Mark of Turf Tenders has an immense amounts of experience in the landscaping and lawn care industry. 20 years at a garden center and another 14 years running his own company means he has been through both good times and bad.
Having been through a bad economy he understands how to manage a sustainable business. Read on to see how he has been able to grow and stay successful for so long.
What is your name and your business name? Where do you do business?
Mark Stroman, I am the Owner / President of Turf Tenders. Turf Tenders is located in Bristol, IN USA. Our website is www.TurfTendersElkhart.com
What kind of services do you provide?
Complete landscape design, installation, and maintenance. Landscape services include all general landscaping including hardscapes.
What year did you start your business? Did you start it with anyone else? Anything special to note about how it all began?
I started in October of 2000 as a Sole Proprietor. After working retail in a garden center for 20 years, I joined a company to manage their maintenance crews and do all the chemical applications for customers and the nursery.
After working there for 3 ½ years they made the decision to eliminate the maintenance as they could make more money per truck and trailer in landscaping.
With my position being eliminated, I made an offer to purchase the landscape maintenance department. I started with enough work to finish out that season by having enough clean ups for a part time worker and my self.
What was the biggest challenge in starting your business?
I guess the first challenge was putting together a strong business plan to convince a loaning institution that I was a good investment for an equipment loan. I had the knowledge of plants, lawns and how to take care of them.
I’ve always been a people person, and I had not only management experience, but some business management experience at one of my previous jobs. Second challenge would be getting enough jobs to make sure I could pay myself and one employee full time during my first full year in business, including all other business related expenses.
The third main challenge was properly bidding for jobs. I had run maintenance crews but the company I had worked for used their landscape salespeople to sell the maintenance as well, so I had only been involved in the bidding on a limited basis.
How were you managing customer and business information when you first started out?
This takes us back to late 1990’s, and some young people may not even remember these but we used Palm Pilots with a whole 2mb of ram. They had a good calendar and contact area where we would enter all the notes from any contact we had with the customer.
Contracts were all copied paper forms and Quickbooks was still the accounting software. Since my 3rd year in business (2003), I have used a true service management software. I have used 2 different ones over the course of 10 or 11 years.
How are you different from your competition? What do you feel sets you apart?
Number 1 thing would be knowledge. I started with the knowledge of plants, how they grow and what the plants needs are. Most start out mowing and do something for the customer as they request it and then learn how to do it. We were able to offer full service maintenance from day one and still do irrigation service.
In landscaping, I have learned landscape design and have been designing for 16 years. Most of my competitors are maintenance companies who can plant but have no true knowledge or skills in designing. As we move into the landscaping season we move into a new set of competitors and I need to develop our own niche so we stand out in the landscaping sector.
What has been your business’s biggest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The crash of the economy. We cut back on employees and I jumped back into some of the harder work. I knew the proper way for most hardscaping but we had never added that into our line up of work so we took the time to get trained on larger hardscape projects.
One hardscape project included 2 level Patio w/ steps, retaining wall, seat / free standing wall, fire pit and cooking station with built in gas grill. This was to prepare ourselves for another aspect of landscaping when the economy turned around.
We also cut into the expenses eliminating whatever we could, so we started repairing equipment instead of purchasing new.
What is your biggest challenge currently, or in general on an ongoing basis?
Making the leap from being an owner/operator, and working in the field with the crews 100% of the time, to being the President and running the business, sales and quotes 75% of the time and actually doing the physical work with the crews only 25% of the time. Our other ongoing problem is finding qualified workers.
How large is your company, including yourself. How did you get to that point?
We plan on starting out Spring 2014 with 6 full time employees plus myself. During 2001 and part of 2002, I had only one other employee. 2002 – 2003 we operated with 2 employees. These first few years were primarily landscape maintenance.
At the time, landscaping existed basically as freshening up existing, adding a plant here and there or maybe a tree into the lawn. In 2004 we added a 2nd truck, trailer and crew with 2 employees doing the mowing and myself and 1 other employee taking over all other maintenance services. Those include re-mulching, flower planting, spring and fall clean up, pruning, weeding the beds and light landscaping.
We continued to grow to 5 employees and planned on separating myself off from the crews but then in 2008 the economy took a BIG dump and our area at the time had 14%+ unemployed. We like so many other businesses, lost a large number of customers who couldn’t afford to have a lawn care company and we once again operated as myself and 2 employees. We saw a number of small businesses including lawn and landscape companies close.
The last 2 years with the help of a better economy we are able again to regrow, and with 13+ years in the community our name and reputation is helping us.
What are your goals for growth in the future?
We are currently looking into building up the landscaping end of the business. We will be adding a second website/domain name to also increase our search ability for that service.
Every year we job cost every customer and job and we will continue to either make each customer reach our profit goal or replace them with one that will.
How did you find out about Jobber and how long have you been using it?
I found out about Jobber from a lawn / landscape business forum group I belonged to. I started my first trial in Jan. 2012. At that time Jobber did not do enough compared to the software I was using at that time.
Did a second short trial in Dec 2012, and signed up In Jan. 2013. Jobber had made significant growth and added new features so it would be suitable for my business
What are the biggest benefits you get from Jobber?
I would say Jobber being in the cloud since it allows us to work on any computer and also able to work anywhere, including at the customers properties. Another benefit is ease of use. With it being easy to learn, my office personnel and employees can learn how to use it in a relatively short amount of time.
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