Lawn care companies coping with unprecedented costs

Jun. 12—TUPELO — Ricky Kimbrell has been in the lawn care industry for about 12 years. Two years ago, he took his business, Kimbrell Lawn Services, full time. But while his customer base has grown, inflation has hit his business just as it has affected everyone else, if not more so.

Equipment typically makes up 10% to 16% of the cost of providing lawn care and landscaping services. But like everything else, those prices have risen, along with fuel and fertilizer prices.

Kimbrell has four commercial lawn mowers, and he’s having to pay $600 more for fuel each week.

“I’ve also increased my labor cost by 20%,” Kimbrell said. “So my guys are averaging about $2 more per hour, but you have to do that.”

Amelia Foote, Vice President of Total Lawn Care in Tupelo, said fuel costs tripled last month to nearly $10,000.

“Everybody uses fuel, and everything my guys do all day uses it,” she said. “To get to a job site uses fuel; then they crank up a mower, an edger and Weed Eater, everything. Then the ones who aren’t doing that we have guys doing irrigation systems, and pipes are more expensive as well as irrigation parts. They’ve gone up $5 to $10 per part.”

Industry analysts expect the US landscaping industry to reach about $115 billion this year. But it’s likely to be more.

Because of rising costs, lawn mowing services cost an average 22.4% more this year, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing home-services company Angi.

“The good news is we’re getting a lot of business, but the bad news is a lot of business is locked in with contracts,” Kimbrell said. “You can raise prices on the new customers, but you can’t tell the ones with a contract that you’d like to raise prices.”

Kimbrell secured four commercial contracts earlier this year, but they were right before inflation made just about everything more expensive.

“I learn something every year, and this year I’ve learned that I should put a clause in those contracts to adjust for inflation,” he said with a laugh.

Foote said Total Lawn Care has many contracts locked up as well.

“We’ve bitten the bullet,” she said. “Last year, we hem-hawed about raising prices, but this year we are going to have to go up on them.”

Both Kimbrell and Foote said most of their customers understand the need to increase their prices. However, each is also looking at ways to cut costs.

Foote said she’s worked on improving the efficiency of the routes so her crews aren’t having to go back and forth to jobs sites in the same area. For example, if a crew is headed to Saltillo, they’ll also look at sites near the mall on the way to Saltillo top trim costs.

TLC has 10 trucks on the road at any given time, plus most if not all of them are also pulling trailers full of equipment, which means putting more drag on the fuel efficiency of the vehicles.

The cost of shrubs, trees and flowers used by landscaping companies have also risen, expenses that’ll inevitably get passed on to clients.

Landscaping costs vary depending on the size of the job. For small jobs like lawn care or tree service, expect to pay $50 to $100 per hour. For larger jobs such as installation, prices range from $4 to $12 per square foot. When starting from scratch, most homeowners will spend between $3,000 and nearly $16,000 for landscaping.

Another concern for some companies is how inflation will affect their business over time. Will clients cut back on their services? Will they be willing to pay more to avoid doing the job themselves? Will that drive them to find other lawn services?

Kimbrell has about 70 clients, which keeps his crews busy.

“For us, mowing is something you do year-round, but it’s also our biggest expense with gas, oil, blades, belts, etc.,” he said. “So while moving is our biggest asset, it’s also our biggest liability.”

Most days of the week, Kimbrell has two crews out working.

“I’m thankful for the help we have and the business we have … we’re about to get caught up with everything, which is a good thing, but I’m a bit worried that we don’t have a lot waiting in the pipeline,” he said.

Still, Kimbrell is grateful that what was once a hobby has turned into a business that’s grown far faster than he expected.

“I couldn’t have done this with God, family and other businesses willing to help me out,” he said. “We’re all in this together, so we’ll see what happens.”

dennis.seid@djournal.com

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