Building a Future in France

Nestled along France's southwestern coast is the peaceful fishing village of Loctudy; peaceful, that is, until the European holiday season when the population swells from 3,800 to almost 12,000.

Iwalker-talk-volume-11-7_1.jpgt is not hard to see what draws vacationers. Skirted on the western side with rolling green hills and on the eastern side by the Bay of Biscay, Loctudy lays claim to some magnificent stone castles and vacation homes - many from the 17th and 18th centuries.

These are the same properties that gave Dominique Tailhardat, owner of Horticulture Services, an idea eight years ago to build a year-round lawn care maintenance business for the homes of visiting tourists and local residents.

The area provided a unique challenge for Tailhardat, however, similar to the one he was facing when Walker Talk paid him a visit. The incomplete work on an addition to his home office highlighted the effort he has put forth to match stone work and maintain the original look of the building. For his new customers, the challenge would be to install and maintain landscapes without disturbing the natural beauty of the area.

Laying Foundations

Like all new entrepreneurs, Tailhardat needed to overcome a few barriers. His first was to convince the locals there was a need for professional lawn care in the area. 

The second was to find equipment that was durable and fast with the capability of doing multiple jobs so he could stay competitive with potential future competition. Tailhardat says the solution to overcoming both was the Walker mower he found during a visit to a Paris power equipment trade show in 1989.

His long-term vision called for a piece of equipment just like the Walker. "When I told people I was going to buy a commercial riding lawn mower to start a business, they told me I was crazy, but they did not have my dream," he says. 

walker-talk-volume-11-8_11.jpgBuilding A Reputation

In 1989, the one-man show began mowing lawns with his new Walker Model MS. Soon, heads began to turn. "I showed people this kind of work can be done quickly and efficiently," Tailhardat says. "Customers liked how fast the Walker completed the job, and they liked how I could go everywhere, everywhere, everywhere."

During this time tourism continued to grow, and many of the castles and larger homes were purchased and converted to multi-family vacation homes. For Horticulture Services, this meant more potential business. "People come here for holiday," explains Tailhardat. "They don't come here to work on their lawns. I encouraged them to pursue their lifestyles and other interests instead of always working on their lawns and gardens."

Many vacationers did not understand what he meant until they saw how the work was being done quickly and efficiently. Then, it was hard to resist the service, he says.

Building For The Future

"The best way to get and keep a market is to build it by hand," explains Tailhardat, who has a background in construction. And that's precisely what he has done. Many of Horticulture Services' maintenance customers, for example, were installation customers first. Tailhardat says his landscape designs - with rolling contours and small areas - complemented the Walker mower so well that his customers couldn't help but use the maintenance part of his company to take care of their property.

walker-talk-volume-11-8_1.jpgProperties are designed not only to accommodate Walker mowers. They are designed and built with the help of current technologies to help make them last longer and be more attractive. 

Horticulture Services also looks to enhance landscapes with the installation of special features such as waterfalls and gardens. In all cases, the emphasis is on improving the property while retaining its natural beauty.

Even after eight years in business, Tailhardat still attends trade shows around France to find new and better ways to operate his business and improve his services. He is also a member of a contractors' association in the region.

Horticulture Services currently runs three Walker mowers and employs two full-time Walker operators. During the busy season, the work force increases to as many as seven people. The balance of employees, which comes from a local technical school, helps with landscape installations and redesign projects. The company maintains 250 accounts, and after a 25% increase in business last year, the 36-year-old owner has plans to add one more full-time position this spring.

walker-talk-volume-11-9_1.jpgStill Building

Tailhardat is seeing the rewards of his hard work, primarily through the recommendations of current customers who appreciate, among other things, the stability of his company. "When we mow, it is usually the same people doing the job," he says. "That gives the customer a feeling of stability and increases their comfort level with us."

According to Tailhardat, customers also appreciate the attractive mowing job, and employees who are sensitive to their needs. In fact, many of them have enjoyed getting to know Horticulture Services' employees. "If anything slows the lawn mowers down, it is an operator who talks too long with customers," he admits.

At the same time, he acknowledges that his employees' personal touch is still a major part of his business.

Horticulture Services continues to build its business and reputation. And just like Tailhardat's home office improvement, it is being done with the use of efficient tools and new ideas. When the office is completed, Tailhardat is confident it will blend in with the rest of his home and the surrounding landscape in the same way so many of his projects have done in the past.

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