Voices & Visions – Bulldog Landscaping

July 2017

A native of Milwaukee, Allan Dreblow earned his University of Wisconsin Oshkosh degree in finance with hard work in the classroom and on construction and excavating jobs during summer.

In 2002, he was initially hired by M&I Bank in downtown Appleton, but switched to cell phone sales and performed well. A competitor recruited him to work exclusively on its business accounts and the future seemed solid. But he wasn’t his own master, though, yearning for more control over decisions and feeling worn down by corporate life.

Pet cleanup offered a new career path for Dreblow in 2006 – he created his own company cleaning pet waste from residential properties. Before long, Bulldog changed its business model to landscaping and snow removal, with a team and ambition that’s grown steadily ever since.

Today he lives at work, with gear and tools neatly arrayed in an oversized garage next to a modest ranch home. From a cozy highchair next to the patio door, 1-year old Miriam watches daddy prepare his heavy equipment to literally shape the world.

Why did you leave cell phone sales?

When I did cell phone sales, it was a steady paycheck and paid very well if we hit our target numbers. Both companies I worked with had their pros and cons, however both became overbearing with their salespeople. I knew I wanted something different. I knew I wanted to be out on my own and build something.

How did you save to launch your business?

We bootstrapped, meaning we took money that we made and kept investing back into the business. I tried to stay out of taking on too much debt to begin with. I wanted our business to prove that we could provide enough cash flow to survive.

Did you always want to be a landscaper?  

I really enjoy working in the green industry. You have to know so many different things to compete in this business. We take a lot of pride in bringing value to people one yard at a time. Every day is different. Now I do the office and customer service work, so I’m in the office more than the field.

However, I handle the sales calls and that is always very exciting. In springtime I sometimes have five to six appointments in one day and am working on four to five new estimates every day during our spring time rush.

How did you grow your service offerings?

Our former business started with pet cleanup, lawn mowing, shrub trimming and snow plowing. We dropped pet cleanup and decided to transition to landscape maintenance services. We added install work as customers began requesting services from planting bushes, plants or trees, to renovating landscaping beds of mulch or decorative rock. We also do paver patios and retaining walls.

How do you deploy your teams?

We have a maintenance crew and an installation crew. There is some overlap. For example, a mulch job could be done by either crew. Patios, retaining walls, new lawns, sodding, tree planting would be done by our install crew. Mowing, trimming, pruning bushes, weeding, lawn repairs/renovations are done by our maintenance crew. We cross-train everyone so that any employee can do any job but we like to focus each day’s jobs with a specific crew.

We are now hiring one fulltime and one part-time laborer position. We currently have four fulltime employees, two part-time mechanics, and two fulltime sub-contractors in the winter for snow-plowing operations.

Our growth has been slow and steady. I prefer to be the tortoise and not the hare. I’ve also learned that every opportunity for new business does not necessarily mean they are a good fit for our company. Every year we have grown, and I think we have become much more strategic in how we grow.

What does strategic growth mean for you?

We have a lot of opportunities that come in front of us that we look at to determine if we would like to pursue. Not all business is created equal. In lawn maintenance, we look for customers that are looking to hire a company for the entire year. We turn down one-time mowing service work as I have found it difficult to be profitable without servicing the location for an entire season. This being said, if someone wants a spring cleanup of the yard or fall cleanup we set a minimum we need to make to be able to send out a crew.

How do you find new clients?

Most of our prospects contact us through referrals or marketing campaigns we do through email and billboards. It’s roughly 60 percent commercial and 40 percent residential.

Another way to look at it would be 30 percent snow, 50 percent lawn maintenance and 20 percent installation. Snow and lawn maintenance is 85 to 90 percent repeat business.

Is equipment used for multiple job types?

Yes. We have three 4-wheel drive, diesel lawn tractors that are equipped with 54-inch snow blowers. They handle snow plowing for all of our sidewalks and tight areas at commercial locations. In the summertime, two of them are set up to mow and one is set up for install work with a front loader and rear tiller.

We do a lot of metal custom fabricating in our shop during the winter. For example, we took a 1.5-yard snow bucket and increased its size to 2.5-yard capacity so when we have to move or stack snow it makes us more efficient.

How does climate affect your business? 

We basically have two to three transition months: November and March/April. This is where we have plows on the trucks but we are still doing landscaping work.