At your service

Rising Sun Maintenance applies a jack-of-all trades’ mentality to its maintenance business.

August 2, 2012
Kristen Hampshire

The other day, a customer called Dave Lawrence, owner of Rising Sun Maintenance in Manchester/Dorset, Vt., and said, “I can’t get my car started.”

You’re thinking: This client obviously called the wrong number – surely, she meant to call a car repair shop.

“I joked with her and said, ‘Why don’t you just call Triple A?’” says Lawrence, who handles requests from clients, many of whom own vacation homes in the town, that range from package delivery to opening the front door to let a plumber inside. So, no, the client did not mean to call Triple A. “She said, ‘They’ll take hours to get here and you can be here in five minutes,’” Lawrence says.

Lawrence grabbed his starter bag and off he went to jump the client’s car.

This is part of the total service Rising Sun promises its customers. Aside from landscape maintenance like mowing, snow plowing and gardening, the 30-year old company coordinates a concierge service for customers. “We handle everything from boiler cleaning to pest control, alarm response – basically everything you can think of that has to do with the property, we handle,” he says.

That doesn’t mean Rising Sun staff does everything. But the company serves as the point of contact, expediting other service providers to a home if staff can’t handle the request. Most of the time, Lawrence or one of his 15 employees can manage the situation. Rising Sun offers pool and spa maintenance, for example. But if a pool has a more serious issue, like it needs a heater, he’ll call a pro to get the part.

Rising Sun takes full-service seriously – and owners who say, “You can’t be everything to everyone,” might balk at the company’s do-it-all mentality. But it makes sense to Lawrence, and it’s the only way to be in his region, where the population between the two villages he serves is less than 10,000.

Rising Sun’s high-end (and everyday) clients respect and trust him to such a degree that they call on his company to take care of things – everything having to do with property maintenance. It has always been that way. “We cover all the bases,” he says.

Catering to clients. The Manchester/Dorset area is a tourist destination for skiers and outdoor zealots who appreciate all of the recreation the mountainous region has to offer. Golf courses, galleries, music – the rich cultural scene brings visitors and part-time residents back to enjoy the peaceful environment.

Lawrence’s family goes back seven generations there. Amidst the visitors, there are lots of homegrown folks, he says. “Our reputation in the community is incredibly high,” he says. Rising Sun Maintenance is located on the main thoroughfare, prime property, and most everyone passes it coming or going.

Lawrence started Rising Sun part-time in the 1970s while he was working at golf courses in the area. His clients urged him to go for it, to take the business to the next level, and by the 1980s, he was going “full boar.” “I’m someone who is 110-percent dedicated,” he says.

And it takes someone like that to manage and deliver the breadth of services Rising Sun offers. Today, Lawrence’s two sons work alongside him in the business, as well. “They are the same way, and we’ll do whatever it takes for whomever to make sure their lives are easier,” he says. “I look at it as, what if I were the one who owned the property? I would want someone taking care of it.”

Rising Sun’s service radius is a mere 12 miles, “which is huge efficiency-wise,” says Lawrence, who keeps his client roster in check. He’d rather turn down a client than not give them the royal treatment. He’d rather do more work for fewer accounts. “My motto has always been to provide the best service for less people,” he says.

So over the years, when Rising Sun has gone through periods of growth – and indeed, growth has been steady over the decades – Lawrence has to consider whether he has the labor to manage new work. Some years, he may pick up one account, and that’s partly because of the population in his area. This past year, he picked up four new accounts and it’s only mid-season. “We are very fortunate,” he says. “That doesn’t happen all the time.”

The company sticks to its service area, with the exception of the kiln-dried firewood the company sells to stores and delivers to customers. “We are very selective in where we work and who we work for, and if it’s not a fit for the business efficiency-wise or the size of the property, we pass it up,” Lawrence says.

For one, labor is a definite issue for the firm. The pool just isn’t that large in Machester/Dorset. Most of the people who work at the company have been there for years, he says. And when he needs to hire new folks, he admits the task is a challenge. Besides, “It’s not a job for everyone,” Lawrence admits. Workers have to be willing to go the extra mile, be hands-on, and do the work.

Recently, Lawrence had luck with posting a Craig’s List ad for workers-the first time he has ever advertised an employment opportunity. In fact, he fielded calls from quite far away. “That indicates to me that there are just not that many jobs out there,” he says. Because Manchester/Dorset is about 20 miles from the New York border, some people come to work from out-of-state. But most of the employees are locals, and that’s what works best for Lawrence.
Lawrence’s ultimate goal is to keep employees working full-time, year-round, and with snow plowing and a growing kiln-dried fire wood business, this is nearly possible. Once lawn maintenance season winds down, in rolls the holidays and client requests for home checks and other services. Then, during a usual lag time for landscapers, Rising Sun has its booming firewood business. The company has its own kiln and does all off the wood processing in-house.

Investing in the kiln was costly, but Lawrence says this is paying off because his company is one of only a few in the state that offer this type of firewood. And demand for it is growing. “It has provided jobs, and it is keeping people working longer into the season,” he says. “It’s all about keeping people working and providing jobs.”

A local concierge. Managing phone and e-mail requests from clients takes a dedicated team. A schedule set the night before will likely change the next morning. Who knows what a client may need? While Lawrence isn’t managing thousands of customers, the concierge service he provides for his base does require careful communication.

“It’s a constant revolving door here – we’re a very busy operation,” Lawrence says. Rising Sun has three mowing crews, a landscape crew and individuals who focus on caring for plants (in season). In the office, administrative staff handles calls and scheduling. But e-mails from clients go directly to Lawrence’s phone, too.

When a customer e-mails a request, it is printed and filed. “It’s a paper trail,” Lawrence points out. The request goes to the crew or individual that will handle the issue on the property. That could be a staff member, or a local plumber or electrician if Rising Sun must coordinate another service for the customer.

While on properties, every employee keeps an eye on the surroundings and files a report if concerns crop up. For example, one of the landscape crewmembers noticed the pool water level was low. She was watering annuals at the time, but upon closer investigation of the pool realized it had sprung a leak. So Rising Sun contacted the client, arranged for pool repair and handled the problem.

“There is constant communication between all employees in all departments-there has to be,” Lawrence says.

It helps that Lawrence is just as much worker as he is owner. He is in the field, providing services (even jumping clients’ cars). That’s the personalized service clients expect, he says, no matter who that customer is. “We have customers who are local people who work every day and they get the same service as the highest-end accounts,” he says.

Because of this can-do attitude, there aren’t many slow days at Rising Sun. “We are busy all the time,” Lawrence says. “You have to be diversified. We always were, and we always will be.”