Aeration unplugged

Aeration unplugged

This sleeper add-on can be positioned as a recurring service with a nice profit margin if you sell it right and perform it efficiently.

June 25, 2021

Gerry White sees aeration as a way to give clients the healthy, green lawn they want – and produce a nice profit margin for his business, pH Lawn Care in Essex, Massachusetts. At heart, he’s an agronomist, after spending years working as a golf course superintendent. “The lawns we aerate are going to do better and so we’ll be more successful helping those clients,” White says.

When White took over pH Lawn Care earlier this year, aeration services amounted to about 3 percent of the company’s overall revenue. Now, sales are nearing 10 percent, and White would like to see that number climb to as high as 20 percent. “It’s a recurring service in my book,” he says of the importance of annual aeration.

Not to mention, aeration yields a profit margin or 20 to 25 percent, which is higher than other lawn care offerings, he says. Why is the service such a financial win for pH Lawn Care? White attributes its efficiency and efficacy to ride-on aerators, which work for most of his properties. “It’s a specialty machine that I can’t say enough about,” White says. “It increases productivity.”

In the first year, he paid off the machine in labor savings. For an acre property, he’d have to send two crewmembers and two walk-behind aerators to the site. “That doubles my payroll right there, and to price it competitively with other companies, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” he says.

With the ride-on, the job gets done with one machine and one technician. “You cut the time in half and one guy can do it,” White says. “Getting a ride-on aerator was a no-brainer.”

Ride-on and walk-behind aerators have a place in the equipment arsenal of an operator that wants to grow an aerating business. The add-on service can be an after-thought for companies and customers – but when sold at the right time, and delivered with maximum efficiency, aeration is a win-win.

“Anyone who takes pride in their yard will want aeration for the nutrient factor,” says Jim Caywood, owner of Green & Grow in central Kentucky.

Selling, just in tine.

Caywood says pride is a deciding factor for many customers who say yes to aeration. But first, they must understand the benefits the service will bring to their lawns, and that’s where technicians come in.

Direct contact with clients is one layer of the sales effort at Green & Grow. The company also sends out mailers and emails. By Aug. 1, the company is “selling it hard,” Caywood says. Green & Grow can aerate from August through December, or when the ground freezes in their region.

Matt Green, who owns Green’s Lawncare & Property Services in Indianapolis, talks to customers about aeration in spring. “For us, the key to sales is getting to them when they are excited about their properties in the spring,” he says.

Right away in early spring, Green and his team assess clients’ properties to identify any issues and needed services. “If their property needs to be aerated, I make sure they know that, and I explain the services to them,” he says.

The service is scheduled in August, and the sales effort continues, Green says. “We’ll keep selling through August with email blasts, and by the end of that month, we pretty much have everyone lined up for service for the next two months,” he says. This year, the company will try something different and do another sales push in fall for the next year’s schedule.

Sales at pH Lawn Care are reinforced with leave-behind information that technicians tuck into service write-ups. “As each technician goes to a property, they leave an estimate for aeration and deep-root feeding for shrubs, too,” White says.

White treats the service as a necessary, annual part of an overall lawn care regiment. This mindset is communicated to customers when they sign a contract. “Aeration is important to do every year.”

pH Lawn Care ties in overseeding with aeration. “That way, we are integrating new grasses into people’s lawns,” White says.

Picking a plug puller.

This year, Green will invest in a ride-on aerator because Green & Grow is selling aeration to larger, estate properties in the Indianapolis area. “There is enough flat, open land where it makes sense to have the ride-on,” he says, noting that the investment is $7,000 to $10,000, so it’s a big decision.

However, Green expects to grow the estate business, and a ride-on aerator is the most efficient way to handle the job. Green likes the versatility of walk-behind aerators because they can fit through gates, be maneuvered around trees and work just fine for small yards. “You can also get on to hills,” he says. (A ride-on is best operated on flatter land.)

Caywood has been operating ride-on aerators for four years and reports tripling production because of the labor-saving equipment. “It works bets in larger, open areas,” he says.

Caywood recently demoed a new aerator that has a weight-forward device and hydraulic tines with a pressure gauge so he can control and monitor the pressure. “You don’t want too much pressure because it will bury the tines too deep and you could tear up the turf,” he explains.

Recently, he purchased a walk-behind aerator that has a split drum that allows the operator to turn the machine without pulling tines out of the ground.

Some landscape contractors weigh the decision: rent or buy? With aerators, White goes for the purchase every time. “It’s not cheap to rent – it can cost $75 per day – and then you have to add that to your price, so your margins aren’t as good,” he says. White will rent “out of desperation” if one of his aerators in the fleet goes down.

Overall, an opportunity to increase aeration sales and perform the service efficiently (and profitably) makes this service a promising sleeper. White’s advice: “Don’t be afraid to spend more for a better piece of equipment that will produce a significant amount of revenue. The less downtime you have, the better.”