There are several ways and reasons to mow a lawn. At the very least, lawns can be mowed to control weeds or tame turfgrass in outlying areas. At the other end of the spectrum are lawns designed and maintained to look almost like golf greens. In between lie a variety of properties and mowing strategies that can be placed into one of two broadly defined categories: high-production mowing and quality mowing.
Both approaches have their place. High-production mowing is a perfectly acceptable way to maintain many properties. In fact, this approach represents the majority of landscape maintenance jobs today where property owners value low cost over quality or the finished appearance of the mowing job. In contrast, quality mowing focuses on delivering the best, most consistent finished look to a landscape. Here, property owners have made a significant investment in their lawns and landscapes and are committed to care for that investment.
The word “speed” helps define the major difference between the two mowing approaches. High-production crews typically operate large riding mowers that can cover a lot of ground quickly. Getting the job done quickly takes top priority not only because cost is a concern for property owners, but because competition for these jobs can be fierce.
A quality mowing job often favors smaller, more specialized operators trained and organized to deliver the “look” for higher-end properties. Their mowers are typically more compact and designed less for speed and more for delivering a quality cut. Profit margins for these jobs are usually higher, again because the property’s appearance takes precedence over cost, and there are fewer companies that are willing and able to deliver this level of service.
“I never had a customer compliment me on how quickly we mow their property,” says Bob Vickery, owner of The Planter’s Touch in Easley, South Carolina (Walker Talk volume 27). “But I have received numerous compliments on how well their turf looks.”
Vickery, the owner of two Walker Mowers, has been maintaining lawns and landscapes for 15 years. “Most of my business has been obtained by word of mouth, and the quality of our work is probably the primary reason we are referred,” he adds. “We also regularly have people stop at a property we are maintaining and ask if we would consider maintaining their property. Again, the impetus is the way the property looks.”
Glenn Burnie, Maryland, landscape contractor Tim Towers, owner of Grass Masters, recently re-entered the mowing business after a four-year hiatus. “If I was going to get back into the business, I was going to blow my competition away with quality,” he emphasizes. “There is a place for quality in every market because someone is always willing to pay for it.”
Towers has 51 residential customers and collects clippings with his Walker Mower on all but one of them. Like Vickery, he says that delivering a quality cut is good for word-of-mouth referrals, and that he’s getting more money for his effort than when doing more highproduction mowing earlier in his career. “For me, the most important aspect of ‘word of mouth’ is that I am awarded work from next-door neighbors,” Towers emphasizes. “Having multiple customers back to back means no travel time between properties. Hence, I burn less fuel and put fewer miles on my truck and have near 100 percent on-the-job time efficiency.”
In Praise of Mowing
Vickery became a landscape contractor after 21 years in the banking business. “I enjoy what I do,” he says. “I want my properties to look good because it’s a reflection on me and my business.” He admits to enjoying the compliments and sharing them with employees to help encourage and inspire them to do even better work. Notes Vickery, “I received more praise for my work in the first year as a landscape contractor than I did in all my years as a banker.”
But praise doesn’t pay the freight. Both of these two professionals emphasize that a quality mowing job leads to more mowing jobs (often without spending a dime on marketing). Referrals and requests usually don’t arrive with a discounted price tag either.
“I’m sure price is a consideration for some of my customers, but they rarely bring it up,” Vickery relates. “Instead, they are more concerned with the finished product and having someone they can talk with who is knowledgeable and cares about their property. My customers appreciate that I am able to answer questions and provide solutions to their turf and landscape concerns.”
As Towers also points out, there is always someone in every market who wants a quality mowing job and is willing to pay for it. The question is: Will there be enough high-end properties and office campuses to support a qualitydriven business? If the answer is yes, then landscape contractors have a choice.
In fact, high-quality mowing vs. high-production mowing can be the best choice for many companies looking for a way to improve their business results. Yes, high-production mowing can mean that owners will handle a lot of money. Unfortunately, with competition high and prices low, it also can mean not keeping much of that money in their pockets.
Conversely, quality mowing often means handling less money, but keeping more of it. Delivering quality also reduces the cost associated with marketing a business. As one Florida Walker Mower user once said, “I tell people that when you walk on one of my yards, you are standing on my business card.”