Lewis Willey is doing exactly what he wants to do.
The Amarillo, TX, landscape contractor knew at an early age what profession he wanted to enter, but it took him 26 years to reach his original career goal.
“After serving in the Air Force, I prepared myself for a career in the landscape business by getting a degree in horticulture from Texas Tech University,” said Willey. “But I graduated during a recessionary period, and there wasn’t much demand for people wanting to get started in the landscaping field.”
So Willey worked as a property claims adjustor for a while, then went back to school and got an MBA. Ultimately he began a five-year career with a company that markets risk-management software to the insurance industry and government entities.
“In February 2004,” Willey continued, “I resigned my position with the software company. I had grown tired of the corporate world and wanted out. I wanted to go back to my first love –– landscaping.”
Willey established Willey’s Wildscapes LLP in Amarillo and began soliciting business for the coming spring season.
Willey’s business experience and MBA clearly helped get his new business off to a good start. He carefully evaluated the market in the area, identified the niche of the market he wanted to serve, and selected the equipment he would need to be successful.
“Our target market is irrigation and landscaping, focusing on up-end projects, those above ten-thousand dollars,” he said. “We provide turnkey services, consultation, site evaluation, planning and design, ordering materials, construction, and follow-up.”
To be productive while keeping costs in line, he chose his equipment carefully.
The company’s primary piece of construction equipment is a mini-skid steer loader with a selection of attachments suited specifically to the tasks that its target market demands. Other equipment is a 1-ton diesel truck, 17-ft. dual-axle trailer and 3-cu.-yd. dump trailer. The truck and trailer can transport the compact skid steer, attachments and support tools needed for most jobs.
For its first year of operation, Willey’s Wildscapes has exceeded projected billings with 2005 projected to be even better, and Willey is ready to implement expansion plans as workloads increase.
Willey credits the multi-purpose mini-skid steer loader –– a Ditch Witch model SK500 –– as one of the keys to the new company’s successful first year.
“This one machine is able to do most everything we need to do,” he said. “In addition to the loader bucket, we have a trencher attachment, an auger, pallet forks, and tree forks. Next we plan to add rake and mini-backhoe attachments.”
The compact, 500-lb. class walk-behind SK500 is designed for light-to-medium duty work for a variety of construction applications and is especially well suited for landscape work. Its compact size allows it to work in areas where larger equipment can’t go; permitting it to do work that often is done by hand labor.
It is powered by a 24-hp air-cooled engine and travels on rubber tracks powered by dual independent hydrostatic ground drives, providing a zero-degree turning radius. Ground drive pilot control provides highly-responsive steering with little or no vibration transferred to the control handles. Rubber tracks limit disturbance to turf and paved surfaces and are available in either 7- or 9-in. widths. Track length is 40 in.
Availability of the Ditch Witch-designed-and-built trencher attachment also is a strong selling feature because it is more rugged and productive than “will-fit” attachments and was designed specifically for the SK500.
On typical jobs, the rugged little machine is used for site preparation, including light grading; moving material around work sites, digging fence and post holes, and trenching for installation of irrigation pipe.
“The machine has performed very well,” said Willey. “We have put it to some tough tests, and it is very rugged.”
Willey said he shopped around before settling on the Ditch Witch model.
“There were several factors involved in the decision,” he explained. “First the Ditch Witch reputation is very strong, and the organization is known for excellent service. And the fact that there is a dealer in Amarillo was important to us — we know we won’t have to wait to get parts or service if we need it.”
During the first year of operation, Willey’s Wildscapes was comprised of Willey with his wife, Lorrie, handling the books and finances. Extra help was hired on an as-needed, project-by-project basis.
“We believe our work will justify two full-time employees during the 2005 season,” said Willey.
Other changes are planned.
“We operate out of our home now,” he said. “But we are planning to move to a 20-acre site with an office and shop and a nursery for drought-tolerant plants. We are in a semi-arid region –– average rainfall is 16 to 19 in. –– and we have found no nearby nursery that stocks plants native to the area or others that are not native but would thrive here. We believe we can develop a strong market for such plants for the retail market as well as for use in our projects.”
Willey emphasized that growth plans will progress in an orderly manner.
“New business owners must recognize the importance of taking care of the business end of their operations,” he concluded. “Office work for me isn’t enjoyable –– I would rather be outside working on projects. But it has to be done, and we schedule regular office days to keep everything current. Skip a day in the office, and you may spend a week later straightening out the resulting problems.”
For more information, visit www.ditchwitch.com. CEG