This article has been written by Jack Chapman of Kingsbury Lawn Care, an independent lawn care company based in the West Midlands. He's been extremely busy since his last Pitchcare magazine entry five years ago now speaking to us as an established small business owner and committee member of the UK Lawn Care Association since 2019.
The professional lawn care industry is one which has been growing since the 1990s. As the standards of products in turf care have evolved, the use of non-scorch, slow release fertilisers have been shared with homeowners. This was started in the USA, with the 1990s and 2000s giving birth to a number of lawn care businesses across the UK.
The industry is in a unique position, given it has become proven to be largely recession and more recently, pandemic proof also. Target customers are those in the most affluent of homes who are least affected by an economic downturn. The Covid-19 pandemic, fortunately, does little to halt tradespeople who are safely able to continue outdoors with the correct mitigations. With many overseas holidays placed on hold across 2020 and 2021, surely the question isn't if the home improvement market is a good place to be in 2021, but how good?
What is professional lawn care?
Professional lawn care services seek to take the products, machinery and results from the amenity turf sector and into the gardens of affluent homeowners. Results gained are superior to those of DIY products, and can be achieved cost-effectively with bulk purchasing and tight routing. An estimate of the total homeowners using a lawn care service in the UK in 2019 coming to 645,0001.
The early success of taking lawn care to the mass market was done so via franchise models, which continue to be dominant in today's market. Recent years have also seen the growth of independent lawn care businesses, with upwards of 70 small businesses part of the UK Lawn Care Association - priding themselves on providing a higher end service. For this reason, many of these companies seek turf care experience and qualifications when hiring. People directly employed in the lawn care sector in 2019 being just under 20001.
Why professional lawn care as a career?
The lawn care industry provides a career option to the professional greenkeeper / groundsman. Here are a handful of pros and cons, but with the caveat that there may well be more, and that some of these points may feel more important to some in the grounds industry than others.
An improved work / life balance
The lawn care industry is far closer to typical office hours than professional groundmanship. There is an element of seasonality with a spring sales season and autumn renovation, but this is without doubt far smoother than the evenings and weekends often required around sporting fixtures and tighter renovation windows. Do you live to work or work to live?
Working with the general public could be viewed as a drawback, without a doubt. However the stakeholders involved in professional sport may be more demanding and more complex. Some turf professionals will suit a people-facing role, others may not.
The pay that can be offered in professional lawn care should be a great thing for all turf professionals. If pay is attractive, then this should only serve to keep the pay offered in lower to mid sports turf roles honest. Lawn care will never be able to compete with the pay offered in the top jobs, but lawn technicians could find themselves on anything from £20,000 to £25,000 typically, and in limited roles up to and exceeding £30,000 with overtime and bonuses considered for established operators in the south / south east.
Lack of prestige
This is the key drawback in my personal view. Professional lawn care technicians do not experience the rewards of preparing a stadium surface for high level sport, for cup finals, for test matches and for televised tournaments. They avoid the pressure of such, but do not get the intrinsic reward of being able to speak of and experience those kinds of highs.
Care and attention to detail
Professional lawn care, much like sports clubs are businesses and businesses must turn a profit to survive. A lawn care programme is one which may involve a handful of visits to a property per year. The upkeep of the lawn could be to a different standard to that of a sports turf professional if there is only basic homeowner maintenance between seasonal visits. This could be viewed as a positive for every day to be different in different gardens with different homeowners, many of which enjoying and being responsive to a level of education.
Do you enjoy driving? Rather than being on a single site each day, a lawn care technician may visit as many as 20, or 25 gardens to apply a fertiliser and weed control if these are only small properties in close proximity. Some may be larger, more rural properties. The profession requires plenty of van driving, good time management and enjoyment of working in isolation at times.
In summary, the skills and experience of the turf professional are present and will continue to be required in the lawn care industry as growth continues. This is a sector of our industry which following trends from the USA is set for an exciting next few years.
1 Amenity Forum Lawn Care Group, September 2020. The Amenity Forum Lawn Care Group was formed in early 2020 following the UKLCA committee highlighting the requirement for the industry to form one voice. It is made up of The Amenity Forum along with representatives from GreenThumb, Greensleeves, and the UK Lawn Care Association who collectively represent approximately 85% of the sector.