When you grow up working in a greenhouse, receive a diploma in horticulture, and then work as a golf course superintendent for 11 years, one thing is for sure—you love green spaces.
“I like to make stripes, smell the grass, and make my customers happy,” says Rob Ouwendyk, owner of Five Points Lawn & Landscape in Jarvis, ON, Canada. “In simplest terms, I’m about cutting the lawn and making it look nice.”
He’s doing a lot of that on properties he maintains in and around this small community located 10 miles north of Lake Erie. His customer list includes widows who depend on his company to keep their yards tidy, large corporate clients, and a nice mix of higher-end residential accounts.
Ouwendyk admits that starting a company from scratch wasn’t easy, especially with a young family to support. Laid off from the golf course, he worked in a factory for three months before his nephew, who owned a landscape construction company, called. “He offered me a job and I took it,” says Ouwendyk. “The factory environment just didn’t suit me.”
Two years later, in 2005, he decided to start his own lawn maintenance company. With no customers or prospects, he went to a spring home show, distributed a few business cards, and walked away with $400 in lawn-rolling jobs. That work ultimately generated another $2,000 in different work and leads from neighbors. That first year, Ouwendyk’s small company picked up some fencebuilding projects among other odd jobs. A few mowing accounts followed, and grew to 15 by year’s end.
The number has since grown to 56 maintenance properties and 80 fertilizer and weed control customers. Ouwendyk does the mowing with three Walker Mowers: a 20-hp model that currently has 3,900 hours on it, a 16-hp MC and an 18-hp MC. He has several decks, as well, including two side-discharge decks and three GHS decks. A Toro stand-on mower is used on some of the hillier properties.
“I’m as big as I want to be,” adds Ouwendyk. “In fact, I probably took on a few more accounts than I should have last year. I want to stay small mainly because I want to work on the properties with my crew members.” He references his foremen, Matt Schweyer; Josh Miller; Andrew Hogeterp, who he calls Mr. Clean because he keeps the equipment looking sharp; and Natthan Slofstra, who is fond of saying, “Safety never takes a holiday.”
“One serious injury can put a company my size out of business in a hurry, not to mention the pain and suffering it would cause to the injured party,” says Ouwendyk. “We are very serious about safety and conduct regular safety meetings and discuss ‘near misses’ with each other.”
The Five Points employees share the owner’s love for mowing lawns. “It’s another great day to be alive,” remarks Schweyer when asked about his job. “I enjoy mowing and working with Rob and my fellow employees, and I enjoy the customers. Really, what more can one ask for?” The answer is that customers reciprocate, and they do, says Ouwendyk. “People appreciate what we do, and we go the extra mile.
“I’m all about striping and there’s not a mower on the market that stripes better than a Walker Mower,” Ouwendyk continues. “We will actually double-cut a lawn. My philosophy is, if one cut makes a lawn look nice, imagine what doublecutting can do. Customers absolutely love it. ‘My lawn has never looked better’ is a typical comment.”
Of course, it’s not all about mowing, despite the fact that Ouwendyk says he would be perfectly happy riding his Walker Mower all day long. His company offers a full service menu, from dethatching lawns and mulching gardens in the spring to picking up leaves in the fall. Working two years for his nephew’s landscape construction company gave him the experience to do brick and paver work, and he does snow removal.
Cutting lawns, though, is his cup of tea, and Five Points does it day in and day out for an average of 26 weeks. One of its customers is 92-year-old Mrs. Addison, who had been mowing her lawn for 70 years. “She, too, must have enjoyed mowing lawns,” notes Ouwendyk, “but is also very pleased with the job we do.”
Big Isn’t Better
The Five Points’ owner confesses to having two pet peeves: a ringing telephone and book work. His wife, Mona, helps him address both issues. “I encourage Rob to stay small,” she relates. “I think we can be just as profitable, and maybe even more profitable, than those who operate bigger companies. Rob also wants to continue to be in the field and work with the crew. You can’t do that once you have several crews. He just has to learn to say ‘no’.”
Since he would prefer being on his mower all day, making out payroll and sending out invoices is not something this landscape contractor enjoys. Mona helps him there, too. She may not enjoy mowing like her husband does, but in her words, “Having your own business is several times better than working for someone else.”
The couple has been married for 18 years. They have four children. Justin is the oldest at 15, followed by Courtney, 14; Noah, 10; and Evan, 8. Justin works on a crew, and Evan is chomping at the bit, counting the days when he, too, can mow. With his father’s tutelage, he’s already operated one of the Walker Mowers at home, and, like his father, has a keen eye for straight lines.
As Ouwendyk points out, growing a business in a small community where virtually everyone knows you is different from trying to compete in a larger city. “We’re at the stage now where there’s likely enough work in town here to keep us busy,” he emphasizes. “Even cutting back, we would have enough work to do a little ‘cherry picking’ and focus on what I love to do most of all: cutting grass and making a property look nice.”