Kevin Payne’s design/build company began as a dream in 1982. In the early days, when revenue was driven by maintenance, the smaller landscaping projects the company did perform were in the $300 to $5,000 ballpark. Today they’re in the $8,000 to $15,000 range—and there are lots of them.
TenderCare Lawn & Landscape in Derby, KS, prides itself on having blossomed into a truly full-service company, offering landscaping, irrigation, lawn care, night lighting, pool installation, and custom outdoor structures such as pool houses and outdoor kitchens. The multi-million-dollar company employs three full-time designers. And it still runs a sizable maintenance division that accounts for roughly 20% of the company’s annual revenue.
For TenderCare, managing sales growth—39% since 2004 for instance—has been as much about knowing when not to expand as it has been about knowing when you should. “Growth has been controlled by understanding that it’s not worth adding services or sales beyond your potential,” Payne says. “It doesn’t make sense to add more overhead and perform sub-par service. While we have watched several companies add equipment, trucks and employees in an effort to grow rapidly, most ended up going out of business or having to drastically downsize. Growth has to be monitored closely.”
IT HELPS TO HAVE THE BACKGROUND
In order to grow profitably, Payne reminds, you need 1) the right employees, 2) the ability to properly service, and 3) the ability to track jobs and maintain profit levels. To grow through diversification, you also need a solid understanding of the jobs you’ll be performing.
“Before I started my company in 1982, my background at a local nursery was helpful in the fact that I learned to ball and burlap trees and shrubs of numerous varieties,” Payne relates. “I learned proper digging practices, along with how different root structures grew. Plus, pruning and shearing over 100 varieties of trees and shrubs several times a year helped me gain a real knowledge of plants and their growth habits.”
Payne says this hands-on knowledge gave TenderCare a distinct advantage over many companies that tried to evolve from basic lawn maintenance services. “If we don’t have the knowledge and experienced employees to perform a service, we don’t jump into it,” he adds.
For the first few years of its existence, TenderCare operated as a small landscape, pruning and maintenance company. Customers started asking if they could spray for weeds, fertilize and work on their irrigation systems.
Already having knowledge of chemicals through his experience at the nursery, Payne immediately decided to take the state’s application test and become certified. “Our main concern as a maintenance company was to have the healthiest, best-manicured lawns in the neighborhood, so adding lawn care made perfect sense,” Payne says.
It took a little longer—six or seven years to be exact—for TenderCare to branch into irrigation. “We didn’t feel like we were ready to start that service earlier due to spreading our staff too thin and possibly compromising our core services,” Payne points out. “We had used a few companies to help us do irrigation system repairs, and subcontracted a few new installs. But we were often disappointed in the timing as well as the service we were getting.”
TenderCare aggressively searched for an irrigation manager who not only had the knowledge of all aspects of repair and installation, but could see the vision that Payne expected. “We found a person who owned a small irrigation company but was struggling,” Payne says. “We not only offered him a job, but purchased his accounts and equipment. We have since been able to service our clients to our required expectations and have grown the irrigation department nicely.”
FULL SERVICE, FULL BENEFITS
Payne says becoming a full-service company has helped in many ways. Of course, TenderCare has gained access to more customers and additional opportunities for upsales. But there are plenty of other benefits as well.