The way our company, Top Notch Services was founded, was basically founded by our family. Over eleven years ago, I used to work in the backyard with my father, just sweeping dirt. I remember when he used to clean up after the apple tree. After the apples would fall off the apple tree, we would sweep with our brooms across the border. As a child, I would sweep, and I would remember sweeping across the side of this border, and noticing that there was dirt left behind as I swept.
My dad is a real detailed guy, and he came right behind me. As a child, he said to me, “No, you have to sweep everything, even the dirt.” That’s kind of the first time… I always remember that, it’s very strange to remember something so small, but I remember that as I moved into landscaping, that detailing when working in a yard is really important.
Over eleven years ago, when the company came together, I worked for a variety of other lawn care and landscaping companies. I used to manage a company called Green Lawn Care, and I used to work with product lines and order in new products and things like that. I spent a lot of time working at this company.
One day it kind of dawned on me, I was managing the team over the phones, doing sales, I knew everything about these products, and I didn’t actually have a chance to go outside and do it. At that time, I got to the point where I wanted to change positions, and it felt like I wasn’t progressing with the knowledge I was learning in that company.
I built that company up really well, they were making the most sales they had done, and since I’ve left, they actually went completely down in sales. Not to mention the name of the company, but they’re actually contacting us trying to purchase us now. They want to buy us out now and buy our clients and things like that.
It’s never going happen, but I remember at that time at that company, that I decided I have to leave.
I got this job working at this landscaping and lawn care company in Toronto, I moved up to the management position pretty quickly. I started off doing sales on the phone, and I would land sales left and right. They had a challenge to come up with a new idea and the best employee would get a gift card. I came up with their new website, which they use now.
After spending a lot of time with that company, and managing a large team of salespeople, I knew everything about the products, I would always be training the team, the products, and copy how it was being applied, but I would never be the one applying these applications. I never touched the products, I didn’t see them in real life, it was all knowledge in my mind. I was so interested in it that I decided I wanted to move into a new position.
I left my management position with this company, which was a tough decision. I moved into a different company, which was a competitor in the area, which I won’t mention the name. I worked the field as the field manager. Every so often, I would show the other technicians how to apply these applications, and how to do this. After some time in the field there, as well, I got my brother a job, Jonathan.
We worked together, me and my brother John. I got him a management position with this competing company as well, and we learned everything about the lawns. We’d go home and apply it to our own lawns. That’s where we learned about aerations and slit seeding and top dressing and overseeding. We learned everything from that company, just being there working.
We actually learned how to apply it, and to train people to do these applications, and that was great. As we worked in the field, many people would come up to us and ask us questions and look at our trucks and ask us tons of questions. They called in and mention how these guys are wonderful, they informed us of everything.
That’s kind of when it kicked in, when customers were asking us about everything, we started to get… it started to kick in, because our father was constantly working, and he’s a labor guy. He would always be fixing our trucks. He had a couple of pickup trucks. They were breaking down, he’d always be repairing them.
One day, I got injured on the job. I was trying to lift an aeration machine going down the stairs, and I pulled my shoulder out, and I got injured. At that time when I got injured, I couldn’t work, so I left the job and I went on EI unemployment. I was stressed out at this point because I was used to making money.
I’d left my management position, I was injured, and I was in a little bit of a tight spot. As I got better, I took a course in Toronto on business. It was for starting businesses and things like that. It was for people who were on this program, for EI. I went in, I applied, and they were supposed to give me a grant for $30,000, to get into this program. If I did good, so I told everybody I plan to make this new business doing lawn care and landscaping, I was really excited, I knew everything about it, I pre-built the website, that was probably really garbage compared to nowadays, but I tried to build a website.
I presented it in front of everybody after a month of going into this course, and being excited, I was sure I was going to be accepted. After I presented, the audience clapped, and they said it was wonderful, it’s a great job. Next week, I got a letter saying I wasn’t accepted. I had to call them back and say, “I come in, I don’t have a job, and I went through all of this work, and I really know I can start this business.”
They said, “That’s exactly what the problem is, Dave, you know what you’re doing. We need people that don’t know what they’re doing so we can keep them in this class and actually pay them. There are people who want to learn, but you already know what to do, you should just go out and do it.”
At that time, it was a month later, my shoulder felt better, and I said, “Forget it. I’m going to take a broom, I’m going to get the Weed Whacker from the backyard, I’m going to call my brother John, tell him, “Leave the job, we’re going to go cut grass.” And he quit. We went and we started to cut lawns. We were so bad, I mean, when I compare it to the way we work now, we would work very detailed, but in compared to the amount of time, I remember spending nine hours doing a yard cleanup on the smallest yard, and just going into the bushes and detailing them and getting scrapes and cuts all over my body.
After a year of doing that, I realized, “I hate this, I don’t want to do this job no more.” And I had nothing else to do except run this business, and I said, “You know, we have to do this,” and we just continued to work and work and work, and my brother John was getting tired as we used to work every day, we used to use his Jeep, and this mower would be sticking out the back of this Jeep, and we’d drive everywhere, we’d drive really far, like two, three hours to get $90.00, and we were doing everything wrong.
One day he was dethatching the lawn with a rake. And if anyone knows about dethatching, that’s removing layers of dead grass and debris from the base of your grass so your lawn can breathe, and we actually raked that out physically. We did this huge lawns, and we were so tired. One day, my brother was doing that, and I saw that he was so tired that he started leaning on his rake, his dethatching rake, and he said, “I’m just tired, man.” I said, “Just go sit in the truck.”
I finished doing the lawn about 12:30 AM, and then we drove home. And that was the day when I started to realize that something was going on. One day we were supposed to go out and finish a job, and my brother’s just so tired that I said, “Let’s just go to the hospital first, forget about the job.” We went to the hospital, he did a test, and then he came out, went home, and rested. A few days later, they called us and said he had leukemia. He had cancer.
Basically, from then, I continued to try to work, but it just wasn’t the same. It was so much harder, I was working by myself, and I was worried about my brother in the back of my head, so I just continued to work, continued to cut grass, and just never told one client what was going on with my life. No one knew, I just kept doing the work, and not really making any money, but just kept working on this thing.
Every single day, I kept on working on this business and trying to make it turn into something, but it just seemed like it was impossible.
Eventually, my brother died from leukemia. I was left with the business by myself, and before he died, he was like, “Yes, don’t stop working that, I know we have to do this, we have to do this,” but I knew he just meant I had to do it.
I really love landscaping, and my dad always would hop in and help me, but I could tell he was getting older, and I didn’t want to pressure him. I just started to try to do it by myself. I hired friends, they just messed everything up. They just kept making mistakes and taking their time and left me on huge jobs doing soddings by myself, and massive areas, and I felt tired.
I just kept going on the Internet and I just continued to go on the Internet and figure out different ways of marketing, and eventually some of my clients would tell some of their friends, and other people would tell more of their friends. Eventually I had a guy that helped me. His name’s Azam [sp], and he helped me and the company started to grow.
He took off of the job, and I was left by myself again. This kept going back and forth like that for the longest period of time. Eventually, we grew. Eleven years went by, not eleven years, probably about five years of me doing that went by, and I couldn’t do it anymore.
Everyone told me to stop. Stop, stop. And I didn’t stop, and I kept doing the work, and customers just continued to recommend me. Some would cancel, some would stay, but the company grew. It started to grow. Then it really started to grow fast after the sixth year, it started to go really fast. I couldn’t handle all of the work. I started turning down work for the first time.
I started to become more gutsy and say no to people that were taking advantage of me before and things like that, and I started to grow a business. It grew ’till we had tons of satisfied clients. We hired office staff. We hired employees in the field. We purchased four more trucks. We bought all new equipment. We decided that we were going to sell our equipment at the end of the year and save it for tax purposes, and only use new stuff, and only buy the best equipment.
We have a model here for our whole crew, and for everybody who works here. It’s called “Cry Once.” Everything in life is hard. Anything that’s worth anything is hard, so the best thing to do is just to cry once. If you’re going to buy equipment, buy the best equipment and buy it once. You don’t want the one that’s going to break down. If you’re going to buy the boots to work in, buy the most comfortable boots, the most expensive boots, but buy it once, never buy it again.
That’s the motto, “Buy it once, cry once, with that one hit.” That’s the way we ran our business, from the business group. And because of our attention to detail, I think, and our working background, and the maintenance, even, from our kids to my dad, the company grew.
I think it was about 83 percent the first year, when my brother was working with me. That was pretty fast, but it was hard, because I was trying to maintain most of that myself, and it just kept happening, all we did was satisfy the client and made them happy, whatever they wanted. I realized we just kept doing that instantly.
The thing that was different with us than the other companies was that you could call them, but it was just the way we were brought up, I guess. Somebody complained about it, we were leaving instantly. It was just like this automatic trigger. I was eating, I remember, and I would leave instantly my first year in the business. I was like, “No, I have to go fix this.”
That’s never changed with the company. I think that’s kind of why we even got to the position to be able to do anything is because our motto is just to “Make the client happy first”, and that’s our story.
I guess, just to add to this story, since that day, things have changed with the company. We take monthly training courses with Landscape Ontario every four months or so. We’ve been doing that since the first day I hooked up with Landscape Ontario. We tried to avoid all cancellations, like with clients, if there’s a reason they want to cancel, we let you cancel, but we want to know why so we can fix it and it’ll never happen again.
Because of my brother’s death from cancer, we want to make sure we donate a portion of all of the services that we provide to cancer research. We have actual clients that we service their property, and they noticed our donation forms, that we donated to the Cancer Research Society. We would send it to them by e-mail, because we just did that, we have clients that donate to cancer support as well, just because we do.
Everybody here, the clients know now, everybody here is honest. And everybody here is knowledgeable, they know stuff. Everyone’s friendly, and you can just depend on the fact that if you call them, they’re going to go and they’re going to do it good. They’re going to put it down with high-quality service, hand-downs, every single time. That’s the best way I think I should describe the company and the story of how we got to this point.