Making a Green Impact

Project Green is a newer organic-based lawn care company out of Richmond, VA.

Alex Kepner (left) and Mark Tavares are the owners and founders of Project Green.
Alex Kepner (left) and Mark Tavares are the owners and founders of Project Green.
Michael Thompson Richmond BizSense

Alex Kepner and Mark Tavares of Richmond, VA, became friends while attending Virginia Tech. Over the last eight years, they have worked for lawn application companies and learned the ins and outs of the lawn care business.

“We knew what was really being sprayed on lawns, and how important active biology in the soil is to a healthy lawn," Tavares says. "We also knew that it was not always safe for our pets and kids. A simple question really hit home when Alex’s wife would ask if she could let the dogs out, and Alex would say, 'Well, not yet. You might want to keep them in for a while.'"

Kepner and Tavares are passionate outdoorsmen. They made the decision to start up their own lawn care company. Tavares majored in landscaping and turfgrass management while Kepner majored in marketing. Drawing from their past experiences in the green industry, along with their respective degrees, Project Green was born in the summer of 2015.

Offering variety

From different lawn care programs to products, Project Green has created a formula for success.

“We have a 100% organic program along with our hybrid program, which is the best of both worlds," Tavares says. "The hybrid program combines organic products with traditional products that give you the quick results homeowners want while reducing the synthetic products by over 50%. This creates two applications in one, feeding the soil and feeding the lawn."

Tavares says that they sampled everything from Milorganite to compost teas. “We found the products that produced the best results and adjusted the program until it was ideal for our service area and soil types. We did trials for years to ensure the most effective application concentration and timing.”

They’ve ended up combining a number of different organic-based nutrients and products.

When it comes to weed control, finding the right products to use has been a process in the making. The two spent years experimenting with different products. Matching the right product with the right broadleaf weed as well as choosing the appropriate time of year is the best way to control weeds. Knowing how each product works will help you get the results you are looking for.

“There are specific products that we've chosen because of their mode of action and how they control weeds. There are a ton of different products on the market from petroleum-based to ester-based. There is a new product on the market that contains white mineral oil but uses very little active ingredient to achieve great results. You need to know the background of a product, what’s in it and how it works.  Instead of just going and picking a product off the shelf and spraying it, do your homework,” says Tavares. “If you actually know how it works, you can pick a product and get effective control out of it."

Education is key

Starting out as an organic company in an industry where customers are looking for that pristine, weed-free lawn has been key. Often when thinking of organic or natural products and lawn programs, the first thought can be, "Well that won’t work." Even Tavares says that when he began using organic products eight years ago, they didn’t really work well. Part of the mission of Project Green is to change that image.

“We do a lot of education, walking with the homeowners and letting them know what they have, how we can control it, and giving them options for control," says Tavares. He explains that his company is able to customize lawn care programs for every homeowner and lawn type.

It’s not only customer education that’s important. Both Kepner and Tavares continue training through webinars and classes that are offered to keep learning about new products. They also compare and contrast products by taking the information and using them out in the field. Tavares says that they’ll never stop learning. Even with being in the industry for the past 10 years, there’s still a big curve.

“The biggest thing is that we’re honest with the customer about what can be done. There can be issues with organic-based lawn care; weeds take time to control. So with an organic-based program, the most important part is setting the expectation for the customer’s lawn and then mapping that expectation throughout the year. There are a lot of programs that don’t really work out there as far as the organic nature goes, but if you have the background knowledge and you make the right product choice for the lawn/soil type, you’ll have a great-looking lawn. A great lawn starts with healthy soil. If you can get that taken care of, you’ll be in great shape.” says Tavares.

Marketing a startup

Not only can it be hard to attract new business to a startup company, but Project Green started in the middle of the season. Tavares says that they went to a local farmers market to talk with homeowners, the reasoning being that organic-based lawn care fit within that niche market. Project Green has also left its footprint on social media.

Kepner explains that social media is not only a good way to get the company’s name out there, but also allows them to keep in touch with current customers. “We can let them know what’s going on, and they can see what we’re doing on a daily basis. With education being such a big part of our business, we can always keep in contact. We like to know what they’re seeing in other yards or their yards, so we try to keep an open line of communication between the customer and ourselves."

Since launching Project Green, they’ve seen around a 50-50 mix of customers who are new to lawn care and customers who are switching from a chemical routine. Many of their customers actually sought them out because of a limited offering of organic lawn care companies.

“There are always different ways we can market, and we have tried going routes that most companies haven’t gone or can’t go because they don’t offer the same organic solutions. There are some areas that we’re exploring. We are going to gear up and do a lot of marketing this year. We will continue to be that green, kind of transparent company that we’ve been so far. Where a lot of companies aren’t telling you what they’re spraying, we’re happy to tell you everything that is inside of our tank,” says Tavares.

Project Green already has a growth plan in place, and hope to continue to expand the company in the next couple of years.