Small Decisions, Big Differences

Ben Slafter says he has Walker Mowers because they have helped him grow and develop the residential market. In fact, while most business owners create a business model and then buy equipment to fill a need, it appears that the owner of Slafter Mowing in Berthoud, Colorado, did the opposite.


The first Walker Mower he purchased in 2000 doubled his mowing capacity from 25 to 50 yards. Three more—purchased in 2007, 2011 and 2013—helped him expand his customer envelope to 250, all residential properties, and generate an annual sales volume of nearly $350,000.

“From my perspective, Walker Mowers have developed and truly expanded the residential market for operators,” says Slafter. “They’re several times more efficient than push mowers, deliver a better cut, and they’re more versatile. We also use ours for dethatching in the spring, and the GHS decks are ideally suited for cleanups.” Four snow blades and two snowblower attachments allow Slafter to provide snow removal services to 60 of his customers.

Love-hate relationship

“I hated it,” says Slafter, referring to his first mowing experience. He was 14 years old when one of his friends asked him to mow seven accounts while he went on a two-week family vacation. “I couldn’t get the equipment to run and nothing else went right either. My friend paid me $200, but I told him I would never do that again.”

Never say never. “A year later, I partnered with the same friend after realizing he made more money in two hours of mowing than I could make working three days at a part-time job,” Slafter adds. “I purchased a 21-inch Toro commercial push mower and a $400 Husqvarna trimmer, and we mowed 14 accounts together that summer.

“One of the best business decisions I made early on was to buy quality equipment. Maybe it was the early bad experience with my friend’s equipment, I don’t know. But one thing is for sure: In this business you need quality, reliable equipment.”


Slafter continued to mow lawns through the remainder of high school and for a year and a half while attending nearby Colorado State University in Fort Collins. “I was still in high school when a friend’s grandfather, Hugh Doughty, who was 80 years old, asked me what the best mower on the market was,” Slafter recalls. “I told him it was a Walker Mower and he said, ‘That’s right! I’ve been doing some research myself.’ He did more than research. He had already located a dealer and machine for me and helped finance the mower. 

“My company wouldn’t look like it does today without the Walker Mower or people like him, key employees like Michael Johnson and Spencer Kear, and our dealer, Mac Equipment in Loveland, among others who’ve helped us along the way,” Slafter continues. “I’ve also had a tremendous landlord who gave me an opportunity to purchase the property and building I had been leasing. In fact, I just closed on the property. The down payment was steep, but God has blessed us in many ways. A customer even volunteered to help me out by paying me up front for a year’s worth of work.”

New partner

During the early years, Slafter’s first employee was his sister, Tali. She worked for him for five years while attending high school and college. When she took a few weeks off in 2005, he hired Barbara, a visitor from Canada, to help out. A year later, Barbara and Slafter were married. 

“I knew almost immediately that we were meant for each other,” says Slafter. “We had almost everything in common and loved working together.” Barbara worked alongside her husband mowing, trimming, answering the phone and doing the books until their first child, Landen, was born three and a half years ago followed by Andrew a year and a half later. She still works in the office part time, but helping in the field is left to employees.


“I know it appears that business is going smoothly and everything is great,” Barbara emphasizes. “Almost every story I read in trade magazines paints a pretty picture of a growing company. Well, it’s hard work. You have employee issues, customer issues, money issues, and many nights questioning if we even know what we’re doing. But we’ve put our hope and trust in the Lord, and we are pressing on. Because of this we are beginning to see the benefits outweighing the challenges.”

For this couple, among the benefits is the satisfaction they get from working together to grow a business. Then there’s the business model. “The big positive about the residential market is that you work for the people who hire you,” says Slafter. “You can develop a relationship with them and get to know how they want their property maintained. In other words, they develop a comfort level with you, and some even become good friends. The commercial market is different. Property managers come and go and it’s mostly all about the bottom line. If someone can do a job for 10 percent less than you, then you will likely lose the account.”

Residential job security, however, comes at a high cost. It takes several properties and a lot of windshield time for Slafter to build up sales volume. Scheduling alone can create a headache. Just as an example, spring aerations can take hundreds of phone calls and multiple hours to schedule each crew’s weekly route. 

Properties are different, too. Creating video profiles of all properties that can be easily loaded onto a crew leader’s mobile tablet has helped crews maintain consistency. The videos illustrate any unique property characteristics or property owner requests, i.e. what should and shouldn’t be trimmed. The video library will be especially helpful for new crew members and relieve the owner of having to explain property nuances several times over.

Tentative growth

Don’t look for Slafter Mowing to become a mega company. Instead, finding that size where the owners can relax a bit and spend more time working on, and not in, their business would be ideal. They’re working on it. As the business has grown and the office responsibilities have increased, the owners recently hired a full-time secretary, Pam Huster, to help run day-to-day operations in the office.


“I was even hesitant to start a second mow crew because I didn’t know how to deal with employees and was afraid of losing contact with customers,” Slafter admits. “But after three years of mowing with multiple crews and business growing over 30 percent per year, I haven’t regretted the decision. And those employees we were so afraid to hire have become some of our best friends.”

Are the above moves small decisions? Yes, in some ways they are, just as buying that first commercial-quality mower and string trimmer didn’t seem all that significant to Slafter. But small decisions, especially when they are the right ones, add up and can make a big difference over time.” 

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