How not to succeed in business

So I have this house. Not the house I live in. It was a foreclosure, apparently one the previous owners walked away from about a year before we bought it. So it sat neglected for a year, and most likely, for several years before that.

I got in over my head a little, so I sought some help. Mowing the half acre looked like a smart thing to outsource.My neighbor’s son mows lawns. He mowed mine for the first year I lived here, but he mowed a little too frequently for my tastes, and he charged more than I could afford back then. Rather than call just anyone, it made sense to drop him a line.

He visited the place. I asked for a quote. He said $300.

Yeah, about three times what I expected was the worst case scenario.

I told him I wasn’t looking to have the place landscaped, nor was I looking for a really thorough job. I just wanted the lawn cut. One quick pass with a big mower, make the place look like someone kinda-sorta cares.

He argued with me a little about what needed to be done. I told him, point blank, that I didn’t have $300 to give him. Which was true. Rehab projects have a way of running away with the budget. The trick is to not spend on frivolous things. Like $300 lawn jobs.

He offered to give me a month to pay him.

I suggested a few other things to try to pare back expenses. He wouldn’t budge. He said pretty much anyone else would charge the same thing, and not to let the yard sit much longer because then it would really be out of control.

So I made a phone call, but not to another lawn guy. I called a lawnmower repair guy, to see about getting my piece-of-junk, died-two-cuts-into-its-second-season 6.5 horsepower Toro mower fixed. Fifty bucks plus parts, he said, and he’d have it done in about a week.

Meanwhile, I bought a battery-powered weed trimmer. It was $120, but I didn’t want a gas one, and it would take $100 worth of extension cords to reach back to the house from the far reaches of that yard.

Today I spent four hours out there with the Toro. At times it was overmatched. The guy next door came outside and decided to coach me, offering unsolicited advice to buy a bigger mower, on how tall the grass was, and, finally, how to start my Toro. All with lots of laughs along the way.

"I had it running earlier," I said. "It’s just being cranky."

Turns out the mower doesn’t like being low on fuel. It took a while to remember that, because it’s been a while since I last ran it. When I drove to the gas station, the neighbor went back inside. Thankfully, he stayed there.

For obvious reasons, the mower wasn’t happy chewing on waist-high grass. But it did surprisingly well on some nasty-looking weeds on the other side. And although it took some time, it got the job done, burning less than 2 gallons of gas in the process.

Considering the neighbor’s kid sad he’d have to have two people out there for three hours with his big mowers, four hours working alone isn’t bad at all. Out-of-shape me got it done in just an hour more with a 22-inch mower with 6 1/2 horses on the deck, so I’m not sure what he was going to have his other guy doing, but that’s his business.

So now the job’s done. I’m out four hours and $186, but the grass is cut, and I have a mower that might work another year and a weed trimmer to show for it. It’s all sitting in the garage, ready for next week.

As for the neighbor’s kid, well, I don’t think there’s any reason to call him again. I need people who are willing to work with me. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think if I’m signing the check, I ought to have some say in what work gets done and how it gets done.

One thought on “How not to succeed in business

  • May 11, 2010 at 9:34 am
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    The kid probably had his eye on a piece of game gear that cost $300. He had his own agenda, but wasn’t making his wishes known. Your agenda was clear, but he hid his. Bad way to do business.

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