Turf Magazine - June, 2014

WEST FEATURES

Intermountain West Powerhouse

Senske Services still innovating (and growing) after 67 years
By K. Schipper


Senske Services headquarters in Kennewick, Washington.
Photos courtesy of Senske Services.

For a company that's built on the premise of eliminating weeds and pests, Senske Services cares a lot about growing things. After 67 years in business and eight regional branch offices, President Chris Senske still envisions adding more locations to the company's territory.

Growing the business is a priority, but providing the right environment for his employees to grow within their roles is one of his greatest pleasures. And, he knows an important part of maintaining a healthy company is by keeping its existing customers.

Bill, Senske's father, started the company in Spokane, Washington, in 1947. A chemical engineer by education, he spent World War II serving in the chemical corps managing a bomb-making facility.



BIll Senske's service in the U.S. Army during WWII sparked his interest in pest control. The company he founded in 1947 is now run by his son, Chris, who expanded its service offerings.

"He had to read all the papers on research that was going on at the time, and two chemicals caught his attention: one was DDT and the other was 2,4-D," says Senske. "He put together a wheelbarrow with a little pump and tank and went down the street spraying every lawn and asking people to pay him. It was 50 cents at the time, and those who didn't pay didn't get service again."

Senske Services

President: Chris Senske

Founded: 1947

Headquarters: Kennewick, Wash.

Markets: Eastern Washington, Idaho, Utah and Las Vegas (pest control only)

Services: Lawn care, pest control, grounds maintenance and irrigation maintenance

Employees: Approximately 350

Website: http://www.senske.com

Bill's familiarity with chemicals also led him into the pest control business, where it remains a key and growing division of Senske Services today. However, after awhile, the company's spray-service customers began wanting more.

"Back in the early '80s we started doing a little grounds maintenance and got a taste for it," says Senske. "Our commercial clients wanted those kinds of services, so we got a little more serious and more sophisticated in operating the grounds maintenance business."

Today, the company's lawn care is divided into two divisions: Grounds Maintenance predominantly serves commercial clients and offers property enhancements as well as irrigation system maintenance; Lawn and Tree Care handles the residential side of the equation.

The company's newest service offering is holiday lighting. Senske says like his father before him, he spent years searching for something that would help fill out the company's calendar. Finally, in the late 1990s he came across the Christmas Décor, Inc. franchise.

"It's a nice add-on business that we do in the wintertime and we're able to keep our employees busy longer," Senske says.

With four substantial lines of services, targeting both commercial and residential customers - including the recent addition of snow contracting - Senske says at present he isn't looking to add more services.

"Right now, we're trying to do better at what we already do and grow geographically with those same services."

Movin' on

Although Senske is the sole owner of the company, he attributes its move into other locales to one of his older brothers, who holds an MBA from Harvard.

"About 1976 he wanted to do a management training event and do some strategic planning," Senske explains. "One of the things that came out was that we probably had all the lawn care customers in Spokane we were likely going to get. That was the genesis of it."

Senske began looking at other areas where it could offer lawn care and pest control. Initially, the company opened a branch in Kennewick, approximately 140 miles southwest of Spokane on the Columbia River.

"We tried to manage the Kennewick branch from Spokane, with a few employees onsite to handle the day-to-day operations," he says. "Finally, I moved my family to Kennewick and we've been here ever since."

It was a good move for Kennewick; not only are Senske's corporate offices there, but in 2002 the company moved into a new state-of-the-art headquarters building.



Senske Services builds customer trust with clean, boldly branded service vehicles, uniformed well-trained employees and with a high-level of service built upon more than six decades of experience.

Still, with eight locations stretching from eastern Washington and Idaho through Utah and now Las Vegas (which only offers pest control), Senske says hiring and retaining good people is a priority. The company has always operated from a firm sense of core values, and Senske says much of that stems from his Christian faith.

"It's also being the right role model for people," he says. "You make the right decisions and demonstrate the right attitudes, and you try to hire the right people. I'm always looking for someone who has good, strong values, who wants to produce a quality product and to do good work."

The company employs about 350 people, with the staff per location ranging from 10 in Las Vegas to as many as 80 at some of the other branches. Because of its use of chemical products, many Senske employees have professional certifications and/or licenses.

"We're currently recruiting a technical director to develop training programs for everybody," says Senske. "In the past we've relied on suppliers and our supervisory staff, but our five-year goal is to have 25 percent of the staff with some sort of certification beyond what's required by the state and federal governments."

Seeking satisfaction

The company uses several different channels to attract new customers. One he continues to rely on is what he refers to as "the old standby" of direct mail. With consumers becoming more technologically savvy, Senske also been strategically investing in optimizing its online presence which resulted in the release of a new website with a new brand in January of last year.

Naturally, the commercial side of the operation has its own dedicated sales team to call on businesses. However, for the residential side of the business, he utilizes a method first used by his father: door-to-door sales.

"We've found that the rapid growth we're experiencing in our lawn care business has come from the neighborhood sales process," Senske says. "It's very challenging to manage, but the cost of acquiring a customer and the speed at which you can bring them in is very effective."

Once he has those customers, Senske is also committed to holding onto them.

"Because most of the money is spent in acquiring new customers, once we have them, if we can keep them, that's how we continue to increase revenue and grow the overall business year after year," he says.

To make sure that happens, Senske is constantly soliciting feedback from customers. All customers are provided information to access and submit a survey or call and talk to a customer service representative.

"So much of our success is tied to the individual who's performing the work," Senske says. "If we start to see problems occurring with a customer, we can act on it. We want to know what we can do better and whether the customer is satisfied."

Having satisfied people, both customers and employees is, well, satisfying to Senske.

"My greatest pleasuring is seeing people grow in their positions and develop personally," he concludes. "We have a lot of employees who have been with us for 20 and even 30 years. We have some whose children have come to work for us; that's a joy.

"I'm also grateful I'm able to share in the success of Senske Services and continue to carry on my father's legacy."

K. Schipper is an experienced business writer, and a partner in Word Mechanics. She lives and works in Palm Springs, Calif. Comment on the article or reach her at kschipper@wordmechanics.com.