Chris Shipp has been mowing lawns for three decades. Having so many years of experience under his belt taught him how to be successful from several perspectives: how to service customers, how to be profitable, and how to sustain a business year-round.
In addition to mowing lawns, the owner of Shipp Shape Lawn Services in Sylvester, GA, offers aeration, fertilizing and weed control, mulching, yard renovation, flowerbed maintenance, landscaping, along with irrigation repairs and installation.
At 44 years old, Shipp started mowing lawns with his grandfather at the tender age of 12. He continued mowing lawns throughout high school and later started operating his business under the name Shipp Shape after a high school teacher told him he had done a “ship shape” job with his lawn. “Instead of going to work for someone in high school like everyone else, I created my own job,” Shipp relates. “My business continued to grow, and I eventually decided to operate full time in the Green Industry.”
Shipp Shape’s breakout year came in 1992 when it landed a contract to maintain the grounds for a local peanut blanching corporation. As Shipp explains, the work gave him “lots of good exposure around town.” Ten years later, the company won an even larger contract with a local municipality and has been mowing its parks, sports fields, office buildings, cemeteries and roadways ever since.
Mowing accounts for nearly 75% of Shipp Shape’s annual revenue and keeps eight employees busy throughout the mowing season from March through September. Yet, one of the keys to Shipp’s success has been his ability to retain four core people year around with irrigation installation repairs, which bring in another 15% of revenue, in addition to landscape maintenance and renovation, and fertilizer and weed control, which adds another 10%.
Shipp explains, “After the mowing season slows down in October, we begin to apply a pre-emergent to control weeds and perform fall landscape maintenance duties such as trimming shrubs and picking up leaves. That’s where the vacuum systems on our mowers come in handy. During the peak growing season, however, most of our customers want the clippings returned to the soil, or they use the clippings as compost. Customers want to be environmentally friendly.
“In winter months we renovate lawns, clean flowerbeds and add pine straw,” Shipp continues. “Later we apply a post-emergent for weed control and start our fertilizer regimen, and by April, we’re in the swing of cutting grass.”
Shipp Shape offers landscaping and irrigation and repair services all year long. Since his coreless aerator doesn’t leave behind unsightly cores, he says crews can aerate virtually any time during the growing season, as well. The aerator attaches to one of the company’s five out-front Grasshopper mowers.
“We offer the service to both our residential customers and the local municipality for its sports fields,” Shipp adds. “Residential customers like their yards aerated because it provides a better medium for the absorption of water and fertilizer, and makes their lawn green and lush. Aerating sports fields creates a better medium for growth, but also creates a softer soil for athletes.”
Even though the local municipality is Shipp’s biggest customer by far, his company has a nice balance of commercial and residential accounts, just under 100 customers in all. Commercial accounts are on contracts whereas residential customers seal the deal with a verbal agreement.
“Sometimes we do things a little differently down here,” Shipp admits. “I’ve been working a long time with many of my customers and our word is as good as a contract. You can do a great job and have all the right equipment, but if your word isn’t good and you don’t deliver good service, work will disappear. I’ve been fortunate to have several longtime customers and, in some cases, have their children as customers too.”