When Joe Dawson purchased his first Walker Mower in the early 1990’s, he had been in business only a couple of years. Yet already he knew how important it was to always find a better way to get things done.
“I recall sitting on that mower and thinking how I could make life easier for myself, get more accomplished in a day, and feel better at night,” said the owner of J.D. Lawn Service in Sarnia, Ontario., Canada.
A few months later, his thinking brought two more Walker Mowers on board, each of which he claimed replaced at least two people.
“It was the beginning of fall cleanup when we would put a herd of people on a site to get the job done,” Joe said. “We reduced the group considerably by putting two of the new mowers on a crew.”
Today, J.D. Lawn Service has 20 Walker Mowers with GHS decks, and that’s only the tip of the proverbial iceberg for equipment and efficiency.
Waiting for the snow season sit a dozen 4-wheel drive John Deere tractors equipped with snow plows, eight Kubota utility vehicles with snow plows, and several pickups with plows and salt spreaders.
After their winter work is done, tractors and utility vehicles go into hibernation to be replaced by five two-person mowing crews, a couple of gardening and fertilizer crews, along with a parking lot sweeper and line striper to service larger commercial and retail accounts.
“For eight months out of the year, our work is divided evenly between residential and commercial accounts,” said Joe.
“Because of our snow commitment, however, commercial clients account for 80 percent of our work during the other four months. For most, if not all of them, we provide year-round full-service property maintenance, as owners and property managers prefer dealing with one rather than several companies.”
KEEPING IT LEAN
J. D. Lawn Service has approximately 200 customers, 80 percent of whom reside within Sarnia, a city with a population of 71,594 located right across the border from Port Huron, MI.
Included among them are large shopping plazas, a hospital, casino, and several other commercial and retail establishments, along with some beautiful residential properties. The work is accomplished with only 15 employees, along with Joe, wife Bonnie, who manages the office, daughter Heather, responsible for HR/administration, and senior crew leader, son Alex.
“As you can see, we’re hands-on owners,” added Bonnie. “There’s really no layer of management between family members and crew leaders. Every business is unique and being involved in virtually everything works for Joe and me.”
She continued, “Joe acts as the operations manager. He doesn’t spend time on mowers anymore, but instead does all the scheduling, meets with crew leaders every morning before they go out the door, and visits properties and customers.”
He also does all the purchasing and hence is responsible for the company’s extensive equipment lineup, including vacuums and dump bodies for every crew’s pickup.
“You have to spend money to make money,” said Joe. “That’s why within two months of purchasing our first Walker Mower we had another two machines. They not only leave a beautiful cut, they save us so much time, and time is money in this business.”
The same logic applies to their snow removal business where, depending on the client, timeliness is even more important.
“We can put three or four tractors on a site,” Joe noted. “Each has a two-way radio to help coordinate the work and they can be finished in no time.”
In a typical winter, Sarnia may have 20 snow events that require snow to be removed from parking lots, 30 to clean walks, and 45 to 55 for salting. To help remove ice at lower temperatures, the company mixes Ice B Gone ice melter with salt, a combination that Joe noted is also more environmentally friendly than using regular salt.
FROM FACILITY TO TRAILERS
The company’s five enclosed trailers and the 8,000 square foot facility that houses them share a common theme: efficiency. The shop’s floor is spotless, and a degree of slant that directs water to a drain system works to keep it that way. The floor is also heated, making it a comfortable working environment for the company’s two technicians who also have the luxury of a floor lift to help maintain their Walker Mower fleet. A large upstairs houses seasonal tools and a full parts department, while a shower and laundry also add to the amenities.
The trailers have a rather unusual feature, as well. They’re each equipped with washrooms.
“Even though most of our work is in and around Sarnia, some of our properties are in the outskirts several miles from a gas station or quick mart,” Bonnie explained. “This is an added comfort for employees.”
A crew set-up also includes a vacuum system and dump box on an F-550 pickup. The system features a 26-hp engine and 8-inch hose. Said Alex, “When we leave a site, there’s no mess left behind.”
Bonnie and Joe were married the same year they launched their business. The office was in their home and the company’s main tool was a Lawn-Boy push mower.
At the time, Joe had been mowing lawns part time, but the purchase of a small mowing company gave the couple the start they needed.
“Residential was our focus at the time,” said Bonnie, “and we just grew over time with the help of the Walker Mowers and Joe’s commitment to providing good, quality service.”
Finding the best, most efficient way to get the job done has certainly prompted the company’s growth, but there are other factors, as well, that have led to their success.
Joe and Bonnie spend time educating their employees and they look for and appreciate their input. They also know their own strengths.
“I’m not a computer person, nor do I have the other office skills Bonnie and Heather have,” Joe added. “You will always find me with my coveralls on either, in the shop or in the field.”
Being involved is something the owners do with their community just as they do with their business: they support several local charitable causes and events with a similar commitment and enthusiasm.
It’s a passion for what they do that ultimately fuels their success and keeps them looking for ways, as Joe said, “to make life easier, get more accomplished, and feel better at night.”