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Landscaper gives clients mow than they ask for
Family businesses follow several paths, but Kitsap Outdoor Inc. gets credit for originality.
John Austin founded the landscaping operation in 1983 and built an active, vital business with 19 employees before selling it to one of his employees in 2002.
He didn’t retire, though, instead doing the same work for the same company but as an employee.
In late 2008 his boss — who used to be his employee — sold the business back to him, and he took over the reins once again.
“When I sold the business, I still wanted something to do, so I kept working,” Austin said. “But after a few years, his situation changed, so we bought it back.”
Part of the changing situation had to do with the faltering economy. Austin runs the company along with his daughter, Tricia Alexander, who manages the office and payroll.
There are now five employees, although this fluctuates with the seasons.
“The difference between being the boss and being an employee is the amount of time you need to put in,” Austin said. “When you’re the owner, it’s harder to get time off. And when you’re an employee, you can have your own ideas that are different than the boss — although that was never an issue in this situation.”
The company provides lawn maintenance and landscaping installation for both business and residential, although most of its customers are in the latter category.
Irrigation systems and bulkheads are specialties, as well as fertilization and pest control.
Austin has one self-professed limitation — a limited amount of creativity.
“I am not an artistic person,” he said. “I really like the machinery end, and I like building things. I can build any system that a customer wants, but I’m not a designer.”
Austin said a lot of homeowners around Port Orchard don’t pay any attention to landscaping and don’t even mow their lawns on a regular basis. When this is combined, the entire community can look a little disheveled.
“There are a lot of people around here who don’t pay any attention to how their yard looks,” he said. “There isn’t as much pride of ownership that existed in the past. People are busy with their lives, both spouses may have jobs and the kids will need to be driven around.
“But when we were raising our kids,” he said, “we drove them to soccer practice and still had time to mow the lawn."
Paying someone to mow the lawn, even a neighbor’s kid, is something some homeowners don’t feel is worthwhile.
On the other hand, Austin has customers who put in overtime hours at the shipyard in order to raise the money needed to pay for his services.
“Some people would rather spend more time at their own job and pay me to mow the lawn than do it themselves,” he said.
Austin acknowledges the effects of today’s economy mean that mowing the back yard gets pushed to the back burner.
“The economy is pretty tough,” he said. “Paying someone to mow your lawn these days is a luxury.”