He’s known as “Viehmann The Amazing” to people around town who have witnessed his magic act. Still, for most residents of Kennebunkport, Maine, and the surrounding communities, Dan Viehmann and his wife, Melissa, are more readily identified as the landscape contractors who maintain their properties.
In business since 1990, Dan Viehmann Landscaping provides a full array of maintenance services to more than 75 customers. Included are mowing, fertilizing, irrigation installation and maintenance, landscape lighting, and landscape and hardscape installation. To keep busy year-round, the Viehmanns also offer a caretaker service to 16 of their high-end customers. The program involves checking on their homes during the cold winter months, coordinating visits with other contractors, and overall making sure the properties are in top shape in their owners’ absence.
Outdoorsman at Heart
A Kennebunkport native, Dan says he has always loved the outdoors. That’s one reason why, after receiving a degree in business from Northeastern University in Boston, he returned to his home town to launch a lawn maintenance business with his brother, Greg. Called D&G Landscaping at the time, the company started small, with a used Chevy C-10 pickup, a Lawn-Boy push mower and a Snapper rear-engine rider.
“Those were interesting times,” Dan recalls. “We had a wooden trailer that featured an old wooden tongue, of all things. In fact, my brother and I didn’t realize the tongue was so old that it was rotten and ready to fall off. So, we were driving down the road one day, hit a bump, and spotted the trailer passing us on the left. It crossed in front of us, flipped upside down, and the Snapper ended up in a parking lot on top of a lady’s Saab. Even though her spotless car had just returned from the body shop, she was very understanding.”
The business relationship dissolved shortly after the incident, leaving the remaining partner on his own to grow his company—and he did. “For several years, I was very busy, but not making much money,” Dan laments. “I peaked at about 80 lawns with six or seven employees, but was getting behind on payroll, taxes and other expenses. I was having a hard time applying my business education to my company until I met my wife, Melissa.
“She stepped in to literally save the day,” Dan continues. “Melissa took over most of the accounting chores and encouraged me to finish up paperwork at the day’s end. Just like that, my business, our business, turned around. Today, Melissa works two days in the office on administrative tasks, and spends the other three days in the field operating one of our two Walker Mowers. I operate the other one.”
Melissa looks at her husband and asks him to qualify his statement, which he gladly does. “She’s a much better operator than I am,” Dan adds without hesitation. “Her lines are straighter, and in three years, she’s only sheared one shear pin on the mowing deck. In other words, she’s a more careful operator, too.”
The Viehmanns operate two 20-hp Walker Mowers, one with a 36-inch GHS deck and the other with a 48-inch GHS deck. The operators explain that using them is akin to running a Kirby vacuum over their customers’ lawns. “Our clients love the cut, and the vacuum system allows us to mow without blowing clippings into flower beds,” says Dan, who claims that his wife is not only a superb Walker operator, but the only woman Walker operator in the area, as well. Adds Melissa, “It was easy to learn to operate the mower. Operating the steering levers with one hand and speed control with the other almost comes naturally, and I truly enjoy my time on the machine.”
In addition to maintaining properties, Dan flies both airplanes and helicopters. From time-to-time, he will ferry around aircraft for customers. In fact, he has flown a helicopter all the way from West Palm Beach, Florida, to Boston. It took two days flying at roughly 500 feet along the coast.
Dan’s flying skills mesh with Melissa’s photographic talent; she does video editing on the side. The two will fly over and photograph properties during the year and give the images to customers as a Christmas present. As mentioned earlier, Dan also enjoys being a magician, something he learned years ago to help defray school expenses. In fact, this summer he has eight performances already booked.
When it comes to maintaining properties, though, the Viehmanns say that magic is not part of the equation. “It’s pretty simple,” Dan emphasizes. “We take care of our employees and our customers. Retaining employees is the first step. If you can do that, and train them to accommodate your customers, then you’re more than halfway home.”
The couple shows their appreciation to employees in several ways. First and foremost, Dan says he would never ask them to do something he wouldn’t do himself. There are cookouts and a bonus program that includes a Christmas bonus. Also, employees can redeem “bonus bucks.”
Melissa explains, “Throughout the year, we give out bonus bucks for exemplary performance.” For example, if a customer praises a crew or if employees go the extra mile to finish a job, we will award ‘make believe’ dollars that can be redeemed at a special gathering twice a year. For the occasion, Dan and I will go shopping for household and backyard items that employees can buy with their bucks. It’s a fun time, and just another way of saying thank you.”
Employees are also supplied with full uniforms, including shirts, pants and hats; everything but the shoes. They look professional and they act professional. As Dan and Melissa point out, property owners are usually uncomfortable if they cannot identify who is on their property. The uniforms remove any doubt. Dan says they also encourage employees to be courteous and ready and willing to talk with homeowners. “After all, customers are not a disruption, they are the reason we have a business,” Dan adds. “I make a special point to thank all my clients for their business in a personal visit at least once a month, and never take any day for granted.”
Touch of Greatness
Kennebunkport is well known as the vacation home for President Bush. No, the Viehmanns don’t mow his lawn, but Dan has done some work for the former Commander in Chief. “He inquired about doing some excavation work around a pond,” Dan recalls. “I walked around the area with him and provided a few suggestions, along with a quote. He agreed, and I did the work. He was very gracious, and sent a kind thank you note after the work was done. It was a great experience, and I will probably hang onto the note forever.”
Just another job? Hardly. But Dan and Melissa like to give all their clients presidential treatment. There’s nothing magical about that. Instead, it’s a matter of treating their employees and customers with respect—and showing appreciation for their loyalty.