In the span of two years, Jason Fawcett went from not knowing if he even wanted to forge a career in the Green Industry to running a company about to embark on an explosive growth spurt that has completely changed the complexion of his business—and his life. “Oh, I’m full-time now,” Fawcett says.
Elizabeth River Lawn & Landscape in Suffolk, VA, is doing more than six times the volume it was doing in 2005. Sales have grown 64% this year alone. The company has gone from eight year-round employees to 26, and from 22 to 48 in peak season.
“Through it all, my guys have been fantastic,” says Fawcett, now age 26. “The growth has been tremendous, but we’ve been able to keep overtime to under 6%. I have very talented, loyal employees, and for that I am blessed.”
Fawcett’s not done counting his blessings, and all indications are that his company is not done growing. “We’re now starting to look at the possibility of opening satellite offices,” Fawcett says. “Some of our bigger property management companies are requesting that we service additional properties in new areas, so we’re in the process of figuring all of that out. I’d say that within the next three years, we’re going to be in some new markets.”
No Substitute for the Basics
Within the next year, Elizabeth River Lawn & Landscape plans to launch a more aggressive advertising campaign in its current markets. This is quite a departure from what the company’s strategy has been thus far. “We’ve spent the past 10 years growing by word of mouth and referrals,” Fawcett says. “Our limited budget has contributed to our creativity. We’ve always been eager to provide potential new customers with a list of current customers to show the longevity of our relationships.”
Elizabeth River has customers in both the residential and commercial arenas. Fawcett tells, “We started out mowing 30 yards. Soon we had 90. Then we started picking up multi-family units and other big commercial properties.” Today, roughly 60% of Elizabeth River’s maintenance business comes from commercial accounts, while 70% of its installation business is residential. Lawn care is split 50/50, while irrigation is 80% residential.
“As we’ve continued to grow, we’ve worked hard to maintain the personal touch of a small, local company,” Fawcett relates. “Biweekly site walks, which we refer to as drop-bys, help maintain our professional relationships. Our general manager (Chris Gonzales) has been instrumental in the balance of our work efficiency and time management. At the same time, it is crucial that our crews are provided with the right tools for the job.
“My grand-dad, now deceased, had always taught me that in order to run a really successful company, you had to buy the absolute best equipment available, do the job as efficiently as possible at the lowest cost to you, pass that cost onto your customers, and then provide unbelievable service,” Fawcett continues. “That’s what we’ve always tried to do.”
Subcontracting to Yourself
Now Elizabeth River Lawn & Landscape is trying to grow its lawn care business. “This is where our more aggressive advertising and branding campaign comes into play,” Fawcett points out. “Competition is very tough in lawn care. Plus, we want to expand into different geographic areas. We want to make our mark in customer service, but it’s going to take some aggressive advertising to get the word out first.”
In the past, Elizabeth River had experimented a bit with golf tournament sponsorships and advertising in high school event flyers. Now a direct mail campaign to certain zip codes is being explored. “This is something we would contract out—the design, printing, everything—because we want it to be high-class,” Fawcett says.
Elizabeth River handles all of its lawn care services through a separate sister company called Evergreen Turf Management. Fawcett’s father Roger is president while Fawcett himself serves as vice president. Roger also serves as CFO/safety manager of Elizabeth River. The father-and-son team are co-owners of both companies.