Weak economy hasnâ€™t diminished demand at Nateâ€™s Lawn Maintenance
Nate Kohn has come a long way from the days of his youth, when he cut the lawns of homes in the neighborhood around Dunwiddie Elementary School in Port Washington at the age of 12.
â€śI charged $8 or $9 a yard and used my dadâ€™s gas,â€ť Kohn said.
By the time he was in Port Washington High School, he had classmates working for him.
â€śThe idea was to make enough money to help cover the cost of going to college,â€ť Kohn said.
He took classes in construction management at Milwaukee Area Technical College, but then had a flash of insight.
â€śI realized I enjoyed what I was doing more than what I was studying, and thought I could make it my business,â€ť Kohn said.
Today, Nateâ€™s Lawn Maintenance is growing like grass in a wet summer. It has a summer crew of 20, which grows to 30 part-time workers during the winter when clients demand snow and ice removal on short notice.
The business relocated from a Town of Saukville neighborhood to a site on Jer-Mar Road in the Village of Belgiumâ€™s business park in 2006.
After a recent expansion, the landscaper has 9,500 square feet under roof. Much of that area is used to maintain the companyâ€™s fleet of 14 trucks and other equipment.
The far end of the companyâ€™s fenced-in yard includes a varied supply of soil, mulch and landscaping stones, an area Kohn said he hopes to expand for â€śweekend warriorsâ€ť who want to tackle their own landscaping projects.
Despite the tough economic times, Kohn said, the company has managed to avoid laying off any workers.
In fact, he said, business has been surprisingly strong.
â€śBusiness during the first quarter of 2009 was not that great, but we were up 22% during the second quarter compared to 2008 and expect to stay strong during the third quarter,â€ť Kohn said.
â€śI attribute that to the conscientiousness of our workers, from the office to the field, and the power of God working through our business. The success of this business is not solely based on my own decisions, because something can always go wrong when you leave God out of the equation.
â€śWe have also learned a lot over the years through trial and error. You canâ€™t be afraid of trying something new, even if it means making mistakes.â€ť
Kohn said landscaping is a competitive business, especially with so many people improvising as jobs disappear.
â€śSuddenly, anyone with a truck thinks they can do landscaping,â€ť he said.
â€śThe difference is we guarantee everything we do. You can get someone to do a job cheaper, but they may not have the proper equipment or insurance. If their lawn mower throws a stone through your plate-glass window, it can cost you $2,000. We have insurance to cover that sort of thing.â€ť
One of the costs of the growth the business has undergone is a change in Kohnâ€™s work life.
â€śI still enjoy getting out in the field and would like to more of that, but I think I can do more for the company by spending time in the office now,â€ť he said.
As the job has evolved into one of manager, Kohn has taken an active role in a number of professional landscaping organizations.
â€śI donâ€™t believe in just paying annual dues and saying you belong to an organization,â€ť he said.
Kohn takes a philosophical approach to his business, which might be surprising since so much of it is dependant on brute force and heavy equipment.
With the economy choking off virtually all new construction, he said, there have not been many orders for landscaping by new homeowners during the past year.
Still, Kohn said developers he has talked with have said a turn-around may not be far off. Until then, he chooses to focus on the big picture.
â€śIf the current economy has taught us anything, it is probably that we need to keep positive and look for contentment beyond jobs and money â€” like spending time with family,â€ť Kohn said.