Mowing goes mobile

Homeowners can now hire you with the tap of an app. How instant-ordering is changing the landscape industry for the better.

There’s an excess of smartphone apps that let homeowners order lawn mowing services with the tap of their finger. The apps are the next generation of online directories like Angie’s List and Thumbtack, and join tech giants Google and Amazon, which have both invested in their own home services software.

The app LawnStarter announced earlier this year that it’s raised $6 million, and is the latest in a long list of mostly regional apps that are building armies of landscapers in select markets who can provide services – mostly lawn maintenance, but also snow plowing and tree work – for a fixed price. They remove the burden of selling new work and collecting payment, sending vetted leads directly to contractors and paying regularly twice a month.

Steve Schell, who runs Schell’s Lawn Care with his son, Ryan, typifies the contractor who uses these apps. He offers full-service landscaping to a mostly residential customer base. He started his part-time business this year – he does about $10,000 in annual revenue – and relies on an app called Mowz almost entirely for marketing and new business.

“We took off like gangbusters, and a lot of it’s thanks to Mowz, to be honest,” Schell says. “It’s given us a lot of exposure to some interesting neighborhoods we probably wouldn’t have ever thought of.”

Schell says he gets about 30 to 40 leads a day through the app, of which he accepts about four or five. Many of the jobs he accepts are repeat customers, too, as homeowners become more comfortable ordering lawn service via their phone.

“I think this is becoming more the norm. I’ve definitely noticed over this last summer, we’re getting a lot of repeat customers,” he says.

Mowz, which also offers snow plowing services, is the largest app of its kind with 2,500 contractors across 38 markets. Mowdo is beta-testing in Seattle, Austin and Omaha, and works with the website Thumbtack to provide contractor contacts in other markets. CEO Mike Fingado said that when the app launched in Seattle, it got more than 250 requests from contractors to join. He’s currently working with 15, and has requests from 15 other states to expand. Ryan Farley, co-founder at LawnStarter, which just netted $6 million in funding, used to run his own landscaping company in high school. His app has about 100 contractors in Austin, Washington, D.C., and Orlando.

The apps’ algorithms set prices for services, using a combination of the lawn’s size, length of grass, obstacles like fences and some market pricing data. From interviews with contractors, the prices are typically on par with the local market – often between $25 and $40 per cut. And users said they can report back if a homeowner’s report of their lawn’s condition isn’t accurate.

“They set the price until I get there. That’s a big problem with the app – I get there and people say they don’t have a fence. They have a fence. They say their grass is short. I get there and it’s 3 foot tall,” says Lauren Cress, who runs HillCress Lawn Care in Atlanta with his uncle, Christopher Hill.

Cress projects he’ll hit $80,000 this year in total business, and says Mowz jobs bring in about $3,000 to $4,000 a month.

Developers say most contractors on their rolls are one-man operations, or run a couple of crews. They must have some level of general liability insurance and commercial-grade equipment.

Landscapers we spoke with say they use the apps as a turn-key marketing and lead-gen service, picking up new work that helps fill gaps in their schedules and increases route density. There’s no selling involved – leads come right to their phones – and they’re free to accept or reject as they see fit.

“At the end of the month, we send out statements and theoretically people pay in 15 days. That doesn’t mean they all do,” says Erik Carvotta, owner of ETC Services in Hendersonville, Tenn. “I don’t have to sit around printing invoices…. I don’t need to be on the phone hours every day talking to somebody if they had an issue. As far as payments, I don’t have to worry about when we’ll get paid.”

Carvotta has used GreenPal, Mowz and Task Easy to pick up business. GreenPal, which solicits bids from several contractors and allows the homeowner to choose, has been the biggest hit, he says. In July, it added $7,000 to his top line revenue.

Last year, ETC did $270,000 in annual revenue, and Carvotta credits the apps for a good chunk of his growth, and for saving him a lot of aggravation.

“There’s no selling or haggling over prices. They get set by the app,” he says. “I don’t have to go out and hunt down customers. I don’t have to advertise. I don’t have to go out and quote. … I don’t have to chase anyone down.”

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