Meet Alec McClennan, founder of Good Nature Organic Lawn Care
, a landscaping company with 25 employees that helps its clients care for their yards in an environmentally friendly way.
How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
I started young. My dad put my brother and me to work as his employees cutting trees, mowing grass and doing general maintenance on his property outside of Chagrin Falls. I learned quickly that people in a nearby neighborhood paid a lot better, so I started doing leaf raking and other odd jobs.
One project we did for my dad was to sealcoat the parking lot at his office. It was kind of fun being out in the sun all day and I wondered if we could make a business out of it. So in college, my brother and I ran a sealcoating business called the Navy Sealers and had a lot of fun with it.
My interest in caring for the environment naturally started in high school. My biology teacher explained how lawn fertilizers and chemicals used in a nearby suburb were killing trout in the local stream. Later that year, my dad asked me to spread a popular weed-and-feed on our lawn. But, when I saw all the harmful ingredients in the product, I refused to do it.
My dad eventually let me off the hook, but said, "I'll take the fertilizer back to the store, but you need to find another way to keep the lawn looking nice." I researched organic lawn care and began treating my parents’ lawn organically. Then, after graduating college in 1999 with a degree in engineering, I decided to see if the rest of Cleveland would be interested in treating their lawns organically, too. Good Nature Organic Lawn Care was born.
Why is organic important for lawn care?
There are a lot of reasons: The poisons that are used in a chemical approach are not good for anyone; inorganic fertilizers make their way into our water system and pollute our lakes and rivers, causing a buildup of algae that makes it more difficult for fish to survive; a chemical treatment feeds the plants directly and ignores and even weakens the soil. An organic approach works with nature and feeds the soil, resulting in healthier soil and plants.
Are the costs of going organic significantly higher?
Typically we charge more to treat an average lawn than a traditional chemical lawn care service. If a chemical approach is $40 per treatment, maybe we’re $50. But that’s about the cost of taking the family to a movie. I’d rather skip the movie and not risk the cost of my family’s health by having chemicals on my lawn.
What do they say about their yards after your treatments?
When clients have us renovate their lawns and replace existing grass types, they typically say that they have the nicest lawn on the street. Or, in some cases, as one client said, “The nicest lawn I’ve ever seen anywhere, ever!”
Do your lawns look the same as one that is chemically treated?
With our fertilization program clients typically say that the lawn looks about the same as it did under a chemical program with perhaps a few more weeds. They understand the tradeoff, though, and are perfectly happy to put up with a couple more weeds in exchange for knowing it’s maintained naturally in an environmentally friendly manner. As one client said, “The few weeds I have are worth the satisfaction of knowing that I am not damaging the environment or harming the birds and other animals in my yard.”
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
When I was first starting the business, I walked into a COSE
small business assistance center downtown for some help with my business plan. John Renner, who ran the center, sat down with me to help and I was shocked to learn that he also had an organic lawn care company in Akron. This was in 2000 and there were probably only a handful of companies doing organic lawn care in the U.S., so the odds of that happening were not good.
John mentioned he had just gotten a call from Don Krock, the horticulture manager at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo
. It was too big of an account for John, so he gave me Don’s number. I met Don near the Australian Adventure and he said, “The other company usually pulls their trucks in here. Will your truck fit there?’”
I didn’t really want to mention to Don that my truck was a Subaru hatchback so I simply said, “Yup!” When I got the contract, I went out and bought a truck.