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Grounds Maintenance

In today's fast-paced world, many people just don't have the time or the energy to take care of their lawns anymore. And that means the outlook is rosy for anyone with a lawn mower who's willing to do it for them.

Those kids who trundle around your neighborhood dragging a lawn mower behind them and offering to cut people's lawns for $5 may have tapped into a business opportunity that's a lot hotter than you might think.

With the growing number of senior citizens and working couples, more and more people have less and less time to take care of their property. New lawn care businesses are sprouting like weeds to take advantage of this fast-growing market.

If you enjoy working outdoors and are ready to mow, clip, rake and do what it takes to care for people's lawns, then this might be the business for you.

Some one-person operations that started off with less than $5,000 have raked in a net profit of $30,000 in their very first year. With broad coverage of your community, net profits can easily reach $50,000 or more.

Scott Cozens is a relative newcomer to the field, but says the lawn maintenance business "is definitely an excellent self-employment opportunity."

After three years of working for different landscaping companies, Cozens decided to strike out on his own. "Why work for someone else for $10 an hour when you can make twice as much doing it yourself?" he asks.

When he heard that someone he knew who ran a part-time grounds maintenance business was selling off his equipment to concentrate on his full-time job, Cozens decided the time was right to make his move.

He applied for a car loan to buy a used pickup truck and added a few thousand to buy a lawn mower, a blower and a few other basic tools of the trade.

His total investment was about $9,500. That's about average, according to Entrepreneur magazine's listing of the top 100 home-based businesses. The magazine adds that lawn care is a highly stable business with a low risk factor and good growth prospects.

Cozens agrees. "With more retired people who are no longer willing or able to do hard physical labor, the demand for someone to cut the grass, prune the trees and weed the garden is very strong.

"Also, in most families, both adults work," adds Cozens. "And a lot of them don't have the time or energy to take care of their lawns themselves."

Lawn care and landscaping is also in demand by those in the real estate market. The Professional Landscapers of America reports that a well-maintained yard can increase a house's selling price by $800 to $1,200.

Almost every industry imaginable is affected by current emissions regulations. Those going into lawn care as a business need to keep in mind that in certain states, there are regulations regarding lawn care machine emissions. Regulations vary from state to state.

It is estimated by the South Coast Air Quality Management District (AQMD) that a conventional lawn mower pollutes as much in an hour as 40 late-model cars. That is a great deal of pollution that can and should be avoided.

The alternatives to gas-powered lawn mowers are improving constantly. Lightweight people-powered push mowers were a popular choice as they are quiet and require no fuel. Another great environmentally friendly alternative is a cordless electric lawn mower.

Those in grounds maintenance are a part of the expanding horticulture industry. "The future for the horticultural industry appears bright," says Tony DiGiovanni of the Horticultural Trades Association.

"Visionaries who believe in assuming responsibility for the growth of the industry have governed the association throughout its history."

There's plenty of opportunity, reports Landscape Trades magazine. "Landscape contractors and grounds maintenance professionals can expand their repertoire by looking at non-traditional markets such as golf course and sports field construction, and the maintenance of these sites," it reports.

Cozens' Grasshopper Lawn and Garden has already established a strong enough client base to pay the bills and keep Cozens supplied with rent and spending money. "I'm earning about as much as I was last year, but I'm only working about half as much," he says.

New business is obtained almost entirely through word of mouth. So far, Grasshopper Lawn and Garden has done no advertising, although Cozens is considering printing and distributing flyers.

With a little promotion, Cozens is convinced he could easily double his income. However, part of the attraction of his new business is the freedom it gives him to pursue his other interests, such as photography and music.

"Now if I want to take a day off and practice my guitar, I can," he says. "Or if I want to spend the day shooting, I can do that. Plus I can still afford the cost of developing and processing."

In fact, the grounds maintenance business is ideal for students and anyone else looking for a flexible self-employment opportunity that can be as big or as small as you want it.

Doreen Biggs started cultivating her lawn care business with a student business loan while still a student. Looking for something that would keep her busy in the summer and taper off during the school year, she decided to launch a lawn maintenance business.

Five years later, Biggs had graduated from university with a degree in psychology and a booming business. Her company, Lawn Doctor, had expanded from one lawn mower and a second-hand truck to a fleet of five vehicles, eight lawn mowers, and a staff of 15.

Like Cozens, Biggs finds it really satisfying to be working for herself. "I can't believe that in just five years, I'm doing the things I'm doing."

But lawn maintenance isn't just for young people. Bobby Jones quit his factory job at the age of 51 and set up a landscaping business in a summer community on the North Carolina coast.

Jones' biggest problem wasn't finding work. It was controlling the growth of his business. As he told Home Office Computing magazine, "I'm backlogged up to my eyeballs right now."

Of course, before you jump into the lawn maintenance business, you have to assess the need for it in your area. Large properties with extensive gardens and shrubbery, an affluent population and a large percentage of elderly residents make Cozens' area a gold mine.

The demand is so high that Cozens is able to charge the same rates as more experienced established companies.

Still, while most of the opportunities in grounds maintenance lie in residential work, Cozens hopes to score big with a lucrative commercial account. A single apartment building or townhouse complex would provide him with a guaranteed monthly income and more than enough work to keep him busy.

"Then maybe I can hire a few people to do the work while I just sit back and run the business," he laughs.


Professional Land Care Association
Lots of news and tips about the lawn care industry

Grounds Maintenance Magazine
The latest news and techniques in grounds care

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