Kory Knutz loves landscape maintenance. “I don’t have any desire for installation work,” he relates. “In fact, that’s even on my voicemail greeting. Maintenance is where it’s at for me. Maintenance is my sweet spot.”
It wasn’t always that way for the owner of Valley Green Landscape in McMinnville, Oregon. After going full-time with his mowing business in 1995, Kory resisted customer requests to provide installation services for 10 years. Then the building market exploded and Kory was lured in. But then the building bubble burst in 2008 and he got right back out.
“Fortunately, I was able to survive after liquidating some skid steers, dump trucks, and other equipment,” he says. “I did like doing designs and really enjoyed planting. But it was just too many employees, too much equipment, and too much administrative work. I thought I was going to die by the time I was 50. I knew I wasn’t doing something right because I just wasn’t enjoying it. I’ve always enjoyed maintenance, though, and I can honestly say that I enjoy it more every year.”
Kory has been enjoying maintenance for 33 years now, dating back to when he first started “mowing gramma lawns” at age 12. Now in his mid-40s, Kory still mows some of those original gramma lawns, along with a bunch of other residential accounts, banks, industrial parks, and a prestigious vineyard that keeps his entire crew busy one day a week.
Doing What You’re Good At
Knutz got his first Walker Mower in 1995, not long after he’d graduated high school and went full-time in business. “The Walker first came to my attention when I saw other lawns that were mowed with a Walker,” he recalls. “I wondered what in the world they were mowing with because it didn’t look anything like what I was using. So I got my first Walker and then got another one a year later.”
Kory says his business was revolutionized from an efficiency standpoint, enabling him to quickly add more accounts. That gave him the confidence to begin evaluating his account base “with a fine-tooth comb” to identify where he was and wasn’t making money. He wanted to focus on those properties that were “Walker-friendly” so he could achieve both the quality and efficiency needed to build a reputable business.
“I just don’t feel like I have to be the ‘do anything’ guy anymore,” Kory continues. “I have found that it makes more sense to find out what you’re really good at, do it a lot and keep getting better at it. You can make a lot more money that way. I’ve also found that you’ll be a lot happier.”
Another key to staying happy and making good money is making good use of his Walkers. Kory tries
to keep the 21-inch push mowing to a minimum.
“Using a push mower is like picking up nickels while you have piles of quarters sitting on your trailer,” Kory relates. “I always want to capitalize on the potential of my Walkers. That’s why I like to stick with properties that are Walker-friendly. I even helped one client widen a gate so one of my Walkers could fit through it.”
Kory has 10 decks for his four Walker tractors. He bags the higher-profile lawns and side-discharges the rest. Kory has grown especially fond of the rear-discharge deck on his Model H. “Then you don’t get dust and grass blowing up on top of you, and you don’t have to worry about throwing grass in flower beds,” he explains.
For Knutz, making good use of his Walkers means extending them beyond just mowing grass. The transportability and maneuverability of the machine make it an ideal option for blowing leaves, grading soil and plowing snow.
Kory has two snow blades that he says are ideal for five-foot sidewalks. “They can really squeegee the snow off and are perfect for those six to eight inch snowstorms,” Kory says. “In a good winter, I can pick up another $5,000 to $10,000 in snow removal revenue.”
Kory is excited to see how a new attachment purchase will help him make more money this fall by helping save a lot of time. “My new Turbine Blower generates 10 times the CFM (cubic feet per minute) of the big backpack blower I’ve normally used to move leaves,” he says.
To further extend the use of his Walker Mowers, Kory has even rigged up some handy attachments of his own.
“I strap a 25-gallon spray tank on the back of my Model H,” Kory tells. “I can cover a lot more ground than walking around with a backpack sprayer. In fact, I can apply four more gallons per hour.
“To help with leaf pickup, I’ve made some hard-facing guards to further reinforce the steel side skirts on the deck,” Kory continues. This contraption gives Kory the confidence to run the mower on paved surfaces to suck up leaves in a parking lot, for instance. Another employee(s) blows the leaves into windrows that Kory vacuums up with the mower. “I cannot wait to see how this system works this fall with the new leaf blower attachment,” Kory says. “We should be able to move a tremendous volume of leaves in a lot less time.”
Finally, he has converted one of his older decks into a land planer. He uses it when doing lawn renovations. “The only thing as smooth as mowing with a Walker is grading with one,” Kory says.
Nothing to Wine About These Days
Kory gets a lot of use out of his land planer and snow blades around his own property. It’s a sprawling complex with steep ridges, a natural spring and pond, thousands of trees, and umpteen relaxation points with fire pits and paver patios. When Kory’s sidekick, Wally, hears the engine on the Walker Mower rev up, he races to the start of the walking trail to lead Kory up the ridge to the spacious lawn area that needs to be mowed. Kory straps on his earmuffs, turns on the blades, and loses himself in the one thing he has loved doing since he was six years old. Wally takes a dip in the pond.
When Knutz isn’t taking care of his own property, he and his trusted full-time employee, Gary Harper, are taking care of plenty of others. Along with being Walker-friendly, Kory prefers properties that are easily accessible with minimal drive time. He also likes it when he and Harper can be in and out in a relatively short amount of time.
One exception is the prestigious vineyard and winery Valley Green Landscape helps to maintain. The vineyard has its own grounds crew, but needs some extra manpower to help with all of the mowing, edging and spraying. The facility manager used to be one of Kory’s employees so the partnership was a logical one. Two part-time employees, Paul Carden and Matthew Nettrouer, join Kory and Gary every Friday to spruce up the vineyard.
“We spend the entire day there running all four Walkers,” Kory says. A 48-inch GHS handles the high-visibility areas around the winery. Three side-discharge mowers, two 62-inch and one 74-inch, handle the more open areas. Kory’s sprayer attachment also comes in handy on the massive property.
As intensive as this huge account is, Kory says it is relatively straight-forward and predictable, which is precisely why he loves landscape maintenance in the first place. Gone are the days of doing installation work when the majority of each day was spent responding to clients, creating bids, chasing materials and doing other administrative chores.
“Nowadays, with being completely focused on maintenance, I spend about an hour a week with my bookkeeper and that’s it,” Kory says. Then he’s right back in the seat of one of his four Walkers.
“One thing I like about maintenance is the routine,” Kory says. “But I also like that you can never stop learning, whether it’s a new plant or weed treatment or a more efficient way to mow. You can never stop learning. Once you stop wanting to learn, that’s the day you’ll start hating your job.”
Kory Knutz admittedly started to hate his job back in 2008. Not anymore. Now he’s maintaining properties that are Walker-friendly, and he’s nearly stress-free in the process.
“Who would’ve thought that mowing lawns for over 30 years wouldn’t leave me bored?” Kory ponders. “I don’t know, maybe I’m just a really simple guy.” Or maybe he has just found his sweet spot.