Lawns Ltd.: Driven to serve

November 12, 2015 -  By

Compassion makes the difference at Lisa Torgersen’s Texas landscape firm.

One of the first questions Lisa Torgersen asks a new client is, “Do you have a dog?” If the answer is yes, the owner of Lawns Ltd. in Waco, Texas, and her crews are sure to design an outdoor space that will suit both the clients and their pet, creating areas where the animal can roam and play without impeding on the landscape and its function.

Lawns Ltd. has grown from a one-woman mowing operation to a $2 million, full-service landscape company.

Lawns Ltd. has grown from a one-woman mowing operation to a $2 million, full-service landscape company.

“You have to think about that with animals because they can be destructive, but they need their space, too,” Torgersen says. “We like to create easy environments for our clients to coexist with their dogs.”

It’s that kind of thoughtfulness and attention to detail that has helped Lawns Ltd. evolve from a one-woman mowing and maintenance operation to the multimillion-dollar, full-service landscaping firm it is today. Nearly 40 years and countless projects later, the first commercial client Torgersen ever earned is still a client today, and some of Lawns Ltd.’s employees have been with the firm for more than two decades. Torgersen credits this longevity to an insatiable drive to please her clients and a personal goal to treat all her employees with kindness and respect.

“If you don’t have relationships, then you just have a job,” she says.

Growing up in West Texas, Torgersen began mowing lawns when she was 16 years old. Her mother had a passion for yard work, and her brother also mowed lawns “but never finished anything he started,” allowing Torgersen to step in and take the reins. “

As a kid you can mow yards or you can baby-sit to make money,” she says. “I did both.”

Torgersen went on to study horticulture at Texas State Technical College and then earned an education degree from Baylor University, continuing to mow lawns all the while. In 1979, equipped with a Sears credit card, she decided to make Lawns Ltd. “a real company,” even though she says landscaping really wasn’t a profession in the early 1980s. Homeowners took care of their own lawns, and commercial companies had maintenance crews to do the mowing and landscaping. Torgersen notes that since Lawns Ltd.’s humble beginnings, the field has evolved from manual, blue-collar jobs to an industry where entrepreneurs and designers with a passion for the outdoors can establish long-term, respectable careers.

“At this time, there was one other guy in town that did this—now there are three pages of us in the phone book,” she says. “Back then, it was just blue-collar work. Now, I hire college grads and educated people who just love to do what we do.”

By the mid-1980s, Torgersen’s customers began asking for more than just mowing and maintenance, and she knew it was time to expand her service offerings. She hired a full-time landscape designer to run the company’s new design and installation division. She remained with Lawns Ltd. until retiring two years ago. While Lawns Ltd. soon became known for its landscape design services, Torgersen says she wouldn’t recommend expanding a business just to fulfill client requests. The decision should be intentional, well thought out and incorporated into the business plan.

“We decided to offer landscape design services because of client demand instead of saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do,’” Torgersen says. “It’s a totally different skill set, so if you want to evolve beyond maintenance, make a decision that this is what you want to do, hire someone who is qualified in it, market it to your current clientele and get the necessary equipment.”

Today, Lawns Ltd., which earns between $2 million and $3 million annually, performs 65 percent lawn maintenance and 35 percent landscape installation/irrigation services to a 30 percent residential, 70 percent commercial clientele. While lawn maintenance still comprises the bulk of the company’s work, landscape design has become Torgersen’s passion. She says it allows her to focus on the artistic side of the business while establishing and maintaining long-term client relationships.

“As a landscape design company, you are in peoples’ spaces forever,” she says. “Our designers leave an imprint of who they are and give a part of themselves to each project. We love that. We love getting involved with clients.”

Community involvement

Lawns Ltd. also makes an effort to be involved with the community. Each year for the past 10 years, the company finds a project or a cause to which it can donate time and services. Last year, it provided free landscape design services around a group of sculptures installed by the city of Waco. This year, the company donated a large piece of copper art to a local cancer center. The art was placed in the center’s healing garden to help provide a calming environment to patients undergoing cancer treatment. Torgersen is also in the early stages of providing an outdoor environment to a Texas-based nonprofit organization for disadvantaged adults, and she has plans to donate services to The Humane Society’s new facility next year.

“It’s not hard to find a nonprofit to give to,” says Torgersen, who served on The Humane Society board for 12 years and has five dogs as a result. “We include the staff when choosing an organization so they are emotionally involved.”

Emotion drives many things at Lawns Ltd. right down to Daisy, the homeless dog that once roamed the neighborhood and is now Torgersen’s “copilot” and the company’s mascot, providing moral support to Torgersen, her staff and even some of her clients.

When she first started out, Torgersen never imagined her passion for maintaining exterior spaces would take her where she is today, but she gives most of the credit to her dedicated employees and her loyal clients.

“I’m 56 and I’ve been doing this since I was 16,” Torgersen says. “I don’t know too many people who have been doing the same thing for 40 years.

“That could be a good thing or a bad thing,” she says, laughing.

“It’s passion and focus,” she adds, of her company’s success. “We love what we do.”

Works of art

To Lisa Torgersen, landscape design is a form of art.

“We see landscapes as more than just plants,” she says. “It’s living spaces, things to look at and art in itself.”

The owner of the full-service landscape firm Lawns Ltd. in Waco, Texas, and her team of landscape designers always leave space in a landscape to incorporate works of art chosen by the client—whether it’s a bird bath, a statue or a metal sculpture. They let the client determine what the piece of art means to them.

“We want to engage their brains about what they want to look at besides plants,” she says. “We love evolving with a client and totally changing their environment and watching the positives.”

Torgersen and her designers also aim to provide their clients with low-maintenance landscapes that suit their lifestyles and offer benefits beyond the aesthetic. Lawns Ltd. also strives to incorporate sustainable practices into everything it does, including minimizing chemical and water usage and maximizing shade.

“We are the green industry, not the black industry,” Torgersen says. “We are here to treat things that are living and breathing and provide pleasure.”

This article is tagged with , and posted in Featured, Mowing+Maintenance, October 2015

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