Wise before his years. That’s one way to describe Scott Snider, president and owner of M&S Connection Landscaping in Strongsville, Ohio. In business for less than six years, he already has a good handle on what it takes to be successful. “Our company rests on four pillars,” Snider explains. “We believe in Quality, Green, Creative and Clean.”
Snider defines quality by the level of service his company delivers to its clients. Green is the result of this service—healthy, lush turfgrass, and the company’s commitment to a “greener” planet. Being creative is designing and installing the right landscape for the right property—and listening to the client. Clean is having shirts tucked in, operating clean equipment, and leaving properties with clean walks and drives, weed-free beds , and sharp, fresh bed and mowing lines.”
This young entrepreneur is also passionate. He loves the industry of which he has been a part since mowing lawns with a friend Mike (the M in M&S) at age 16. The duo worked part-time for two years, some of the first year out of the back of a Taurus sedan. Their big break came in the second year when they landed a large nursing home. “We used a 22-inch push mower and a 32-inch walk-behind mower to cut the property,” Snider recalls. “That one property took us all day to mow.”
After graduating from high school, Mike chose a different career path while Snider pursued a degree in Landscape Contracting and Construction from nearby Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute (ATI). He kept the business going in between classes and during the summer. He also took on two new partners: his father, Chris, who also owns a business management company, and girlfriend, Jackie Maskovyak. Chris became the company’s advisor and now manages its financial affairs, while Jackie, armed with a marketing degree, oversees new business development. She also attends law school after work.
Between Jackie’s marketing acumen and Chris’ financial expertise, M&S Connection has grown fast and profitable over the last two years. Twenty commercial accounts include luxury apartments and condo associations, hotels, retirement villages and corporate office complexes. The company also services a couple of high-end residential properties.
Crews maintain the properties with two Wright Standers and a Walker Mower Super B. The M&S owner was first introduced to the Walker Mower line by Walker distributor Tom Emmett at the Cleveland Home and Garden Show. “I could identify with Tom,” Snider recalls. “A former landscape contractor, he understood what I was trying to do. I bought my first Walker Mower, a used, 48-inch GHS model when I was 18, only to trade it in within a couple years for a new GHS model. This year I traded that mower in for a new Super B.
“With my commercial clients, I didn’t have many requests for collecting clippings,” Snider continues. “The new Super B doesn’t have a collection system, is slightly faster than GHS models, and is maneuverable on hills.”
With a 60-inch deck, the mower covers a lot of ground, and Snider says it also leaves a beautiful cut—something that adds to an all-important company image. The Wright Standers have their place, too, he emphasizes. Crew members employ them for hilly terrain and smaller turf areas.
This owner is not your typical young mowing contractor in yet another important way. He says he wants to grow to be as big as he can possibly be. Plans are already in the works to open a second location in Columbus. “What can I say? I think big,” Snider adds with a shrug. “Columbus fits our business model and we already know someone down there who wants to become a part owner in our company. The area is also booming, and it is a little more condensed than the Cleveland market, which means crews can get to job sites with less travel.”
As Jackie points out, though, M&S Connection will not be able to waltz into Columbus, or any other market for that matter, without having a point of difference. “Our clients like our professional approach to doing business, and we target a specific market niche: highend commercial properties,” she notes. “We plan to use the same strategy in Columbus.”
Snider agrees, adding that success in any new market rests largely on the shoulders of their team members. “They are on the front lines,” he emphasizes. “When we talk about four pillars, our team members are most responsible for delivering on them.” Snider notes that the company has recently added another Ohio State University ATI graduate, Jeff Gallimore, as lead foreman to provide on-site expertise and leadership.
To ensure they are tracking with company expectations, Snider and his team created a training program called M-STOP, which stands for M&S Training and Operations Program. The training targets three specific areas: landscape, business and entrepreneurship. Employees are taught how to maintain properties, follow correct horticultural guidelines and use equipment in a safe and appropriate manner. The program introduces team members to company operating procedures, helps them develop supervisory and management skills, and offers advice on how to communicate effectively with customers and work more efficiently.
“The final area of learning is entrepreneurship,” says Snider. “Through M-STOP, our team members learn what our clients and their customers want for their properties, which gives them the information they need to offer creative solutions.”
If there’s one additional hurdle to penetrating a new market or landing a new customer, Snider says it’s his age. “Sometimes potential clients question my ability just because I’m young. I can understand that, but it can also be very frustrating.”
Walker distributor Tom Emmett acknowledges Snider’s frustration, but also encourages him to chase his dreams. “This industry has much to offer,” says Emmett, who was a landscaper for 20 years prior to becoming a Walker dealer and later a distributor. “There are many, many successful people who started out mowing lawns like Scott did. Some have aggressive growth plans, and others have used their business as a cash flow vehicle to leverage interests in different areas. Either way, it’s a great industry—one with plenty of opportunity for growth and success.”
Says Snider, “When I purchased my first Walker Mower, Tom gave me a book entitled, How to Earn at Least Sixty Dollars Per Hour Mowing Grass. “I knew then that he wasn’t just selling me a mower. He was selling me an opportunity. With the help of my team—Jeff, Jackie and my father—we’ve been able to build on that opportunity.”
Roy Ruebenstahl can be reached at (502) 499-9031 or (502) 743-5901. He can also be reached via e-mail at gomco@ bellsouth.net. Books available for $75 (post paid within Continental USA).