Help yourself

Tomlinson Bomberger stopped giving money to other companies, and added maintenance services to its revenue stream.

August 30, 2012
Lee Chilcote
Business Management

Tomlinson Bomberger, a 31-year-old lawn care, landscape and pest control company based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, first began subbing out its mowing services when contracts became too much for the company’s one-man, one-mower crew to handle.

At the time, the owners believed it would be easier and more profitable to simply focus on the company’s many other services, which include chemical lawn care, tree care, landscape design and installation, athletic turf management and pest control.

Yet two years ago – after four years of subbing these services to mowing contractors that Tomlinson Bomberger managed for clients – the firm decided to take them back. Today, the company employs five guys and owns trucks and mowing equipment. Tomlinson Bomberger once again mows commercial and residential accounts.

Why? On the surface, the answer is relatively simple. Company leaders simply found that they were leaving valuable revenue on the table by contracting out such services.

“As we started growing, we realized we were helping other guys out instead of helping ourselves,” says Mike Lindemuth, Tomlinson Bomberger’s Landscape Group Manager.

“Everybody tries to set themselves apart in some manner, to let customers know what services make them unique or different,” adds Don Long, the company’s General Manager. “In our case, it was broadening our services to include mowing.”

Yet peel back the layers, and the answer is more nuanced and complex. Bringing mowing in house helped Tomlinson Bomberger to sell itself to commercial clients that were seeking one-stop-shopping for their landscape needs. Moreover, the firm was able to better control quality and offer greater value to customers. Finally, the move helped Tomlinson Bomberger to enhance its image as a large, vertically-oriented company.

“Word’s getting around that we can do it all,” says Lindemuth. “People know they can call and ask about the disease in their lawn, the limb hanging over their house that needs pruning and putting in a patio out back. We’re known as a one-stop-shop.”

One source.
Perhaps the biggest reason for the shift was that many large commercial clients simply preferred doing business with a company that could reliably handle all of their needs. Although Tomlinson Bomberger was already a full-service company, adding mowing to its list of in-house services gave it yet another competitive advantage in the market.

“Many of our accounts, particularly commercial ones, liked the idea of one source for their exterior property needs,” says Long. “In this competitive environment, cutting one more player out of the delivery channel was a way to add to the value equation.”

It’s not necessarily that Tomlinson Bomberger had major quality control issues with its subcontractors, or that its clients were unhappy with the level of service they received. It was simply easier and more efficient to maintain quality control with its own workers.

“Our coworkers are our teammates, and arguably we have more control over them,” says Long. “We didn’t generally have quality control issues before, but it happened now and then.”

The company also realized administrative savings by packaging services together – despite the fact that mowing isn’t generally as profitable as some other services. “The volume made it easier to justify, and covered the return on our investment,” he says.

From an expense standpoint, it wasn’t burdensome for the 100-employee company to acquire a few more mowers and trucks. Tomlinson Bomberger’s physical plant was large enough to accommodate the extra services, so that wasn’t an issue, either.

Perhaps most significantly, the company was able to pass along some of its efficiencies as extra value to clients. Adding mowing to its list of services meant that Tomlinson Bomberger was able to offer better prices to customers – a win-win for everyone.

“It made us more cost-competitive,” says Long. “Everyone in the supply chain wants to not only cover costs, but make a profit to boot. If you build in an extra layer within that chain, then there’s a possibility and even a probability that it could cost a little more.”

Being a full-service company means ensuring that all employees are well-versed in the multitude of services that the company provides. Yet Lindemuth claims that this isn’t really an issue since the family-oriented company often cross-trains its employees.

“As we grow and add new services, people become familiar with those services,” he says. “This week, we have a mulch guy riding with the pest control guys. It’s slow, so he gets training and the other guy gets help. Instead of being on layoff, they’re working.”

When asked what advice he’d offer to companies seeking to add mowing services, Lindemuth counsels others to make sure they have well-trained employees. “If you’re going to be a one-stop-shop, you have to make sure you’re not only knowledgeable about one thing,” he says. “You have to be knowledgeable about everything.”

For Tomlinson Bomberger, offering a full range of services has helped the company to obtain an enviable market position in the Greater Lancaster metro area. There’s no other full-service company of their size in 100 miles, and they prefer it that way.

“We’re the only one-stop-shop in town – the next one is 100 miles away,” says Lindemuth. “There’s a handful of commercial accounts that request that. They’re looking for just one vendor to write a check to, and we’re happy to be that company.”