How one family business has evolved with the times

April 8, 2016 -  By
The Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler Co. flag has been flying since 1975.

The Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler Co. flag has been flying since 1975.

After 40 years and in its second generation, Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler Co. evolves with the times.

Alan Garcia doesn’t like the term “upselling.” Instead, the president and owner of Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler Co. says “added value” better describes what his company has to offer. Because for Garcia, it’s not about selling services his clients don’t want or need. It’s about providing them the right services to make sure they love their lawn.

“We are not a transaction-based company, we are a relationship-based company,” Garcia says. “We just happen to sell sprinklers.”

For more than 40 years, these relationships have been the backbone of Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler Co.. The $2 million business has been serving clients in Fort Worth, Texas, since 1975, offering irrigation system installation and maintenance services to a 70-percent residential, 30-percent commercial clientele.

Many clients and employees have been with the company since its earliest days. Garcia says longevity has been the key to the company’s success.

“We are really a family, and we all enjoy coming to work every day,” he says.

In the mid-1970s, Garcia’s father-in-law, Price Hulsey, worked as a business broker and was trying to find a buyer for one of his clients who owned a small irrigation company in Arlington, Texas. After “listening to the spiel over and over again,” Hulsey decided to buy the company himself, even though Garcia says he knew nothing about irrigation.

Alan Garcia (right), owner of Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler Co., took over the business from his father-in-law Price Hulsey in 2012.

Alan Garcia (right), owner of Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler Co., took over the business from his father-in-law Price Hulsey in 2012.

“He didn’t know a sprinkler head from a valve and he still bought it,” Garcia says. “But he quickly learned the business and what he needed to do to make it better.”

Hulsey soon relocated the company to Fort Worth. Garcia joined the company in 2003 as a sales representative, with the intent to one day buy the company and take over the family business.

Working closely with the company’s accountant, attorney and bank, Garcia officially purchased Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler Co. in 2012. Hulsey had been transitioning responsibilities to Garcia for several years. Garcia says, jokingly, that the most visible change that took place after the transition was his move from a desk in the common office space into an office with a door.

“I think our transition was made a lot easier because I worked with these guys for so long before they started working for me,” Garcia says. “I brought some new energy and efficiency to the company, but I didn’t want to change things just to change them. I wanted to improve where things needed improved.”

Gradual improvements

One of the first changes Garcia made was upgrading the company’s decade-old Microsoft Access database. He hired a web developer to build a custom one that manages all the scheduling and reports. Technicians can access all the information they need from the field using iPads. The technology has simplified rerouting technicians, sending monthly invoices and more. The improvements have increased the company’s billable versus working hours by about 20 percent.

“It takes all of our human time out of doing any kind of calculations, which has saved us a ton of time in the office and in the field,” Garcia says. “It’s all done with the click of a mouse.”

Along with a new website and a marketing redesign, Garcia says the company’s growth has “evolved kind of naturally.” He doesn’t spend any money on advertising. Instead, he focuses on retaining his existing clients and offering them other services, such as landscape lighting, drainage and pot irrigation.

Garcia established a small monetary incentive to encourage his team to inform clients about the company’s other offerings and provide them with tip sheets on services that may interest them. Staff at Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler are paid an hourly rate plus a flat percentage of the jobs they perform, so Garcia says it’s in everyone’s best interest to educate clients on these additional services and sell more jobs.

“The incentive was to get them comfortable visiting with customers instead of just handing them the bill and walking away,” Garcia says. “But what really motivated them was when a tech gives a client a tip sheet on lighting and the client orders the service, that tech gets to do the job (and make a percentage on it) for telling them about the lighting.”

Opportunity lies in irrigation maintenance, Alan Garcia says.

Opportunity lies in irrigation maintenance, Alan Garcia says.

Dealing with the weather

The weather also has opened up new opportunities. In 2012, the city of Fort Worth implemented year-round water use restrictions that limited watering to twice a week for both residential and commercial properties and mandated that no water should be wasted due to runoff or malfunctioning sprinklers. Garcia says that move prompted an increase in requests for upgrades and drip irrigation from existing clients, plus requests for new systems from homeowners who would have difficulty manually watering on their designated days. The company also started offering water audits that include a site inspection and suggestions for system repairs and revisions.

Regardless if the weather is wet or dry, hot or cold, employees at Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler never have to worry about the industry’s standard seasonal layoffs. Since the beginning, the company has never laid off an employee, and Garcia says it never will. One way the company survives fully staffed through slow times is its voluntary employee savings program. From January to November, the company takes $30 out of all participating employees’ weekly paychecks and matches it. The money is set aside and then given to each employee during a company potluck meal the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. While the program is optional, Garcia says every employee participates.

“When we are dead slow, I’m handing out checks,” he says. “It’s their money, but we’ve been helping them save it and also adding to it. It’s an extra $1,400, and it’s a huge help during the lean winter months.”

Going forward, Garcia sees the biggest opportunities for growth on the system maintenance side of the business. He looks forward to using the industry’s new smart irrigation technology as it becomes more affordable and accessible. Garcia also “daydreams” about one day running the company with his own children, just as he and his father-in-law used to do.

Hulsey, who still has an office in the building, stops in occasionally to see how things are going. While the company’s founder is no longer officially involved in any of the company’s operations, Garcia still relies on his father-in-law for advice, insight and knowledge. After all, aside from Garcia, there’s no one who knows the ins and outs of the company better.

“I still bounce ideas off him and vent about problems,” Garcia says. “We always joke that there are situations that happen to me where he’s the only other person on the planet who would understand because he’s the only one who’s been in my exact shoes.”

Photos: Fort Worth Lawn Sprinkler Co.

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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