Keys to Mastering the Retirement Community Market

Chad Saucier’s company, Saucier’s Lawn Care Inc., offers full-service landscape installation and maintenance to more than 250 homeowners in The Villages, a master-planned retirement community in central Florida. As the population of retirees continues to grow, new retirement home developments are going up, and the professional appearance of Saucier’s work continues to bring in new accounts.

Need for compact mowers. Homes in The Villages are typically single-story houses. Lots usually run around 5,500-6,500 square feet. With the moderate Florida climate, most homes have sizable flower beds and plantings, making lawn areas irregular in shape and often “chopped up” into smaller areas. “That’s why we use more compact mowers and equipment,” Saucier says. “All our mower decks are just 42-inch cutting width, so we can get through narrow gates and spaces between houses and around their yards.”

Saucier says homeowners also are getting more particular about the types of equipment used on their lawns. “More and more, they are saying they don’t want big, heavy zero-turn mowers leaving tracks in their lawn,” he says. “Some even want contractors to use push mowers on their lawns.” Most lawns are still St. Augustine grass in central Florida, but increasingly home buyers are requesting some of the newer zoysia grass varieties.

Saucier has also determined that smaller, compact mowers are more suitable for the “ins and outs and around” of homes and neighborhoods. In The Villages, for example, lawn care workers not only contend with regular streets and sidewalks, but also must watch for special cart paths throughout the communities. Many retirees use golf carts for their daily transportation needs. Mowing in these neighborhoods takes equipment with good maneuverability and precise operator control, as well as good “look ahead” visibility to mow around the beds, trees and tight-landscaped areas of yards.

After evaluating several models, Saucier selected compact riding mowers made by Walker Manufacturing. “They seemed to be the best fit for efficient cutting in the residential areas of the retirement communities,” says Saucier.

“We’ve made some equipment changes,” he adds. “We upgrade when it will benefit our operation and enhance our customers’ yards. But we’ve always used mulching decks on our mowers, because of the problem of getting rid of clippings, and university recommendations for leaving clippings on the lawn. Our goal is to continuously look for more efficiency and better performance from all our equipment.” Saucier’s Lawn Care purchased two new MBK Walker mowers with EFI engines and 42-inch mulching decks just this past season.

Scheduling down to a science. “We work on a tight weekly schedule to get all our lawns serviced in a timely and professional manner,” Saucier points out. During the summer, he and his crews schedule mowing 12 hours a day on Mondays and Tuesdays. Wednesday is for finishing up left-over mowing jobs, plus taking care of weekly equipment maintenance chores. Thursday, Friday and Saturday are “multi-task” days to take care of trimming, sprinkler maintenance, weed control, etc.

“Our goal on Monday and Tuesday is to cut at least 120 yards each day, and we can do as many as 130 when conditions are right. Those are long days, but our customers get used to seeing us early in the week, and they appreciate the manicured look of their grass when we’re finished.” In fact, Saucier says more than three-fourths of his customers look to him as their “property manager,” telling him to do whatever he thinks needs to be done for their lawns and yards.

Word of mouth is truly priceless. Because of its professional reputation, the company is continually expanding its customer base, moving into newer areas of The Villages, with newer homes and bigger lots. “One thing that helps our efficiency is the word-of-mouth compliments on our work. We start lawn maintenance for a new homeowner; his neighbor sees the quality work we do and hires us, another neighbor signs on, etc. Pretty soon, we’re working for a ‘bloc’ of homes where we can just drive the mowers down the street and do one home after another. That helps cut down our travel time, and makes it easier on the crew because we’re not loading and unloading equipment every time we move to a new property.”