Fifth-Year Itch

Mike Lenard started mowing lawns part-time on the weekends in 2009 as his career in the U.S. Navy began drawing to a close. It seemed like the natural thing to do given how he'd grown up on a lawnmower in Texas. Now in Virginia, Lenard wanted to take a crack at owning and operating his own lawn company.

"I saw a need for a quality company as opposed to a quantity company in the residential market," Lenard tells. Lenard's Lawn Care Service in Chesapeake, VA, offers a complete suite of landscape management services—including lawn care, pest control and tree services—along with landscape installation. Fertilization and weed control applications as well as the pest control are subbed out. "I sub out to Ron Keehfus," Lenard says. "He's a great guy I have known for years. He doesn't do work for any of my competitors. We've become good friends and went into this business together, so to speak."

Lenard has focused on establishing a sound customer base over the past four years. He has also focused on growth. "My wife is still on active duty, and I have my retirement income—so right now we're not an income company, we're a growth company," Lenard relates. "I'm putting the majority of our profits right back into the company so we can grow faster than my competitors."

Lenard added a second truck last year. Thus, he had to move from his home-based headquarters to a commercial property in Chesapeake. As business has continued to grow, he anticipates outgrowing this location in the next couple of years.

"We've grown at least 30% every year," Lenard says. "Now we're getting more aggressive with our marketing. We already have a good base in Chesapeake. Client referrals are now pulling us toward other markets, including Suffolk, Virginia Beach and Portsmouth. If we're going to be doing tidbits here and there, we figured we might as well really put some effort into it and see where it leads us."

Defining your growth opportunity

Lenard has identified his target market: homes valued at $250,000 and up, household incomes of at least $75,000. "We want to cater to people who can afford a good lawn service," Lenard says. "In Virginia Beach/Chesapeake/Portsmouth/Suffolk alone I've identified nearly half a million potential new customers."

That new market is where Lenard is directing the majority of his resources this year. He has worked with his webmaster to ensure that his website, lenardslawncare.com, is optimized for not just Chesapeake, but also the Virginia Beach, Suffolk and Portsmouth markets. Additionally, the Chesapeake and Virginia Beach markets will also get hit with a direct mailer campaign this spring. "If that goes well, I'll likely expand my direct mail efforts to also include Suffolk and Portsmouth next year," Lenard adds.

Regardless of the geographic market, Lenard's Lawn Care Service will continue to stress lawn care packages. "We typically will only deal with full lawn care packages," Lenard says. "We don't cater to the one-service-and-gone customers. We're here to build relationships and make properties look really nice."

To date, about half of Lenard's clients are on "basic" packages, which includes mowing, edging and cleanup. The other half are on "standard" packages, which also include fertilization and weed-control treatments, aerating and overseeding. A "premium" package is also being offered now, which includes a higher level of fertilizer and weed-control treatments. "I let customers know about the premium package in mid-January and have already had 10 move up," Lenard says. "I think the premium package will really take off because no other residential contractors, that I know of, offers something like it."

As Lenard continues to pursue the growth and expansion of his young lawn care business, being different will be paramount. "I have a lot of competition, especially in the new market area of Virginia Beach," Lenard says. "But it's a military town, which I think could give me a bit of an advantage."

These days, contractors have to take any advantage they can get. Lenard is no exception. He is pleased with the growth his company has already experienced, and is excited to see what this year and the next could have in store.

"I have one full-time employee right now, Calvin Williams, my lawn maintenance supervisor who's been with me from the beginning," Lenard says. "I'm looking to hire three more people this year as we expand. I've been laying the groundwork with my suppliers, asking if they know of anyone who might like to come and work with me. I tell them that I'm not looking to pay someone minimum wage. I want to hire good people who can grow with me. I believe in retention and helping people move up. That's what I'm focused on right now."

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