As the snow business grew for Belknap Landscape Co. Inc., headquartered in Gilford, New Hampshire, it wasn’t long before the company realized they needed to narrow their focus to commercial work. The demand of doing residential driveways was simply too much when their commercial business was rapidly expanding. But Andrew Morse, the company’s recurring department head who also manages snow, says breaking up with customers took a light touch that kept everyone happy.

Morse says the transition into the commercial market began with the purchase of many skid-steers and loaders that were used in the summertime and needed to be run in the wintertime. In order to keep all that extra equipment making money, the company knew they had to delve into the commercial side of snow. Once Belknap became competitive in the market, they started to see an influx of commercial properties coming their way. With the timing of commercial service demands consuming their resources, they were left with very little time to take care of residential driveways — especially the vast majority of customers who needed their driveway done by 6 or 7 a.m.

Morse says they simply couldn’t take care of both customers at the same time if they were going to meet their deadlines. And it didn’t help that many of their residential customers were spread out. Something had to give. Still, Morse says they didn’t want to hurt relationships with their existing customers as many of them also used their landscape services. Their best course of action was an honest conversation.

“We didn’t necessarily drop them — we had our clients say ‘no’ to us after a candid conversation in which we were honest about our business model and the time frames associated with it,” Morse explains. “They would then decide to find someone else who could better meet their criteria. The bottom line was that we didn’t want to offer them poor service and they respected that.”

Today, the company still gets a lot of residential calls but instead of just turning them away, they provide the callers with a minimum of three owner/operator names and numbers for companies that do offer residential plowing. Morse says that instead of being let down, homeowners walk away being thankful for the referrals.

And by focusing on commercial, the company has made their snow division more profitable.

“Commercial plowing also leads to hauling off-site and roof shoveling, both of which are usually time and money and help keep our employees working,” Morse says. “You wouldn’t get much of that extra work with residential accounts. This is fitting for a company of our size that employs up to 75 people per storm. One of the reasons we are more profitable is that with the commercial customers it is easier to manage a couple of big sites than it would be to manage a bunch of small residentials.”

Our Like a Boss series highlights some common business challenges landscape professionals face and how they conquer them.