September 18, 2019

Doing it his way

INTERVIEW BY ROD McDONALD

Drew Millard is an interesting man. He has operated a small, residential maintenance company in Regina, Sask., for 30 years. His clientele is high-end, and most customers have been with him for years. His schedule is so full that it is quite rare for him to accept a new customer. That’s a nice position for any of us to be in. 

In the trade, Drew is known for his attention to detail. He regards each property as if it were his own and ensures that everything is in good order. He works year-round, providing yard main-tenance and snow removal. 

He is also known as the contractor who fires customers who are not working out. And he makes no bones about getting rid of those who are not respectful. 
 
For most of his career, Drew has been a one-man band. Here is what he has to say about his work and the green trades.

Why did you go into the landscape maintenance business?
I owned a carpet cleaning company called Mr. Carpet and after a couple of years I discovered I was highly allergic to the chemicals. For health reasons, I changed my company name to Mr. Caretaker and started mowing lawns. That was my basic entry into the trade. Even as a kid on the farm, mowing the lawn was my favourite chore. 

Why are you a one-man band?
I have had employees in the past. Some were very good and some not so good. I did get tired of putting out fires, having to check up on what others had done or failed to do. I am incredibly fussy, and I want all my customers’ yards to look their best. Not everyone cares about quality the way I do, and I found that frustrating. Supervising others was not for me, so I reduced my customer list to what I could handle. I am much happier that way.

Drew Millard

 
You are known for being the contractor who fires customers. Are any of them upset when that happens?
Yes. Most do not take it well, but why would I want to work for anyone who does not value what I do? I just tell them it is not working out and they should hire someone else. I only work for people who treat me, and others, with respect. 

What is your advice to a new person, starting out in the maintenance business?
Start small. Trying to service too many customers when you are entering the trade is not a good thing. It takes time to figure things out, and how to organize yourself and your route. 

When offering a new service, be prepared to lose money the first time. Try to break even the second time and by the third time, you should be able to figure out if that service is something worthwhile for you. 

Each customer is different. I had two customers who lived side by each. They could say the exact same thing, but each one meant something different. You have to develop your listening skills as well as your interpretive skills. I have had most of my customers for at least 20 years, so I have learned what each one means and what each one expects. Once you learn those things, you can keep the customer happy. 

Another piece of advice is to start in the right neighbourhood. Not every neighbourhood can afford a maintenance company and then there are some people who think you should work for $10 an hour. What they really want is the kid after school with his dad’s mower, not me. 

Don’t spread yourself from one end of the city to the other. Keep your route fairly tight because you do not make money driving around. 

Keep your truck clean, well signed, and by all means, look professional. Don’t be one of those guys pushing a mower with a coffee cup in one hand and a cigarette dangling out of your mouth. 

Are you pleased to be in the landscape trade?
For the most part, yes. There are some days that are more difficult than others, especially when there are storms. I have made a good living and I do enjoy working for my customers. 


If you have a mentor to recommend, or a question to suggest, please write to editor@landscapetrades.com.

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