It must have been an unusual afternoon for John Welch. He was spending the better part of it under a canopy between his workshop and enclosed trailer. The sun in Chilliwack, British Columbia was blazing hot and the covering afforded a bit of relief. “Do you think my wife would notice if I buy a new trailer every year, one that is only two feet longer than the previous one?” he asks. “In three or four years, I could have a tremendous trailer, and she wouldn’t wonder if I have lost my mind.”This is the owner of Cut It Lawn Care Services. If he is not moving around tinkering with something, he is thinking and talking about it. The trailer he is referring to is a four-year-old, 20-foot enclosed model, and inside is nearly every tool of his trade, including two Walker Mowers.
“I don’t sit down much,” admits this 40-year-old entrepreneur. “If I’m not working on a property, I’m in my workshop sharpening blades, maintaining equipment, or fashioning a way to make my trailer and operation more efficient.” After all, he adds, there is always something to do for a “oneman band” with a young family.
The next morning John cranks up his 25-year-old truck. Together with Tony, his father and part-time helper, in tow, he heads out to maintain a few properties. Located two hours west of Vancouver, Chilliwack is a bustling community with a mix of retirement condominiums, vacation homes and new housing to accommodate young industries moving into the city. Among its customers, Cut It maintains nine apartment blocks and approximately 40 smaller commercial properties and residences. All of them fall within a 10- kilometer radius of the Welch home, which is located less than two kilometers from city center.
For most of their customers, Cut It provides a full array of maintenance services from mowing and aerating to fertilizing and pruning. Although John is a licensed pesticide applicator, recent regulations have made it difficult for smaller operators to apply chemicals. Instead, he subcontracts that work to a local WeedMan franchise.
This morning he will stop at four apartment blocks. Tony, now retired, has 42 years of government service under his belt, and helps his son a couple of half days a week. He unloads one of the two Walkers while John opens the trailer’s side door and grabs a protective helmet and string trimmer. Tony settles in on the Walker and then lifts his ear protection to ask his son, “How do I do this, now?” He gives him a wink and tears off. Tony doesn’t get far, though. As luck would have it, his Walker has a flat rear tire. John shrugs his shoulders. “That is why we have nearly two of everything in the trailer,” he reasons. “We will just switch decks and use the other Walker.” The exchange only takes a few minutes and the morning is officially underway.
John started his business in 1986 after a stint working for a janitorial company and mowing lawns on the side. He grew his young business offering car detailing, janitorial and lawn maintenance services. For the next six years, he gained experience and customers, working primarily for town homes and apartment blocks. At the peak, he employed three people, but always struggled with human relationship challenges. John claims that employees were never reliable enough for him. Tony says, on the side, that those employees could never meet his son’s high expectations. Either way, in 1992, Cut It’s owner decided to restructure his business so he could operate by himself. He dropped janitorial and car detailing, concentrating entirely on lawn maintenance.
Four years later, his small company landed a big government contract to mow an Armed Forces base. As he puts it, he could mow his properties with a push mower until this point. The new contract forced him to change his ways. He had seen a Walker Mower brochure three years earlier and had kept the mower in the back of his mind. “I thought it would be the perfect mower for me, especially in my position as an owner-operator,” John recalls. “When we won the government contract, I drove to my dealer and demonstrated one at his shop. He delivered it the following day. And before the year was out, I had leased my second Walker.”
Cut It obtained three decks for their two mowers — a 42- and 48- inch GHS deck and a 54-inch sidedischarge deck. Not being familiar with the Walker, John also purchased a “How to Mow” video. It wasn’t long before the mowers allowed the company to maintain 173 properties on the Armed Forces base in 2-1/2 days. John and his father retained the airbase for four years, eventually giving it up to a lower bidder. The bright side? They still have their Walkers.
“Yes,” says John, “I knew the Walkers were productive, but I did not know how productive until this year when our truck was laid up for restoration. For a six-week period, we mowed all our accounts with push mowers. I lost 20 pounds and could hardly wait to get our truck and Walkers back online.”
The Chilliwack mowing season extends from April 1 to the end of October. Going by the saying “Cut & Trimmed, Neat & Tidy,” John takes care of each property like it is his own. And he complains vigorously, for example, when condominium residents “muck up” his handy work. “They mean well,” John notes, referring to customers who take it upon themselves to do some trimming. “But the end product just isn’t up to my standards.”
His standards are high, according to Lois Richardson, a longtime customer and chairman of an apartment strata. “John has been maintaining my property for at least 12 years. I like the way he conducts business. I never have to phone him, he is always on schedule, and he always leaves the property neat and clean. I like everything automatic and John is automatic, always here the same time every week.”
He is also considerate. Tony stops his Walker when a resident passes him on a sidewalk, and John uses his trimmer at half-throttle, keeping the noise level down and minimizing the risk of throwing any debris. The company, John adds, also separates itself from other competitors by being fully insured. He and his dad are vigilant about being safe, as well, placing safety cones at the rear of the trailer for unloading and loading. And they always wear safety gear.
The duo makes a strong case for owner-operators, with one caveat, John notes. “The big problem with having no employees is: What happens if you get hurt?” All the more reason to be deliberate, John adds. He is willing to take the risk, though, especially when he has his father and two Walker Mowers backing him up.