Another important tool in Stegall's arsenal is his tow-behind, vibrating-tine aerator from First Products. "Aerating is important when drought sets in, and this thing is still effective when the ground is hard and dry," Stegall explains. "This allows us to seed, fertilize and aerate, all in advance of a forecasted rain. This puts us way ahead of the game."
Stegall has also invested in a Super Lawn Truck. He especially appreciates the on-board fueling system, along with the impression it makes out on the street. "I had another contractor say to me, 'Mike, how many crews are you running now? I see your trucks all over the place,'" Stegall relates. "But I just have the one truck. People must be noticing it."
Make their jobs easier and more enjoyable. Stegall tries to do those little things that make an employee feel good about working for him. Examples include taking them to a baseball game, buying them lunch from time to time, purchasing them new work shoes or Tilley hats to help shield the brutal Carolina sun, or allowing them to bank overtime hours and cash them in during the off-season. Most of all, he gives them his trust.
Good equipment and employees are vital to retaining customers. Then, retaining customers is vital to growing a residential maintenance business. "Residential is very price-competitive," Stegall points out. "But you need to focus on your back door. You cannot grow if you don't keep what you have."
Sounds pretty simple, but Stegall says some companies are overly focused on gaining new customers. He prefers to focus on the clients he has—and allow word of mouth to do the rest.
Step one is building relationships. When Green Industry PRO was in the field with Stegall's crew this past July, a homeowner approached Stegall to say hi and ask how his daughter was doing; the homeowner had heard the daughter was sick and hadn't seen her at the YMCA in a few days. "When you establish this kind of connection on a personal level, it's much harder for that customer to fire you over something like price," Stegall says.
Step two is route density. "If I can land three yards on the same block, with no drive time in between, I've just positioned my company in a profitable situation,” Stegall points out. Building route density is the quickest way to profitably build a residential maintenance business.
That is why Stegall trains his uniformed employees to smile and wave at every customer, neighbor and passerby. This helps reinforce the idea that Manicured Lawn & Landscaping is an approachable, professional organization from top to bottom that is pleasant to do business with. "And you just never know when that casual greeting might turn into a new customer," Stegall adds.
That has happened more than once, to say the least. Thus, Stegall doesn't do any direct mail or door hangers to try and land new accounts. Rather, he personally knocks on doors to offer a quick handshake and a business card.
"I like to tell people that we're looking for new customers to join our family," Stegall explains. "I point out that we're currently servicing so and so down the street, and feel like we could also help with their needs. I also try to get the prospect to talk about their property and expectations, which opens the door for me to explain the benefits of working with my company."
Once working in a neighborhood, Stegall feels confident about holding onto accounts. One thing his crew does is stripe lawns at a 45° angle. "I've heard about other commercial-oriented contractors driving through one of our neighborhoods, thinking about making a push into residential," Stegall shares. "They see those stripes and think about the expense of driving all the way here just for one or two yards. We make sure we set the bar high—that's the best way to ensure your future success."
Also to ensure future success, Stegall has recognized an important trend in residential maintenance. "In a lot of cases, I'm dealing with the woman of the house," Stegall relates. "It typically takes a softer approach to develop a good rapport. You have to be attentive. You have to learn what floats the customer's boat. Maybe she wants that back deck cleared off perfectly. The point is that you have to find out, and that means you have to ask questions and listen."