Tips from the top: Chris Senske

Chris Senske, President, Senske Lawn and Tree Care

February 10, 2014


I was graduating from college and my dad had some significant surgery and he needed some help. I was just kind of watching over the couple guys here working for him and making sure things kept going along.

I got thrown into a baptism by fire after college. “Here’s what we do and here’s the work that we have to do so make sure it gets done. I’m going to the hospital.”

Gosh, never really looked back much since then. It turned out to be a pretty good deal. I am glad that I did it.

My dad created this formula that worked really well for the rats in Spokane. We would make the formulation of the different kinds of grains and other things. At that point warfarin was the active ingredient that we were using. Then we’d take a tablespoonful and put it in these little bags. As an 8- or 9-year-old kid in the basement of our house, I could do about 1,000 of those an hour.

My major job to start out was just running a lawn care route for the most part. I got guys organized and doing the routing at that time. Then in about ’79 or ’78 I took over really the whole operation. I would have been 25, 26.

We decided that we needed to start up another branch in a different city because certainly all the people who were going to buy lawn care in Spokane had bought lawn care. All 300 of them.

We opened up our first branch in the town of Kennewick. It was a real boom town. That’s how I ended up there – that first expansion didn’t go so well. So my wife and I moved down there in 1979 and have been there since.

Our average size lawn is somewhere around 5,500 to 6,000 square feet and we have fences around every lawn almost.

The lawn care and pest control are growing and strong businesses. The commercial grounds maintenance we struggle at making money at. We just need to have more sales because we have too much overhead to support it.

Sales, sales, sales. That’s really what we’re working on. All the systems are in place to make money – every customer we have falls right to the bottom line at this point.

We’re going to be dependent on people feeling comfortable in how much money they’re making and that they’re going to have incomes and that they’re going to be able to pay for services. That’s going to be critical and I’m a little nervous in that there are a lot of people predicting a recession for early next summer, next spring.

Something that my dad did to me early on was – I want to say did to me, he made me do. He said, “Here, I want you to forecast sales over a period of time. I want you to make a plan of what you would like to do over a period of time and where you might like to have businesses at.”

I think it was kind of busywork for the winter and I still hang on to the graph and the charts that I created.

It doesn’t look anything like what I thought because I looked at the map and looked at towns where I thought maybe we could operate in. I think it was an exercise in learning how to plan.

My dad always said, “Get it right the first time you don’t have to do it again, period.” That’s the best advice I ever received.

Whether it’s doing work the first time or it’s buying something or doing a project or hiring people, if you do it with quality in mind, then you don’t have to do it again. Buy the right piece of equipment if you need it. Don’t try to go to the cheap model. You’ve got to buy right but buy the correct stuff or hire the correct person to do the job.

If people aren’t working out you’ve got to get rid of them fast and that’s probably the biggest mistake we make. My wife’s looking at me shaking her finger at me as I say that. It’s one of the biggest mistakes that we make is hanging on too long. We’re getting better at it.