“I like to leave properties looking nice, neat and well-trimmed with the Bermuda grass resembling a green tabletop. I don’t want to see twigs, leaves and other debris. When I’m done mowing, I want to see nothing but grass.”
That’s what Victor Crowell, physical education teacher and owner of Lawns & Beyond in Montgomery, Alabama, saw when mowing a property several years ago, but it wasn’t his property. “The contractor was using a little yellow machine with a hopper on back and the name Walker on the side,” says Crowell. “I wasn’t familiar with the machine, but another teacher had a Walker Mower and advised me to get one. I couldn’t afford to buy a new one, but Capital Tractor in Montgomery said it would keep an eye out for a used one and came through.
“At the time, my wife, Dana, questioned the decision to spend ‘that much’ for a mower, but it certainly paid off. My only regret is I didn’t buy one sooner. It may not be as fast as some mowers on the market, but it certainly speeded up my business growth because when you’re done mowing, it’s a wrap.”
JUST BEING NEIGHBORLY
Growing up in Seale, Alabama, Crowell and his two brothers shared mowing duties. His brothers didn’t like to mow. But guess who did?
“After we were married, Dana and I moved to a new subdivision and taking care of the yard was second nature to me. I enjoyed it,” says Crowell. “It wasn’t long before a neighbor wanted me to mow her yard. One request led to three, which turned into seven, and soon I was mowing nine yards in the subdivision with my CRAFTSMAN push mower.”
When the number approached 15, he upgraded to a CRAFTSMAN rider and later added a Snapper Pro zeroturn mower. The Walker Mower, with a 42-inch GHS deck, came onto the scene a few years later in 2013. At one time, the accounts grew to 60, but as he points out, good help is hard to find. That was simply too many properties to maintain alone. He now looks after 46 accounts, half one week and half the other. During a typical week, he gets out of school at 2:30 and mows from 3 p.m. to dark, Monday through Thursday. If it rains, though—and it rained a lot this year in Montgomery—his weekends disappear.
In addition to mowing, Lawns & Beyond does small landscaping jobs, installs shrubs and smaller apple and crape myrtle trees, prunes trees and trims hedges. Fertilizing and weed control are left to lawn care companies. Equipment, including five STIHL handheld units, a Toro push mower, the Snapper Pro and the Walker Mower, fit “neatly” on an open trailer.
Crowell says he’s learned two valuable lessons over the years. “One lesson is, when you buy quality equipment, no matter what it is, it lasts a long time. The other is avoid being in a rush. A few years ago, I was hurrying around and injured myself. This accident could have been avoided by just slowing down and waiting a few seconds. If I’d done that, I could have avoided spending the extra time to make a trip to the emergency room.”
BUILDING A BUSINESS
Crowell and his wife met while in graduate school at Alabama State University. At first eye contact, Dana mentioned to a friend that an unsuspecting Victor would be her husband one day. They were married a year later.
Crowell has been teaching for 19 years and Dana, 18. In Alabama, the school year goes from the first week in August to the end of May. Teaching takes a lot of energy and commitment. Dana has a class of 18 second-graders, while 250 students go through Crowell’s physical education classes in a day. The pair enjoys what they do and it shows.
In fact, last year, a local TV station presented Crowell with the Golden Apple award for his work with students. Still, both would like to retire within six years or so. The timetable suits Crowell’s plan to grow his business. “You don’t really have a business if it relies exclusively on you being there every day,” he emphasizes. “Ideally, I would like to find someone who cares about my customers and equipment as much as I do.”
Dana laughs, “That’s going to be hard to do since he’s the only one to date who has driven the Walker Mower.”
That, however, is the plan. Continue mowing until retiring from teaching and then, yes, buy another Walker Mower and field two crews. The 42-inch deck just fits inside the backyard gates many of his properties have. The Snapper Pro, which he purchased in 2008, has a smaller deck for even smaller gates, and it’s a machine he likes to use for rough mowing.
“Teaching is hard work if you are committed to doing a good job,” Crowell reiterates, “but so is the lawn maintenance business. As much as I like mowing, I don’t want to be the one doing all the work all the time. Being a physical education teacher and running in a few half marathons helps to keep me in shape, but the sun and humidity here can wear a person down. Not to mention it would be great to have time to build the business, and spend more time with Dana and our 10-year-old daughter, Jade.”
His long-term plan then calls for buying a property with more space for storing equipment and, yes, having a bigger yard for doing what he enjoys doing — turning Bermuda grass into tabletops.