Rob Reindl has tried his hand at the maintenance business. He's even done some landscape installations. But after spending countless hours evaluating the virtues of running a diversified landscape operation vs. a more focused one, Reindl has determined that residential lawn care presents the best opportunity for his company.
As founder and president of Oasis Turf & Tree in Cincinnati, OH, Reindl is impressed by the exceptional market the Cincinnati area holds for lawn care. "People keep moving into the area and building beautiful homes in nice neighborhoods," he says.
The slowdown in housing starts may have put a damper on that phenomenon, but Reindl isn't too stressed out about it. "To be honest, I don't pay much attention to all that," he relates. "Our local housing market has suffered, but not nearly as much as the East and West Coasts. Besides, our main focus is on tapping into the existing market for lawn care."
Founded in 1996 as a full-service lawn maintenance company, Oasis Turf & Tree made the decision to focus on residential lawn care in 2005. While the company continued to perform maintenance for some of its existing customers, it stopped looking for new accounts. Similarly, Oasis has completed a handful of smaller landscape installation projects for existing customers, but has never pursued that business aggressively either.
Today the Cincinnati-based company is solely focused on lawn care, providing fertilization, insect and weed control, seeding and aeration. Oasis also provides tree and shrub treatments, along with perimeter pest control.
"We've decided to narrow our service offering and focus on a niche," Reindl points out. "Residential lawn care has allowed us to differentiate ourselves from our competitors. We feel like there are just too many contractors cutting grass. They come and go, but there's always someone there to take their place.
"If we were in the commercial business, it might be different," Reindl continues. "Property managers often prefer to do business with one contractor if possible. But in residential, mowing and maintenance often come down to the lowest bidder, so we're going to stay away from that."
Directing every ounce of the company's time and energy to residential lawn care has paid off. Since 2005 Oasis Turf & Tree has more than tripled sales. Reindl says things are also shaping up well this year. "We reached $1.2 million in 2008, and expect to finish around $1.4 or $1.5 this year," he says.
That kind of growth during a recession is rather impressive, although Reindl is the first to acknowledge that it's not what he'd originally hoped for. "We really thought we'd experience 50% growth this year," he points out. "But that was before the economy turned sour on us. Still, we're really excited about our future. The market for lawn care around here holds a great deal of potential."
To be the best you need the best
Reindl has a staff of 20. Five of the employees are lawn care technicians, three of whom take a layoff after working 42 weeks. The other two technicians keep busy maintaining equipment during that 10-week off-season. Eight of Reindl's employees are sales reps. "We prefer to keep all of our sales reps fully employed all year long," Reindl explains. "That's the only way to get the best--and keep the best."
Reindl says he also likes to invest in making his team even better than it already is. All employees attend the Tri-State Green Industry Conference that takes place annually in Cincinnati, along with the Ohio Turfgrass Foundation Regional Seminar. Furthermore, several technicians, and even sales reps and customer service reps, are state-licensed chemical applicators. Employees are rewarded with a substantial pay increase when achieving this.
While the transition from maintenance to lawn care back in 2005 could have been quite the challenge, Reindl used it to his advantage. "Because we came from the maintenance industry, we learned to be very resourceful," he explains. "In order to make a significant profit in maintenance, you have to be as efficient as possible. We applied that to lawn care and created a lot of unique systems."
For instance, the company uses fertilizers that are custom-blended with zero filler, which helps reduce packaging, product and shipping by 25%, while also helping improve fuel economy by nearly 10%. To help with turn-by-turn driving directions, all technicians have had handheld GPS units for the past few years. And they drive vans with fold-up ramps, since pulling trailers can lead to increased fuel usage and difficulty finding parking.
The company's vans are something the entire staff takes great pride in. "We all got together one day and brainstormed about what the ideal service vehicle would be like," Reindl tells. "We decided the tank would be 2' high, 5'4" feet wide (the full width of the van) and 4' deep. We stack all our fertilizer bags on that tank, so everything is waist height when loading fertilizer into the sprayer's hopper.
"The main tank holds 250 gallons of water," Reindl continues, "so we can treat 500,000 square feet per day. We then have a separate tank for the concentrated chemical. Research tells us that, when you mix chemicals with water, the effectiveness of the herbicide will be broken down if not used that same day. Having the water and chemicals in separate tanks allows us to mix the two only when we fill up the sprayer, so it's fresh when applied."
Reindl says he searched and searched for a tank like this, but to no avail. Fortunately, he's right next door to a fabricator who was able to build something to fit his needs. "We told him what we wanted, he drew up some drawings, and there you have it," Reindl says.
Oasis Turf & Tree utilizes ride-on sprayers (the Z-Spray from LT Rich). For tree and shrub treatments, Reindl had LT Rich custom build a sprayer. "We got rid of the hopper for the fertilizer and added a 300-foot hose reel." For its aeration services, the company also uses ride-on product from LT Rich, along with a couple Ryan walk-behind aerators for select applications where a ride-on isn't feasible. "We used to run a lot of tow-behind aerators until we got out of the mowing business and liquidated all our mowers," Reindl adds.
Another thing Oasis Turf & Tree used to do a lot was physically measure properties. That's changed too, thanks to an online service called Go iLawn (goilawn.com). "Go iLawn takes high-resolution aerial photos and superimposes property lines," Reindl explains. "So we can measure properties online, which saves us the hassle of driving out to a property to take measurements on site. It's very accurate."
Reindl recently hired someone to spearhead this effort. The employee will work 4 to 9 p.m., coinciding with the time sales reps are typically out cold calling. If one of the reps needs a measurement to present an estimate to a customer, he'll call the office to get it instantly. To stay busy in between calls from the reps, the employee will work to assemble a database of property measurements--focusing on homes in the company's target market of $300,000 and up. "Our goal is to be able to respond to a prospective customer with a price in five or 10 minutes," Reindl explains.
Master of one
That type of responsiveness does a great deal to improve the overall customer experience. So does quality work. "We have the best-looking lawns, and it's not by accident," Reindl says. "We have the best products, equipment and people."
Helping Reindl manage his fast-growing company is Lou Weisman. "Lou had been a sales rep for us," Reindl tells. "We promoted him to sales manager, and he's done a tremendous job. His numbers are up more than 20% compared to our previous sales manager."
Reindl is just as quick to credit Jeff "Coop" Cooper. A long-time technician for Oasis Turf & Tree, Coop recently stepped up to the position operations manager. "Coop is in charge of managing the technicians, but also trains our entire staff in customer service, safety ... everything," Reindl points out. "He's also a PLANET CTP-CSL (certified turfgrass professional, cool season lawns)."
Reindl is a CTP-CSL as well. It makes perfect sense--since his specialty is high-end residential lawn care. Choosing to bow out of the maintenance arena and focus on this niche has proved to be the right decision. "I'd rather not be a jack of all trades," Reindl says. "I want to be a master of one."
It's fair to say that Oasis Turf & Tree has become masterful. Growing sales another 15-20% during this year's recession is living proof. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. Reindl's plans include a territory expansion into Louisville and Lexington (KY), Indianapolis (IN), and Dayton and Columbus (OH). "We expect to become a $5 to $10 million company in the next several years," Reindl says.
Now that the Cincinnati housing market has reportedly hit bottom, those ambitious goals might be reached sooner than later. PRO
Special thanks to Meredith Setzman for her contributions to this article.
Forbid Miticide from Bayer
Mites attack ornamentals by piercing the leaf surface of trees and shrubs and sucking fluids out of individual plant cells. Leaves turn spotted and brown where fluids have been removed. Heavy infestation can lead to premature leaf drop, general lack of plant vigor and, ultimately, the stunted growth of the tree.
Forbid miticide controls activity from egg through adult stages. It also features translaminar activity, meaning that a spray application on the top of the leaves will kill mites on the underside as well. Containing the active ingredient spiromesifen, Forbid is the only miticide with the lipid biosynthesis inhibitor mode of action. This is a new class of chemistry, developed by manufacturer Bayer Environmental Science. Inhibition of lipid biosynthesis works because it prevents the treated insect from maintaining water balance. The treated mite dries up and dies.
Jeff "Coop" Cooper, operations manager for Oasis Turf & Tree, sprays 2 ounces per 100 gallons with the first application of insect and mite control as part of the tree and shrub program in May. "The first round gets any mites that haven't hatched from their eggs and active motiles," Coop explains. "We go with the low rate and have had great results."