Pastor takes leap of faith into landscaping industry
You can train people how to landscape, but you can't train character and integrity.
That's according to Karl Goertzen, co-owner with his wife, Grace, of Oasis Planteriors, Inc., a small landscaping firm in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.
To that end, Goertzen is choosy about who he hires to work on his crews, because for him, honesty and a good work ethic are key components to business success. While not a requirement for his employees, Goertzen prefers they have a "personal relationship with Jesus Christ" because in most cases, the character Goertzen desires is a package deal.
A former pastor-turned-landscaper, Goertzen has cherished plants and his relationship with God for his entire life. In 1994, following a career as a pastor for 16 years, he found a way to combine both of his passions.
His first foray into the landscaping profession was a joint interior landscaping venture with his brother-in-law Henry in Calgary. They originally provided interior landscaping, plant care, Christmas-caping and plant maintenance to malls and other businesses around Calgary and Winnipeg, but would later add exterior landscaping services to their portfolio.
Goertzen quickly realized that even with the high profitability and success of interior landscaping, he was much more interested in cutting grass outside than dusting plants indoors.
"In terms of time-efficiency and profit potential, I just thought it made much more sense to focus my efforts outdoors," says Goertzen.
Six years since buying out the exterior portion of the business and assuming equipment and contracts, Oasis Planteriors, Inc. is a profitable business. Goertzen, who saw $260,000 in revenue last year, expects 15 to 25 percent growth in revenue for 2008.
"Our success is driven by several factors," he says. "Good clients, reliable equipment, quality service and hard working employees - especially Grace's work keeping things straight on paper."
The seasonal (April through October) business' primary clientele is comprised of ten consistent, perennial corporate clients that contract his company to mow as many as fifteen different commercial sites each on a weekly basis.
His crews mow 65 acres (approx. 1/4-sq. km.) weekly, removing as much as 1.5 tons of grass weekly in the wet spring season and half a ton of grass during the warmer, drier months in the summer and early fall. They collect all the clippings - their corporate clients prefer collection to mulching or discharging - and then compost them.
In addition to weekly mowing, the company provides tree/shrub care (including planting and pruning) as well as sod and hardscape installation. Goertzen is certified to apply chemicals and fertilizers for weed control and pest management, a process that requires passing marks in three required chemical application courses every five years.
While his revenues can be considered small compared to other landscapers, Goertzen has been very careful to build his business on his terms and to allow his faith to stay a central part of his corporate success.
"The work load works out well," he says. "Much more and I would need more employees, equipment, warehouse and storage space, travel time and transport trucks. All of that, even with higher billings, would raise my costs, and I like keeping my costs low."
In today's economic environment, keeping costs low is essential, especially when it comes to equipment and fuel, two overhead expenses that can suffocate an unsuspecting independent contractor.
Goertzen is careful when it comes to buying equipment, since the success or failure of the business itself could be riding on top of his mowing decks. If he buys the wrong equipment, the impact to his bottom line could be substantial in terms of lost productivity and additional costs (to buy the right equipment later).
When preparing to buy his first large piece of equipment five years ago, Goertzen did extensive online research and consulted with Keith Markevich, his dealer at Edge Equipment in Winnipeg. He looked at range of manufacturers, including Grasshopper and Walker, and saw extensive similarities and subtle differences between the equipment on the market.
"I had no interest in pushing a mower, so I knew I needed riding mowers," he says. "I did all the research and found that a lot of makers and equipment out there are very similar. I wasn't totally sure which way to go. Then I took a test drive on a Grasshopper and was sold."
His fleet now consists of two Grasshoppers, a Model 722D FrontMount™ and a Model 723K FrontMount™, and three Walker mowers (which were acquired with his original buyout five years earlier), with one of the Grasshoppers running on diesel, the others on gasoline.
"With fuel taking such a large portion of revenues, we're always looking for ways to reduce fuel consumption," he says. "So we run the diesel as much as possible, because even though diesel is more expensive in the current market, that mower consumes fuel at half the rate as the gas mowers."
Even though the management of overhead costs can make or break a small business, another important factor in maintaining a healthy bottom line is performance: of equipment and employees alike.
"Putting the right equipment on the right job is key," he says.
Goertzen uses the Walkers for their narrower four-foot (121.9 cm) decks, but prefers the Grasshoppers on sites that have more open spaces where the five-foot (154.9 cm) decks can double the acreage mowed in the same amount of time (compared to his four-footers) without sacrificing overall quality of cut.
"You have to try to clog the Grasshopper," says Goertzen. "The PowerVac™ collection system gathers clippings with sparse clogging and makes it easy to remove the clippings when the collector is full."
For Goertzen, providing a quality service while helping spread the joy of his faith with his employees and clients are more important measures of success than a healthy bottom line (although it definitely helps).
"As long as you have the right people, the right equipment, a healthy appetite for business success and a steadfast faith, there is almost no limit to your potential," he says.