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After years of working for larger companies, Mike Haskell started his own small, specialized lawn care operation to fill the gap in customer needs.

Lee Chilcote | April 28, 2011

 

Mike Haskell, a third generation tree care professional from central New Jersey, knows something about climbing around on wet, slippery trucks. In fact, he remembers well the spray trucks his dad and uncles rode on when he was growing up – and their dangers.

“I remember the guys climbing around on the truck, slipping and sliding,” says Haskell, who owns Plant Solutions Tree & Lawn Care, a lawn and landscape company in Warren and Short Hills, N.J. “A couple of times, they slipped right off and broke their tailbones.”

The old trucks were also wasteful polluters. “The chemicals they used would wash out at night and pollute the soil,” he says. “Nobody thought about these things.”

So when the time came to launch his own business, Haskell looked for a truck that was safe, efficient, environmentally-friendly and had a professional image. A state-of-the-art truck could provide better service, he thought, increasing both his productivity and profits. In the end, his quest led him to custom-build a truck to meet his needs.

By working with Green Pro Solutions, a national manufacturer of customized spray equipment for the landscape industry, Haskell was able to create his own truck. This innovative truck carries more than 1,000 gallons of water, catches up to 300 gallons if a spill happens, contains a compost tea brewer and carries chemical and advanced biological treatments. In short, the all-in-one truck is the ultimate in efficiency and service.

“We’re able to provide the highest quality product for less to our customers because of the equipment we have,” says Haskell, who has 10 full-time employees and whose business is focused on high-end residential properties. “And because we’re a specialist and a boutique company, our customers are willing to pay for this.”

Haskell worked for several larger companies prior to starting Plant Solutions. “I started my own company because I was tired of treating clients like they were numbers,” he says. These experiences fueled his desire to create a small, specialized company that offers great customer service along with the best in technology and treatment.

Haskell also sought to create a family-owned business that utilized the same cutting-edge equipment as larger companies. “As a small business owner-operator, I was tired of the ‘family business way’ of doing things,” he says. “I wanted our work to be a pleasant experience, and to have equipment that uses only what we need.”

The Plant Solutions truck has enough hose reels to allow two or three operators to service a property at the same time. If Haskell’s arborists find something they didn’t plan to address, then the chances are good the truck comes equipped to handle it. Plant Solutions’ advanced biological treatments, as well as its ability to conserve water and prevent pollution, also make it a forerunner in the field of sustainable landscaping.

“I was always fanatical about environmental impact,” says Haskell. “I was tired of guys running around with drippy hoses. I didn’t want to see water leaking out the truck.”

In addition to containing water, Plant Solutions’ truck can also suck water out of the system if the need arises. Finally, the truck offers the ability to make small, 50-gallon batches of treatments on site, increasing its ability to offer tailored services. 

Of course, custom-designing a truck wasn’t cheap. Yet, Haskell says the $120,000 investment was not only worth it, it’s already paying back in spades. He provides a level of service that would typically require two trucks – along with insurance payments and drivers for those two trucks – with only one truck. Haskell is able to then pass the resulting savings on to his customers.

Here’s how a typical Plant Solutions service call works. One arborist rings the doorbell and gets ready to meet with the customer as the other arborist drags the hose to the corner of the property and puts down fertilizer. About 30 minutes later, the first one is writing up the report, while the other is reeling the hoses back onto the truck. As the report is delivered to the customer, the next job is being entered into the GPS.

“It’s total efficiency,” Haskell says.

Plant Solutions’ truck can also service a property at any time of day or evening, working around customers’ schedules to maximize convenience.

The truck has helped Plant Solutions’ business grow tremendously. In addition to cutting personnel costs, Haskell has reduced the number of trips required to service a property. He spends some of the time he saves educating clients about organic lawn care. 

“Organic fertilizers have to be carbon-based, because plants eat carbon,” says Haskell. “Many other companies put down just about anything and call it ‘organic’. Yet once customers understand the true organic approach, they appreciate it.”

Plant Solutions’ customers like the truck, and parking it in front of their homes has earned him plenty of business. “We get a lot of calls when people see our truck,” he says.

While Plant Solutions’ services are more expensive than their competitors, Haskell has won customers over by providing high-quality, organic lawn care service, employing the latest technology and offering a blend of convenience and professionalism.

“I’m not cheap, but I offer a better product,” he says. “Our customers understand the value of working with a family-owned company and the fact that we use better products that may cost a bit more. They know our truck saves them money in the long run.”

Since founding Plant Solutions, Haskell has built it into an industry leader, relying on a single time-tested philosophy to fuel his continued drive towards excellence. “You can either fly with the pigeons or soar with the eagles,” he says.

 

This story is one of three that appeared in Lawn & Landscape's Growing Green e-newsletter. To continue reading about Plant Solutions and Mike Haskell:

The right touch: Reaching customers begins with a strong brand and marketing plan.

On-the-job training: Employee education can go a long way in ensuring safety and a job well done.

 

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