to building the lawn service which we already had. I was already coming back to mow every weekend at that point (about 20 lawns), and some days after class. I decided to bet on myself for my future instead of an uncertain job market (which turned out to be a great decision). Then I talked my business partner into also dropping out of college to commit to the business, and that was it. We had been friends since 7th grade, and mowing together since 9th grade and something about our friendship and business relationship has always just worked.

We decided we could always go back to school if we failed, and we set what we considered lofty but obtainable goals, and then met all of them. We also decided to take business and landscape management classes at the local community college, and learned many essentials for growing our business, (instead of BS classes we were paying three times as much for at our respective universities) My parents were not at all supportive of my decision at the time, but I knew what I needed to do and how I was going to do it. We set many goals for the business, and came up with a solid plan on how to achieve them, while taking on the least amount of debt possible.

We printed up a couple thousand nice flyers and hit the ground running. We paid cash for nicer push mowers, a bigger trailer and a truck. We financed commercial blowers/trimmers/edgers at 0% with the goal to pay them off before any interest was due, which we did. Then we hired our first employee (who is still with us) First year we grew to 50 lawns a week using only push mowers, and going to CC classes at night. Then we had some cash saved and purchased a new belt drive 36″ Exmark Metro the next spring, and we said…what were we thinking push mowing all these lawns? Then we bought a used Exmark Turf tracer, and we knew that was the ticket to efficiency and growth. We jumped to 75 lawns that season and formed our LLC in Jan 2005

Fast forward to now, and I have no regrets. We have grown every single year we have been in business and plan to continue to grow at a controlled sustainable pace. Our business is completely debt free, and I have no personal debt besides my mortgage. This gives me the freedom to enjoy life. With around 250 residential accounts (and some nice commercial ones as well) we have the piece of mind that even if quite a few cancel we will still be ok, but I also am confident this wont happen. If we were relying on just a handful of larger accounts, I know I would be way more stressed of losing one or two and going under, so the business was structured intentionally to avoid that. We also turn down a lot of work that doesn’t fit our criteria, and fire or never work for bad customers, instead of letting them be a stressor.

It has been a great journey and learning experience. There were some lean times early, and many hard long days/weeks and sacrifices, but we never stopped working towards our goals. There were also many parties, trips, adventures, and fun things we were able to do that our broke college friends, and 9-5 working friends were not. Owning and building a business has been very rewarding.

At three crews currently (two full time mowing, one doing all landscaping work) but with limited overhead, and no debt, we are in a great position. To grow to the next step would include taking on a lot more overhead, leasing an office space/commercial location, and greatly increasing our payroll. We would have to double our gross, probably even 2.5x, to net the same amount, which means we’d have to sell twice the work and hire someone capable to do all the things outside a mowing route which I currently handle. We could make the jump, but I don’t wish to be busier and more stressed, with double the customers and more employees, just to make the same amount of money when its all said and done. I have read many stories on here about this same transition, and hope to learn from others mistakes(and successes) This is a big step where many business get in over their heads and end up failing, or going back to a small operation. Its our next step eventually, but we are committed to doing it correctly or not at all.

For now we plan to continue to look for ways to grow and be more efficient, and more profitable. We both try to maintain a healthy work/life balance, as we have seen too many people make a lot money while sacrificing family and friends, being stressed out all the time or dying young without enjoying it. I have also started volunteering again, it feels good to give back.

Haven’t posted much on lawnsite throughout the years, but have definitely learned a lot by reading. Never really introduced myself so I figured there is no time like the present. I spend way more time in the offseason on here, and learn something new or see something that motivates me to improve almost every time I check back. Hopefully I can give some insight to younger guys who are where we were at 10 years ago, and continue to learn from other more successful business owners. Best of luck to everyone in 2014!

Jon

caseysmowing 01-11-2014 07:45 AM

Very nice post. We are about the same age and in the same state. I also backed out of community college at 18 (2003). But I never knew the money that could be made in lawn care so I went to work at a bottle factory. Not a bad decision but made decent money right out of the gate. Saved a lot of it and bought a house 3 years later and got a better job 4 miles from home. Still at both now working towards FT lawn care. Only debt is the mortgage and the wife’s student loans that are outrageous! Looking to take some night class for business and landscaping also. One thing that is impressive to me about your growth is that you started with push mowers then a belt walk behind then a used TT. That shows a lot of restraint not to over spend. Also being able to have a friend/ business partner is amazing. Best of luck. Thanks for the heads up on Vails. They don’t have what I’m looking for yet but I’ll keep checking in.
Posted via Mobile Device

Mow Mony 01-12-2014 05:24 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by caseysmowing (Post 4933917)
Very nice post. We are about the same age and in the same state. I also backed out of community college at 18 (2003). But I never knew the money that could be made in lawn care so I went to work at a bottle factory. Not a bad decision but made decent money right out of the gate. Saved a lot of it and bought a house 3 years later and got a better job 4 miles from home. Still at both now working towards FT lawn care. Only debt is the mortgage and the wife’s student loans that are outrageous! Looking to take some night class for business and landscaping also. One thing that is impressive to me about your growth is that you started with push mowers then a belt walk behind then a used TT. That shows a lot of restraint not to over spend. Also being able to have a friend/ business partner is amazing. Best of luck. Thanks for the heads up on Vails. They don’t have what I’m looking for yet but I’ll keep checking in.
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thanks! Yeah I have been in VA my entire life, travelled to many other places but still love it here. It sounds like you made some good decisions as well along the way, and you probably made more than us when we were starting out. No wrong choice though in my opinion, as long as you are happy.
I have successful/happy friends who started work immediately after high school and moved up within their company quickly, and others who graduated and then got their dreams jobs. I also have four close friends who each started their own businesses around the same time we did, and are all doing very well for themselves, and we all meet up and discuss business and pick each other brains, though not as often as I’d like.
I also have many friends though with a worthless degree who bar tend/wait tables/work two jobs etc, or those that have a decent paying job but are miserable and have no freedom. I was way more terrified of those prospects than failing at business. It was lean times at first, but it was motivating at the same time to keep doing better. We did put a lot of focus on growing debt free, which is contrary to how many others have done it, and not the easy way. It definitely slowed us from growing as quickly as we could have, but it also allowed us to learn and prepare for each step forward. I remember people telling us, partnerships always fail, and its a bad idea…but it really is all about finding someone you see eye to eye with, making sure its someone you trust, who is financially responsible, has similar goals and the work ethic to achieve them…and its mainly about keeping communication open and adjusting responsibilities as needed so its fair for both parties. Its worked great for us since we started mowing together in high school and still does to this day. We wouldn’t be where we are today without each others hard work and dedication to growing our company that’s for sure.

I’m sure you will find a good deal on a truck. Keep an eye on craigslist every day, including neighboring cities. The best deals are often gone quickly, but I have found great deals on more than things than I could list. I make offers on a lot of things as well, since you never know how bad someone needs to sell something, or how much wiggle room they have priced in. It sounds to me like you are in a good position financially to grow your business, and I wish you the best of luck as well!

Weekend cut easymoney 01-12-2014 09:11 AM

If you buy a commercial property, try and buy one which you can rent out part of the space to recover some of the cost….its an investment if you buy it…long-term you’ll be able to rent it out or sell it if necessary…its an asset which hopfully should appreciate with time

larryinalabama 01-12-2014 10:06 AM

Most Parents subscribe to going 250k in debt to get a education that wont repay the debt until your 45. Comminunity College is the way to go in many cases.

Surprised the partnership deal worked out, most don’t.

Congrats on 10 plus years in business.

smitty108 01-12-2014 10:08 AM

This is a grear post! I’m in the same shoes as you in 2003 but probably a few years older (38) student loans and an education that has yet to pay off. So I’m starting off small with no financing and no loans. I’m goint to see where I can take this and hope for the best. Great job and great post!

larryinalabama 01-12-2014 10:10 AM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Weekend cut easymoney (Post 4934614)
If you buy a commercial property, try and buy one which you can rent out part of the space to recover some of the cost….its an investment if you buy it…long-term you’ll be able to rent it out or sell it if necessary…its an asset which hopfully should appreciate with time
Might also consider selling bark, sand ,a gravel ,and pine straw, stuff your gonna use anyway.

Mow Mony 01-12-2014 03:33 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Weekend cut easymoney (Post 4934614)
If you buy a commercial property, try and buy one which you can rent out part of the space to recover some of the cost….its an investment if you buy it…long-term you’ll be able to rent it out or sell it if necessary…its an asset which hopfully should appreciate with time
that is something along the lines of what we were thinking. One of our good friends own a plumbing/HVAC company and has multiple times invested his profits into commercial real estate, including buying the land and then developing it. Worked great and now they have many diverse assets and nice cash flow, but they also took a huge hit when multiple tenants closed up shop and they couldn’t find replacements during the recession.
I think our first step will be renting a commercial space when the time comes and seeing how we use the space and how much it allows us to grow, and then look to build something on our own with his guidance and insight.

Quote:
Originally Posted by larryinalabama (Post 4934640)
Most Parents subscribe to going 250k in debt to get a education that wont repay the debt until your 45. Comminunity College is the way to go in many cases.

Surprised the partnership deal worked out, most don’t.

Congrats on 10 plus years in business.
thank you! Yes most parents do, and I don’t fault my parents for wanting me to get a degree at the time… but even then I realized that it was ME that would have to repay the debt, with or without a good job, and I decided it wasn’t in my best interest. My loans would have been around $80k for four years, but that was a lot of money to me. My parents and I had quite a few arguments when I told them I was going to drop out, and didn’t speak much for awhile after (mainly my mom, my dad kind of supported my decision though he didn’t agree with it) this was a hard time… but also helped me stay focused since I had no choice but to succeed, and it strengthened my resolve and taught me to believe in myself.

My mom is now my biggest supporter. It just took some time. The other three tidbits of advice I remember being told many times, that we chose NOT to follow…
partnerships always fail…
don’t waste money on buying used equipment, finance and buy new
focus only commercial work or install work only, its the only way to make good money

(
Quote:
Originally Posted by smitty108 (Post 4934641)
This is a grear post! I’m in the same shoes as you in 2003 but probably a few years older (38) student loans and an education that has yet to pay off. So I’m starting off small with no financing and no loans. I’m goint to see where I can take this and hope for the best. Great job and great post!
thanks and good luck!

Quote:
Originally Posted by larryinalabama (Post 4934642)
Might also consider selling bark, sand ,a gravel ,and pine straw, stuff your gonna use anyway.
The only material we use a lot of is dyed hardwood mulch…and some compost/topsoil as needed. We don’t do much outside of that, and have a great relationship with a local nursery. To have my own material on site in bulk would require a good size lot, and then I would also have to buy a loader and pay someone to run it. To make it cost effective Id have to sell a lot more mulch and material via jobs our company does, or try to compete with the big guys around here selling mulch. Too many people in a competitive materials business locally for me to want to enter that market.

CowboysLawnCareDelaware 01-12-2014 05:10 PM
Congrats on the ten year anniversary, especially with a partner as it seems most don’t get past the 2-3 year mark. That’s at least what LS says. The least amount of stress the better, but if you really want this growth then I would suspect that you would have some serious growing pains to get through. Then again, im only into my third year.

-Michael

Armsden&Son 01-12-2014 05:25 PM

Great thread! I really enjoyed your new vs. used truck thread as well. Thank you for bringing real world numbers into that discussion….. Needless to say I completely agree with you. Anyway, I just really like the cut of your jib (as my Dad would say) and how you do business… And what I REALLY like was how you talked about the advice that you didn’t follow- “Focus on commercial work or install work only, it’s the only way to make good money.” I feel like most of the outfits in my area subscribe to this exact advice and I know it’s baloney so I am quietly creeping up from behind… Don’t get me wrong, I do installs and I have commercial accounts but I am more concerned with building up a massive residential route which will in turn lead to more installs and commercial work! Tons of guys in my area that think that residential work is not worth it… HaHa…. We’ll see…..

zturncutter 01-12-2014 05:27 PM

You and your partner are obviously both smart and hard working, that’s a tough combo to beat, congratulations.

Mow Mony 01-13-2014 04:01 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by CowboysLawnCareDelaware (Post 4934865)
Congrats on the ten year anniversary, especially with a partner as it seems most don’t get past the 2-3 year mark. That’s at least what LS says. The least amount of stress the better, but if you really want this growth then I would suspect that you would have some serious growing pains to get through. Then again, im only into my third year.

-Michael
thanks! I think finding the right partner is very hard, in fact I can only think of one other person I would potentially go into business with at this point in my life. So while its worked great for us, in many instances no partner is probably the best idea. If its not a perfect fit, don’t chance it would be my advice.

I’m getting amped for next season already, been doing a lot of reading and ready to make some changes to take us to the next level.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Armsden&Son (Post 4934874)
Great thread! I really enjoyed your new vs. used truck thread as well. Thank you for bringing real world numbers into that discussion….. Needless to say I completely agree with you. Anyway, I just really like the cut of your jib (as my Dad would say) and how you do business… And what I REALLY like was how you talked about the advice that you didn’t follow- “Focus on commercial work or install work only, it’s the only way to make good money.” I feel like most of the outfits in my area subscribe to this exact advice and I know it’s baloney so I am quietly creeping up from behind… Don’t get me wrong, I do installs and I have commercial accounts but I am more concerned with building up a massive residential route which will in turn lead to more installs and commercial work! Tons of guys in my area that think that residential work is not worth it… HaHa…. We’ll see…..
thanks for the feedback. my dad has many sayings like that as well, he is where I learned my work ethics from. He always told me, if you are going to do something, do it right the first time. And you are only as good as your word. Two things I keep it the back of my mind at all times.

I have bid multiple commercial bids throughout the years, but we have gotten underbid on every single one that reached out to us for a bid. Every commercial property we have currently is the result of knowing someone within the company so we had an in. I also dislike the amount of time it takes to properly bid a commercial… I’ve wasted a whole day before measuring/preparing a bid and typing it up and then try to follow up and they just say…oh you were about 30% higher than the bid we went with, thanks though.

The residential model works well if you do it properly and have the right systems in place (admittedly ours could use some improvement to help streamline everything) but now its just scaling it. Its exciting because I do remember thinking, man one day if we have 250 lawns we will be doing well for ourselves, and here we are. Keep it up man, and best of luck this year!

Quote:
Originally Posted by zturncutter (Post 4934877)
You and your partner are obviously both smart and hard working, that’s a tough combo to beat, congratulations.
Thanks!

branchoutshrub 01-13-2014 04:40 PM

Great post Mow Mony!

cmo 01-13-2014 05:06 PM

I keep reading about getting systems in place to be successful. Can anyone point me in the right direction for a good system and model for obtaining residential customers. I’m sure there is a thread someone knows of just tell me and ill search for it no need to explain everything to me again if I can find it in an existing thread. Thanks guys
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Mow Mony 01-13-2014 07:30 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by branchoutshrub (Post 4935551)
Great post Mow Mony!
thanks

Quote:
Originally Posted by cmo (Post 4935565)
I keep reading about getting systems in place to be successful. Can anyone point me in the right direction for a good system and model for obtaining residential customers. I’m sure there is a thread someone knows of just tell me and ill search for it no need to explain everything to me again if I can find it in an existing thread. Thanks guys
Posted via Mobile Device
go on youtube and search lawncare millionare, he has hundreds of videos each pertaining to a specific topic regarding lawn care, and I have found most of his reasoning and advice to be right on the money. I have taken from his videos many ideas and procedures from how his company does things which I plan to implement this upcoming year.

mowing4cash 01-14-2014 11:25 AM

I see you stated that you cut 250 accounts. That is a lot of accounts for only 2 crews cutting. Are your routes very tight? Also what type of advertising have you done over the years to make a route tight enough?

Mow Mony 01-15-2014 02:15 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by mowing4cash (Post 4936144)
I see you stated that you cut 250 accounts. That is a lot of accounts for only 2 crews cutting. Are your routes very tight? Also what type of advertising have you done over the years to make a route tight enough?
yes we keep them as tight as possible. One crew mows everyday M-F second crew doesn’t mow fridays so we have some wiggle room to catch up from rain, or have just that crew help with landscape work if we have a lot.

We have always focused on tight routes, and have turned down quite a bit of work outside of our targeted areas, which kept us more profitable than driving around more, but has also kept us from growing and expanding at a faster pace. We have one subdivision with close to 50 lawns, but we have been advertising in that neighborhood every year for 14 years since we were in high school. Around 7500 Door to door flyers has always been our approach each spring, and it guys the guys extra hours in the early season when we don’t have a full schedule, which they appreciate. We have never done any mailings, but are considering it for this upcoming season. We also rank well on google which brings us a lot of leads. We also give current customers a free mowing for each referral. We admittedly have a very small marketing budget % wise up to this point, but are going to allocate some additional money this year for it.

JContracting 01-16-2014 01:56 PM

Subscribing to your thread also.

Great story. I had a partnership entity I started with a now former best friend, worked great for a month and a half until we disagreed on how money was handled (no surprise, my parents even recommended not doing it but I still went against their advice) and we ended it. Did about 10k in sales during that time and he just wanted the business as a second income to his construction job. Our group of friends was all mutual and they all had taken his side of it and that was the end of that. I learned exactly who my true friends were out of the deal which I think was the most valuable part of it and I’m glad we ended when we did as there were no assets to split or any of that.

I also have to laugh at the people that say “commercial is the only way to make money”. For a large company, that may work better with their systems however the margins are lower but it makes up in volume especially with maintenance.

In my opinion and what I’ve witnessed so far in my market, a residential client is much more likely to want landscape upgrades as opposed to a commercial property and it’s higher margin work, ie. patios, retaining/freestanding walls as opposed to mulch/rock and plants in most cases but that’s just what I’ve seen so far.