For Larry Smith, launching Larry’s Lawn Mowing Service took him on an unconventional route to success. After 30 years of working in the news business, he decided to switch careers and mow lawns for a living.
Smith had no prior experience in lawn mowing or running a business. He was a freelance photographer for 20 years and then worked for a German news agency for another 10 years. He covered a variety of topics, from 14 Super Bowls to the last eight American presidents, and every major disaster in America. Eventually he lost a sense of enjoyment in work.
"The news business today is not the same that it was 20 years ago in my opinion,” Smith said. “I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, and I said if you’re not happy, then don’t stick to what you’re doing because it’s going to reflect on your personal life as well.”
Smith chose to work in landscaping for the mental health benefits and peace of mind he found in mowing yards.
The sense of enjoyment he lost in his previous career is finally back.
“I didn’t plan on lawn mowing being my full-time career,” he said. “At the time, I was ready to move on and leave my news job. When I left, the only thing I could think of doing at the time was mowing yards. It was during COVID when unemployment was high, and mowing was something I always enjoyed. I decided to go full-time. It provided a nice time to be by myself, pop on my headphones and reflect on life.”
He took a leap and started Larry’s Lawn Mowing Service four years ago as a part-time gig with help from his son. He learned everything from trial and error. He had minimal knowledge about managing paperwork for a lawncare company, how to efficiently schedule clients or how to charge them adequately for his services. He learned on the job and persevered. Today, his business is booming, and he wishes he would have started his career in lawncare even sooner.
“I was extremely blessed because the company immediately took off,” he said. “By the end of my first mowing season, in just a few months, I had made more mowing than I had in my prior year working for the news company.”
Since quitting his photography job and launching his lawncare company full-time in 2020, Smith has quadrupled his customer base and currently mows for a mix of 120 residential and commercial clients, which he splits on a weekly and bi-weekly schedule. His clients are in northern Texas, spread across the cities of Greenville, Commerce and Sulphur Springs.
Larry’s Lawn Mowing Service uses only Gravely equipment. In fact, Smith was a proponent of the brand before he launched his company.
“My first lawnmower purchase was a residential 48-inch Gravely ZT HD zero-turn that I used in my own yard. Before that, I had never heard of the Gravely name in my life,” Smith said. “What sold me on Gravely was the build and its quality. It looked like it would last a long time, and I felt good about purchasing it. It was made so much better than others I had seen for that price range.”
Today, Smith has a Gravely Pro-Turn 652 zero-turn and a Gravely Pro-Turn 252 zero-turn. He purchased the Pro-Turn 600-series for the comfort and control of the Operator Pod System, a suspension cockpit and the redesigned X-Factor 3 deck for premium cut quality. On his Pro-Turn 252, a 27-horsepower Kawasaki engine provides reliable power, and it’s compatible with Tweels, which are airless tires that can’t go flat.
Smith purchased all his Gravely equipment from his local dealership, Sartin’s Powerhouse in Greenville, Texas. From supplying Gravely to having a full-service shop with skilled technicians, Smith said he hit the jackpot with his dealer. He has developed a relationship with the staff at Sartin’s Powerhouse and considers them friends.
“My dealer is full of good, honest guys. I felt like it wasn't just somebody trying to sell me a lawn mower when I met them,” Smith said. “You’re not going to find better people than at my local dealer, and I’d stay with them forever for just that reason alone.”
Starting his own company and entering the lawncare business was an entirely new world for Smith, and it has been nothing short of rewarding.
He says the best part of running his own company is knowing that the only person you must answer to is yourself, and that it’s comforting knowing that he has both a retirement plan and a business to pass on in the future.
He has three employees, and they serve a variety of clients, with the majority being residential. His commercial clients are as large as well-known, big-box hardware stores, all the way to smaller clients, like a local children’s museum.
“This past year, I’ve grown my commercial customer base much more than last year. I’ve probably doubled it this year. By this time next year, I hope to double it again,” he said. “It’s important to pay attention to the details and to treat every customer like they are more than a paycheck.”
Being in northern Texas where the climate is predominantly hot and varies from semi-arid to humid, Smith frequently mows over weeds, but also a variety of grasses, including St. Augustine, Bermuda and ryegrass. He says that the grass type does not influence his mower of choice, but he selects his preferred mower based on lawnmower size, so he can maneuver around properties quickly. His company also offers mulch removal and installation, flower beds, aerating, seeding, gravel and light winter work.
“Any mower can cut grass, but the quality, build and comfort of a Gravely product is what makes a difference to me,” Smith said. “It’s that hands-on relationship that Gravely has with local dealers that makes a big difference.”
Smith is an avid user of multimedia, and his online presence has helped him grow the company. He consistently posts photos of his Gravely fleet, both in action or against stunning backdrops. He posts before and after photos of his landscaping jobs and sometimes posts videos on YouTube of himself on the jobsite. He built his portfolio using his three decades of photography experience. He shoots his own photos, cuts his own videos and even designed the company’s logo.
“I still love the art of taking photos, and I think people enjoy looking at a good picture. Because of my photography skills, I can see how the light affects things, and I try to take a picture when I see an opportunity, like when the light is nice on a subject,” he said.
Smith prints and distributes calendars each year full of photos that he has captured of his Gravely equipment and he gives them to customers. He does postcard mailings, too, including photos shot and edited by him.
With a wide variety of skills, Smith acquired a large customer base in a short amount of time.
“I can’t pinpoint the secret to my success, but I get most of my clients from Google reviews and word-of-mouth,” he said. “I am very big on branding, and I have my logo printed on everything I own, which I think helps a lot. I believe it pays to look and act professionally, and I insist that myself and my staff members always wear the company shirt when on the job. I also treat my customers like I want to be treated, which I think helps a lot.”
Though Smith has built a successful lawncare company through hard work and expertise, he is quick to assign his success to his wife and to his faith.
“When you quit a job after 30 years and start mowing yards, and within three years you’ve doubled your income, grown your business and met great people —that doesn’t happen by chance,” he said. “It has nothing to do with luck. The support of my wife and God’s will have brought me to where I am today.”