Even at the age of 16, Jeremy Eck displayed a level of maturity that was rather unusual for a teenager looking to mow neighbors' lawns during the summer. That maturity is what won his first customers over, and it's what has enabled him to make all the right decisions for his growing business.
Actually, you could point to many reasons why Eck's eight-year career has been such a success thus far. With an associate's degree in turf and landscape management, he takes extraordinary pride in his profession. He takes calculated risks, keeping in mind both the near- and long-term effects. And above all else, he believes quality matters most.
GROWTH REQUIRES LEADERSHIP
One of the best decisions Eck says he made was when he decided to invest in more effective crew leaders. When Spruce It Up Inc. in Springfield, MO, was just starting out, Eck hired some of his classmates to deliver the young company's services. They delivered pretty well, but were limited in the number of hours they wanted to put in.
"I decided to hire two mature men to run my crews," Eck says, adding that one of them happens to be his father Andy. "To help with retention, I offer them a year-round salary, even if they don't work full-time in the off-season. We also provide a group health insurance plan to all of our employees."
Having more mature, career-minded crew leaders helps with quality control. Plus, they also allow Eck the freedom to spend more time working on business growth.
"I handle all contracts and the initial pricing for most of our lawn maintenance jobs, but our crew supervisors handle the interaction with their respective customers," Eck points out. "This frees me up to stay in touch with the larger homeowner associations and commercial accounts to make sure we are meeting their expectations. That personal touch makes them feel like they are more than just a job to us."
GROWTH THROUGH ACQUISITION
Starting out as a 100% maintenance company, Spruce It Up soon began supplementing its service offering to facilitate growth and offset seasonal downtime. While landscape construction, irrigation and snow removal now contribute to annual income, roughly half of total revenue still comes from lawn maintenance services performed throughout Springfield, MO's eight-month season.
However, a much larger percentage—roughly 75%—of the maintenance business comes from commercial clientele. In 2002 Eck made a big push in this area when he purchased a 15-year-old company that had specialized in commercial and large residential properties. The acquisition included a valuable account list, three trucks with snow plows, a tractor with 15-foot batwing mower, three zero-turns, and an assortment of other smaller equipment.
"Spruce It Up had mostly average-sized residential properties at that time,
so the first thing I did was form two new maintenance crews, in addition to the one I already
tells. "I hired two full-timers and two part-timers to run those new crews. I also
consolidated the routes in separate areas of town."
Eck says his loan officer was the one who'd told him about the potential acquisition. Because the company had mostly commercial accounts with snow plowing contracts, acquiring it seemed like a good way for Eck to grow his business quickly, without having to do it one customer at a time.
"I kept the same name and phone number, and made it a division of Spruce It Up so customers would see little, if any, transition," Eck explains. "At the time I was 19 years old. Although my younger age has sometimes worked to my advantage, there were other times where I was seen as too young and inexperienced to successfully take on big commercial accounts. This was a way to do it 'behind the scenes' so to speak."