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Groundskeepers make mow money in summer

Photo by Aaron Paden / Foreman Westley Forsyth with U.S. Lawns of McComb work to maintain the lawn at Brookhaven Dental Center Friday.

Photo by Aaron Paden / Foreman Westley Forsyth with U.S. Lawns of McComb work to maintain the lawn at Brookhaven Dental Center Friday.

With summer just weeks away and grass growing like, well, like grass, the need to weed is upon us. There’s no doubt this time of the year is the busiest season for lawn care specialists.

In Lincoln County, only one lawn maintenance company is listed with the Chamber of Commerce: U.S. Lawns of McComb. There are also three landscape contractors listed: Growin’ Green Landscape, Signature Landscape and The Grounds Guy. However, many more lawn care companies around town are not listed with the Chamber.

Despite its name, U.S. Lawns of McComb is a Brookhaven company. When the owner, Doug Easley, joined the U.S. Lawns franchise seven years ago he already had a significant presence in Brookhaven.

“I tried to get them to not do that, but they said McComb should be my target market, and I already had a lot of business in Brookhaven,” Easley said.

While business for Easley does get more hectic during the summer, it mostly deals with year-long commercial contracts. His residential business comes mostly from customers he had years ago.

“Anybody can go buy a zero turn, a trailer and a weed eater, and they’re in business,” Easley said. “Basically, that’s how I started out many, many years ago.”

Easley said it’s a common story, particularly during economic downturns. Several business leaders around Brookhaven have all said the drop in oil and gas prices has affected their business. Fewer people are able to find work offshore, so there are plenty of people trying to get into lawn care. But there are different markets in the industry and different levels of service.

“Most people don’t even have a contract on their work,” Easley said. “With us, we have contract work. You have the support of the home office and it is a national brand.”

It’s an approach that comes with both advantages and disadvantages. Easley set out to grow the value of his company and succeeded. He purchased a franchise that brought support and training for him and his crews. But for commercial contract work, the overhead is much higher.

“I have to carry at least $2 million on liability coverage on my equipment,” Easley said. “Companies, they don’t want you on their property if they aren’t covered, and it isn’t cheap. It’s hard to maintain all that stuff.”

As a result, Easley said it was more difficult to compete on the residential space, where there are more companies working at a lower overhead.

There’s also a lot more to lawn maintenance than just cutting the grass.

“We do so much more than that,” he said. “We do everything from installation to landscape, to obviously the maintenance of it and knowing what’s going on with your plants.

“Anything outside, we take care of that. Even if we can’t do it, we can find somebody that can do it for you. A property manager, they’re busy just like you or I am, and it takes some of the worry off them.”

Easley will customize a proposal based on various budgets.

“We can usually fit any budget,” he said. “If they just want a mow and blow, we can do that or we can go all the way up to full service on the property.”

Easley said buying into a franchise has improved the value of his business and also the quality of service.

“It’s been a good partnership,” he said. “I have an adviser with U.S. Lawns, and typically I can call him and talk, and if he doesn’t have a solution he can get me somebody who does. It’s a good camaraderie.”

Easley has two full crews working as many as 80 properties. He’s welcoming to competition. “I don’t ever want to see anybody fail,” he said. “I know how tough it is to make it.”