Interview 1 – Chris Thacker – Mr. Mow It All
Chris Thacker runs the very successful Mr. Mow It All Corp. in downtown Toronto, Canada.
He’s grown his company from ~$800k to ~1.5M over the past 2 years.
I was lucky enough to get to sit down and interview him.
We talked about the unexpected catalyst that got him out of the field. What keeps him up at night, what questions he’s asking, and a bunch more. Check it out!
This is the first in a series of interviews I’ve been working on for a long time. It’s been much more work than anticipated but I am very happy with the result. I’ve learned a lot in the process. I hope you enjoy them and learn something too! If you enjoyed this interview please give us a thumbs up or a comment. It helps motivate us to make more!
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CT – I started when I was, I think like 12 years old, so, 11 years later now. It all started out like everybody else does. I took a shovel and went out in a few hours and made 80 dollars, and I’m like, this is awesome!
CP – I was really happy to kick off the interviews with Chris Thacker. I was pretty nervous about it, but I knew that he had a lot of information that would be helpful to me and probably lots of other business owners. When we interviewed him, he was just under the $800,000 a year mark. Since then, a year and a half later, he’s now at 1.5 million, and he’s got between 15 to 20 staff, depending on the season. Chris is absolutely an amazing business owner. He’s very relaxed, he’s very polite, he’s very confident, and when we interviewed him, he was 23 years old. Absolutely amazing, so I really hope that you enjoy this interview. I really hope that you learn a few ideas like I did. And, here it is. Check it out.
CT – You know, a lot better than all my friends working at McDonald’s. Then it sort of grew from there. I guess at 12 I didn’t have friends working at McDonald’s. But it was like, wow, this is great! You know, 80 bucks. It sort of just grew from there. My dad lent me $400. I got my first lawn mower. Pushed that around the neighborhood. Did that for a couple of years. I remember, actually, I think I was about to quit at I was probably about 15 or 16, just because it was, like, yeah, this is getting frustrating. I’m just pushing’ a mower around, not really goin’ anywhere. Then I got this idea. We got, I went out, and I got this bike trailer. It sort of just revolutionized it, ’cause I was able to get around. At that point, I wasn’t able to drive or anything. I actually used to ride a bike trailer around Toronto. You know, go 20 kilometers in a day, and pull a hundred and fifty pound bike trailer. Then I got a truck, and I guess, the rest is sort of history, right? You get a truck, you get another truck, you get another truck, and–
CP – Was there a big driver for that first 80 bucks? Like, what were you savin’ up for?
CT – I know this probably sounds bad, but I guess I’ve always been sort of money motivated, so.
CP – You kind of have to be to be the owner, though.
CT – Yeah I guess so, right? That’s probably a good perspective to be.
CP – What drove you to get more trucks? Like, what? It’s money motivated, but I mean you must love the grind, you must love–
CT – Yeah, I think like one of the funniest things ever was I remember I got this truck, and my mother loaned me part of the money to get it. I got a six thousand dollar F150. I was like, oh my God, how am I ever going to pay this back, right?
CP – Right, right, right.
CT – It sort of just, you know, I guess… You just can’t think that far ahead, but. You know it, things are growing, and you take that leap of faith. There’s a quote out there, something about how entrepreneurs, they sort of jump off the cliff and build the plane on the way down. I guess I honestly get where that is, it’s not necessarily, you know, a big push or anything. I think you talk to a lot of people, it’s like, “Hey I’m doing’ this for my kids,” or doing’ this for. Well, I don’t have children, so I’m sort of just doing this for me. I’m just having’ a good time.
CP – Yeah, do you mind? How old are you?
CT – 23.
CP – 23, holy moly! Do you feel like it’s growing a lot faster now than it was before? Where there’s growth spurts? Or is a steady climb, or?
CT – No it’s definitely not steady, it’s been… Especially the last sort of two years. I got out of the field, completely, about two years ago.
CP – Okay.
CT – And that’s sort of, that’s been really revolutionary. Through the way that you’re approaching things. But, yeah, no it’s definitely been exponential, especially because we do a lot of winter services. I know this is broad for a lot of lawn, lawn pros and whatnot, but that’s really been a big, big growth driver for us. But yeah, no, it’s definitely growing. It grows a lot faster as the years keep going on and stuff.
CP – Yeah, yeah, yeah. Getting out of the field, that’s so hard. That’s something that guys struggle with their entire lives. That’s something that, there’s really two kinds of lawn care, snow guys, they’re in the field, or they’re not in the field. Was there a key to that transition?
CT – Yeah there was, and it sort of, I guess, going through life, you hit those points where you’re sort of forced to, sort of forced to take action and change things. For me, what ended up happening, it wasn’t anything serious, not seriously medical, but I had my gall bladder removed about two and a half years ago. I had quite a few complications from that. I actually wasn’t able to physically work in the field for ya know, six–
CP – The golden ticket, right?
CT – You know it was catastrophic at the time, right? It’s one of those things that you look back now. And that’s really like the impetus. You’re thinking like, man, you can’t be that person. Then obviously, following all leads, you go listen some of these other YouTube channels, Lawn Care Millionaire. You listen and you start reading books and you can’t physically do everything. You can’t be doing the work. You can’t be doing the office admin. You can’t be doing the sales. You know, you can’t keep all those balls in the air. Forget who said, I think someone said you could do two out of the three, but I still think that’s pretty difficult.
CP – Once you were forced to not be in the field, did it come together pretty easily in figuring out how to make that work or was it a struggle?
CT – You know, it sort of, obviously you’re dealing with finite resources. You have a certain amount of revenue. You have a certain amount of cost. You have a certain amount of employees. It’s not necessarily like a linear, straight line, but your attitude sort of changes. The first year that I got out of the field, I was still occasionally getting back in. Then the year after that, I was completely out and I was completely on the road all day doing sales calls. I got a part-time office assistant, who’s still around, actually. Then this past year, I also got out of the sales aspect to a certain degree of it. I really got to be able to start focusing on the business itself. You know, getting out of the field, not doing the work. Then if you’re doing all the sales as well, and customer service, that’s not completely getting out of the field either.
CP – True, so on the business verses in the business.
CT – Exactly.
CP – Yeah, cool.
CT – I don’t think you’re, it’s hard to get to the point where you’re completely out of the business, but I think it’s definitely goal especially if you want to sort of take your life back and talk to you. It’s not a very uncommon story where people get burned out and you feel like the whole world’s crashing’ on ya, right? To a certain a degree, that’s what running a business is. It’s feel like getting punched in the face everyday.
CP – Yeah, I tell you, it’s that roller coaster that we live for, right? Do you have a morning routine? Do you have some sort of… Do you have anything that you do to keep you going?
CT – Yeah, like generally, it changes obviously seasonality-wise, but generally in the summer it’s waking up around 6-6:30, going to the gym. I haven’t been going lately as much as I like, but this past summer I was pretty good about doing that. Crews generally get out the door sort of on their own. I have a senior crew leader that’s able to get guys pushed out. If there’s any issues, then I can answer my phone. Generally, I’m not in the yard first thing in the morning. I’m going to the gym, going home having breakfast, and in the office around 9:00 or 9:30. Then here ’til 6:00. You know, deal with the fires that come up or hopefully being able to work on actually important tasks.
CP – Right, okay. What keeps you up at night? All the different business owners have different things stressing them out. Once we’re looking at one kind of niche, I think they’ll start to seem a little similar. What are your concerns? What are the dirty details?
CT – You know I think it’s something, and I’ve talked to lots of different business owners. Talked to guys that are doing $200,000 a year. We’re right now about $800,000. I’ve also talked to guys that are doing 1.6, 10 million dollar businesses. I think that the fears are generally the same. It’s what type of… Do I have enough people? Do I have enough revenue? How safe is that revenue? All these little fires that come up in the course of a day that get brought to your attention and it makes you feel your whole business is falling apart. You need a bit of perspective and realize it’s maybe 5% of your clients that you’re having a fire with, but the other 95% of the stuff you’re doing’s great.
CP – So the quiet stuff doesn’t keep you up at night?
CT – No it doesn’t, right?
CP – Noisey little ones. We were talking about before we got started, do you want to talk about the story of the paper you found on your desk when you came in?
CT – Oh, that’s like run of the mill, right? That’s just stuff. You walked into the office after a couple snowstorms and you have this lawsuit ’cause someone’s suing you for slip and falling. It’s just the stuff that comes up, but you sort of, I guess I’ve learned this after 11 years or so at this point, things generally work out okay. Things will be fine. The sun comes up the next morning. I think it partly… They say success and stuff… Good luck or whatnot, but I think it sort of, I think it’s partly karma. I think if you’re a half decent person and you’re doing things generally right, going the right way, things generally, knock on wood, generally work out.
CP – Right, and that’s the faith that keeps you going just knowing that.
CT – Yeah, you’ve gotta sorta like believe. You’ve gotta believe things will be okay, right? Even though you’re getting punched in the face today, things will be alright down the road.
CP – What’s an average fire or and average punch in the face.
CT – Oh, you know, it’s… You got a client that hasn’t been getting enough attention. I tried talking to blank blank, but that just hasn’t solved my problem. Or, the other day, somebody backed into my off the dump trailer, right? It’s average stuff, right? It’s stuff that comes up and it sort of occupies your, occupies your mind phase. It makes you feel sometimes like everything’s falling apart. But it isn’t necessarily, right? Or the other day, I had my sales coach say, “Hey, I got a complaint “from a staff member about something.” I can’t tell you anything about it, right, ’cause I said I’d be confidential. Hey, your business is on fire, I can’t even tell anything.
CP – Oh man.
CT – You know, it sort of… You just gotta, you gotta try and filter it, I guess.
CP – The question is what advise would you give your younger self, but you’re pretty young. Your younger self.
CT – When you sent me these questions, I was a little off. I’m still a little wet behind the ear, but. Not like a monumental failure that… You’re thinking, wow, like man I would have completely done things differently. I’m having a pretty good time. I probably do things a similar way. Yeah, there’s some things I’d probably do a lot sooner than what I did. Number one, I’d get out of the field way, way sooner. That’s not to crap on people that are working in the field or anything.
CP – No, there’s some passion to that too.
CT – There’s a passion to it and there’s a passion to do a good job, but you can. You know the best way to do a good job for your staff, yourself, and everybody else around you is to keep improving yourself. There’s only so much that you can do in the field. Another thing I’d do sooner is I’d hire… One of the biggest changes I ever made was hiring an office assistant. That is just critical. There’s no way that you can, even if you’re in the field, you need an office assistant. That’s something that I wish I’d realize sooner. Even that’s only 10 hours a week, you need that person’s that able to return calls, get invoices out the door. You know, do all that paperwork. I think that you take a look at a lot of entrepreneurs, you take a look at the mindset-skillset, it doesn’t always align with the type of person you need to be doing that type of stuff. You need to find someone that’s able to cross those I’s, dot those T’s, and–
CP – Right and focus on your skills.
CT – Focus on, yeah, focus on what you’re good at.
CP – What questions are you asking most often? A lot of the time, it’s not about finding answers. It’s more about asking the right questions so you can move forward. Does that make sense to you?
CT – Yeah, it does. You know, you’re sort of… Or you start talking about leading caution, or you know.
CP – Well, like what were my profit margins this month. That’s a good question.
CT – Right, that is a good question, isn’t it, right? Actually, that’s something else we just changed. I just brought on a bookkeeper for a day a week as well so I can get more accurate numbers. I was thinking about this, it’s really why, why, why? That one word’s so powerful. You know, it’s not necessarily criticism, but someone’s telling you about how things are going. But why? Why are you doing it this way? Why are we doing things this way? Why not do it this way? Why did this happen? Why, why, why, why.
CP – So staying curious.
CT – You know you keep asking those questions to people and you’ll get some good answers.
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About Chris Penny and Lawn Authorities
I've been helping landscape maintenance companies grow their businesses since 2013.
Our fastest growing client has grown from $250k to $1.5m in 3 years using the strategies covered in this website.
Our unique approach to marketing comes from my experience marketing my own lawn care business for 11 years (2005-2016). There are so many unique challenges to growing these kinds of businesses: churn, lowball competitors, attracting the right staff - to name a few. Our systems solve all of these, empowering our clients to grow rapidly with confidence.