Start a Lawn Care and/or Pool Cleaning Business

There has been a lot of interest in this topic.  Even if you write a small check to your pool man or gardener, it adds up.  Say you pay $50/month for lawn service and $100/month for pool service.  That’s $1,800/year.  And if you have lived in your house for say twelve years, that comes to $21,600–the cost of a small car.  Some people claim that they started with nothing and now make  $50,000/year part time only part of the year and never work past noon or on weekends.  (See How to start a lawn care business! this book is a few years old, and the business is in Maine)

The reason we decided to combine pool service with lawn service is that they have one thing in common–their biggest problem they encounter is finding customers.  The value of each paying customer can be over $1,000.

Please let us know what you think.  We are still working on this article.  Just Contact Us with your suggestions.

Gardener, lawn Service, Landscaper — same thing  right?

Wrong

We tend to use these terms interchangeably, but from a regulatory standpoint, there is a big difference.  Generally, if you operate a lawn service or work as a gardener you may not need a California State Contractors License.  We don’t really understand the rules either,  if you want to paint, put down tile … you need a licence if the value of the job exceeds the $400 threshold.  But the laws are complex and we are not attorneys.  So we don’t know for sure, but based on an interview with the state contracting board, you don’t need a State Contracting License.  The key is that you do not call yourself a landscaper, you are a gardener or lawn service doing regular maintenance.  No single job can cost more than the $400 threshold set by the state.  If you charge more than that for a single job, you need a contractors license.  Most jobs are billed on a monthly basis, but if you charge for say a 12 month period at once, for instance selling a years worth of yard care, and that comes to more than $400, you may need a contractors license.  You and bill more than $400 in advance for future jobs and bill for previous work done so long as each job is stated and no one job is greater than the $400 threshold.

If you do other jobs like fixing sprinklers, sod, landscape design… you are required to have a C-27 State Contractor’s License.

The other regulatory advantage of this is that under current regulations, maintaining a yard is something that a homeowner would be expected to do so the customers you work for may not need to get workers compensation for your services.  And if you are doing the job yourself, you do not need to have workers compensation for yourself.  But if you hire anyone, you will be required to get a workers comp policy, pay state and federal payroll taxes, pay for state disability…  Those costs add up, and you might not be able to charge enough money to cover them.  That’s why a lot of these businesses have stayed one-man operations or one-man and people paid under the table operations.

We assume it’s the same case for cleaning pools.

Technically you also need a business licence to do business with in each city you work in, but a lot of cities just don’t check for that.  And homeowners care more about how their yard looks then if you are in compliance.  So a lot of people are working with out a city business license.  See our regulatory compliance page about how to get a business license.

California’s laws and regulations are very complicated.  This is our understanding.  We are not attorneys.  Please contact a licensed attorney for any legal advice.   see our TOS

 Finding Customers

Finding customers will be your biggest challenge.   The problem is that most landlords and homeowners just stick with who they have.  They don’t shop around.  And it is hard to make contact with the homeowners to make your pitch.  You will want to try to find customers in a general area so that you won’t waste all your time and gas money driving all over town.  And to be honest, this is where you make your money.  Cutting the grass or cleaning the pool is like an annuity once you have sold your service.  There are people in the business of signing homeowners up for services and then selling off the routes.

  • Direct Mail/Sales Calls One possibility is to target new homeowners by getting information from a website like Redfin.com.  You can search for homes that sold in the past 30 or 60 days.  These new homeowners don’t have a long history with the the people doing their yard or pool so they might consider a change.  You can make a list of the addresses; and if you are interested in doing pools, you can search for houses with a pool or spa.  (2)  City Permits.  It’s possible to get a list of houses for which there has been a building permit taken out to install a pool.  If you have the time, you can also find pool homes by looking at google maps.  Just send a simple letter introducing yourself, and ask if you can give an estimate for service.  Or if you are in the area, stop by and say “hi, I was doing a house down the street, and I would like to give you an estimate on doing your house.”  Some people find the latter to be a bit annoying.
  • Telemarketing Calls  These really turn people off, and since most people are on the federal Do-not-Call list it’s not worth even trying.
  • Community Papers/Church Papers Putting a business card size ad in one of these does not cost a lot, but would be going to your target customers.
  • Signs Truck signs put your name where you want it–in the area you are working.  And, people will see that you are working at their neighbour’s home.  The most cost effective way to go is to get magnetic sighs for your doors and tail gate.  Another way to go is to wrap your truck/van.  This will get attention, but it might be overkill.  Sign and Graphic companies can design you sign and have it made.  Examples of companies include OCC Signs and  Rocky Signs http://rockysigns.com  Rocky signs can also make small plastic yard signs that have become popular.
  • Internet Advertising  With services like Google Ads, you can target specific zip codes.  Your add will com up when someone in that zip code types in something like “gardener” or “pool man” in the google search box.  You can also try coupon sites like Groupon which can target customers.  But you will have to give about 1/2 the money they take in to the service; and you will have to do the service for a discount.  For instance, you would charge $80 for three months of yard work, and the internet coupon service would take half of that.  But this is an inexpensive way to get customers when you consider how much it costs to buy a route.
  • Door Hangers/Fliers  Let people know you are working on the street and would like to do their house.  They have a low response rate, but don’t cost that much.  And you are already there so it doesn’t cost much to put them on door knobs.
  • Coupons To get people to switch services, you will have to give them a good deal.  Of coarse some of these people will want the coupon price all the time and some of them will switch to other services after the coupon period is over.  But that’s the cost of business.
  • Apartment and Rental Home Owners also known as the cheapest people around.  You can reach them and their managers by advertising in an apartment association magazine.  The two main associations in the OC are the AAOC and the AOA   They both have monthly magazines, trade shows, and websites.  The AAOC also does a monthly mailing which includes fliers from several vendors.  The problem with advertising in these organizations is that you will be broadcasting to the entire county, when you only want to target parts of a city; and they may have vendors in place that do the same thing.  They may also require that you have a Contractor’s License to advertise.

Buying an existing rout.

How much does a Route Cost ??

Cost of Pool Routes in Orange County CA

It’s hard to figure out how much you should pay–that’s up to you.  Prices seem to be mainly based on the number of paying accounts.  You will also pay more for a route in more affluent area.  The implication is that people in nicer areas just pay more.  And that’s probably true.  Pool routes go for a percentage of the annual charge to customers.  We noted that they go from 10x annual service revenue to 14x annual service revenue.   But these numbers are questionable.

We did a quick un-scientific survey of prices advertised for pool Routes on the internet and found that for Pool Routes the average cost was $1,040 per paying customer in Orange County.  This should be taken with a grain of salt. Data is not available, and we used asking price and reported sales price from Craigslist and PoolRouteBroker.com  We are not sure how old some of the reported sales data were on PoolRouteBroker, so we only took the first 8 sales figure and combined that with 8 listings.  Asking prices are just that, and people negotiate down.  And brokers may have an incentive to tell potential clients that they got a hood price for previous clients  Also, some routes may have come with equipment.  So one would think the average sales price/customer has an upward bias.  How much, we don’t know!

Site Annual Fees #Accounts  Price Price/Account Price/fees Area
CraigsList 68  $  68,000.00  $1,000.00 South OC
CraigsList 11  $  11,000.00  $1,000.00 South OC
CraigsList 25  $  30,000.00  $1,200.00 South OC
CraigsList 25  $  32,000.00  $1,280.00 South OC
CraigsList 24  $  26,000.00  $1,083.33 South OC
CraigsList 2  $       800.00  $   400.00 Lakewood
Pool Rout Brokers  $          72,000.00 72  $102,000.00  $1,416.67 142% Newport Beach
Pool Rout Brokers  $          31,000.00 34  $  30,950.00  $   910.29 100% Anaheim/Yorba Linda
Pool Rout Brokers  $          45,000.00 50  $  58,500.00  $1,170.00 130% Newport Beach
Pool Rout Brokers  $          39,540.00 42  $  42,835.00  $1,019.88 108% North OC
Pool Rout Brokers  $          18,240.00 18  $  18,240.00  $1,013.33 100% Santa Ana/Irvine/Newport Beach
Pool Rout Brokers  $          19,776.00 22  $  19,776.00  $   898.91 100% Irvine
Pool Rout Brokers  $          31,824.00 27  $  31,824.00  $1,178.67 100% South OC
Pool Rout Brokers  $          72,000.00 79  $  72,000.00  $   911.39 100% Huntington Beach, GG, …
Pool Rout Brokers  $          51,360.00 52  $  51,360.00  $   987.69 100% South OC
Pool Rout Brokers  $        120,000.00 105  $120,000.00  $1,142.86 100% South OC
 Average=  $1,038.31

Bold indicates reported sales price.

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Cost of Gardening Routes in Orange County

We couldn’t find and data for lawn routes.  They sell as a multiple of their regular service revenue.  From what we have seen on the net, the multiple is a bit less than that of pool routes.

 

  •   Craigslist  On this site, you need to know what to search for.  Pool Business pulled up a bunch on non-relevant stuff.  Pool Route seems to be the words people agree on.  Go to Orange County Craigslist and search for “Pool Route” or search for “Lawn Route” or “Gardening Route”
Posting on Craigslist is free.  If you are interested in buying a route, let people know.  Include important facts: where you want to work, how much you are willing to pay per account, let them know if you can pay cast, if you need to buy equipment.  
  • Another possibility is to go to one of the websites that has sprung up to sell routes.   Pool Route Brokers  Pool Route Sales and Pool Rout Pros are websites that have listings for our area.  It is important to get a non-compete clause in the sales contract so that the seller, who knows his clients, does not sign them up for his/her new pool company.  We haven’t found any sites that sell local gardening routes.  They tend to change hands among relatives and friends.

How much to Charge ??

There does not seem to be a lot of prices listed on-line, and pricing is based on the size of the job, and the area.  Generally there are two ways that you are paid buy customers.  The service charge includes the stuff you do every time you visit.  If it’s a pool service, that includes:
  • checking the water level and ph balance
  • Adding Chemicals
  • Skimming the pool
  • Cleaning tiles around the pool,
  • Brushing the bottom of the pool/and clean out.
  • cleaning out the filter.
An you can make more money changing the filter, and doing repairs.  You will be the person who the homeowner goes to.
For landscaping that includes cutting the lawn, trimming, edging, and cleaning up with a blower.  From what we have seen, the cost for regular service is a bit under $100/month for pool service and $40-$65 for yard service.  A lot of people are now going for bi-weekly lawn service to save money.  That’s about half the cost.  But you can make extra money for fertilizing, trimming trees, adding mulch, …

Franchise Opportunities.

We don’t seem to see a lot of strong franchise brands in this industry, but they could help give you crediablity with potential customers

 Books and Resources

We didn’t find a lot of good books about the lawn care business or pool business. The ones that we looked at were good books, but a bit off topic. They seemed to be mini-MBA classes and have a lot of information about stuff like branding or writing a formal business plan.  If you come across any good books, let us know. The books below are about doing the work.



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