Case study: Add-on biz

October 15, 2015 -  By

When leaves fall, profits rise for a Delaware-based landscape company.

By offering leaf clean-up as a stand-alone service, Kevin Shackleford, president of Shackleford Landscape Group in Bear, Del., attracts new customers. Some aren’t necessarily interested in year-round landscape work but need occasional help on bigger projects.

“Right after Labor Day, we start really pushing the leaf clean-up service so our name is fresh in peoples’ minds,” says Shackleford, who markets his leaf clean-up service using postcards, local magazines and his website. “As soon as summer is over and school starts up, people start thinking about fall. That’s when we also want them to think about us.”

In most cases, Shackleford says, one or two crew members can knock out a leaf clean-up in an hour with a backpack blower plus a tarp or a vacuum sucker.

If the job isn’t big enough to require a second crew member, Shackleford’s team may use a mower to bag leaves. He aims to be as efficient as possible so multiple clean-ups can fit into a day’s schedule.

Click to enlarge.

Click to enlarge.

In addition to a nice profit boost in the fall, Shackleford says the added business has been a valuable learning process. The biggest lesson has been how to properly price a job.

“When I first started doing this 10 years ago, one of my biggest mistakes was having a set price for leaf clean-up work,” says Shackleford, who started his company as a teenager with a push mower. “Now, I look at the number of trees and the lot size using Google Earth before pricing the job.”

Whether a client is new or existing, Shackleford prices leaf clean-up as an independent or add-on service. Depending on factors like the number of trees on the property or its size, the service can cost from less than $100 for a small property to a few hundred dollars for a larger one.

Hauling leaves to a dumpsite can drive up costs. Finding a site locally and following regulations often makes dumping the most challenging aspect of the job. While a lot of his leaf clean-up clients maintain their own properties, the hassles involved with leaf clean-up lead them to him. From the clients’ eyes, he says, hauling the waste is the most valuable part of his leaf clean-up.

“Even if a client is willing to put in the work to clean-up the leaves, hauling them away becomes the challenge,” Shackleford says. “Admittedly, that can be a challenge for us, too,” he says. “Early on, we made the mistake of hauling leaves too far away or into unknown territory, where we don’t really know much about the dumpsite or its requirements. Both of these are easy ways to lose efficiency, and efficiency is how we stay competitive.”

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