Brad Sutton of Eastern Turf Maintenance (ETM) prides himself on being the exclusive lawn care provider for the outdoor athletic facilities at North Carolina State University, University of North Carolina and Eastern Carolina University. Yet ETM maintains a primary focus on residential accounts, which are their bread and butter, he says.
“Commercial work has never been a huge focus of our business, and it won’t be as long as I’m here,” Sutton says. “My philosophy is that commercial clients can do some good for your company as far as revenue and exposure. But if you have 4,000 residential customers like we do, they’re not all going to wake up tomorrow and cancel.”
Therein lies Sutton’s biggest problem with growing his commercial client base: he doesn’t want to be beholden to anyone. “If you sink a bunch of money into a commercial account that represents 5 percent of your business, they could cancel tomorrow,” he says. “You just lost 5 percent of your business, and what are you going to do?”
To ensure that ETM’s client base remains a healthy mix, Sutton takes on commercial clients by referral, yet tries to ensure that this area of his business doesn’t grow too big.
“I’ve seen companies go down because they had 30-50 percent of their business with one commercial client,” he says. “When you have that situation, the client can beat you up on your pricing, and then you won’t be able to afford to do anything right.”
Among the commercial properties that ETM services are a military base at Fort Bragg and commercial properties at Triangle Park, the region’s well-known research center.
“We’ll give anyone a price, but I try to make sure that our commercial business doesn’t exceed what it is now,” he says. “We’re not directly marketing to commercial clients.”