Low on labor

Low on labor

For Green Lawn Landscape Maintenance, the labor shortage meant leaving money on the table despite increased demand for lawn care.

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July 22, 2021

Ron Skover has been in the lawn care business for decades — but with the struggle to find adequate employees only becoming harder this past year, he says he’s ready for retirement.

“The only challenge we’ve had for the past few years, that’s still around today and will probably continue, is the help,” he says. “That’s the major reason I got out of this, is the lack of labor. But it’s really any business nowadays.”

Skover, the former owner of Green Lawn Landscape Maintenance in Kimball, Michigan, recently sold the business to his longtime operations manager, Brian Nelson.

“My father actually started this business in 1969,” he says. “I purchased the business from him in 1989. And I put my nose to the grindstone and did it by myself for maybe the first few years.”

Skover says over the years his team expanded. But now, Green Lawn has more work coming in than crews can keep up with.

“Last year would’ve been a great year if only we had the help,” Skover says. “During the pandemic, we turned away probably $100,000 of work or more. The lack of labor is horrible… We’ll always do lawn fertilizing if we’re in the area, but we turned away many lawns to mow and many gardening projects.”

Since Skover took over the business, Green Lawn has added a variety of services. The company services approximately 1,800 lawns a year, which break down to about 70% residential and 30% clients.

“The bulk of our business is lawn fertilizing and weed control,” he says. “That was what started the business and that’s what we continue to have the best profit margins on. We have expanded into doing trees, disease and insect control, shrub trimming and gardening, flower planting, mulching, aeration and dethatching and lawn maintenance – in terms of mowing and trimming.”

Skover says for him, the high demand for lawn care during the coronavirus pandemic was reminiscent of the Great Recession in 2008.

“When the market crashed in 2008, the business actually went up,” he says. “People sat home and wanted their yards looking nice. Last year, same thing. The phone was ringing off the hook — it was ridiculous.”

During the height of the season, Skover says Green Lawn only had a dozen employees. “We have 12 people currently, but we could use 14 or 16 at least,” he says.

According to Skover, the company has tried everything in terms of seeking out labor.

“It doesn’t matter where you advertise or what you do,” he says. “Finding work has not been a problem; it’s just the help.”

And with such a skeleton crew, problems escalate quickly when someone calls in sick.

“When you’re running with 12 people, but need 16, and then two call in sick, it’s too hard,” he says. “In all the years I did this, I missed maybe 10 or 12 days when I was sick. Now, everybody is sick once or twice a week.”

Despite the ongoing labor issue, Skover says he anticipates Nelson will continue to grow Green Lawn and capitalize on the increased interest in lawn care. “I just hope Brian is successful,” he says.