The long haul

By providing clients with maintenance and landscape plans that carry them into the future, Lauersen Lawn & Landscape wins long-term clients.

September 6, 2012
Kristen Hampshire
Industry News

Scott Lauersen isn’t just looking to deliver quality service – he’s creating quality customers because of his long-term approach to landscape management and landscaping. Seekers of instant gratification and rock-bottom prices can go elsewhere – Lauersen calls those price shoppers “free agents.” That’s not Lauersen’s game, because his crews go into every job with an attitude that they’re in it for the long haul.

“We establish relationships with our customers,” says Lauersen, president of Lauersen Lawn & Landscape in Hawley, Pa., a leisure destination in the Pocono Mountains with lakes, golf courses and plenty of outdoor recreation. “We come in and take care of their immediate needs, whatever they are looking to accomplish right then. But we always have an eye on what we need to accomplish down the road – what they envision for their properties.”

Lauersen’s background as an office manager at a Lawn Doctor franchise, followed by a role at a golf course in the Poconos, planted the seeds for systems and high standards that he carries out today in his business, which launched in fall 2003. With a career of learning under his belt, Lauersen was prepared to put his skills to practice in his own venture. And his ideas were quite different than other mow-and-go maintenance start-ups.

“I was looking to establish a business where I could employ a number of people, pay them comfortably, put a name out there and then move into doing more high-end work,” says Lauersen, relating that the company’s service menu spans from maintenance to hardscape installation, a favorite of his. About 65 percent of the primarily residential business falls into the maintenance/lawn care category, with one dedicated crew of three men who focus on these efforts. The landscape crew manages installation jobs.

After nine years in business, Lauersen has very gradually grown the company to employ five professionals – his maintenance foreman has 20 years of experience – and cultivated a client base that appreciates quality care. “We find that through our process, we create quality customers who are committed to the company, and we are committed to them,” he says.

Committed customers. Finishing touches are a big deal for Lauersen Lawn & Landscape. If cutting a lawn takes longer because the crew uses a diamond striping technique, actually going over the lawn two times, then so be it. “We don’t leave anything looking shoddy,” Lauersen says simply. “We’ll take the extra time to do what is needed.”

Lauersen sets the stage for a different experience when he first meets with clients.

“I try to determine their long-term goals for their lawn and landscape,” he relates. “A landscape is constantly evolving with the growth of plants, and things age. So we start by asking, ‘Where do you see your landscape and property moving in the future years?’ Then, we try to cater to that desire.”

After understanding clients’ ultimate goals for their properties, Lauersen builds a maintenance, lawn care and/or landscaping program to suit their specific needs.

For example, a maintenance client with a neglected yard wants thick, lush grass – a showcase lawn, as Lauersen puts it. Knowing this, Lauersen examines the lawn to determine its current state, diagnosing any weed or disease issues and identifying any trouble spots – dry patches, areas that get less/more sun, less/more moisture, etc. He performs a full workup, just as a doctor might do during a physical exam.

From there, he presents a plan to the client, helping them understand the cultural steps necessary to improve the troubled lawn.

“We give them our plan of attack that might start with removing weeds,” he says. “Or, we may determine that we need to thicken the turf right out of the gate, so we see the lawn and get it to the point where we can use weed control products and improve the color.”

Lauersen checks soil pH. He digs into the turf profile for answers rather than signing up clients for a cookie-cutter program. “It’s not an overnight process,” he says of the way his company cares for lawns. “You know you have to dedicate some time and procedures to get the lawn to the point where the client has the showcase lawn they want.”

But that’s OK with Lauersen, and it’s fine with customers, too, because they understand that they are investing in a process, not paying for a transaction: a cut, a fertilizer application, a weed treatment. Lauersen draws them a vivid picture of their future lawn, then walks them through the steps of getting there.

We offer a quality proposition, not speed and quantity,” Lauersen sums up.

The same approach is applied to the landscaping side of the business. Lauersen may need to explain to customers why a bed looks so sparsely planted. “I sue plant spacing so they won’t have problems of looking overgrown,” he says. And he helps plan installation projects in stages so clients can bite off small portions at a time, or make mini-investments, if you will.

Not only does this long-term approach set realistic expectations for results, it ultimately keeps clients on board. “We have customers that came to us our first year and we continue to get people signed back on for service,” Lauersen says.

Gradual Growth. Lauersen’s growth over the years mirrors his business philosophy of taking time to do things right. He’s not in a rush to hit a certain revenue target, recognizing that organic growth doesn’t happen overnight. He’s patient. Of course, he’s eager to continue driving the business to the next level, but he’s not making any fast moves.

“We have had steady growth year after year—we haven’t had any windfall growth or acquisitions that would help us grow exponentially,” says Lauersen, adding that a business proposition like this is not off the table. “We are always looking that way,” he muses.

But job one has been establishing customer relationships and building a solid reputation the community. And Lauersen has tuned out much of the maintenance competition in his area to do this. “It’s difficult to compete with a company that doesn’t have the overhead staff, payroll taxes or insurance,” he says of contractors who entered the field when the economy slipped. “They just started pulling mowers around on their pick-ups with no signage, no overhead.”

That’s true most everywhere, and Lauersen easily differentiates himself from these operations. And, really, he isn’t competing for the same customers anyway. “I’m quick to recognize someone who is simply shopping,” he says. “I’ll say, ‘I’m not here to just come in and knock out your lawn and get cash. We are a professional company. So, if your bottom line is to get the bottom-line price, we are not the company for you.’”

That said, Lauersen watches his bottom line very carefully, part of growing a successful business. And he has learned, sometimes the hard way, that slow and steady is the way to grow for his firm. “I would definitely say don’t get ahead of yourself with payroll, with machinery, with trucks,” he relates. “You get to a point where that absorbs all of your cash flow. You want to settle in. Don’t grow too fast.”

Lauersen reached a point in the past where he had hired extra workers and built the staff up to seven people. “It was fantastic as far as having who you needed for what you needed, but at the same time, we were getting too heavy on payroll,” he says. “So we reined that in and focused on being more efficient with who we have and what they do.”

Lauersen’s five-man team can handle most tasks without subcontracting, though certain tasks are worth hiring out. For example, if the company is working on a significant installation project, Lauersen will bring in an excavating company to prep the site. “You can hire a guy who has his own equipment and insurance and seat time on an excavator, and he can do the job more effectively than we could,” he says.

Looking forward, Lauersen says the next growth move he’d like to make is bringing on an administrative employee to help manage office tasks. This will free him up to spend more time in the field managing and selling new work. Before that can happen, the business will need to scale up in the field so Lauersen can feel secure that a comfortable paycheck will be available for this new employee. “It’s a cash flow decision,” he confirms.

And so goes business.

Lauersen is optimistic about growth for the company, and he looks forward to continuing to build his client base and perhaps focus even more on some of the installation projects he enjoys. “I’d like to get to a point where we are doing more outdoor living projects,” he says, though adding that maintenance is a significant focus at the business, and one that helps sustain a company if times are tough because of the recurring revenue. “We’re going to continue on the track we are on and take advantage of the good market here,” he says.