Certified Lawn & Landscape
San Antonio, TX
Founded: September 2005
Owners: Jon, Liza, Jose and Esther Zertuche
Employees: 9 peak season,
6 off season
Sales Mix: 80% maintenance,
10% construction, 10% irrigation
Customer Mix: 100% commercial, including high-end residential property managers and a public housing contract
Fleet includes one Hustler 60-inch mower, two Cub Cadet 60-inch mowers, one LESCO 72-inch mower, one LESCO 60-inch mower, one Mahindra tractor with front-end loader and 72-inch deck, Echo debris blowers and string trimmers, four trailers, one Hummer H2, one Chevrolet 1500, two Chevrolet 2500 4x4s
Since the age of 19, Jon Zertuche has worked in the landscaping business, earning his stripes as a laborer and eventually foreman for a handful of larger companies. Backed by his father Jose, a retired Boeing executive, he decided to break out on his own in September 2005. "I was scared," Jon relates. But he was also determined.
So was Jose, Jon's wife Liza, and several other members of the Zertuche family who have each played a role in the rapid success of the business (see "Strength in Family" on page 10). Now with a large government account in its portfolio, Certified Lawn & Landscape in San Antonio, TX, has become a company Jon had only dreamed of owning one day.
The question now is: Can the Zertuches maintain what they've so quickly built? There are plenty of reasons to believe they can. They have extremely loyal customers who have kicked the referral engine into overdrive. They have loyal employees offering a diversity of skills. They have a refined estimating system to help maintain profit levels. They run lean, and have a business plan charting the company's next several years.
LOYAL CUSTOMERS AS THE FOUNDATION
The next several years, Jon tells, will hopefully include growth in the construction division. "We're doing some construction work now; mainly enhancements for our maintenance accounts," Jon points out. "We've also partnered with a local builder. We typically do three or four installs a month starting in early March, but we'd like to do more."
In its first three years of operation, Certified Lawn & Landscape has focused on commercial maintenance. This year includes three new accounts that have driven annual sales up more than 30 percent. One of them is a large contract with a federal government account (see "Landing the big fish" later on).
The Zertuches are quick to give credit where credit is due, though. Like many budding contractors, Jon got his start by breaking off from an existing landscape company—and winning business from a couple accounts he had developed a good rapport with. These customers helped sustain Certified Lawn as it got its bearings.
One of them is property manager Rick Dean of Creston Ridge mobile home park (a YES community). Dean says he has stuck with Jon because he's so responsive. "Jon has a great attitude," Dean tells. "He returns my calls promptly and always has his crew jump on situations. It's not uncommon to see him or Liza on the property themselves if that's what it takes to make it right."
The 67 acres at Creston Ridge take a four-person crew an entire day to service. The contract calls for 26 visits a year. Two other mobile home parks are also part of Certified Lawn's portfolio. Jon loves this type of customer because drive time is minimized. This is especially the case with Creston Ridge, which is right next door to Certified Lawn's leased storage facility.
Most of Certified Lawn's customers are within a 30-mile radius. One, however, is 65 miles away. "It doesn't bother us too much," Jon points out, "because we budget for the extra drive time." This account, Alpha Barnes Real Estate Services, is a classic example of how things can quickly snowball—in a good way that is.