CENTRAL FEATURES


Brotherly Work, Brotherly Love

Normal, Ill., family landscape business showcases family talents
By Carol Brzozowski


LKM Mowing & Landscaping

Management: Luke McClure, president; Mark and Kevin McClure, vice presidents

Founded: 2001

Headquarters: Normal, Ill.

Markets: 1-hour radius of Normal, Ill.

Services: Lawn maintenance, design/build, snow removal and holiday lighting

Employees: 20 to 35 (in-season)

Website: www.lkmlandscaping.com

Not putting all of their eggs in one basket and endeavoring to hire employees who take the family-based business as seriously as the three brothers who operate it has been the driving factor behind the success of the owners of LKM Mowing & Landscaping in Normal, Ill.

The McClure brothers have been mowing lawns together ever since they were kids. "Our parents drove us around until I could drive," says Luke McClure of the mowing jobs that he and his brothers Mark and Kevin took on at young ages.

In 2001, they formed LKM Mowing & Landscaping. McClure serves as president and Mark and Kevin are vice presidents. LKM Mowing & Landscaping provides lawn maintenance, design/build, snow removal and holiday lighting to residential (mostly multifamily), commercial and industrial clients. The company operates within a one-hour drive of Normal that also encompasses the sizable cities of Springfield, Champaign and Peoria.

The company offers traditional lawn care services, but in moderation. "We don't want to waste chemicals by trying to upsell somebody something that is not helpful to the lawn or a benefit for the environment," he says. "If the lawn is only needing a certain amount of nutrients, then that's what you need to give it, not just blanket spraying."

Working in several aspects of the industry for a cross-section of markets gives his company a "good balance", he says. Even in landscape design/build, the company has focused its efforts more on renovations and updates rather than new construction.


The idea for LKM Mowing and Landscaping started with three young brothers being driven to mowing jobs by their mom. The brothers, now grown, have the manpower, knowledge and equipment to tackle much bigger jobs.

"That's helped to protect our business a little bit compared to any company that's solely had new construction as bread and butter income for landscaping," says McClure. "All along we've had a very diversified revenue stream that we've been targeting for different markets that aren't solely dependent on one thing like something that had happened here in the last couple of years when the new construction market dropped off the face of the earth. It's picking back up now, but nothing like what it used to be."

Character can't be taught

The company employs 20 to 35 people, depending on the season. "A lot of our guys can do a little bit of everything, but for the most part we keep crews doing the same thing all of the time," says McClure.

Many of the employees have been with the company for more than a decade, and those running the crews have about four years of experience.

The McClures seek character in an employee. They can teach employees the skills they need. "There are things we ask somebody before they can even fill out an application," says McClure. "They have to have a valid driver's license, no DUI within the past five years, and also certain types of felonies are not accepted."


President Luke McClure credits the dedication of his firm's employees along their ability to competently deliver a range of property management services for much of its success.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF LKM MOWING AND LANDSCAPING.

Those factors help LKM with its Experience Modification Rate with insurance companies, says McClure.

Potential employees also must pass a drug screening test. "That sets the bar to the caliber of individual you're going to have working for you. If they have any schooling or prior experience, that's always a perk," he adds.

Factors such as being on time and possessing a willingness to work are also strong indicators of a good employee. "Those character traits make an individual work well as a team player and keeps guys around," McClure says. "Knowing what personalities fit with others is a challenge. You have to consider who you're teaming people up with."


Candidates must pass a drug test and not have had a DWI within the past five years to work for LKM Mowing & Landscaping.

Brothers keep it close

That includes family members. While many in family businesses sometimes find it challenging to work together, McClure says that it is not the case with his brothers. "All of us are really close," he says. "We're all pretty close in age as well. We've always done things together. We've always got along that way. It's nice just because you can count on the other person, you know what they're going to do, what to expect, what not to expect. Each one of us has our own positives and negatives about our personalities, so we're able to work off of each other for that."

McClure says the benefit of working in business as a tight-knit family is "if something is not going right, you can be straightforward and tell somebody the honest truth and the person accepts it and you move on. It's not something any of us harbors."

He believes the driving factor behind the company surviving through what has been a rough several years for so many companies is the integrity and character of its employees.


The three brothers function well as a team. "If something is not going right, you can be straightforward and tell somebody the honest truth," says Luke McClure. "And the person accepts it and you move on."

"We are very honest and straightforward people," he says. "We're not looking to pull the wool over anybody's eyes. I only want to give the best job that we can perform for the best rate we can offer and not to try to treat anybody else different from the way I would want them to treat me if they were doing something for my house."

Keeping up appearances

LKM Mowing & Landscaping's customers like striped lawns, so to help them achieve that look, the McClures use Exmark mowers with striping kits.

"That's something that sets us apart," McClure says. "It's one thing to have somebody drive around your lawn on a lawnmower and it's mowed. It's another thing to have somebody think about the way they're mowing your yard so that it's actually striped and has somewhat of an appearance to the lawn. It's the same striped effect you get in your baseball and football fields. We do it whether it's commercial or residential. The residential people really appreciate it, it sets them apart from other yards in the neighborhood."

Another trend McClure is noting is requests for more pondless water features, which the company incorporates on patios or in landscaping. Clients also are asking for more uplighting for existing landscapes or new patios.

"Before, people didn't necessarily care as much," he says. "With the ability to show someone visually what it's going to look like, whether it's online or literature of a water feature, landscape project or patio, is a huge selling factor."

McClure sees the company on a continued growth path against the backdrop of an industry where he sees new construction continuing to pick up.

"I still feel like one of the number one things people are still going to be doing is remodels, like taking out something that's 12 years old, redoing it, giving it some new plant materials, getting rid of an old walkway, putting a new walkway in, and taking out wooden deck for a paver patio. People are going to continue to invest in their homes until the market turns around to where it gets back to what it was worth when they bought it."

Carol Brzozowski, Coral Springs, Fla., is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and a frequent contributor to Turf magazine. Contact her at brzozowski.carol@gmail.com.