A good hair cutter quickly develops a following—one look at their work and everyone wants their number.
A sharp cut can also turn heads in landscaping services. Reg Ainbinder often gets calls from property managers who say they love what he’s doing next door or across the street. Then they inquire about engaging his company’s services.
“We still don’t do any marketing,” Reg admits. He credits strong, long term relationships fostered by high quality service for much of their success.
Reg recognized that culture of quality when he purchased Care Free Property Maintenance through Sunbelt Business Brokers in April 2011.
Although property maintenance was a new area of activity for him, Reg had by then accumulated more than 25 years of experience in store management, largely with major supermarkets in Ottawa and Montreal. As he puts it, it was in fact a service industry that just happened to “serve” food.
“I spent the first months at Care Free learning what it takes to make our customer’s property look better than the competition next door,” he recalls. “Side by side, you can tell the difference. We sharpen the blades on all our lawn cutting equipment every second day. The result—we don’t rip the grass, we cut it. And we do curbs, even though they’re not part of the contract.”
“We try to be indispensable to our clients,” says Reg, “not just maintaining their property but thinking of ways they can enhance what they have. That in turn lets them make more money, in fees and other charges.”
Reg gives high praise to his staff, starting with site manager and horticulturalist Bruce Coutu. Bruce is the heart of the business, says Reg. He manages the crews, the scheduling, the processes, and takes on extra landscaping tasks as they’re needed. Bruce even repairs their equipment, which is all taken apart over winter and put back together again.
“In the summer, our guys have to be on the road by 7. We’re in Orleans but have clients as far west as Kanata. By the time I arrive at 6:30 a.m., Bruce has the crews set up and is leading the morning huddle.”
Reg also singles out Bruce’s assistant, Robert Toste, a certified Health and Safety officer, who is taking on more responsibilities, managing the planting crews. He emphasizes how fortunate he was to keep Bruce and Robert, as well as the crew supervisors, when he bought Care Free, to ensure the quality and continuity of the company’s service. They all have great relationships with the property owners/managers. And why not, “we try to take away any worries they might have about their properties,” says Reg.
Reg believes in letting his experts be the experts. He passes on one tip, though— be wary of planting pine and spruce trees. Within three years each tree will have dropped all of their needles, he mentions, pointing out the giant truck they used to haul away a whopping three tons worth of needles from one property last spring.
The truck sits with other vehicles inside the 4000-square-foot garage that dominates their business premises at 775 Taylor Creek Drive and allows them to store/repair all their lawn equipment and the trailers indoors every day. Around the perimeter, to-the-ceiling racking holds gleaming equipment on multiple levels, such as the eight heavy-duty lawnmowers now lined up high on the back wall, and nine industrial riding mowers. The four garage doors allow the cutting crew trucks to back in and remove the blades of these machines indoors, mentions Reg.
“With the ability we have to handle most of own repairs and the extra equipment we keep on hand in case of breakdown, our five cutting crews remain fully equipped and our clients can get everything they’re looking for,” he adds.
What prompted Reg to buy a business? And why did he choose Care Free?
After 25 years as a store manager, helping other people make more money than me, even though I was well paid, he adds, I wanted my own business.
The attraction to business ownership wasn’t new. Reg was a partner in a supermarket company from 1987 to 1991. “I left when we sold the businesses because they were going to a franchise model,” he mentions.
For the next 18 years, he accepted store management positions with high profile retailers—all the while, deepening his business acumen and building transferable skills in quality control, customer service and relationship management.
In 2010, Reg met with Sunbelt Canada president Greg Kells at Sunbelt’s Ottawa office.
“Greg told me there would be a landscaping services business coming up within the year that would be a good fit, but it wasn’t yet on the market. So in the meantime, we looked at a few others.”
“I wasn’t looking for a franchise,” Reg recounts. “My thinking was that if I have the risks, I’ll make the decisions, not have someone else imposing them on me.”
“Greg set up a meeting with Care Free’s then owner on Thanksgiving Day 2010. Things clicked—what was to be a two-hour meeting became four and a half.”
“Slowly but surely everything started to come together,” adds Reg. It took six months from his initial meeting with Sunbelt to connect with the right business then a further six months to secure the purchase.
His experience with Sunbelt was positive:
“I was presented with a good viable business whose value made relative sense. The business had been properly set up for sale and everything that was shown to me then has proven to be true.”
Since he took ownership in April 2011, Reg has added to the systems and computerized, but the checks and balances he was looking for in a business were already there.
The best part of having his own business?
My decisions, my risks, my rewards, says Reg. “I only have to answer to clients and bankers—as long as they’re happy, that’s it. No office politics to contend with.”
“Also, getting to know a whole bunch of great people in a new area of business and watching them grow in their careers and confidence. And contributing to that growth.”
And the worst part?
The stresses are different, Reg acknowledges.
“Client satisfaction is always a concern, but being personally responsible for up to 28 staff is a big obligation. I have had up to 200 employees before, but at the end of the day the decisions weren’t always my calls.”
“Now it’s on my shoulders to see that everyone gets paid on time, that we have the contracts in place to pay for everything, with the over and above for raises, and to buy more equipment etc.”
To boost cash flow in winter, Reg has partnered to provide snow removal. It’s working well.
“We target commercial sites where we can clear the property overnight,” Reg mentions. “Unlike an apartment building or condo, there are no tenants to disturb.”
The easier that Care Free can make life for property owners and managers, the better it is for business. As Reg says, It’s easier to develop longer term relationships when they love you. And get contacts renewed.
And if those individuals own multiple sites, it serves the best interests of both.
Takeaway TIPS for buying a business
- Maintain a good relationship with the previous owner. “I can’t say enough how important it is to get along with the seller, whether it’s a vendor take back or a partner over time,” says Reg. He considers himself very privileged to have continued access to the previous owner, even to meet clients.
- Connect with a good commercial banker and keep the lines of communication open. Let them know what’s going on. And, “When the time comes that you need them,” adds Reg, “they’ll be more receptive as they know your business.”
- Make sure you have the best accountant and lawyer. And make sure they make sense.
- Have fun. Come into work every day with the mindset that you’re going to have fun, says Reg. “If you’re having fun, your staff will also have fun and they’re the ones taking care of the clients.”
By Karen Runtz