Harness the energy

Columns - Industry Voices

October 11, 2012
Jim Huston

Jim Huston

It was mid-February 2010. I received a voice mail from a young, enthusiastic landscape contractor in the Salt Lake City market named Rudy Larsen, owner of Lawn Butler in Bountiful, Utah. Little did I realize that I was about to talk with the Energizer Bunny (on steroids).

I called Rudy late in the evening of February 15. Energy, enthusiasm and ideas poured out from Rudy’s end of the phone. He had a vision of where he wanted to go but needed to develop a plan and a team to get there.

Rudy had big dreams, big ideas and tons of energy – all essential character traits for an entrepreneur. But did he have the other essential qualities needed to be successful? Was he coachable? Did he have what it took to build and hold together a high-performance team? These and other questions I could only answer once Rudy and I met face-to-face.

The entrepreneur.
I parked my truck and trailer in front of the Lawn Butler’s office building. The facility made an excellent first impression. It was neat, clean and very functional.

The inside was undergoing renovation as was the exterior landscaping. Rudy wanted the place to exude professionalism throughout. Upon completion of the upgrades, it was clear that he succeeded.

Rudy’s energy level had not subsided since our initial phone call. In fact, it was higher than ever. His truck was immaculate as was his office. As we toured the office spaces and yard, Rudy shared his vision and ideas of what he wanted to achieve with his business. The place was neat and organized – well planned and thought through. At 21 years of age, Rudy appeared to be off to a good start. At peak season, Lawn Butler employees 59 people and 50 full-time. But business is a marathon not a 100-yard dash.

As a consultant, I benchmark and affirm 90-95 percent of what an entrepreneur is doing. It’s the 5-10 percent variance (the nuance) that I’m digging for. Usually it’s the small, subtle things that wreak havoc on a business and erode profitability.

To benchmark the business, we needed data in the form of financials. Rudy’s wife Jena arrived an hour after Rudy and I first met.

Like Rudy, she was very organized, professional and focused, but in a much more subdued manner. She provided not only the balance, but the “glue” in the back office necessary to hold things together.

The Lawn Butler (the early years). Rudy formed the Lawn Butler just after leaving high school. With no formal education, experience running a company or financial backing; Lawn Butler reached $1 million in sales (with excellent profitability) within three years. Rudy and Jena also started a water management and a construction company to supplement the Lawn Butler’s services.

Why the name, Lawn Butler? Rudy says, “I always hated names with people’s last name like Larsen Landscaping. I wanted something clever that explained what we did without putting landscaping and maintenance at the end of it.”

Why a landscape business? I always “wanted to run a business and landscaping seemed to fit.” Rudy also liked “the opportunity to beautify properties and improve the local community ...”

The fact that “there will always be a need for landscapers … ” added to his reasons for starting a landscape company.

Commercial landscape maintenance provides the bulk (40 percent) of Lawn Butler’s revenue base, with snow removal, irrigation repairs and landscape installation making up equal shares of the balance.

The future. Rudy has big goals for himself and Lawn Butler. He wants to “build a successful company that can run itself without any ownership involvement.” He also wants to be the “largest landscape contractor in Utah” and in the “top 30 in the nation.”

Certainly, these are big goals for a young company. If others can do it, why can’t Lawn Butler? It is said that, slow and steady wins the race.

For all of Rudy’s vision, energy and enthusiasm, which often get young guns in trouble, he and Jena are building their company upon a solid foundation of proven systems, a high-performance team and great customer service. The atmosphere may not appear slow at times but it is steady.

Both Rudy and Jena are excellent examples of young entrepreneurs who are pursuing their American dream in the landscape industry and making a significant contribution to their community in the process. We need more like them.

Will Rudy and Jena attain their long-term goals? Time will tell. However, odds are very much in their favor and I’d be very surprised if they do not succeed.


JIM HUSTON runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm. See www.jrhuston.biz; mail jhuston@giemedia.com.