“I don’t know what I would do without him,” says one customer. Another relates, “I told my wife that if Winston ever retires, we will have to sell our house.” A third customer remarks, “If you need something, call Winston.”
Who is this Winston guy? He is the owner of Collins’ Landscaping & Lawn Maintenance in Newport News, Virginia, and the above comments are typical of how his 70-plus customers feel about him and the work he does.
Collins is more than your average mowing contractor. He is a property caretaker who, in addition to maintaining yards, can be trusted to pay the bills, sort the mail, walk the dogs, oversee other contractors, and do just about anything a homeowner asks.
After 20 years in business, many with the same properties, this Trinidad native says his customers are like family. “I’m 67 years old and I’m not in business to run after money,” Collins relates. “I’m in business because I enjoy landscaping and I enjoy interacting with my clients. I think anyone can be successful in this business if they enjoy what they’re doing, are honest, and earn the trust of their customers.”
Drilling it Home
When Collins speaks, people have a tendency to listen. Maybe it’s because he spent 20 years of his life in the Army, six of those as a drill instructor. “I was tough … you bet I was,” he muses. “All my recruits were physically fit when they left me. I made sure of that.”
Collins also had two tours of duty in Vietnam, spent time in Germany and Korea, and moved around the states before retiring from the military. He then spent 11 years with Dominion Virginia Power as a security officer at a nuclear power plant.
“When I was working for Virginia Power, I wanted to do something in my off hours,” he recalls. “I’d always enjoyed landscaping, so I decided to pick up a few jobs mowing and maintaining properties. That’s how I got started, mowing a couple of doctors’ lawns with their mowers and trimming their bushes and trees.”
Collins’ first customer, Linda Grantham, was an interior plantscaper. Her husband was a doctor. “Linda told me, ‘If you’re going to do this, you might as well start your own business,’” Collins recalls. “So that’s what I decided to do, against the best wishes of my wife, Edwynna. I had a goodpaying job, and in her mind it didn’t make sense to give that up for mowing lawns.”
Lacking the enthusiastic backing of Edwynna, Collins needed to buy the equipment without tapping into his family’s general fund. He was stymied until one evening at church when he heard a lady talk about using a credit card to get out of debt. “Bingo, a light went off,” says Collins. “I have a credit card and I can use that to get started.”
He exercised his card and purchased a Toro walk-behind mower, a trailer, blower, string trimmer and edger, along with a few other tools. Within three months, Collins traded the Toro in for a new Walker Mower.
“The Toro wasn’t a bad mower, but the collection system threw dust in my eyes,” Collins explains. “I liked a friend’s 20-hp Walker Mower, but I wanted something with a bigger engine. So I made the deal for a 25-hp Walker Mower with a 48-inch GHS deck.”
Collins says the dealer spent too much time explaining the mower’s operation when he delivered it. “I wanted him to just drop off the mower so I could mow. He finally left, and I cut my yard, and then my neighbors’ yards, before taking it into the field.”
This Walker user has four words to describe his mowing equipment: “I love my Walkers.” And he’s not just blowing smoke. He carries the Walker Mower image proudly on his business cards and work shirts.
Collins Landscaping & Lawn Maintenance operates four Walker Mowers: three 26-hp models and one 31-hp model, each with 48-inch GHS decks. For years, this owner sold his year-old Walker Mower and purchased a new one—the lucky buyer getting a used machine that rarely felt a raindrop, was detailed like a car, and was maintained to the nth degree. In fact, Collins’ newest Walker, the 31-hp unit, is three years old and looks like it’s brand spanking new. Several attachments—including two blowers, three dethatchers, a mulching deck and side-discharge deck—round out his Walker lineup.
But we’re getting ahead of the story. With his new equipment lineup, Collins started to bring in more money and soon outstripped what he was making at the power plant. Customer lists grew and he quit his day job. Edwynna, who recently retired, started to maintain the company’s books and oversee accounts payable/receivable, and she still does. In fact, says Collins, “I wouldn’t be able to run this business without her. She’s my right hand.”
“This is what I enjoy doing,” he adds, shrugging his shoulders. “You cannot ask for a better job. I’m going to work as long as my health holds out.”
That should be for a long time. This landscape contractor is one of the fastest runners in Virginia, routinely winning his age group in distance runs. “I’m not running to win my age group,” Collins says adamantly. “I run to win the race. Where I come from, second place doesn’t really count.”
Indeed, Collins runs whenever he gets a chance, logging 11 miles some mornings and running with friends during the evenings or on weekends. Still, he has time to serve his customers, maintain his equipment, and manage a crew of seven employees.
A quick tour of his home shows that this individual is also, as one customer said, “complicated.” The house is brimming with collectables of all shapes and sizes. “As you can see, I liked to collect oil lamps,” Collins says with a smile. “At one time, I believe I owned 800 lamps.”
After leaving his home, Collins takes the Walker Talk editor for a ride around his properties, visiting with customers and pointing out highlights. It’s obvious that Collins has a way with people—and with landscapes. Every customer treats him like a friend. As for their properties, he’s proud of the mowing and installations. But more than anything else, he’s proud of the way he trims the trees and bushes and manages the landscape.
“I can look at a property and immediately see what would make it look more attractive,” Collins relates. “Sometimes that coincides with what the customer sees, and sometimes it doesn’t.”
That’s where his power of persuasion comes in handy, and if he can’t convince the customer with words, he will do it with deeds. That’s Winton’s way.