Photo: Kelvin Chan

Lawnmower man

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By Jill Koskitalo

Trevor Augustyn was tired of scooping ice cream. At the tender age of 14, the Baskin-Robbins employee had grown weary of providing 31 flavours for the masses during his summers. When his father suggested asking around the neighbourhood to see if anyone was looking to help with their gardens, Augustyn decided it was time for a change. Throwing his ice cream scoop to the wind, the intrepid high school student elected to start his own business.

Now 21, the part-time Seneca College student is the owner and operator of Treval Property Maintenance and Snow Removal.

“I get a lot of personal satisfaction from my business. It’s great to start something and then see it through to the finish.”

After doing some basic market research (by knocking on doors), he found a number of people wanted help taking care of their lawns and gardens. Like any smart entrepreneur, Augustyn offered himself as he solution to the neighbourhood gardening woes.

Seven years later, the business has grown considerably. Last year Augustyn had about 300 regular clients and employed seven people. Along the way, he has learned some valuable lessons about both making a profit and staying sane. “There is no limit to growth, as long as you have the resources,” he says. “I took some financial losses before I learned not to let my expenses exceed profit. It’s really important to know your personal limits and when to say no. But if you want something bad enough, you can get it if you work hard.”

Starting up a business is a relatively easy things to do. Once you’ve decided what sort of work you’re planning to do and come up with a catchy name for your business, you need to register with the Ministry of Consumer and Commercial Relations. Once you’re registered, you may be required to obtain various licences depending on the nature of the work you plan to do. In Augustyn’s case, he wanted to do weed and pest control that involved the use of potentially dangerous chemicals. “There was a course I had to take with a test at the end to get the licence but it was fairly easy.”

Attracting new customers and keeping the ones you have are important. To find new clients, Augustyn had done cold calling and direct mailing but much of his business now comes by word of mouth so it’s important to keep the customers happy. “A lot of clients come by referrals,” he says. “You don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.”

As the owner, you have the freedom to decide when and where you will work, who you will hire and how much money to charge. Augustyn declined to name exactly how much money his business generated last year but he said it was considerably more than he would have earned at any minimum wage job. “I can make the same amount in five or seven hours a week as it would have taken in 20 hours at Baskin and Robbins and [my business] is very rewarding.”

Augustyn’s line of work also occasionally offers some unique perks.

“I have been caught jumping into clients’ pools a couple of times. It was a hot day and I just couldn’t resist. But when I came back up, the client was standing right there. They were surprised, but really good about it. They just told me to ask next time.”

There are also a number of drawbacks to operating a small business. Augustyn cites being tied down to the city and the lack of personal time as two of the things he has found difficult to deal with.

“It’s important to keep friendships alive. Your friends are the ones who will be there for you. In the end the clients don’t care,” he says. “It can be tough to find time for personal relationships.”

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