Dan Dumitrescu started mowing neighbors’ lawns while in high school. If someone told him at the time that lawn mowing would pay his way through college, he likely wouldn’t have believed it. Nor would he have thought that cutting grass would be his career choice and, 20 years later, his company would be conducting business from a 40-acre property.
In January, his company, Valley View Landworks, located a few miles from Mt. Hood in Boring, Oregon, moved into its new digs. In addition to the large acreage, the site features 45 greenhouses and a sizeable drive-through shop. The latter has plenty of room for the company’s seven Walker Mowers, and attendant equipment for three maintenance crews and one installation crew.
In the repair shop, an old wood stove blasts out heat for effect, but more importantly, it takes the chill and dampness out of the air.
“Mowing conditions here are unique to the Northwest,” says Dumitrescu, who is getting warm next to the fire. “We receive more than 6 feet of rain annually, which means we often mow in wet conditions, and there are plenty of rolling hills.”
He points to three new Walker Mowers that were delivered the previous week, noting that two are outfitted specifically to deal with the harsh conditions: “These ‘Northwest’ editions have special wide-traction tires, LED lights for working long days and a great suspension seat with armrests for comfort.” A couple of GHS units, two Model Bs and a Model H purchased last year complete his Walker lineup. All have their application for a company that maintains residential and commercial properties, as well as municipalities.
The Oregon native launched his company in high school, mowed lawns while attending nearby Mt. Hood Community College and later became a volunteer fireman for 15 years.
The first Walker came on the scene in 2007, a GHS Model T that he purchased for $5,000. “I bought it from a body shop,” Dumitrescu recalls. “Coming from a body shop, it makes sense the mower was in nearly perfect condition and you couldn’t beat the price.” It was followed by another GHS unit with a high dump to help maintain a large contract with an Air National Guard base.
As the company grew, the little yellow machines multiplied and so did employees. The owner-operator’s first hire was his brother, Joseph Dumitrescu, who worked with him for more than 10 years. Soon, other employees began to fill out crews. Three years ago, Valley View Landworks hired veteran landscaper Tim Sellin to oversee operations and, a year later, Steve Bass, a retired Boeing employee, came on board to head up the shop. Today, the full-service company retains 15 to 20 employees.
“There’s no question finding good employees is our biggest challenge and it is something that plagues the entire industry,” Dumitrescu emphasizes. “Still we have a tremendous, exceptional team. In addition to Tim and Steve, we have a great maintenance manager in Sergio Garcia, and we couldn’t do without our crew leaders and equipment operators— Vincente, Eliseo, Alejandro, Carmelo and Antonio. We could take on more work if we had more employees like these and that’s one reason the Walker Mowers are so important for us. They increased our mowing productivity by at least 20 percent.
“If the industry doesn’t find a way to attract more people, the workforce won’t be there. In fact, I’m thinking about putting together a scholarship or apprenticeship program to encourage high school students to consider a career in horticulture, and even work at least part-time for us, to learn the industry from a sponsoring company. Something needs to be done at the grassroots level or this industry won’t look the same in the not-too-distant future.”
TRAINING FOR SUCCESS
The day Walker Talk visited, Valley View employees were just returning from a two-week holiday shutdown. The long mowing season, 40 to 45 cuts annually, slowed, allowing crews to take some time off. The welcome back included training on the Walker Mowers provided by Preston Farner, regional sales manager for Walker Mower distributor Coates Landscape Supply.
Crews had an opportunity to test their operating skills on an obstacle course and later received important maintenance tips for the new mowers, e.g., blowing off debris, checking oil, locating grease Zerks, sharpening blades and so forth.
In addition to annual start-up training, the company performs a full day of quarterly training, and holds monthly and weekly safety meetings. As Dumitrescu points out, the sessions do more than highlight safety tips and concerns; they also encourage open and ongoing communication among team members. The camaraderie is shared throughout the year with timely morning donuts and coffee, and an annual Thanksgiving dinner for employees and their families.
A SUCCESSFUL FORMULA
“Having a presence on the Internet with a website, developing other marketing material, having great team members like we have and being committed to training don’t guarantee success,” says the owner. “You have to be passionate about what you do, develop good relationships with customers and suppliers, and believe in your systems and tools like our Walker Mowers that help get the work done.
“For me, it goes beyond the machine’s design and performance. We have a good relationship with our dealer, Moen Machinery, and its distributor, Coates Landscape Supply, and identify with the family values and faith practiced by Walker Manufacturing. The fact the mowers are manufactured in the USA is important to me as well.
“We’re not just a number either. When we explained how difficult and unique the mowing is here, Coates and Walker Manufacturing listened, the results of which are mulching decks that perform extremely well in wet conditions and a Northwest edition mower that is outfitted to handle them.
“Mulching is good for the turf, but even when we collect grass clippings with our GHS decks, they don’t go to waste. We turn grass to mulch and use the product on our installation projects.”
The new property gives Dumitrescu plenty of room to expand and, with the greenhouses, the opportunity to grow his own plant material. It’s also a commitment to his employees and family. “My wife, Holly, is a big part of our operation, doing all of the office work, and my daughters, Naomi, 8, and Grace, 11, although very young, already exhibit an interest in the work, especially the Walker Mowers,” he adds.
“I gotta believe if they develop a passion for the industry like I have, my daughters will become an important part of this company’s future. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my father. He passed away in 2015, but he believed in me, and helped me get started by taking me to and from jobsites before I had a driver’s license. Dad even took me on my first trip to Moen Machinery where I have been buying Walker Mowers and other equipment for more than 20 years.”