Turf Magazine - June, 2014

NORTH FEATURES

Succeeding with Diversification

Clean Energy Maintenance keeps SE Pennsylvania clean and green
By Wendy Komancheck


Steve and Lori Weaver focus their Clean Energy Maintenance on educating their clients on conservation, natural products and environmental impact.
Photos courtesy of Lori Weaver, Clean Energy Maintenance.

Have you ever thought about diversifying your business? If you already diversify, it's probably in related industries, such as lawn care, landscape and snow/ice management.

Clean Energy Maintenance, Inc., founded by Steve and Lori Weaver, has been diversified since they started the company in 1992. Yes, it has related businesses, but the couple's focus is more on educating their clients on conservation, natural products and environmental impact.

The company provides services to customers in three southeastern Pennsylvania counties: Berks, Chester and Lancaster. It consists of three divisions: janitorial services, lawn/tree/shrub care and design-build. Clean Energy is a certified installer for EP Henry and Techno-Bloc, and it also performs snow/ice management for winter cash flow (more on that later).

Jeff Huber, a certified arborist who has been with Clean Energy for 15 years, runs the company's entire lawn/tree/shrub division. Wes Young, the in-house designer, heads up the firm's landscape division.

"We have noticed a lot of our customers are focusing on a green lifestyle," said Weaver. That's "green" as in natural and organic.

"As business owners, Lori and I focused on environmental impacts of our products and services that we provide. We believe in an ecological balance. This also ties into the name of our company, Clean Energy Maintenance, Inc.," says Weaver.

Clean Energy Maintenance

Owners: Steve and Lori Weaver

Founded: 1992

Headquarters: New Holland, Pa.

Markets: Southeastern Pennsylvania

Services: Office cleaning, landscape design and installation, lawn fertilization, tree & shrub care, mowing, mulching, spring and fall cleanups, irrigation systems, snow & ice management, holiday lighting and seasonal decorating, "plus a whole lot more"

Employees: 34

Website: www.cleannrg.net

He adds that they focus on educating their clients on best environmental management practices. For example, when they meet with clients about lawn care, they'll talk about the benefits of using a slow-release fertilizer to lessen the chance for nutrient runoff during a rainstorm. They explain that a slow-release fertilizer will release its nutrients into the soil based upon the ability of the turfgrass to use it, and for a longer period of time, as well.

Clean Energy also offers organic fertilizers, but the majority of the company's clients prefer slow-release due to its lower cost.

Clean Energy offers clients spring, summer and fall applications, as well as late fall fertilizer applications for those who want their grass to remain green throughout the winter.

Weaver further notes that today's homeowners are more concerned about environmental impact compared to older generations who wanted pristine, primly manicured lawns. He says his crews now mow many lawns at 3 to 4 inches to allow grass to develop stronger root systems.

Mowing at higher height naturally controls weed growth, and helps to hold moisture longer in the soil. After each mow, Clean Energy Maintenance, Inc. gives its clients a choice to keep grass clippings on their lawns. They tell their clients that allowing grass clippings on their yard will lessen the amount of fertilizer applied throughout the growing season.

In landscaping, Clean Energy encourages clients to invest in regionally adapted plants that can handle southeast Pennsylvania's growing season that can range from scorching, dry temperatures to cloudy, muggy conditions. But in the end, says Weaver, his company will respect clients' wishes when it comes to landscape plants.



The company beautifies the property at this historic Lancaster County farmhouse.

Embracing social media

Over the past few years, the Weavers have been tracking the growing trend (and effectiveness) of using social media outlets to attract new clients to their services.

"We've been doing Facebook marketing for a few years now, and we thought that we'd add blogs while updating our website to enhance ways in which we could educate and reach out to our existing customers, as well as prospective clients, on all of our services that we provide," says Weaver.

This winter, the Weavers expanded their social media efforts by adding a blog to their website. Now, they publish two blogs per month, one about basic lawn care and the other about basic hardscape and landscape topics. The company's managers, Young and Huber, have a say in each month's blog themes based on what their clients are asking them.

The blog's focus is to educate clients and prospects' on basic landscape, hardscape and lawn care issues. By focusing on general green issues that their clients and prospects face in the tri-county region, the Weavers are elevating Clean Energy as the leading local experts in lawn and landscape. For example, the blogs address issues and FAQs that homeowners face, such as common grass diseases, weed control, pruning, landscape trends and (of course) the advantages of hiring an experienced knowledgeable service provider, such as Clean Energy.

"We've had some great feedback from clients that have added some lawn services due to our recent blogs," says Weaver. "We're hopeful and look forward to connecting with more potential clients as our blogs progress during the upcoming season."

Around the same time, they decided to funnel their marketing dollars into Internet marketing. They also outsourced this work to a local Internet marketing agency that oversees their SEO and their other digital marketing needs.

The Weavers decided to outsource this work when they realized the changing nature of social media, search engine optimization (SEO) and Internet marketing. They also knew that to have this problem solved, they needed to hire a reputable, professional agency that would provide smart local SEO. So far, the Weavers are happy with the results they're seeing on their improved website and SEO efforts.

"We didn't think we had the proper knowledge, background or time," says Weaver. "We hired an Internet marketing company that we felt comfortable with so we would focus our energy on the daily aspects of running and growing the company."

The Weavers hired YDOP for their digital marketing needs. At their initial meeting, YDOP CEO Steve Wolgemuth sat down with them and explained the SEO process. YDOP emphasizes the importance of localization which the Weavers need since they service specific regions in Pennsylvania.

"It helped us to better understand the way SEO works and the many options out there so we could strategize a plan to make everything work in synergy with each other for the greatest benefit."



Jeff Huber oversees Clean Energy Maintenance's lawn care services.

Substantial investment

"We view our marketing plan as an investment. We are investing $30,000 per year in SEO and social media, and we plan on turning a profit in 2016," says Weaver in regard to the return of investment that he and Lori expect from their Internet marketing efforts.

There's some discussion on LinkedIn and other lawn/landscape forums about the benefits of traditional marketing, such as postcards, mailers, door hangers, newspaper ads, etc., versus the newer version of marketing including blogs, a Facebook presence, an SEO-friendly website and localization.

In 2014, the Weavers have invested in a 70/30 split with 70 percent allotted to Internet marketing and 30 percent allocated toward traditional marketing. Next year, they plan to move 85 percent of their marketing dollars toward Internet marketing and 15 percent toward traditional marketing methods.

"Quality blogging, SEO, social media and a visual website generates far more leads for us compared to mailers and newspaper advertising," says Weaver.

And the couple is convinced that their blogs will help their clients and prospects by "better educating them with detailed information on specific seasonal services and giving them a better understanding of the vast variety of services that we provide," says Weaver.

However, Weaver couldn't give exact metrics at the time of this interview due to the fact that they just started publishing their blogs, and it'll take a few months for their metrics to show the blog's success rate in getting more prospects through their virtual door.

The company has 34 full-time employees who work steadily from the end of February to right before Christmas. In case of severe winter weather, everyone is on call from the end of December through the middle of February to provide snow/ice management coverage.

This past winter provided healthy revenue for the first three months of 2014 thanks to their snow and ice management services. To manage the work they called in eight crews to handle running the trucks and loaders with three crews servicing emergency exits, sidewalks and residential properties. For residential clients, the crews used snowblowers to get rid of snow from all of their clients' properties.

Clean Energy provides snow and ice removal services to 19 commercial properties and eight residential properties.

"Positive feedback and not a single slip and fall during the entire 21.5 years that we've been in business," shares Weaver.

Multiple Award-Winning Company

Clean Energy Maintenance has showcased its talents by winning five awards in landscaping and hardscaping over the past 10 years. Four of those awards were from the Pennsylvania Landscape and Nursery Association and the other award came from the Building Industry Association of Lancaster County.

Here are the awards:

  • In 2004, the Weavers won a gold for their project, "Landscaping for Homes, $700,000 and over" category, which was awarded by BIA of Lancaster County.
  • In 2008, they won a bronze for their project, "Vargis Pool and Backyard in Residential Hardscaping, $60,000 and over" category, which was awarded by PLNA.
  • In 2009, they won a gold for their project, "Seaside Project in the Landscaping Installation Residential Installation - $30,000 to $60,000," category, which was awarded by PLNA.
  • In 2009, they won a second gold for their project, "Shirk Residence, Hardscaping, Residential Installation, $30,000 to $60,000" category, which was given by PLNA.
  • In 2010, the Weavers won a silver for "Natural Beauty, Residential Maintenance Up to $15,000" category which was given by PLNA.
  • In 2010, the Weavers received the Lancaster County's People Choice Award for the Landscaping and Garden Exhibit which was given by the Lancaster County Flower Show.

Clean Energy has been on the cutting-edge of lawn care and landscape since 1992. The Weavers are not afraid to embrace new trends, whether that's ecological conservation or whether it's Internet marketing. It embraces new technology in marketing and advertising to bring more prospects to its virtual door with a captivating website and informative blogs.

But it's the company's award-winning lawn, landscapes and hardscape services that make it one of the most respected property management operations in its market.

Wendy Komancheck blogs and writes Web content for the lawn care and landscape industries. Comment on this article or contact her at wendy@landscapewriter.com.