What’s the secret to growing a successful lawn maintenance company? For Tony Lowe and Chase Hall, owners of Top Notch Lawns in Montgomery, Alabama, the answer is quality. Deliver it, and customers will come. Seems like a simple enough formula, but one that is not that easy to implement when you operate in an extremely competitive marketplace. Not everyone wants quality or wants to pay for it. The key for these owners was to define the right market and then quickly gear up to deliver on expectations.
“I am convinced that providing a quality product has been the key to our success,” says Lowe, who spent five years in the military before joining his junior high school buddy in a new business venture. “When we started out, we took on virtually any property we could find, and had no idea we would be as successful as we are today. Our family, though, supported us through some tough times, and we gradually grew and refined our market niche.”
Today, Lowe and Hall are proud of their customer portfolio, one that sports a mix of high-end residential and commercial properties as well as a number of other accounts they maintain through contracts with three real estate companies. All told, the four-year-old company has 162 customers and growth appears unfettered. The partners credit their success to a common goal of striving to deliver the best quality service they can ... every time they pull up to a property.
Do, Retain and Grow
Lowe and Hall can only sit back and smile when they think about the early days, before they were able to quit their jobs and work full-time in the business. They remember how their power equipment dealer never really took them seriously, or how competitors never noticed them in their rear view mirrors.
“We’ve tried to maintain a low profile, just working on honing our business and our service,” explains Hall, who spent three years in college before deciding on lawn maintenance as a profession. “When we were finally able to officially launch the business, we had 50 customers and a plan. We always thought that by delivering top quality, the company could move up the customer ladder, and find and retain customers who would truly appreciate our work. Today, we have a 95% retention rate and we’re growing every day. And we are able to charge a little more for our service because we deliver high quality.”
Partner Lowe agrees, adding that crews bend over backwards to make sure properties are as close to being as perfect as possible before they leave. “If there is one stray leaf on the ground, we will pick it up before we move on,” he emphasizes. “Small details like that make a big difference in a customer’s perception of how we are doing.”
Both Lowe and Hall share the perspective that the customer is king, queen and the entire court. Their crews take empty trash barrels back to the house, respond quickly to requests, and double- or even triplecheck to make sure expectations are being met.
The company offers a full-service package, and does most, if not all, of the work, including installing and maintaining irrigation systems without using subcontractors. “Too many companies subcontract-out their work and lose control of the end product,” adds Hall. “We tell our customers that we want them for the long-haul and will do what it takes to keep them.” For these owners, customers are more than a means to an end; they are an investment in the future.
“We look at every property from two perspectives,” says Hall, “from the customer’s point of view and from our vantage point. Ideally, we want to improve every property we maintain and we want every property to better us, too. There is no point to taking on work just for work’s sake. We have to make a decent profit on every account, or it pays to let someone else maintain it.
“That’s one reason why we purchased our first Walker Mower four years ago,” Hall continues. “We wanted a finish mower for our highend accounts, and we wanted a machine that would lend to our profitability.”
From a performance standpoint, Hall says the Walker Mower is the next best thing to a reel mower. “Because it provides the high-quality cut we are looking for, the mower also allows us to get a higher price for our service,” Hall adds.
Top Notch has purchased a 20-hp and 26-hp Walker Mower from its dealer, Lewis Lawn Equipment in Montgomery. The units are equipped with 42- and 48-inch GHS decks, respectively. Both are equipped with speed-up kits and feature Walker’s Comfort Seat.
“I prefer using the 26-hp model,” says Lowe. “The 48-inch deck is ideally suited for our applications, and it is surprising how much more ground you can cover with it compared to the 42-inch deck.” Lowe says he is also impressed by the fuel savings the fuel-injection system delivers.
Lowe admits to using the Walkers in extremely tough conditions, not the least of which include using them to clean up debris from the medians of heavily trafficked commercial properties and scalping some of the lawns in mid-summer to help minimize thatch buildup.
The Walkers, he explains, see action nearly year-round. Crews are on full-service accounts once a month in January and February, three times in March, once a week from April through September and bi-weekly from then to the end of the year. “We are not a ‘mow and blow’ company,” Lowe emphasizes. “We want to keep our properties looking neat and clean all year. We want them edged and properly fertilized. We want the trees trimmed, the flower beds looking nice and, of course, the lawn looking lush and green.”
Customers appreciate the company’s attention to detail. “Tony’s work speaks for itself,” says Willie Durant, sales associate for Haverty’s furniture store. “His crews have been maintaining our property for three years. They do a great job and we get plenty of compliments about our landscaping. Tony is dedicated, too. I recall one evening when he was still working on our irrigation system when I left work at 9 p.m. Do I recommend their service? Every moment I can — with high marks.”
Hearing comments like this helps confirm Lowe and Hall’s business strategy: “When you deliver quality, customers will come calling on you.”