Second act

Turnaround Tour - Turnaround Tour

After 20 years in business, the Wades want reliable systems and opportunity for their son.

January 31, 2017

Ira, Darris & Deborah wade: Ira and Deborah Wade have been in the business for nearly 20 years but still struggle to understand their pricing, compensation and gross margin. They have succeeded in building great relationships with their clients, especially on the commercial side, but don’t have systems in place to capture their profits and eventually step back from the business and let their son, Darris, start to take over.
© Jon Arman

In the late 1990s, Ira was working as a machinist, mowing lawns for friends and neighbors on nights and weekends. His wife, Deborah, was a cosmetologist. They ran the side business for about six years until it grew to a point where they had to make it their full-time focus. In September of 2004, Ira gave a month’s notice to his boss, but his boss tried to convince him to wait until the next summer.

“We prayed about it. Ira told his boss, ‘I have a window of opportunity, and if I miss that window it may close and never open again,’” Deborah says. “He had more faith than I did.”

That window has stayed open for the Wades. They now have one full-time and eight part-time employees, working mostly maintenance accounts and doing a little plant installation work. Last year, the company brought in about $335,000 – 20 percent from HOAs, 40 percent from commercial clients and 40 percent from residential accounts. Their son, Darris, works as operations manager, and their daughter, D’Anna, works remotely from Texas as a business manager.

Ira and Debora referenced their children and community in their application, writing about their efforts to grow the company but not always knowing the right path.

“Having a business is a lot like rearing a child. As parents, we are blessed with children, and because we love them, we pour our all into them. We teach them everything we know, give them our best efforts and try to do right by them at all costs. We marvel at their aptitudes and great potential; we see the best in them.

“There comes a time as parents that we realize our knowledge is not sufficient to support the growth and great potential of our child, so we naturally enlist the help of outsiders – schools, churches, civic organizations and more. We know it is absolutely critical that our child gets the information he or she needs to be successful, even though we may not know exactly what that information is,” they wrote.

“We are at a crucial moment in our business right now. We have poured our all into it and have done everything we know to do. From participating in conferences and workshops to hiring professional finance personnel, we’ve done the things we know to do to make the business better. Still, we feel lost, stagnant and at times very unclear about our next steps. We know there is more work to do, more to learn and more to understand in order to truly get our business to the next level, but we don’t know what. We need an outsider – someone with industry experience and business management savvy to take a hard look at our business and tell us what we need to do to improve.”

Later, on the phone, Deborah summed up their situation as mostly frustrated with what they have compared to all the work they’ve done: “That was hard to write, because it’s true but it’s not true,” she says. “God has been so good to us – all of our needs have been met. I feel like with all the hours we’ve put in, the work that we do, we should be further along than we are now.”

Their goals for 2016:

Ultimately, the Wades want to grow their business to the $500,000 mark in the next year, and then to even greater heights in the years ahead, paying off debt and putting themselves and their company in a stronger financial position. They also want to implement the necessary systems that would allow them to step back (Ira is 56 and Deborah is 53) so Darris, 29, can operate the company day to day.

Head Harvester Bill Arman talks with Ira Wade, owner of Wade’s Lawn Service in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, during a site visit this winter.
© Jon Arman

“What we’d like to see happen, honestly, is to get things in place so much so that the company is basically running itself – my son coming in and being the person and Ira and I would like to step back and go into a semi-retirement,” Deborah says.

Harvester assessment:

Arman and Laflamme say the Wades actually have too much gross margin – more than 50 percent.

“We are at a crucial moment in our business. We feel lost, stagnant and very unclear about our next steps. We know there is more work to do, but we don’t know what.” Deborah Wade, owner

“They have so much gross margin it looks like they’re overpricing the market and that’s why they haven’t been able to grow,” Laflamme says. “They go high thinking they have to make it all on the one job.”

Arman says a few more employees – and a more productive operation – could mean tremendous improvement in profits for the Wades.

“They haven’t grown,” he says. “One more crew could achieve 48-50 percent gross margin, they’ll have a windfall profit like they’ve never had before. Just add one more crew on. Put three guys to work with another truck and equipment and let’s go to town. It’s all about sales with those guys.”