Lawn and Garden Services

SIC 0782

Companies in this industry

Industry report:

The lawn and garden services industry is comprised of establishments primarily engaged in performing a variety of landscape maintenance services. Companies that install artificial turf are included in SIC 1799: Special Trade Contractors, Not Elsewhere Classified.

This industry encompasses an abundance of firms that provide a wide range of services, including sod laying, lawn mowing, and seeding. Firms also may serve such niche markets as lawn mulching, cemetery maintenance, garden planting, fertilizing, lawn spraying and treating, highway center-strip maintenance, and athletic field and golf course turf installation. Lawn maintenance service, the largest segment of the lawn and garden industry, accounted for about 27 percent of industry revenues in the early 2010s. Typically, companies that service lawns fertilize four to six times and apply herbicides two or three times annually. Some may offer a soil test or a lawn analysis.

According to Dun and Bradstreet in 2010, 92,325 establishments in the lawn and garden services industry brought in revenues of $23.98 billion. Companies with fewer than 100 employees accounted for 99 percent of employees and 80 percent of revenues. Thus, the lawn and garden services industry includes thousands of small, privately owned firms. Most firms (80 percent) have four or fewer employees. Grounds maintenance workers held about 1.2 million jobs in the 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Roughly 36 percent were employed by companies providing landscaping services to residential and commercial customers. Others were employed by amusement and recreational industries, schools, government facilities, and other private employment services. Almost one-fourth of grounds maintenance workers were self-employed, providing landscape maintenance directly to customers on a contract basis. Nearly one-quarter of U.S. households utilized professional lawn care services. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment in this industry was expected to grow 18 percent between 2008 and 2018.

An identifiable lawn and garden service industry did not emerge until the post-World War II U.S. economic expansion. Housing developments ballooned from just 139,000 in 1944 to 1.9 million in 1950, and thousands of tract subdivisions were built on the perimeter of urban America. As an entire suburban culture emerged, replete with private lawns and gardens, the demand for landscape services flourished.

Strong housing starts throughout most of the 1980s, as well as favorable demographic trends, boosted sales in many traditional segments of the landscape services industry. Relatively new services, such as chemical lawn treatments and hydroseeding, also offered growth opportunities. A general trend toward more elaborate landscaping bolstered industry profits as well. Although stalled housing developments and a virtual depression in commercial construction markets soured demand for new landscape installations in the late 1980s and early 1990s, many landscape maintenance firms enjoyed steady growth. Booming new home sales in the late 1990s and early 2000s, fueled by historically low interest rates, also bolstered industry growth.

The continued rise in two-income families throughout the 1990s and early 2000s left homeowners with less available time for lawn care and subsequently helped grow the industry. A study by the National Gardening Association found that homeowners spent a record $44.7 billion to hire professional lawn and landscape services in 2006. An estimated 34.5 million U.S. households, or 30 percent, used at least one type of lawn and landscape service.

As the first decade of the 2000s progressed, people also became more aware of the positive environmental effects of lawns, such as oxygen production, temperature modification, and pollutant absorbency. At the same time, many firms had started stressing environmentally friendly, "green" landscape installation and maintenance services. New high-tech natural products included slow-growing golf course turf and insect resistant grass seed. Other technological advances that affected the industry included Magic Circle Corp.'s Dixie Chopper, a hydrostatically driven mower. The mower incorporated a turbine-powered military helicopter power unit and boasted a maximum mowing speed of 18 miles per hour. In addition, industry leader TruGreen launched its debut line of organic Targeted Lawn Care products in 16 states in 2009.

Kirk Hurto of TruGreen told PR Newswire in 2009, "We're committed to reducing the use of pesticides, and our specialized TLC delivery system helps to ensure this reduction goal while still providing effective results. It's doing the right thing for the environment--and for our customers." Such technological advances and attention to environmental concerns brought the industry greater expansion and success. According to the National Gardening Association, the number of U.S. households using all-natural fertilizer and weed and household insect controls jumped from 5 million in 2004 to 12 million in 2008.

On the other hand, industry critics, including Ted Steinberg, who wrote American Green: The Obsessive Quest for the Perfect Lawn in 2006, contend the industry makes excessive use of herbicides and upsells unnecessary lawn care products and services. The Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA), organized in 1979, promotes education, legislation, and public awareness of the environmental and aesthetic benefits of turf. The PLCAA represents more than 1,200 lawn and landscape companies, industry suppliers, and grounds managers in the United States, Canada, and other countries. The PLCAA has also established a training program for lawn and garden professionals.

Former industry leaders TruGreen and ChemLawn merged in 1992, creating the nation's largest professional lawncare provider, TruGreen LandCare and TruGreen LawnCare. The companies are subsidiaries of ServiceMaster, which also has subsidiaries for housecleaning, pest control, and plumbing and drain services. As the world's largest lawn and landscape provider, TruGreen LandCare and TruGreen LawnCare supply landscape design, installation, and maintenance for office and retail centers, resorts, parks, and housing developments and have 200 company-owned firms and 45 franchises in the United States. Present in 48 states plus the District of Columbia in 2010, TruGreen LawnCare also had a subsidiary in Canada and licensing for services in Japan, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom. TrueGreen LawnCare, which accounts for about one-third ServiceMaster's revenues, generated $1.05 billion in sales in 2009. TruGreen LandCare had 70 company-owned locations covering 42 states and the District of Columbia. TruGreen LandCare, which provides commercial grounds maintenance, had revenues of $262 million in 2009, down from $316 million in 2009.

The Scotts LawnService is the other industry leader. A company within the Scotts Miracle-Gro family of companies, Scotts LawnService had revenues of approximately $231 million in 2009.

By the early 2010s, most states had implemented updated telemarketing laws that limited lawn care companies' ability to pursue new business by "cold calling" potential customers. In addition, some states had enacted "do-not-knock," "do-not-mail," and "do-not-leave" legislation. Added to these limitations to advertising, the economy had fallen into a recession in the mid-2000s, a stranglehold was placed on credit, and the bottom fell out of the housing market. As a result, many consumers reduced spending, and many commercial accounts either slashed spending or closed their doors. Drought in certain regions also adversely affected the industry.

However, by mid-2010, according to an informal survey conducted by Landscape Management, 46 percent of respondents said that first quarter 2010 sales were better than first quarter 2009 (compared to 27 percent who said they were worse). The survey suggested that industry insiders still understood that the rough ride of the previous years were not yet over; when asked to "describe the state of your business this year," 30 percent said business was improving, 27 percent said that they were undergoing industrywide changes due to the economy, and 23 percent said that they continued to face difficult challenges.

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