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IVPropertyMaintenance 01-24-2012 01:29 PM

I'm New, Thanks For Having Me..
 
I guess a good introduction would start with my name. I'm Chris and I am the owner/operator of IV Property Maintenance. I'm 26 and am originally from Oceanside, CA. I service the Illinois Valley in Southern Oregon. The Illinois Valley (IV) is rather rural and consists of four towns; O'Brien, OR; Cave Junction, OR; Kirby, OR; and Selma, OR. Total population for the entire valley is a little over 7000.

I just started my business in the spring of 2011 and have seen good growth. In a small community like this it is critical to maintain a good name for yourself. Good words travel fast and bad ones travel faster. The main thing this area was missing was a reliable source of landscape maintenance. There are only a couple others that are what I would consider to be "competition" and the only reason they are still around is because they have made a good name for themselves over the years.

I am finding very quickly how much people truly appreciate customer service. This is a term that used to be valued more than it is lately. I find that if my customer truly believes that I am trying to help them, they open up and trust me more. I can honestly say that I have a unique relationship with all of my customers. I know that as I grow, it will be harder for me to find the time to catch up with them but I will never lose the time it takes to make sure my customers know they will be taken care of.

As far as what brought me to start this business I would have to say that the leading cause was that longing for freedom. When I first moved to Oregon I spent a few years as a wildland firefighter. I spent the winters in the middle of a forest thinning for fire reduction and the summers away on a fire or by my phone waiting for a call. There was NO time to do anything enjoyable. About the only thing I enjoyed was being outdoors. I looked for an opportunity to become my own boss and found that in lawn care. I also found that I now have more than one boss (my customers) but I have the freedom to enjoy life again. I can't say that I've ever been happier.

I must say, I do have some concerns though. If you have time and could reply back addressing any of my questions below I would greatly appreciate it. Thank you all and I look forward to being a part of this forum. By the way Steve, your YouTube videos gave me the know-how to get this far, Thanks! Please ask any questions and I'll try to get answers up when I can. Thanks again everyone!

CONCERNS:

Our valley has a lot of elderly people as well as people on tight budgets. (I know that is similar all over with these times). It truly does seem like cost is a huge thing for them and honestly, I am contending with people who will work for $10/hr. I tried making it on charging $15/hr which people were okay with because I have my own equipment and typically the $10/hr guys aren't the most reliable or trustworthy. Now I'm finding that it leaves little room for saving to purchase new equipment and repairing existing stuff. I understand that I need to adjust my prices, I just worry about if they will pay. I mentioned there were two "competitors" in the area. These guys don't even have crews (neither do I, but I plan to if i'm around as long as they have been). They do it all themselves. One guy charges $20/hr and the other $25/hr. But that's it, I mean is that my limit? Who would pay any more for someone who hasn't even been around as long?

Also, should I take that as a red flag that these guys have been around for years and still only charge $20-$25/hr? Like I said, they work by themselves. Could it be that they would rather not deal with have a couple crews or is it that the demand just isn't there? I know that's hard to judge without being in my shoes and knowing the area but I'm hoping someone out there could offer some advice.

I guess my last concern is that things have greatly slowed down into this winter. When should I be making my big push again? It just seems like customers stopped calling and are putting everything on hold until it warms up. I need a way to get myself working in their yards again so I can show them what still needs to be done even if it's cold outside.

Steve 01-24-2012 08:12 PM

Welcome to our forum!

Each area is going to be unique based on a lot of factors. A big one is going to be, how wealthy are the home owners in the area you want to service.

When you look around and see that there is a going rate for what ever service you want to offer and that rate is too low for you, you gotta think about what other services you could offer that would have a higher barrier of entry and therefore allow for a higher price.

The tougher it is to get into a certain business, the less competition you will have. The less competition, the better the chance to charge more.

So for instance, as we have seen in the story of another forum member when he had problems with the local going rate for lawn care, he got into light excavation. That allowed him more with at a higher rate and he did very well at it.

Does that help?

Quote:

When should I be making my big push again?
The real answer is you should always be marketing yourself all year long and staying busy all year long offering some kind of service, unless you don't want to.

If you want a quick answer as to when you should start up your spring marketing, look in your paper and keep an eye out for when the local big box stores start advertising spring stuff like bbqs and outdoor furniture etc. Then you might want to start sending out your marketing material as well.

dpld 01-24-2012 09:34 PM

i would say now that you know what they are chargeing charge the same as they do.
the elderly usually pick a company based solely on price so if most older retired people are like my inlaws then you only got to beat the guy your bidding against by pennies to be chosen.

during the offseason i used to do promotions for early sign ups where you would offer either a discount for new customers or give a free service for signing on with you.
if they have a dog offer a free pooper scooper service with each cut to sway them your way where you will pick up the dog waste and bag it and throw it in their trash can.
offer a free gutter cleaning with each account.
try to come up with added services that really equade to no or low cost for you to do but mean a lot for a person who can not do things for themselves anymore.

there really is no limits on what you can do and you are only limited by your imagination.

unfortunately for many older americans and retired folks money is their biggest concern outside of their health and anything you can offer that will save them money will be your ticket to ride.
even though their income is limited they do have a steady income and as long as they see a added value in your service they may be willing to pay a little more for you and less likely to jump ship for a cheaper service

i traveled through your state many many years ago and thought it was one of the most beautifull states i have been to but i never knew the rates where so low there.
it always amazes me how we all live in the same country and how much our rates vary depending on which part of the country we live in.

IVPropertyMaintenance 01-24-2012 10:12 PM

That's a great point about expanding the business to help make more per hour rate. I have a 42 HP Tractor with a backhoe attachment and a box scraper as well. It was purchased for cleaning up my grandpa's property. It basically sits around not doing much. I think about all the potential new customers I could get by offering it as a service. My fear is getting in over my head. I am a firm believer in starting small and growing at a steady rate. I don't want to feel like I've rushed into anything too quickly. I think it will be rather easy to merge myself into that field once I feel more comfortable with a stable clientele.

I guess my overall dream would be to have a couple 2 man crews, each with their own trucks. Hopefully this would allow me the time to take on larger jobs while they perform the more basic yard care tasks.

I must say that one reason I understand why the competitors work for themselves instead of hiring crews. That reason is that there seems to be a lack of quality employees in this area. That will definitely be one of my biggest challenges, to find people who are willing to represent my business in a professional way...

dpld 01-25-2012 07:28 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by IVPropertyMaintenance (Post 100586)
That's a great point about expanding the business to help make more per hour rate. I have a 42 HP Tractor with a backhoe attachment and a box scraper as well. It was purchased for cleaning up my grandpa's property. It basically sits around not doing much. I think about all the potential new customers I could get by offering it as a service. My fear is getting in over my head. I am a firm believer in starting small and growing at a steady rate. I don't want to feel like I've rushed into anything too quickly. I think it will be rather easy to merge myself into that field once I feel more comfortable with a stable clientele.

I guess my overall dream would be to have a couple 2 man crews, each with their own trucks. Hopefully this would allow me the time to take on larger jobs while they perform the more basic yard care tasks.

I must say that one reason I understand why the competitors work for themselves instead of hiring crews. That reason is that there seems to be a lack of quality employees in this area. That will definitely be one of my biggest challenges, to find people who are willing to represent my business in a professional way...


if you allready have the machine and you decide you want to make money with it you will not be getting in over your head and you will also be able to stick to your guns in keeping it simple.

the whole starting small theory is based upon not signing your life away and going into debt before you even make money.

in my state i have seen many guys who are tired of their jobs working in whatever or lose their jobs and decide that one day they will wake up and be a landscaper and start making the big bucks.
then they see companies like mine or my freinds that are well established businesses for over twenty years and they think they are gonna do the same thing.
so they figure they got good credit and they go out and sign their lives away and buy brand new trucks and enclosed trailers and all new riding mowers and blowers and all the fixings and go put a fancy add in the phone book and newspapers.
now they start to see work coming in and they start to think that it is that easy and they are a genius.
but then the reality sets in.
they went out and dumped 150,000 dollars into equipment on credit that effectively doubles their insurance to protect the bank notes on it only to find out that with all that equipment they still have no clue what to do and realize there is a big difference in how you manage a property as a professional service provider vs how they did it when they cut their own lawn.

then finally they realize that they are only able to get 40 to 50 dollars a cut because there are 5 million landscapers out there to compete with that will gladly do it for less and at the end of the month it is costing them more money then they are making.
they find out the hard way that they failed to take into consideration that when they made their new career choice by looking at a company like mine or my freinds that we busted our azzes for over twenty years to get to this point and when we started out we started out from nothing and slowly worked our way up to this point.
they also fail to realize that someone like myself has dedicated 28 years of my life to this trade and have put the time in to learn it and build it from the ground up as well as put a few years in prior to starting a business learning the trade.

all these guys only see what lies on the surface and all they see is the fancy trucks and the equipment and the crews and they believe that is all there is to it.
but when it is all said and done within a year or two they are having a fire sale selling everything they got for less then half of what they paid to guys like me to avoid the bank coming in and taking it away.

my point is you have the right idea in starting out small and keeping it simple but at the same time don't phsych yourself out in the proccess.
in my opinion there are only two ways you can get in over your head, spending money before you make it and doing jobs that you have no clue how to do.
as long as you don't do either you will be allright and if you allready own a peice of equipment don't be afraid to take advantage of it.

as far as finding good help, don't feel bad it is the same everywhere and it will take you some time to iron that out and regardless of what state you live in those troubles are all the same.

IVPropertyMaintenance 01-25-2012 09:01 AM

Yeah I understand that. Luckily I'm not like that. I too started with nothing. Some basic equipment I had from my own yard was toted around in the back of my pickup (which I already had). As I got bigger and higher paying jobs, I bought pieces of newer equipment. This is going into my second year and I still don't have as high of quality stuff as I should probably have. Of course I wish I could run down to the store and buy the best and greatest of everything, but I am debt free now and I plan on taking pride in staying as close to that as possible.

I guess that what I meant is that sometimes I feel like I have too many things to do already to ad a new tractor service into the picture. Right now I'm not complaining about being to busy to add something but in the middle of the growing season last year I was all over the place. I'm sure hoping I'll be able to find an extra hand this year to help me get through my yards quicker.

Another thing about the tractor is, do I need some special sort of insurance. I have insurance for my landscape maintenance business but tractor work is slightly out of that scope of work. I know there is enough work out there to make money with the tractor but if my insurance goes through the roof because of it and I don't have enough time to tackle it head on then it could cost me money. That's just me being a NEWBIE I guess...

dpld 01-25-2012 10:14 AM

as far as the insurance goes you will have to call your agent and find out what the additional cost would be.

i know in my state if you go deeper then 12 inches into the ground you have to have insurance that is rated for excavating.
when i bought a stump grinder they were trying to push that on me and eventually i got them to realize that the maximum depth the machine could go was 12 inches and our frost line in nj is 3 feet so whether it be a gas line, electrical line or water line and even the footings for a structure have to be a minimum of 3 feet below the ground.

when it comes to that it is like apples and oranges from state to state.

you are smart for being debt free and do yourself a favor and keep it that way.
i myself am debt free and i never borrowed a dime for my business and i always lived my life in the manner of if i can not afford to pay for it i live without it until i can.

like i said i have been at it a while and when i started out things were different, they were not better and they were not worse, it was just a different time.
landscapers get today what we got 25 years ago to do a job but our equipment cost 4 to 5 times today compared to what it did when i started and that is a major difference.
for example, i like to use walker mowers for the most part but i also have a couple exmark ztr's as well, i like the walkers because they are lighter then the exmarks and they bag and pick up the debris far better then anything i have ever used.
when i bought my first walker mower it was like 4,800.00 and the same mower today is like 14,000.00 and the newer one are obviously better and have more power and added features as well as are still worth buying but the difference is i got to cut a lot more grass to get that money back and considering on average we get about the same money today it definitly makes you think long and hard when buying one.

insurance is another biggie, when i started out my general liability was like 400.00 per year and today it is like 6,000.00 and workers comp is completly insane.
with that said there is still money to be made today but younger guys like yourself definitly have larger mountains to conquer today then when i was younger.
there is also far more competition today then when i started out and in my county back in 1990 there were about 300 registered landscape businesses and today it is close to 2,300.
living where i do is helpfull because i live in one of the most densely populated states in the union and my town alone has close to 10,000 homes so even with the large amount of landscapers there are plenty of properties to service and there is still enough work to support that amount of landscapers county wide.

i will say truthfully that if i were starting out today i would probably have to borrow some money to get it going because everything cost so much money today.
back in 1990 you could get yourself a real nice used truck for a couple thousand dollars and today that same money will get you a peice of crap that needs a ton of money.

you seem as if you got things figured out pretty good and you got your priorities straight so just stay the course and don't get discouraged because if i let everything that overwhelmed me get the best of me over the years i would have folded up years ago.

best of luck to you.


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