It’s a beautiful, cool day in Niagara-on-the-Lake in Ontario, Canada, perfect for mowing lawns. But Guy Pellitteri and his wife, Diane, are taking the day off. They’re going to share their company story about working in a town that has won recognition as the prettiest in Canada.
Pellitteri Property Services is not the biggest mowing contractor in the area. In fact, it’s a mom-and-pop operation, yet one that maintains some of the nicest properties along this stretch of Lake Ontario. Upward of 15 to 20 percent of their work comes from these summer/seasonal homes and another 60 percent from year-round residents. Commercial properties make up the rest, enough to keep the husband and wife team busy mowing five days a week, with one day left open for gardening or to adjust the schedule when it rains.
Ironically, when they started in business in 1999, mowing lawns wasn’t their first choice. Guy wanted to manage properties. However, after a few customers asked them to maintain their lawns, the business model changed. They still provide property management services—closing and opening pools, turning irrigation on and off, and coordinating with electricians, plumbers and other contractors—for several large estates. During the winter months, they also continue to keep tabs on these properties, but mowing has long been the company staple.
The Pellitteris admit that profitable growth didn’t come easy. “The first couple of years, we were working hard, taking any job that came our way, but we seemed to be going in circles,” says Guy. “Then I attended a seminar on pricing at Landscape Ontario and came home with some ideas that helped tremendously. Most people when they start in business don’t have any idea how to price their service and we were the same way. If the mowing contractor down the street was charging $50 a lawn, that’s what we charged without knowing our actual costs.
“The speaker impressed upon attendees to get a handle on all of their overhead and then use that as a point to start setting a price. That winter, Diane and I went through all of our costs and implemented a healthy price increase the following spring. We were afraid customers would resist, but they didn’t when we explained the reason for it.”
“Second only to pricing mistakes, many new contractors fail to purchase the right equipment,” Guy emphasizes. “I encourage anyone getting into this business to get a Walker Mower. Maybe they cannot afford a new one right off the top, so I tell them to get a used one like we did. There are other good machines on the market, but nothing with the complete package that Walker Mowers offer. The machine’s versatility, agility and quickness lend to its efficiency, and the out-front deck means there’s less trimmer-in-hand time. We get in and out of properties faster, leaving behind a manicured look and giving us more time to work on other properties. Like Diane and I have learned, if the Walker Mower wheels aren’t turning, we’re not making money.”
Pellitteri Property Services operates two Walker Mowers, both T25is with 48-inch GHS decks. Purchased from E & R Lawn Equipment in nearby Niagara Falls, each is equipped with the deck-height adjuster and an upgraded suspension seat. The mowers are kept for three years and then sold privately, usually to other contractors.
“Guy is particular about his mowers,” relates Diane. “He detailed that first used one we purchased right down to replacing the Walker decals. He also does all the routine maintenance and most repairs, and from time to time, helps other landscapers with repairs and troubleshooting on their Walker Mowers.
“In the off-season, he disassembles the mowers, replaces any needed parts, and meticulously cleans and details them. When the season begins, customers often compliment us on our ‘new’ machines.”
Guy isn’t the sole “particular” family member. An excellent operator, Diane prides herself in being more careful than her husband. “I cringe when Guy bumps into something while loading his on the trailer. That would never happen to mine,” she laughs. In addition to mowing, Diane has traditionally done most of the gardening, although the couple shares much of that duty today.
Again, mowing is the company staple. The average start date is the third week in April and the mowing goes through the end of October. The two Walker Mowers are then put through their paces for another month (or until the first snow, whichever comes first) for leaf cleanups.
“The deck-height adjuster comes in real handy for leaves,” adds Guy. “On one machine, we set the deck at the highest level to quickly vacuum up the bulk of the leaves. Our second Walker follows up at a lower deck level for a manicured cut.
“Throughout the mowing season, we adjust the decks according to weather conditions. The decks remain high during a drought period to keep the grass healthy and are lowered for a shorter cut during rainy periods. Because of the ban on pesticides and herbicides, we try to mow the grass at a higher level, about 3 inches or more, to shade out weed seeds from germinating.”
Adds Diane, “Some clients have become wise to our height adjusters and request a specific cutting height to match their personal preference. It can become a bit challenging remembering who wants what height.”
A Family Affair
With its experience and reputation, Pellitteri Property Services has plenty of opportunity to grow. Instead, the owners pass on new prospects to other contractors. “We decided early on that we would keep this a family affair,” says Diane. “When they were in school, our children, Michael and Rachael, pitched in, too. Michael operated a mower and became so efficient he placed within the top five at the Walker Obstacle Course Competition in Louisville, Kentucky, in 2006. Rachael helped with the office/computer work.”
She continues, “Being an owner/operator keeps our operation efficient and allows us to maintain high standards. We look after each property like it’s our own. This also gives us the opportunity to establish great relationships not only with clients, but with their neighbors as well, many of whom see us mowing on the same day every week.”
These business owners have found a comfortable niche and credit Walker Mowers for much of their success—to the extent that Guy emphasizes they wouldn’t be in business today without them. It’s all the more reason to keep those wheels turning.