Traverse City Record-Eagle

the BIZ

April 30, 2014

Winter chills landscape

TRAVERSE CITY -- Employees at TSR Lawn and Landscape felt winter’s blow.

Owner Dave Drake said he laid off his seasonal staff longer than usual, and their unemployment coverage ran out before the weather warmed enough to start landscaping jobs.

“My guys were going without all last month, for sure,” Drake said. “They were all itching to come back.”

Drake said the window when crews take care of spring cleaning jobs, like thatching lawns and clearing brush, is shortened by the slow transition into spring. He expects a two- to three-week cleanup time span, compared to the normal four- to five-week window.

“It’s going to be a lot of overtime to pay to catch back up, to accommodate the people that are expecting us to be there,” Drake said. “It’s all or nothing right now.”

Matthew Zimmerman, head of operations at Zimmerman Landscaping, said he usually starts projects on April 1. Weather delayed that date by three weeks, but a few sunny days will get customers calling.

“All our plant material coming in has to be delayed because of the cold weather,” Zimmerman said. “We’re already getting plant material that’s leafed out and flowering.”

Landscapers compete for business in the shortened season.

Zimmerman has worked at the family landscaping business since he could pull a weed. His grandfather started it in 1932 and may have been the region’s first landscaper.

Not anymore. Zimmerman said competition began to grow immensely in the 1980s and hasn’t slowed.

Drake has owned TSR Lawn and Landscape for 15 years, and said there’s plenty of work. He doesn’t think about the competition; his mantra is “just take care of your own backyard.”

Customer tastes have changed since landscaping competition picked up. Drake and Zimmerman agree today’s customers are less interested in quality, which leads Drake to another mantra: “Good ain’t cheap, and cheap ain’t good.”

Zimmerman refuses to sacrifice quality to attract bargain-minded customers.

“Probably 80 percent of our business is return business,” he said. “All we can hope for is that people call us and they like what we do, we stand behind what we do, and they keep calling us back. I guess that says a lot about what we’re doing. Word-of-mouth advertising is the best in the world.”

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