Case Study: How to Lose a Client
Subject: Cityscape Lawn Care and Landscaping, Kenosha, WI.
The barrier of entry into the lawn mowing business is quite low. All it requires is a lawn mower, a way to move said lawn mower, and a cell phone.
Mowing grass is a job most of us learned at an early age. One pushes or rides a machine across a piece of land in parallel lines, using the last line as a guide for the next. This is done until the parallel lines cover the entire piece of land.
My wife and I have been through three “landscapers” in the past four years. The first one, we’ll call him “Robby,” was fantastic. He was courteous, meticulous, showed up when he said he would and did a number of other odd jobs around our property. He made suggestions about things we could do to make our yard more attractive.
But Robby had a sweet tooth for prescription painkillers, which ultimately led to him not caring, stealing from our garage and becoming unpredictable. Then one day he just stopped showing up.
The next two years we used another guy, Bubba. I forgot how we found him, but he was fairly consistent and did a passable job mowing. He was no Robby, but the grass got cut. At the beginning of the third summer with us, he stopped showing up. We would text and he would reply with an excuse; it’s too wet, I’m getting my blades sharpened, my rider is in the shop, etc. We finally mowed our lawn with our push mower ourselves, a task that takes four hours when you include trimming. Bubba was fired.
We were starting over, and being project managers, did a full make-buy analysis. It seemed with the inconsistency that it might make more sense to just buy a rider and do it ourselves. Monetarily, it would be a smarter decision; the rider would pay for itself in one season, we could have the lawn mowed exactly the way we want it and when we want it. We would not have to deal with a revolving door of carnies.
Our problem was, and always has been; time. Our yard is a half-acre. We’re both away from the house for 60 hours a week. I have freelance work. Beth cares for elders. The time it takes to care for our property, we decided, was more valuable than the $40 it cost to outsource it. We decided to find a new vendor.
We did our googling and found what seemed to be some reputable companies. We called each for estimates and of the four we called, two called us back, which seems to be typical in this industry.
Both gave us estimates of $40 and we chose the one who responded faster. We reviewed and signed a contract, set a Wednesday mowing date and congratulated ourselves on the vendor selection process. Everything was done entirely via email and text, which is how we like to roll.
The first Wednesday came and he didn’t show up. I got home from work at 5 pm and texted him. This was his reply…
He didn’t show up that night. Thursday after work we got home and saw the lawn had been cut.
Next week Wednesday, he didn’t show up again. I texted him.
Not sure what he was talking about because it hadn’t rained for a couple days, but ok. It was cut on Thursday and Keith was so proud he texted me a picture.
The following week he actually showed up on Wednesday. We have to move our van and unlock our gate for the mower to get in our back yard, and I didn’t even bother doing it because he hadn’t shown up on a Wednesday yet.
The following week it was dry, so Keith said they wouldn’t come out unless we requested it. Sounds good. The week after that, on June 18, I received the following text from Keith. This is where things got kind of weird.
I blame this on a perfect storm of a crazy two weeks and my wife starting a new job. We had received the bill two days earlier and it was stuck between two other envelopes in a stack of mail we hadn’t looked through yet. We wrote a check and my wife took it and said she would mail it. Less than 48 hours later, I received this voicemail.
Wow. Really? Keith is officially fired.
After thinking about how stupid, and legally and factually inaccurate his threats were, and how unnecessary, I ask him for a total so we can square up and move on.
Keith seems to sense that after threatening someone they might not want to be a customer anymore, but tries to entice me into staying on by waiving the $25 late fee.
I made the check out for $225.
The following day, Friday, I received this text message from Keith. Keep in mind, this is less than 72 hours after the initial late notice:
The course of action I would have preferred he take was one of not being an asshole. But that is clearly not possible at this point.
Keith goes on to tell me that we are now on “cash and carry,” whatever that means. I do not acknowledge this text.
My last text to Keith lets him know the check is in his mailbox. My wife wrote on the enclosed copy of the invoice: This will conclude our need for your services.
June 12: First invoice arrives by mail
June 18: Receive text saying payment is late. Even though it is not, we offer to pay immediately. Told to mail it in.
June 21: Receive voice mail threatening legal action, collections and a lien on our house. Vendor fired.
Vendor Post Mortem:
Cityscape Lawn Care and Landscaping
Season Revenue Lost: ~$1,000
Additional Project Opportunity Lost: ~$2,000
Future Annual Revenue Lost: ~$1,200/per season
Damage to Image: Priceless