Pennsylvania lawn care company celebrates 50 years of service

July 2, 2014 -  By
Michael Kravitsky IV

Michael Kravitsky IV

For 36 years, Grasshopper Lawns operated out of what Michael Kravitsky IV refers to as “the dungeon.” The basement of his grandparents’ home, which was prone to flooding, was so cramped that Kravitsky’s father’s and brother’s backs actually touched while they worked at their desks. Kravitsky had to wedge in sideways just to get to his chair. But despite the close, damp quarters, the company thrived and grew large enough to need—and afford—the 20,000-square-foot facility the family-owned business currently resides in.

“We have a nice facility now,” says Kravitsky, co-owner of Grasshopper Lawns with his brother, Shawn. “We feel like we made it.”

A nice facility isn’t the only proof Grasshopper Lawns has made it. The Larksville, Pa.-based firm celebrates 50 years of business this year. Started by Kravitsky’s father, Michael Kravitsky III, as two Lawn-A-Mat franchises in 1964,

Grasshopper Lawns has gone through its share of changes over the years. Kravitsky’s father passed away; the company has learned to embrace, rather than resist, new technology; and employees have come and gone. But one thing has remained the same: the Kravitsky family takes its business seriously and will continue to do so for the next 50 years.

“We kids grew up in this business—this has always been in our blood,” says Kravitsky, who has been with the company for 34 years. “Not that we’re not grateful for the congratulations about 50 years but, to us, it’s, ‘What’s the big deal? Isn’t this supposed to happen?’ This is our lives and this is what we do.”

Grasshopper Lawns operated as two Lawn-A-Mat franchises until the mid-1980s, when Lawn-A-Mat ran into financial trouble. The Kravitskys then changed the company’s name to Grasshopper Lawns and became a privately-owned family business. Today, the company offers an array of lawn care services to a 95-percent residential clientele in nearly 70 counties throughout Pennsylvania. While tree and shrub and holiday decor services now comprise about 7 percent of the company’s total business, Grasshopper Lawns has worked hard to earn the reputation of the area’s “go-to guys” for lawn care, Kravitsky says, and he doesn’t see the company veering far from that niche any time soon.

“Not to say we will never expand to other things, but it’s a situation where we talk about expanding into other lines of service, but we come back and say, ‘We do one thing, and we do it well,’” he says.

One way Grasshopper Lawns works to maintain this reputation is by employing a trained and knowledgeable staff and encouraging it to constantly improve. The company mandates biweekly training for everyone, including technicians and office personnel. Each lesson is prepared in advance by a staff member who leads a 30-minute presentation on a topic pertinent to the time of year, complete with any handouts, charts and computer demonstrations. After the presentation, there’s time for questions and discussion about the topic at hand or anything else that may be on employees’ minds.

Keeping up with the times

Technology also has played an important role in the company’s growth. Grasshopper Lawns has come a long way from the paper maps and oversized index cards with handwritten notes the Kravitskys used to use to plan their daily routes. The company purchased its first computer in 1984 to replaced its old-fashioned method, much to the dismay of Kravitsky’s father who preferred “looking at the physical cards and seeing the customers on the wall.” Today, Grasshopper Lawns uses

Grasshopper-Lawns---Michael-Kravitsky-V-spraying-a-lawnReal Green Systems software and each technician receives his daily route information on a tablet.

“Technology has been huge in making sure everyone is on their numbers and keeping up, and it has helped us check for developing problems,” Kravitsky says. “You have to change to keep up with the times.”
Kravitsky also is a big believer in the benefits of having detailed systems in place and says his employees are trained to know how to respond in nearly any situation, from “this is how you treat that lawn” to “this is how or when you call that customer.” It doesn’t hurt that many of Grasshopper Lawns’ 20-plus employees have been with the company for 10 years or more—three of them recently celebrated 25-year anniversaries at the firm, proving the longevity at Grasshopper

Lawns has been a win-win on both sides of the table.

“I define success by the confidence we have in our employees,” Kravitsky says. “When you can walk away and not worry, that’s when you know you have a good company and good employees.”

But finding these long-term, quality employees is still one of the biggest challenges Grasshopper Lawns faces. The company is currently in a state of growth but is held back by the lack of qualified candidates to fill key positions. It’s working with a human resources firm that recruits individuals with the right skill sets and conducts initial screenings before Kravitsky and his brother interview them to ensure they have the right attitude and personality to mesh with the rest of the team.

As they work to get the right team in place, the Grasshopper owners’ foreseeable goals are to expand its operations geographically, tighten up its routes and increase its share of the region’s available customer base. Kravitsky says they also plan to begin teaching the family’s next generation, including his son, who is a route manager, and his daughter, assistant office manager, how to run the business so they can one day take over. But for now, Kravitsky is still working toward the future and enjoying the ride.

“I’m not ready to retire yet,” he says with a laugh. “I have 34 years with the company, but I’m only 51. And I still love coming to work every day.”

Photo: Grasshopper Lawns

Emily Schappacher

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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