Doing it Rite the First Time

Name an industry other than farming where the cost of doing business is going up while the dollar-value of the product is going down? The answer, of course, is landscape maintenance, and just like good farmers, successful landscape maintenance contractors have to carry a sharp pencil, produce an excellent product, and be as efficient as possible on the job. Enter the Stott brothers. The name of their company is Dun-Rite, located in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, and brothers Mark and Kevin aren’t bashful about making the point that its “dun-rite, the first time.” It’s a story they’ve been successfully telling customers since 1989, and it doesn’t get old. In fact, it gives the brothers a competitive advantage at a time when too many lawn maintenance contractors are generating revenue by turning over as many properties as they can in a day. 

“It’s not speed that makes us money,” says Mark. “Instead, it’s being as efficient as we can on jobs and making sure the end product is absolutely perfect.” The combination, he adds, is hard to beat.

The brothers are efficient. All their 30-plus mowing accounts are within a two-mile radius. They mow three days a week, and their last account on Thursday is only a half mile from where they deposit their grass clippings. The brothers don’t send three workers to fill up a truck with gas, and all equipment is fueled and ready to go in the morning. “Nothing irritates me more than to find one of our employees walking back to the truck to refuel less than an hour after we arrived at our first mowing site,” says Kevin.

They have the right equipment for the job, too. In addition to three Walker Mowers, the brothers devised a loader system that effortlessly deposits clippings into their dump truck. The emphasis is on the word “effortlessly.” “This is a tough business and this is tough work,” adds Kevin. “Anything anyone can do to make it less labor intensive is good for employees and good for the bottom line, too. You have to have the right equipment or you’re just not able to compete in this market. You cannot manually handle grass clippings and leaves and expect to be profitable” 

walker-talk-volume-26-10_1The Stotts are efficient off the job, too. Their new 30’ x 60’ Morton building shop has radiant floor heat, a lift for their Walkers and plenty of light — all in a perfectly clean and orderly environment. Kevin’s work bench is even neat and clean, too. Every tool has a home and is home when not in use. What may seem like “overkill” — having four likesize wrenches on every peg, only makes perfect sense to Kevin. “If two people, even three need the same wrench, there’s one on the peg for them. If they cannot find one there, there’s one here in my toolbox.

“It’s practical,” says Kevin, referring to his tool alignment and tool bench. Practical also describes DunRite’s attraction to Walker Mowers. “I saw a Walker for the first time 12 years ago and thought it would be ideal for our properties,” Kevin recalls. “We purchased our first one in 1993 and then followed up with a new one each of the next two years. Today, we operate three 25-hp models, two liquid cooled and all with 48-inch GHS decks. ”

Kevin says the company has stuck with the mowers because they do a great job and, unlike other brands, when there is an update, it can be retrofitted to older models. He walks around a unit on the lift and points to four or five areas where recent improvements have been made. “Come on,” he says. “What other manufacturer would think far enough ahead – or back – to make changes that improve nearly every model that was ever made.”

Quality First 

The brothers were raised in the nursery business and their father did a little lawn maintenance on the side. When they were young, they cut their proverbial teeth riding a Wheel Horse mower and walking behind a 21-inch mower. After graduating from high school, Kevin and Mark each started their own landscape maintenance businesses. A few years later, in 1989, they joined forces under the name of Mark’s company, Dun-Rite. 

From the beginning, the company offered full-service maintenance. Mowing was an integral part of the operation and the Walkers played a key role maintaining 100 properties. Over the years, though, the business has evolved. Mark explains. “Instead of mowing 100 residential accounts, we now mow 32 that are a mix of commercial and residential customers. Prices were being driven down so bad that we decided to focus on other areas. Part of our problem is that we are fussy, and you cannot compete on price when quality is your first priority.”

He continues, “So now we do a little bit of everything for customers we have had for years. We sell planting projects, shrub work and brick work. We lay sod, put down mulch, install retaining walls and walkways and offer complete design, installation and maintenance. We mow three days a week and do landscaping projects the other two days.”

walker-talk-volume-26-11_1Mark says they continue to offer a mowing service because it is “recession proof.” Besides that, he adds, both he and Kevin like to mow. They charge between $40 and $45/hr for mowing with their Walkers, the minimum charge for any job is $65. Dun-Rite doesn’t mow, blow and go, though. When the mowing crew leaves a property, flower beds have been weeded, and driveways and walkways are clean. Their fastidiousness complements the job the Walker does, helping to make their properties stand out among the rest. 

“Our customers appreciate the work we do and we appreciate them,” Mark emphasizes. “We have had some for nearly 15 years and there’s not a bad one among them, not one.”

Winter Bliss

New England winters can be long and tiresome, and not every landscape contractor welcomes the season with open arms. Even Dun-Rite closes down on December 15th, but the Stott brothers don’t pack for a vacation. Instead they power up their other business, a snow plowing and sanding operation. Working together, Mark and Kevin can make just as much money sanding parking lots and plowing snow for a few months as they can maintaining properties for eight months. Their overhead is minimal and not many competitors are keen about getting up 3 o'clock every morning to spread sand. It doesn’t bother these two men, though. They simply enjoy the work, and working together is something they’ve done since they can remember.

“Ideally, we would like to focus even more on our winter time operation and possibly cut back on our landscaping business,” Kevin relates. Mark agrees, adding, “In this business, it’s not how much you do or how fast you do it that counts. It’s being efficient, doing the job right, and having great customers. I think we’re where we need to be in all areas and now we just have to stay focused and continue to grow profitably.”

Being profitable is the key, the Stotts emphasize. As they point out, what many property owners don’t understand is that landscapes, all landscapes, grow over time. Trees get bigger and shrubs get taller, and to keep properties looking nice requires more, not less effort over time. Doing more for less has never made sense and getting the job done faster isn’t the answer to profitability. The answer is to find customers who appreciate good work and then doing it right the first time.

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