The A&A way

August 16, 2019 -  By
A&A Lawn Care and Landscaping Co-owners Tony Kelly (left) and Andrew Wesselman. (Photo: Broadview Motion)

A&A Lawn Care and Landscaping Co-owners Tony Kelly (left) and Andrew Wesselman. (Photo: Broadview Motion)

A flurry of activity greeted me as I entered A&A Lawn Care & Landscaping in Florence, Ky. Phones were ringing, emails were pinging and I could make out the distinct “clunk” of a stapler binding paperwork for the day ahead.

Crews were already out on job sites catching up from the previous days’ washouts. To top it all off, A&A’s H-2B workers had just arrived and needed to be introduced to the company’s new clock-in system.

My first glimpse of Andrew Wesselman, co-owner and co-founder, came as he wheeled down the hallway and greeted each of the returning H-2B workers by name with a firm handshake. He wore khaki shorts, a black A&A polo and a smile that crinkled up his eyes.

Throughout our interview, he laughed easily and seemed entirely jazzed to share his company’s story. It crossed my mind that this is a guy who loves what he does.

It hasn’t always been smooth sailing for Wesselman. Just a few short months into Wesselman’s ownership of his first landscape business (predating A&A), his world flipped on its axis.

On the third day of his senior year of high school, in August 2004, Wesselman was in a car accident that landed him in the hospital for 45 days and later, confined him to a wheelchair.

But that didn’t stop him — or the small business he’d recently started. If anything, Wesselman says it motivated him to push that company, and eventually A&A, forward.

A&A employees working on a lawn (Photo: Broadview Motion)

A+ service A&A prides itself on providing top-quality service to all of its clients. (Photo: Broadview Motion)

“I remember sitting there in the hospital writing up the invoices for the work that was being done,” he says. “I was still calling on people, trying to make new sales, even when I wasn’t able to do the work.”

During that time, Wesselman says he relied on his brother to perform the labor that he could no longer do.

About a year after the accident, Wesselman had a decision to make: continue with physical therapy or make moves to propel his company forward. It probably comes as no surprise that Wesselman decided to put therapy aside and get back on the mower.

The business top of mind, Wesselman went out on jobs, using a riding mower and performing other tasks where possible. From there, it wouldn’t be too long before Wesselman joined forces with his current partner, co-founder and co-owner Tony (Anthony) Kelly, to establish A&A.

I spent a morning with Wesselman, as well as Kelly; Teri Courtney, office manager; and Todd Earls, sales manager, to find out how the company has managed to grow from a two-man operation to a 90-plus-employee organization.

A familiar tale

A&A came to be the same way as many other companies in the industry: two guys equipped with a pickup truck, a couple of mowers and an entrepreneurial spirit.

Wesselman and Kelly came to know one another through their brothers. Initially, each teen started out with his own side business.

“I had my own thing, and he had his own thing, but we were borrowing each other’s equipment,” Kelly says. “We would bounce equipment back and forth and then we decided, ‘Hey, do you want to try this thing?’ We grew our money, got an attorney, created the corporation and moved on from there.”

With that, the company — dubbed A&A for Andrew and Anthony — was born in 2007.

Giving the pair an advantage was their combined industry experience. Kelly worked at a local nursery in high school performing installs and Wesselman at his parents’ retail garden center. Wesselman recalls that growing up, his family’s home was always full of plants, especially during the holidays when his parents sold poinsettias and Easter lilies at church.

A&A employee trimming (Photo: Broadview Motion)

More than a job A&A takes care to bring on employees who are looking to make a career in the green industry. (Photo: Broadview Motion)

Wesselman adds that to this day, he looks to his father, Mike Wesselman, for advice on big company decisions.

“He’s been a go-to, a mentor, for me,” Wesselman says. “He runs a successful business and has seen it all.”

Early on in A&A’s inception, Wesselman and Kelly divvied up the workload, which mostly consisted of residential mowing and mulching jobs.

“His accident never hindered him once,” Kelly says. “It hasn’t stopped him one bit, not even a little bit.”

However, as A&A started to grow, there came a point where Wesselman realized he might serve the company better by working in the office.

“I remember one specific time feeling very frustrated because I felt like I could do things quicker if I was able to,” he says. “Having the accident allowed me to figure out how to rely on people, put trust in people and, most importantly, how to communicate how I wanted things done. It forced me to rely on others.”

With that, Wesselman made the move into the office sphere. In fact, he now jokes that one of the reasons A&A no longer has riding mowers is to prevent him from being out in the field all day.

In any case, Kelly says Wesselman’s move into the office played to his natural strengths.

“He likes to see the long term, financials and future planning,” Kelly says. “It takes a lot off me because I don’t think that way. Andrew does a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff. I do a lot of the here and now. We keep an open line of communication so he and I both know what’s going on.”

The big fish

A&A’s first “big fish” client came in 2008 when the company was awarded a contract to maintain a cemetery for a local municipality.

A&A Business Breakdown Box (Graphic: LM Staff)

Graphic: LM Staff

More municipality contracts rolled in over the next several years. Although the company no longer performs much municipality work, Wesselman acknowledges it helped get the ball rolling and contributed to the company’s first major growth spurt in 2008 — a time when many other companies in the industry began to struggle.

Another growth spurt for A&A hit with the launch of the company’s lawn care sector in 2015, which will make up about 50 percent of A&A’s business this year, according to Wesselman.

“We went from pretty much nothing in 2015, and now we’re servicing a little more than about 7,000 lawn care customers today,” Wesselman says. “I like it because of the recurring revenue. It’s a larger customer base, and it allows us to cross sell and upsell our other services to these customers.”

Up until 2015, A&A contracted out lawn care services. “I was always hesitant of doing it because of the agronomics behind it,” Wesselman says. “But it was like everything came together in ’15 from a key personnel standpoint.”

Courtney, one of those key employees who came on to help manage the lawn care sector, brought along experience working with the national lawn care franchise, Scotts — and knowledge of how to operate the Real Green Systems software A&A uses to track, measure and market its services.

“My main thing was to focus on the customer service,” Courtney says. “I focused on getting a good reputation (in that segment). The communication side of things was for me to handle and then let them do their thing. One of our strong suits is the customer service, making sure we’re available on the phone or in person or at their property doing the jobs.”

Courtney says the company keeps in touch with clients through call aheads, follow ups and quality control checks.

To further ensure the lawn care sector runs smoothly, A&A employs three full-time customer service representatives, led by Courtney, and three full-time salespeople, which includes Earls and two other employees.

“We print leads once a day in the morning, so any leads that were keyed in yesterday were printed this morning. (Those leads) will be estimated and customers called back today. Our three salespeople allow us to turn estimates pretty quickly,” Wesselman says.

In the interest of time, not all of the lawn care properties are measured in person; some are measured online whenever possible, according to Earls.

Additionally, each of A&A’s 14 lawn care technicians is equipped with a tablet to keep track of customers and job details.

Growing pains

With growth has come a new set of challenges for the company, namely hiring the right people.

“Over the years, I’ve been trying to coordinate human resources efforts because we’re growing,” Courtney says, adding that A&A has worked to streamline its new hire processes, attendance policies and more. “Andrew and Tony do a good job with trying to keep everything upbeat and taking care of employees. They’re looking for employees who want to make a career out of this.”

Courtney says the company uses Facebook, Twitter, the company website and employee referrals to attract new talent. Added perks — such as a summertime company carnival, a Christmas party on a river boat, a companywide service day and a “ticket system” where employees are rewarded for good conduct — help sweeten the deal, Wesselman says.

“We started out as a small family,” Earls says. “As we grow, it still has that family kind of feeling.

Everyone who works here wants to come to work because it is fun. Of course, the money is great. It’s also the atmosphere and knowing that when you go to work for a company, that company has your back.”

Keeping up with A&A’s growing client base also has proven to be a challenge. Wesselman says this is where Real Green’s measurement, tracking and marketing capabilities have come in handy.

In addition to using technology, Earls advises other landscape salespeople to be honest and set the right expectations for customers. “Follow through with what you promise a customer and then follow up to make sure the customer is happy,” he says.

This article is tagged with , , , and posted in Cover story, Featured, July 2019
Sarah Webb

About the Author:

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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