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As Easy As... ABC

By Erik Skindrud, regional editor

Crews use a truck-mounted 100-gallon spray rig when treating larger brown patch or chinch bug infestations. The equipment permits blanket applications instead of spot treatments from the more portable backpack sprayers.

Austin-based ABC Pest and Lawn Services has expanded steadily in recent years by looking for new opportunities and (when necessary) making adjustments along the way.

To Bobby Jenkins, owner of the Austin-based ABC Pest and Lawn Services, the decision to expand into the lawn maintenance business was easy to make.

The company had been purchased by the late Bob Jenkins, Bobby's father, in 1967. Jenkins Sr. had steadily built up from a one-truck operation, with the business name changed from ABC Pest Control to ABC Pest and Lawn Services in the early 1990s. Bobby Jenkins describes what happened next and how that decided the firm's move from pure pest control into the lawn maintenance field.

"We changed the name to ABC Pest and Lawn Services," Jenkins recalled. "And we thought that referred to our lawn care--like weed and insect control, fertilization and feeding. But our customers heard the name and they thought we were in the lawn mowing business too. We had to say no--but at some point we figured if they want something we might as well give it to them."

Jenkins took a page from his father, who had started with a lone pest-control truck. In 1999, he went into lawn maintenance by purchasing a single-truck operation, which included a supervisor and a three-man crew.

This Austin residence has just received a full treatment by an ABC lawn maintenance crew--mowing, edging, hedge-trimming, bed-weeding, tree-pruning and blow-off.

Growing Pains

The transition to mowing, trimming and blowing was not as smooth and simple as Jenkins had hoped.

At first, ABC found that the new operation wasn't providing the same level of care that its more experienced pest-control operation did. Some customers were disappointed, and that slowed down ABC's growth.

"On paper, it seemed like our pest-control technicians could do fertilizer application too," he said. "But what happened was that our pest control techs were not that good at finding and stopping turf diseases. Our service, at first, was mediocre. We had to find new lawn techs. It turned out to not be as efficient as we had hoped, but our level of service went up and the business followed. We had to go through the school of hard knocks and it took some time."

One key to getting things on track was putting longtime foreman Steve Ambrose in charge of the lawn division, Jenkins said. The company originally let new, untested workers run the operation, but they needed someone they knew and someone they could trust.

Equipment shown here includes Exmark and Snapper mowers and line trimmers, blowers and a hedge trimmer manufactured by Shindaiwa.

"He's willing to go out in the field and see what's actually going on," owner Jenkins said. "The key was his being hands-on."

From the single maintenance truck, ABC's Austin operation has since grown to 15 lawn maintenance trucks and crews, two irrigation installation and maintenance crews and six lawn (turf disease) care trucks.

Where to find capable and dedicated workers is another key to a successful business. Like many other medium and large-sized maintenance companies, ABC is taking advantage of the federal government's H-2B program that allows temporary workers from Mexico to work part of the year in this country. Back in 2002, a private consulting firm helped ABC fill out the paperwork and get the ball rolling. Now about 25 of the roughly 50-person lawn division workers are Mexican citizens.

ABC is lucky. After Sept. 11, 2001 the guest worker program lost favor with many lawmakers. The Associated Landscape Contractors of America, or ALCA, is pushing with other groups to open the door for more foreign workers, but for now, the demand for them outstrips the supply.

The guest worker program requires foreign workers to return to their home countries for several months of the year. It's a perfect setup for the landscape industry--where winter work is slower. (Most of the local workers who remain stay busy setting up holiday lights and with other tasks.)

Another Austin home, this one on Pencewood Court, has received ABC's lawn-maintenance treatment. Note: the "Invisible Fence" sign at lower right refers to an electronic dog-monitoring system.

ABC Aims To Grow... Up

The Christmas lights business is up nationwide--for ABC it increased 100 percent from 2003 to 2004. The company has a plan to grow in its more lucrative and mainstream markets too.

Now that ABC's lawn care, pest control, fertilization and other services operate at the same high level, the company's opportunity for growth is clear. The key will be to cross-market the services to the customers ABC already serves.

"Our goal for '05 is to package these services in a bundle and cross-market them," Jenkins said. "That's where our biggest opportunity is. Our greatest opportunity is to have a customer who has all four of these services."

A year or two ago, ABC planned to expand its installation and landscape contracting services. A portion of the crews were put to work installing irrigation systems, hardscapes, fireplaces and large trees. But it wasn't the best use of the company's resources.

"Putting in shrubs is one thing but big trees is another," Jenkins said. "I'm not interested in doing big, one-time projects. We want to do repeat business--that's what I'm after."

Landscaping, installing seasonal color--annual bloomers--is the extent of what the company wants to do in terms of installation. The time and effort required to do the big jobs properly cancels out the profit incentive if it's just a one-time thing.

Put together, ABC's strategy sounds like a recipe for success.


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October 20, 2019, 5:53 pm PDT

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