A contractor’s shop is more than a place to store and repair equipment – it’s a basis of operations for the whole company. That’s what Top Notch Lawn Care owner Brian Shain realized as his company started growing and adding employees.
For the first few years, Shain ran his operation out of the garage at his home in Kansas, but the company was outgrowing that space, so he decided to move the company into a professional shop.
Now in its fifth year, the company employs three to four crew members and runs two trucks and trailers to provide lawn care, flowerbed cleanup, tree and shrub trimming, snow removal and some landscaping, which Shain hopes to expand in the near future. “We’re a little bigger than solo but not quite the big guys yet,” he says.
The same happened to Martin Brigham, owner of MB Landscaping in New Jersey, which employs eight workers who staff three lawn care crews.
While Brigham started off headquartering his three-man company in his own garage, he soon realized he was outgrowing the space and needed somewhere else to do business. “I have to admit, my wife was thrilled with the idea and I think at least some of my neighbors were too,” he says.
And as he plans to expand into snow removal and some landscape services the future, the time was right to invest in a space where he could grow the company.
After expanding his crew by two, Brigham decided to bite the bullet and get a separate space for his business to operate. “It was a scary move, but it was time,” he says. “We had too much stuff to stock at home and it was getting to be a mess of stuff just everywhere.”
In early 2017, Shain bought his own 1,500-square-foot shop and got to work setting it up. He took on the project over the winter and enlisted the help of his cousin, who was also working at the company, to get the job done. “Obviously, I kind of feel like everything has to have a place. It needs to be somewhat organized to find tools and things you need throughout the day. If everything is scattered – which I’m not going to lie, sometimes it is – it just makes things more difficult. Any task or any maintenance that you’re doing just takes longer if you don’t know where your stuff is.”
Now, everything in his shop is organized and up off of the ground where it won’t be damaged. And everything is separated by type of tool so that there’s no confusion.
One wall has hand tools like shovels, saws, rakes, bed edgers, scoop shovels and more. “You know you’ve got your mower equipment, you’ve got your wrenches, your screwdrivers all those hand tools and keep all them in one little area so you know where everything’s at,” Shain says.
Brigham and Shain both add that much of their equipment just stays on the trailers since they use it every day.
At Top Notch Lawn Care, there’s a separate blade-sharpening station. The company keeps two sets of mower blades for each mower so once sharpened, one set goes up on the wall and the other goes on the mower. When those get dull, they switch them out.
Brigham keeps a stock of mower blades for his fleet and his part-time mechanic handles the sharpening as needed once a week. “He’s a great guy who comes in a few hours every week to check things out, do basic maintenance and keep us on track,” he says. “It’s just one less thing for me to worry about and it’s a small expense in the grand scheme of things.”
“Any task or maintenance that you’re doing just takes longer if you don’t know where your stuff is.” Brian Shain, owner, Top Notch Lawn Care
Staying stocked and clean.
Brigham’s part-time mechanic is in charge of stocking the shop and delivers a weekly report detailing what the company needs from trash bags to mower blades to belts and hand tools. Brigham says the company doesn’t keep too much in stock because it’s still small, but having a full list of what’s in low supply cuts down on trips to the store. “It’s just less wasted time for me,” he says. “That way, I’m not just running back and forth every time I need to grab every little thing.”
He also involves the crew in keeping the shop neat and tidy, noting that it helps with team-building. “When everyone pitches in, it becomes everyone’s responsibility to take pride in what we’re building,” he says.
Top Notch Lawn Care puts aside an hour or two every week to clean up shop and put everything back in its place. Otherwise, crews are wasting time looking for tools and parts.
“It’s definitely tougher than it sounds, but that’s just the way we do it,” Shain says. “We just try to put everything back to where we found it so we know where it’s at. Because once it starts to get messy, it just sort of snowballs if you don’t stay up on it.”
Shain’s number two in the company has some extra responsibilities as well. He runs the other crew at the company, and he’s in charge of equipment maintenance and stocking.
“It’s definitely helpful to have a second set of eyes because I can’t remember everything myself,” he says.
“When everyone pitches in, it becomes everyone’s responsibility to take pride in what we’re building.” Martin Brigham, owner, MB Landscaping
Out of home office.
Moving from a personal garage to a separate shop has helped Shain and Brigham’s employees feel more professional, too.
“The biggest thing for me as far as an owner is I think the employees think of the job as more professional now,” Shain says. “The company is more professional because we’re not working out of the garage of a house.”
It makes interviews easier as well. Now, instead of potential hires coming to Shain’s home, they come to the office. “I was always worried about interviewing people at my house,” he says. “I don’t really want people to know where I live, especially if I don’t hire them and maybe they get upset.”
Brigham would interview potential hires at a local coffee shop, but says it was always somewhat awkward. “Now I feel like I can establish myself as the boss right from the get-go. Guys can see that I’m a serious guy with a serious business.”
And for Shain, having an office over the shop where he can take care of administrative duties helps him separate home life from work life. “Now when I’m done working, I come home and I’m not on my computer at home doing paperwork,” Shain says. “I get that done at the shop, at the office and it makes home life a lot easier.”