Local lawn care businesses change ways amid pandemic
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Ben Gillilan, owner of Grizzly Lawn & Home, stands in front of some of his equipment Friday. The recent rains prevented his crews from mowing lawns Friday, but he stayed at the office doing invoices and write-ups.
Thaddeus Imerman | Herald
Cody McElroy, a crew member with Five Brothers Lawn Care in Copperas Cove mows part of a yard on South Ninth Street in Copperas Cove Friday.
Thaddeus Imerman | Herald
Charles Aker, crew chief of Five Brothers Lawn Care, trims grass at a residence on South Ninth Street in Copperas Cove Friday.
Thaddeus Imerman | Herald
Lawn care businesses have been adapting to the challenges of the dry summer and the economic strain related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Grizzly Lawn and Home in Nolanville had a decrease in lawn maintenance calls when COVID-19 first hit in the spring, according to owner Ben Gillilan.
“People were staying home so they decided to take care of their maintenance on their own,” Gillilan said. “As time went on the landscape installation side picked up.”
Customers began improving the aesthetics of their homes, updating dated landscapes and adding decks and patios, Gillilan said.
“Folks got interested in that since they were spending more time looking out of their windows,” he added.
Although lawn care and landscaping are primarily done outside, Gillilan said his employees now wear masks when they interact with customers directly.
A few customers felt uncomfortable having lawn care personnel on their property during the early onset of COVID-19 and chose to take care of their lawns on their own, Gillilan said.
“One employee’s mother got sick and he quarantined for two weeks,” Gillilan said. “He never got sick and he came back. Other than that there has not been a huge impact on personnel.”
The dry weather this summer has had more of a noticeable impact, Gillilan said, although that is in keeping with the normal trend for this time of year.
“Not the landscaping, and the pretty looking side — but the lawns slowed down about 25 percent,” Gillilan said. “Folks are just not needing to get stuff done — even people with a sprinkler system. But we managed to keep everybody busy, aside from that anyway.”
Best Cut Lawn Care owner Willie Powell said his business has also been about the same as usual this year, after a slight dip in service requests when the pandemic first hit in the spring.
“A lot of people lost their jobs, so they were home to do their own lawns, but I expected that,” Powell said. “Everybody is going to have to take a hit.”
Although the business is already primarily outdoor with little contact with customers, Powell said his business has transitioned to even more contactless service — handling everything over the phone.
The stress of worrying about how the virus would affect the health or job stability has been the greatest strain on both his personnel and his customers, Powell said. Meanwhile, the dry spell that was broken late last week has put more of a damper on his business, he said.
“With no growth in the grass, everything is drying up,” Powell said. “If we normally cut twice a month, we’re slowing down to once a month. It’s cut half our business.”
Powell said he hopes the recent rain will improve businesses.
Five Brothers Lawn Care in Copperas Cove is owned and operated by Sherry Maples and her husband, Michael Aker.
Aker said the business originated as a way for his sons to raise money to go to an amusement park.
“In a matter of a few weeks, not only did we end up going, they made enough to buy passes,” Aker said. “We got to go a few times that year.”
Now they’ve grown to support themselves primarily on the 15 to 20 commercial properties they service over the weekend for a set monthly price.
“We’ve been around long enough, when the little guys disappear because they don’t have enough work, we get calls and contact forms for people looking for service daily,” Aker said. “Without residential maintenance, we wouldn’t starve — we wouldn’t be happy, but we wouldn’t starve. Residential is like the icing on the cake.”
Business has stayed busy this year, he added.
“Trump money helped, I think a lot,” Aker said, referring to the economic stimulus money paid out to individuals and families earlier this year. “Even on unemployment, instead of mowing their lawn, they were still able to be able to pay to have someone cut their lawn. It was really unique.”
Since Five Brothers Lawn Care takes payment online, they have minimal interaction with customers in person.
“We don’t want to take up their time,” Aker said. “We’ve always been kind of a social distancing, contactless company for years now.”
The dry weather over the summer has had more of an impact on business than the pandemic, Aker said, but the majority of his customers stay on the schedule and postpone services rather than canceling all together.
“We didn’t have anyone cancel in July — we made it into about the first week of August,” Aker said.
Aker said they made it to the first week of August servicing about 20 residential lawns five days a week before customers needed to skip service because their grass hasn’t grown enough to need trimming.
“We’ve had a decrease of about two lawns a day,” Aker said. “With the big rain we had this week, we’ll see if this continues. I think I’ve completely lost two customers due to drought this year — completely lost them; they’ve gone off the schedule.”
Owner Max Loubiere said Lawn Care Killeen has also kept a steady stream of business in spite of the dry weather and the pandemic.
“At the beginning, it was more concerning than anything else that our business would be affected and we would lose some customers,” Loubiere said. “We did have maybe one or two clients out of 300 that specifically mentioned the economic crisis when they canceled their services — that was a very small percentage.”
The retirees, government employees and soldiers in the area make for a steady economy, he said.
Loubiere said the worry transitioned to how to manage customers without risking infection, but he agreed the outdoor nature of lawn care made reducing direct contact with customers easy to manage.
The lack of rain this summer has decreased his business by 40 to 50 percent, Loubiere said.
To help the lawn retain moisture from humidity, Loubiere suggested leaving the grass at least four inches high.
“Also using fertilizer in the spring, they’ll lose less humidity because they’ll have thicker grass when the weather gets hotter,” Loubiere said. “Also, water it. Some people don’t have that option or don’t want to spend that kind of money.”
Gillilan added it is better not to water at night to avoid circles of dead grass that is evidence of a fungus killing it off.
“Water about 4 in the morning,” Gillilan said. “Try to keep it no more than 3 times a week. As the nights get longer and it gets colder, slow down on your watering or you will cause disease in your lawn that way, too.”