Mike Stegall didn't become a police officer because he wanted to get rich. Nor did he suspend that career in May 1998 to become a landscaper for that reason. But today, at the age of 47, he considers himself to be blessed more than he'd ever imagined he'd be.
Stegall has a wife and three kids, rock-solid employees, loyal customers, top-of-the-line equipment, and a job doing what he loves to do. "I didn’t get into this business to wear slacks and a polo shirt," Stegall relates as sweat streams down his cheeks on a 102° day. "I like working in the field. My employees appreciate it, and my customers love it."
As the president of Manicured Lawn & Landscaping Inc. in Mocksville, NC, Stegall works up nearly as much of a sweat when managing his business from behind the scenes. His "7 Keys to Prosperity in the Residential Lawn Maintenance Business" guide all of his budgeting, pricing, marketing and customer service actions. The result is a residential maintenance-focused company that continues to grow—and is more profitable than ever.
Ways to build customer confidence
Everything starts with how customers "experience" Manicured Lawn & Landscaping in the field. That's why Stegall prefers to be in it, right alongside his two full-time employees, Matt Hendrix and Josh Locastro.
You won't see Stegall comfortably riding on a zero-turn mower, though. He's typically walking the property—pulling or spraying weeds, picking up trash, and looking for problem areas in the lawn.
"I think it's important for me, the owner, to be doing the detail work," Stegall explains. It's not just about making sure the finer details are perfect, either. It's also about communication. Many times, a customer pops out of his or her front door to ask Stegall a question or just say hello. "If I was on a mower, everything would have to stop," Stegall points out. "By focusing on the detail work, I'm able to stop and visit with the customer—but the crew keeps working and we don't fall behind."
Simple gestures like this, which add no additional cost, are what help Manicured Lawn & Landscaping provide standout customer service, one of Stegall's seven keys to prosperity. "It's such an impersonal world today," Stegall says. "Making clients feel loved is so, so powerful."
Making clients feel loved requires a business to also make its employees feel loved. Stegall strives to do that by, first and foremost, leading by example. "I tell my employees that I want them to work with me, not for me," Stegall says. “You can have attractive vehicles, superior equipment and loyal customers, but it’s your employees that can make or break your company.”
Stegall states that he has been criticized for being too picky about who he hires. But that’s fine, he says, because Manicured Lawn & Landscaping pays its employees more than most companies its size. Stegall brags that he is very proud of his two employees, Matt and Josh.
Stegall obviously takes a lot of pride in his company, but also wants his employees to adopt that same sense of pride. There are a couple of philosophies he lives by that help him achieve that.
Just because you're not the biggest doesn't mean you can't afford the best. After seeking advice from other contractors and local equipment dealers like Weno Power Equipment located in High Point, NC, Stegall makes sure he's equipping his guys with the best tools available for the jobs they are doing. "I remind my guys that you have to pay to play in this business," Stegall says. "If you want to be the best, you have to provide your employees with the best equipment, period."
Currently, Stegall's core fleet includes Walker riding mowers for bagging, Gravely riders for discharging, Honda push mowers, Stihl blowers, and Echo trimmers and sprayers.
"One advantage of being a smaller company is that it's so much easier to take good care of your equipment," Stegall says. "My guys know they have the best, and it shows in how they operate and care for it." The fact that this company still operates its first Walker mower, purchased new in 1997 and now with more than 4,000 hours on the original motor, is a testament to this fact.