Editor's note: This article was excerpted from our Lawn Care/Landscaping start-up guide, available from the Entrepreneur Bookstore.
When you think back to the long, lazy summers of your youth, chances are some time was spent trudging along behind a lawn mower, pushing with all your might and sweating profusely, just so you could make a few bucks to buy some baseball cards or a really cool bike. You may have occasionally mowed down a few pansies or zebra-striped a lawn, but you sure were proud when the homeowner came to the door, surveyed your handiwork, and forked over the agreed-upon fee.
Mowing lawns or landscaping residential or commercial properties for a living will give you that same sense of pride-while earning you some pretty serious cash.
There are many advantages to running a homebased lawn care or landscaping service. You're master of your own destiny, and you can devote as much or as little time to the business as you want. You have a short commute to work if you're based in your own community. You can work at your own pace and at virtually any time during regular daylight hours. You also can enjoy the fresh air, get a good cardiovascular workout, and bulk up your muscles.
The price of all this freedom and body contouring is relatively low-so low, in fact, that many new lawn service owners and landscapers use their personal credit cards or small personal loans to fund their new businesses. Once you invest in the tools and toys you need to manicure lawns or install landscaping professionally, you're generally set for years. You don't need much in the way of office equipment, either, and you can set your office up in a corner of the den or a spare bedroom rather than laying out extra cash for a commercial space.
This all sounds pretty appealing, doesn't it? But of course, every Garden of Eden has a serpent, and lawn care and landscaping businesses have quite a few of their own coiled up and waiting to strike. To begin, you have to be a lot more adept at mowing, trimming and pruning than the average person. That means you'll have to invest some time in learning gardening basics and techniques. You'll have to be a disciplined self-starter who can ignore the call of a glorious spring day and diligently service your clients rather than heading for the lake or golf course. You have to be physically fit and able to handle the rigors of the job, which can include lifting heavy equipment off and onto trailers, and wielding bulky handheld implements for hours at a time. You'll be handling potentially dangerous machinery and hazardous chemicals. And you'll have to be a very savvy business manager who can administer cash flow, invent advertising and marketing campaigns, and implement a survival plan that will take you through the lean winter months.
According to the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), an international association serving lawn care professionals, exterior maintenance contractors, installation/design/building professionals, and interiorscapers, there are an estimated 10,000 individual lawn care service providers and approximately 12,000 landscapers in the United States. These run the gamut from independent operations to franchises and divisions of large corporate chains. It's believed that the number of businesses could actually be significantly higher because there are so many people doing lawn and landscape maintenance informally and on a cash basis. What is known for sure, according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2006-2007 (U.S. Department of Labor), is that almost 1 out of every 4 landscaping, groundskeeping, nursery, greenhouse and lawn service workers is self-employed and provides maintenance services directly to customers on a contract basis. Of these, about 1 out of every 6 works part time.
The market they serve is huge. A 2005 survey by Irrigation and Green Industry magazine concluded that the U.S. green industry, which includes lawn and landscape maintenance, landscape contractors, landscape architects, irrigation contractors, and lawn and landscape product suppliers, generates $67 billion to $69 billion annually. Additionally, PLANET estimates that the landscaping services sector alone generates 704,000 jobs and $35.6 million in value-added services annually.
Who Are the Customers?
Who's driving this industry? The 77 million aging baby boomers, many of whom are affluent homeowners. They recognize the value of a well-kept lawn and beautifully designed and landscaped yard, but they often don't have the time or the inclination to do the maintenance themselves.
Of course, baby boomers aren't the only ones whose fingers do the walking online or through the phone book to find a reputable lawn or landscape professional. Other potential customers include:
- Homeowners who don't have the vision, skill or tools to design their own landscaping
- New homeowners who wish to update the existing landscaping
- Homeowners who plan to put their home on the market and want to improve its curb appeal with fresh or updated landscaping
- Builders of both residential and commercial properties who don't already have their own landscaper on staff
- Homeowners who are frequently out of town on business
- Retirees who don't care to do their own maintenance any longer
- "Snowbirds" with winter homes in warmer climates
- Golf course managers who may need help with maintenance
- Rental property or condominium association managers who are personnel-impaired
- Facilities managers for botanical gardens, historic buildings, municipalities and other government entities, universities, cemeteries and other public places with green spaces
Types of Green Industry Service Businesses
There are numerous ways to get into the lawn and landscaping industry. The basic types of lawn and landscaping businesses include:
- Lawn mowing/maintenance
- Sod installation/hydroseeding
- Weeding or fertilizer and/or pest control application
- Landscape care/maintenance services
- Landscape design/contracting services
- Landscape architecture services
Exactly how much can you earn? The sky's truly the limit. The lawn care and landscaping business owners we interviewed for this book earned anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 in their first year, and as much as $160,000 to $250,000 once they were in business a few years. They offer services ranging from basic mowing and trimming to landscape design, installation and maintenance, and chemical application
Lawn & Landscape magazine's 2005 State of the Industry Report offers additional insight into how much a lawn and landscaping company owner can earn. In a survey of Lawn & Landscape readers who own companies of all sizes, the average salary of the owner/president whose company revenues were less than $200,000 during 2005 was $31,273. Owners/presidents in companies with revenues above $200,000 earned $68,859 on average.