Stephen Price with mowing crew members Shawn Vandiver (sitting) and Brian Reed (left)
Price confers with irrigation specialist Ricky Reed. Being a licensed irrigator allows Price to install and maintain irrigation systems. He is also a licensed backflow inspector.
Price added services to grow his current customers and keep his employees busy all year long.
Price Lawn Services
Owner: Stephen Price
Business founded: 2002
80% maintenance, 20% lawn care and irrigation installation/maintenance
Customer Breakdown: Mostly
Employees: 4 year-round
Equipment includes: Walker zero-turn mowers, Honda push mowers, Toro Dingo mini skid loader, Echo and Stihl handheld
Stephen Price, owner of Price Lawn Services in Amarillo, TX, is 29 years old and has been in business only five years. His company employs four people who maintain between 25 and 30 residential accounts a day, provide lawn care services, and install and maintain irrigation systems.
"The key to this business is taking baby steps and diversifying," says Price. "I started out slowly, and then became licensed to apply fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides. A few years later, I obtained my irrigation license. Now I can offer full service to my maintenance customers."
Price, who holds an ag/business degree, says he now uses his maintenance accounts to leverage his other service offerings. Mowing/maintenance accounts for nearly 80 percent of his company's annual revenue, with lawn care and irrigation bringing up the rest.
Like so many of his peers, Price started mowing lawns as a teenager. He continued to work his accounts until college, when other pursuits started to monopolize his time. After graduation, though, and a couple of aborted attempts in the construction market, he re-entered the landscape industry.
"My younger brother kept the business going, and I simply assumed some of my old customers from him," Price recalls. "I didn't have a lot of equipment at the time—a Honda push mower, Echo trimmer and small trailer. I worked out of my home, too, but was doing something I wanted to do."
The young entrepreneur grew his business by word-of-mouth. He purchased his first riding mower, a Walker, in 2003, and has since added two more to his equipment lineup. His most recent purchase is a Toro Dingo to help with irrigation and landscape installations. But Price still relies on his Honda push mowers for trim mowing and smaller jobs.
"I never thought I would be doing this for a living 10 years ago," says Price, "but now it seems like a natural fit for me. I started out slowly and very cautiously, working out of my home, and later rented a small warehouse to store my equipment. My next move is to buy some land and put up a small shop."
Mowing and providing other landscape-related services seems to be a natural fit for Price. "Mowing is my bread and butter," he relates. "My maintenance contracts keep money coming in year-round, and give me a continuous presence in the community. But I also learned early on that I needed to diversify to grow. Offering other services allows me to grow current customers, while also helping me keep employees busy all year."
Six months after starting his business, Price contacted the Texas Department of Agriculture and inquired about a license to apply fertilizers and other lawn care products. He "hit the books," and was a licensed lawn care applicator less than two months later. A 100-gallon spray rig and additional insurance gave him the tools he needed to offer his new service.
Just one year later, Price made another inquiry about becoming licensed to install and maintain irrigation systems. This took a little longer, he admits. "Installing irrigation systems is all about mathematics and hydraulics. I waited a year, but finally decided to take a couple of courses and have a crack at the exam."
Now a licensed irrigator, Price can install and maintain systems. Better yet, he can do this work off-season. Price is also a licensed backflow inspector, giving him the ability to install new systems without bringing in an outside inspector.
LEARNING THE ROPES
"In maintenance, I've learned that making money is all about having the right equipment, scheduling and having the right crew size," says Price. "I can't imagine mowing all day with a push mower anymore. I will not take on a new account if it is the only account in the vicinity. You just can't afford to drive across town for one stop.
"Crew size is important, too," Price continues. "Most of my residential accounts take between 15 and 20 minutes to maintain with two crew members; one mowing and one trimming. I've experimented with adding another mowing person to the crew, but it only shaved three or four minutes off a job."
Price charges $40 per hour per person for maintenance, and has a minimum charge of $26 per visit. He charges $10 per 1,000 square feet for lawn care, which translates into $50 per application for a typical homeowner customer. For maintaining and installing irrigation systems, he gets $65 an hour. The charges are competitive in the Amarillo market, and customers know exactly what to expect.
"Some customers shop price, and they may find a better deal," Price adds. "But offering full service gives me an advantage, and I make sure customers know exactly what to expect from our company. They sign a service agreement, which is slightly less intimidating than a contract, but it still spells out the service offering in detail. I believe young, inexperienced mowing contractors make a mistake by assuming customers know what they're getting. Customers don't want any surprises."
Price thinks startup companies make another mistake by overextending themselves. "You don't need a new mower from the start, and working out of a lower-cost rental place will do until you build up some capital," he emphasizes.
Not one to rest on past achievements, Price is looking to add a new service or two. He's already doing some tree root feeding, which is a natural extension of his lawn care service. He's also getting more involved in landscape installation. Teaching a continuing education landscape course at a local college this spring will give his company additional exposure in the market. In the meantime, he hasn't forgotten about his roots in maintenance.
"I enjoy working outside and can't imagine having a desk job," Price relates. "But I also truly enjoy the challenge of growing a business. It's kind of exciting comparing this year's monthly revenue to last year's. Right now, I think the sky is the limit."