In its winter years, lawn service plans for spring

Kathryn Cargo By Kathryn Cargo

Feb. 11, 2018 at 10:30 p.m.
Updated Feb. 12, 2018 at 7 a.m.

Benjamin Rodriguez, 16, uses his hand to fill in around a sprinkler head Tuesday while helping with an installation job by Hill's Lawn & Tree Service at a new condo in Port O'Connor.

Benjamin Rodriguez, 16, uses his hand to fill in around a sprinkler head Tuesday while helping with an installation job by Hill's Lawn & Tree Service at a new condo in Port O'Connor.   Evan Lewis for The Victoria Advocate

PORT O'CONNOR - After owning Hill's Lawn & Tree Service for about 50 years, Bob Hill sold the business to Jason Brannan, his trusted friend of 20 years.

Hill's great-grandfather started the business in 1922, and it was in his family until November, when the two friends closed the sale. Hill will work with Brannan for a year to teach him the ropes and then take his retirement.

"I'm happy he's using the Hill's Lawn & Tree Service name, which is valuable ... We've been in business a long time and treated people well," said Hill, 65. "My legacy will be - I've served a lot of people in landscaping, irrigation and horticulture services, and I've put a plan in place for Jason where that service can continue."

When selling a business or transferring it to a new owner, whether it be family, a friend or a stranger, an owner needs to have a solid business plan to pass on, said Joe Humphreys, University of Houston-Victoria Small Business Development Center executive director.

Brannan, 40, and Hill first discussed Brannan taking over the business during a hunting trip about three years ago. The sale was later discussed and put into action in 2017. The transition took about three months, and the two hired a lawyer to form a contract.

Although Hill doesn't have a written business plan, he's working with Brannan for a year to show him how everything is done, which is his form of a plan, he said.

Hill sold hundreds of lawn contracts with the business, so he wants his customers to continue to be served just as well.

"It took me a while to learn everything, and I had my dad's help," Hill said. "It makes sense for me to try to help him. And what that accomplishes for me - it lets the business keep going, which is nice."

Having a business exit plan is just as important as having a startup plan, Humphreys said. When business owners exit their business, they either pass it on to someone else or shut down and sell their assets. Regardless of which course an owner takes, they need to have a viable plan to raise the value of their business before the exit.

Three to five years before exiting the business, the owner needs to make it as valuable as possible, he said. It takes that long to work on financial and balance statements to create the wealth productivity to sell a business.

One way to make the business more profitable is to stop discretionary spending in that period, Humphreys said.

"You'll stop spending those expenses and start building those profits and retain the earnings," he said.

In spring 2017, Hill downsized his labor crew to make it more sustainable and profitable. He dropped the maintenance crew that would do yard mulching and trim shrubs.

Hill said it's hard to find employees who will do the job correctly without constant supervision. The business is now more focused on applying chemicals to lawns.

"You can only do so much checking on stuff, and you run out of time in the day," Hill said. "We're focusing on the professional side of (the business)."

Brannan said the business will still offer landscaping services, but he will hire a subcontractor to do the work instead of employees.

He enjoys the chemical side of Hill's Lawn & Tree Service. He also has another business he started in 2002, High Tech Service, which is a pressure washing service. He has experience in the chemical industry from High Tech Service and working in the oil field.

"I like the actual chemistry about the chemical side of the formulas," Brannan said. "The formulas of what you add here and take away elsewhere."

Brannan wanted to take over Hill's business because of his spirit of entrepreneurialism, he said.

"My grandfathers were both entrepreneurs, and I kind of have taken after them," he said.

His goal with the business is to continue its positive reputation and keep the same employees. Many of the employees have worked for Hill's Lawn & Tree Service for more than 20 years.

"I know (Brannan) is a hard worker, and he has a little background in it, and I'm going to help him to ease him into the business," Hill said. "I know Hill's Lawn & Tree Service is in good hands."


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