The Fickle Business Of Lawn And Snow Care

The Fickle Business Of Lawn And Snow Care

This industry is only as stable as the weather.

Being weather-dependent makes lawn care and snow removal a fickle business. In the summertime, “philosophically, rain is always good for our business,” says owner Chris Beutz of Green Horizons. Beutz founded the 27-year-old St. Louis Park-based lawn/snow care business after college. It has seen growth in every year save 2009.

Mowing has always been Green Horizons’ most popular lawn service, at one time accounting for 70 percent of lawn care revenue. By adding new services over the years, that proportion has dropped to 35 or 40 percent.

Green Horizons

1988 founded
80 employees (fluctuates)
4,000 active clients
500–600 properties visited per day during the summer
1,500 properties visited per snow day
120 lawnmowers in fleet
100+ snowblowers in fleet

Client base
90–95% residential
5–10% commercial

80% lawn care
20% snow removal

40% labor
15% equipment (purchasing)
45% misc. maintenance, rent, fuel, insurance

“It increases demand, whether it’s grass or plants growing, or weeds that need to be trimmed. But it can be logistically challenging.” Crews not only wait out the rain itself, but also for the ground to dry. For that reason Beutz schedules the bulk of his lawn-care jobs Monday through Thursday, using Friday mostly as a make-up day for work missed earlier in the week due to rain.

Spring cleanup typically starts in April, while maintenance continues through Thanksgiving—with good weather, Green Horizons can book lawn services five to six days a week for nine months out of the year.

Not only is snow season shorter, it’s also less reliable. “It can be really boom or bust,” says Beutz, who notes that last winter, with relatively little snowfall, was the slowest he can remember in recent history: “We worked a handful of times all winter.” During snow season, plowing and blowing accounts for 90 percent of revenue, while services such as ice dam removal and roof raking make up the rest.

While lawn services are offered à la carte, snow removal is either on a contract basis—where a customer pays a flat monthly rate—or on a per-service basis.

“We don’t want to have 80, 90 percent contract, because if we have a snowy winter then we lose money pretty easily,” says Beutz. Extremely snowy winters are hard on the trucks and snow blowers (which can eat up profits), and cost a lot in labor as well. “On the other hand, we don’t want to have all per-service, because then if there’s no snow for a month you have no revenue, and how are you going to pay your fixed costs?” Beutz has found he always covers his costs with a 2:1 ratio of contract clients to per-service clients.

A few years ago Green Horizons had grown its snow-removal customer base to almost 1,900 properties, and found that the routes were too big to be serviced reasonably quickly. “The main thing about snow is people want to get it cleaned right away,” says Beutz. He soon put a cap on the number of contracts offered, effectively shrinking routes and speeding up service. “We sign up most people in October for snow, and by early November contracts aren’t available anymore.”