PRODUCT/SERVICE: Lawn Maintenance & Installation
Building a Business Right – the Second Time Around
After quitting lawn maintenance work, Michael Pennington came back to build a professional, successful company.
Looking back, Michael Pennington really doesn’t think much of his first 10 years of mowing grass. “We were just a mow and go company with a truck and trailer. Our logo was something I drew when I was 20 – not real professional. We looked like kids out there cutting grass.”
More recently after talking to long-time customers, Michael found out that the mow-and-go look didn’t inspire confidence in his clients either. More than one told him they used to wonder whether they could count on him being back from year to year. That same question likely kept some prospective clients from ever approaching him to do their lawns.
Michael decided he’d had enough of going through the motions to make a buck. It was time to pursue a career, so he sold his lawn company and took a sales job. This experience outside the green industry along with some formal sales training opened his eyes to how a business should be run.
Michael had always liked sales, but he missed lawn maintenance work, and within a year he was back at it starting a new company from scratch. “I decided I could apply what I’ve learned to a lawn business, and treat it like a business this time. Treat it like a career.”
Six months later he bought his old business back too. Today Michael has been back for just over 2 years, and annual sales for Pennington Lawn & Landscape are almost twice what they were before he left.
This Time Things are Going to Change
Michael’s new approach to treating his company like a business/career involved several things. He brought in a marketing firm to help him work on branding, and that included designing a new logo. “Now our logo is something I’m proud of.” Crews wear nice button-down sports-fishing-type shirts. Michael tries out various methods of targeted advertising and tracks leads he gets. “Every phone call I get from a new customer, I ask ‘How did you hear about us?’ because I want to know what’s working. I pay referral fees too when someone gives out my card.”
A year ago Michael made a big statement on his company’s professionalism when he bought a Pro Series Super Lawn Truck (SLT). The truck, complete with his new logo is something both current and prospective customers can’t miss. Long-time customers have told him the truck shows an investment and commitment to his business. It gives them confidence that they will be able to count on his company being there into the future.
“It gives you the professional look of a larger company, but it’s inexpensive enough for the small company. I got it for less than if I had bought an F250 pickup, and it is so much better. We get feedback on the truck. And I know the truck has helped us pick up the high-end work we’ve been targeting.”
Size Really Matters
Before buying the truck, Michael called up a contractor he knew who owned 4 SLT medium-duty trucks and asked for advice on the new smaller SLT Pro Series truck. “He told me: ‘You should buy it. And if you don’t like it, I’ll buy it from you in a year, because I think that would be the perfect truck.”
Michael says the size is perfect for his residential routes. “For a 2-man crew the truck holds everything we need. And it hauls everything I want it to haul. In our truck we have 2 weed-eaters, a stick edger, 2 blowers, 2 backpack sprayers, a ladder, a chain saw, hedge clippers, 2 rakes, 2 shovels, 2 zero turns and sometimes a 21-inch push mower.”
The truck also doesn’t take up all the parking space. In some neighborhoods, especially those with cul-de-sacs, Michael can’t park a pickup and his 16’ trailer without blocking a driveway. “My trailers alone without the pickup are almost as long as my Super Lawn Truck.”
A smaller truck is that much easier to drive too. With 1 new SLT and 1 pickup/ trailer combo, you might think the boss would take the SLT. Not so. Michael sends his other crew off in the SLT so he can have piece-of-mind. “It’s very easy to drive. If you can trust them to drive a car, you can allow them to drive this. It’s not that wide. It’s not super long. It fits in parking spots. You don’t have to worry about them driving with a trailer or backing up the trailer.”
Stop Wasting Time
Michael says they park their trailer in a warehouse so they can leave it fully loaded. “But there’s a lot of time wasted just backing in and unhooking a trailer. Even though the task is simple like hooking a trailer up, it still takes 10 minutes. People are talking, joking. Hey, pull up a little bit. Back up a little bit.”
The Super Lawn Truck stays outside so it doesn’t take up warehouse parking space. In the morning Michael’s crew gets in and goes to work. And with the high capacity onboard gas tanks to fuel equipment, the crew spends a lot less time filling up gas cans at the greatest of time-wasters – the convenience store.
Michael is really taken by the efficiency of the on-truck air compressor he ordered with his truck. “That’s one of the best features. I think every truck should have one. We have a flat tire almost every day on something – a mower, or truck. We have mower tires that leak so the mower cuts uneven when it gets low. You’ve got the air right there. You can run a power tool to change tires or change blades in no time.”
Michael also takes a great deal of satisfaction in no longer wasting time on the endless task of fixing trailers. “No more trailer maintenance. No more trailer brake problems. No more blowouts on trailer tires. No more having to get the hub bearings repacked. No more tailgates falling apart. No more trailer flooring issues. That is a big thing. Trailers were always giving us problems.”
“And when you purchase a trailer, you’ve still got to go get stuff welded on it like racks for the weed-eaters and blowers. When you pick the SLT up, all that is already completely built into the truck. You just drive it home and go to work.”
Michael’s goal is to continue adding enough work to add 1 new crew and 1 new Super Lawn Truck every year. At press time, 1 year and 2 months since his first SLT purchase, Pennington Lawn & Landscape ordered a second Pro Series SLT. Go Michael!