Thursday, November 27, 2014

Katie Tuttle

Katie Tuttle, GCI

Features

It runs in the family

2014 Leadership Awards

Michael Kravitsky IV credits his success to his upbringing, and the people who’ve all played a role in the 50-year-old family business.

October 31, 2014

Michael Kravitsky IV started in sales early. When he was five years old, he used to accompany his father on calls for his lawn care business. His father would head out to a driving range on the corner of Cedar Crest and Tilghman in Allentown, Pa. with a pocket full of change and start calling.

“I’d be hitting golf balls and all of a sudden he’d say ‘okay let’s go’ and we’d drive over to their house to give the estimate,” Kravitsky says.

Fast forward a few years and Kravitsky and his brother Shawn co-own Grasshopper Lawns, the landscaping company their father started fifty years ago.

“It’s bittersweet,” Kravitsky says, “the reason for that is my dad bled lawn care. He bled this business … he lived for this business. My biggest regret is he passed away last year and never got to see fifty years.”

Grasshopper Lawns was started by Kravitsky’s father in 1964 when he bought two franchises called Lawn-A-Mat. At the time, he was running an aluminum awning business and an apartment business.

“It was pretty cool because as kids, in the springtime it would be all about lawn care,” Kravitsky says. “We all worked in the business. Summer to fall was the awning business, then in the wintertime we’d refurbish an apartment or two.”

As Kravitsky got older, he started joining the crews on the road.

“I loved driving the machines, so the guys would drive me to the jobs,” he says. When he was old enough to drive, he started skipping school to do work on the jobsites. Because the school didn’t approve, he started working after school instead.

In 1980 Kravitsky joined Grasshopper Lawns full time. At the time, Kravitsky had his hand in a lot of running the business: doing lawn care and maintenance on the equipment. Even Kravitsky’s grandfather joined in: After he retired as chief of police of Edwardsville, he worked in sales, and encouraged Kravitsky to do the same.

“My Pop Pop said ‘Why don’t you learn to do some sales?’” he says. He would spend half his day working on a job, the other half of the day selling and would then come home to repair equipment. Then, he’s start calling the people he’d given estimates to.

When his dad suggested he start learning how to run the business side of things, Kravitsky decided to let the service part go, as well as sales and service as time went on.

“I probably haven’t turned a wrench or been on a sale in at least 10 to 15 years,” he says. Roughly 15 years ago, Kravitsky’s father stepped away from the lawn business, and around five years ago the brothers officially bought it from him.
 

Giving back.

Outside of the business itself, Kravitsky and Grasshopper Lawns are largely involved with organizations and community service. They’ve been involved with PLANET since it was PLCAA, joining the second year it was formed.

Kravitsky was actually on the board of directors, at his first board meeting when the group made the decision to dismantle PLCAA. Kravitsky relates that decision to when Coke changed their formula.

Down Time

When he’s not in the office, Kravitsky can be found doing what some would call extreme sports.

“If it’s winter time, I’m on a snowmobile,” he says. “The rest of the time, you will find me in my airplane. In a plane, snowmobiling, and the third passion is motorcycles.”

The snowmobiling started way back, with Kravitsky spending the last 35 years snowmobiling in Quebec. He calls it “some of the happiest times” of his life. Now, he and his son go every year.

His passion for flying started in 2001.

“It was December,” he says, “and I remember driving by the airport and I said ‘before I turn 40, I need to learn how to fly.’ So I turned into the airport, and the guy took me up within five minutes of being there.”

The motorcycle passion came in 2008 when Kravitsky was with friends in Key West. When they met up at a bar one night, they pulled up on mopeds (a typical mode of transportation for the area) and another friend pulled up on a motorcycle.

“I told this guy, ‘Never get there the same time we do’,” he says. “You’re pulling in on a Harley, we’re pulling in on mopeds, and it doesn’t look too good for us.”

Now, Kravitsky owns three bikes and his family takes bike trips together.

“You’ll find us anywhere on them, as long as the weather’s good,” he says.

“Everything works great and you love that soda, then they went ahead and made the decision to change something and change is huge… I was never so devastated than I was at that meeting. I said ‘Are you guys crazy? This has been a great organization.’ We grew up on it, we were there every year seeing the people. It was something that was very familiar to me, our company and my family, and then it’s all going to be taken away, and then the unknown of ‘what’s going to happen with the new association?’ But PLANET has grown from it.”

One for being at something when it starts, Kravitsky and his team was also at the first Renewal and Remembrance in Washington D.C., in 1997. The two-day event gives volunteers the opportunity to help beautify the grounds at Arlington Cemetery, then lobby on Capitol Hill in support of different bills relevant to the industry. Kravitsky says he remembers the first year was chilly, but they were eager to give back to the country.

“It just filled you with a patriotism and you wanted to do it,” he says. “It didn’t matter that it was cold, we wanted to be there for that, and we’re just so proud that we’re one of the first ones to be able to do that.”

Grasshopper Lawns also participates in Day of Service, something they did many years “unofficially” before PLANET started organizing it. The company goes to parks in the community and takes care of them. Another thing they do is work in partnership with local sports parks. If the park puts up a sign advertising Grasshopper Lawns’ services, the company will give them a 50 percent discount off all their services.

“We love giving back to the community,” Kravitsky says. “We treat all our town’s fields for free: town hall, et cetera. We don’t charge for any of their services.”
 

A day in the life.

Kravitsky always tries to see his crew members twice a day. In the morning, he wants to check in with them and see what’s going on. In the evening, he wants to see how their day went and if there’s anything they need. He tries his best to keep his crews well equipped and comfortable so they do their job as well as they can.

“They need to do a good job because they pay me,” he says, explaining that if his crews didn’t do a good job, the company wouldn’t make money. “I don’t pay them. They pay me and I just handle the transactions for their paychecks every few weeks. That’s how I feel, that’s how I run this company.”

Joe Kucik, president of Real Green Systems, has been a friend of Kravitsky’s for roughly 18 to 20 years.

“He’s a great friend to have do anything for you,” Kucik says. “He’s a mentor in the industry and he’s willing to help anybody out.”

Kucik met Kravitsky at a trade show, running into him a few times before Kravitsky bought the software. Because the training would take place close to Christmas, Kravitsky invited Kucik to the company Christmas party. Unknown to Kucik, a restaurant in Wilksburg would host a joint holiday party, and business owners could reserve tables for their company to spend the evening networking and celebrating with other firms.

“I didn’t know anything about (Grasshopper Lawns) and I walk in this door and I was blown away,” Kucik says. “I thought it was just his company, so you can imagine it was overwhelming. I’m thinking he has hundreds of employees, and I find Michael and say ‘this is an amazing company party’ and Michael replies ‘Our table is over there.’”

Kucik remembers looking over and seeing a handful of employees, much less than the hundreds he’d originally thought. “We’ve been good friends ever since,” Kucik says.
 

An honest man.

When it comes to ethics, Kravitsky considers honesty something he wants to instill in all aspects of the company.

“I’m involved with payroll,” he says. “If they’re owed a penny, they'll get it, and they know it.”

Kravitsky says last year one of the company’s technicians was getting incorrectly deducted a certain amount from his paycheck and no one noticed.

“I thought to myself, ‘how the heck did I miss that for so many months?’” Kravitsky says. “So I went to the employee and said ‘look, I found a mistake to your benefit on your payroll. In your next check I’m gonna give it back to you because that’s not right, you shouldn’t have that taken out.’”

Kravitsky says the employee was surprised and pointed out that Kravitsky could have stayed quiet and gotten away with it, but it’s a thought Kravitsky never even considered.

His honesty also comes through on sales, as he prides his company in selling customers only what they need, even if the customer is willing to pay for unnecessary services.

“You don’t know how much work we’ve turned away where a customer wants something and we say ‘no save your money, do this,’” he says. “That’s a company culture. I do not want to take people’s money.”

Kravitsky credits this mantra to his upbringing. His grandfather was chief of police and his sister was a cop who married her sergeant. His other brother and three cousins are PA State Troopers and two of his other cousins are magistrates.

“I guess with that background and the way we grew up, you do the right thing,” he says. “And I hope we always do the right thing.”

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