NALP Member Michael Kravitsky IV Shares Tips on Running a Family Business and Tackling Labor Challenges

running a family business

Michael Kravitsky IV, CTP-CSL, owner and president of Grasshopper Lawns Inc., in Larksville, Pennsylvania, has always run a family business. It got its start in 1964 when Kravitsky’s father (Michael III) joined the Lawn-A-Mat franchise. In 1980, his father went independent and Grasshopper Lawns was born. Kravitsky joined the business full-time in 1980.

“For 36 years we operated out of my grandparents’ basement,” Kravitsky recalls. “Then we moved into trailers. It sure taught us to be lean and efficient. In 2001, we moved into our current location and have over 22,000 square feet of office space, which felt enormous to us. But we kept a lot of those efficient practices in place. It’s honestly helped us grow.”

Michael Kravitsky IV discusses running a family business.

Michael Kravitsky IV, Grasshopper Lawns

And “grow” the company has done. In fact, Kravitsky foresees needing even more office space in the next five years to keep up. We recently caught up with Kravitsky to find out more.

Grasshopper Lawns Inc.
Headquarters: Larksville, Pennsylvania
Year Founded: 1964
Client mix: 95% residential; 5% commeral
Service mix: 95% lawn care; 4.5% tree & shrub care; 0.5% holiday lighting
Business Motto: Family is family and business is business. Have fun at both.

What is your proudest moment in business?

The first thing that comes to mind is when we hit our first million-dollar milestone. I don’t remember the year, but I remember everyone celebrating and thinking, “Now we’re on our way.” Just seeing our team members grow and mature and take on leadership roles within the company has also been a proud moment for me. Also, my kids’ involvement in the business over the years makes me proud.

What is your biggest business challenge?

Labor is my biggest challenge. It’s not like old days where you put an ad in the paper and you get 100-plus people interested. Now you must dig deeper to find people and that makes it hard to grow. We’re busting at the seams with new work, but can’t take it all on because we don’t have the labor. There’s no silver bullet out there to solve this, but we’ve tried different recruitment methods. We’ve attended job fairs and we’ve even tried to recruit at home shows. We’ve also printed up flyers and put them in our customer invoice bag. And we’ve gotten some calls that way. We figure our customers know what kind of company we are, and you never know who they know who might be looking for a job.

What motivates you on Monday mornings?

I love this business and I look forward to coming to work every Monday morning. It’s just in my blood. I enjoy the challenges and I find it fun. We use Real Green Systems software and they have GPS tracking and it’s just a joy to look at that screen and see your trucks all over the place and see what work is getting done. I enjoy seeing how their day is going, too.

What business worry keeps you up at night?

Ninety-nine percent of the time, nothing keeps me up at night. I’m not a worrier, for the most part, and a glass of bourbon before bed doesn’t hurt. But sometimes I do wake up extra early—and that’s usually not because of a worry but because of a great idea that I can’t wait to get to work to implement.

Who is your business mentor or idol?

I have been asked this before, and I have four of them. The first is Mark Phipps, a former fertilizer salesman from Moyer & Sons in Souderton, Pennsylvania. I remember when Mark found out we were having our first baby. He brought us clothing for my little girl—no salesperson had ever made such an extra effort before. Mark and I became such good friends over the years and taught me a lot about being kind to customers and never being afraid to reach out. He has since passed away, but he left a lasting impression on me.

My grandfather was another one. He taught me that “business is business and family is family.” He used to run the company when my dad was away on sales. When I was younger, we could really go head-to-head in arguments. We would be in a heated disagreement when suddenly he would slam his fist down and say, “Enough, your grandmother has supper ready upstairs.” I was so amazed at the way he could really separate business from family—like nothing happened.

My third mentor is my dad, who taught me most things that I know about how to run a business, how to sell and how to work hard.

Finally, the last is Joe Kucik from Real Green. He’s an all-around great guy, but he is all about sales, sales, sales—and that’s taught me a lot. We did a direct mail campaign with Real Green and I was telling him how successful it was—we honestly hit it out of the park. But he said to me, “Send more postcards.” I had literally just told him we had unbelievable success and he still said, “Send more.” He’s a true sales guy.

What is your favorite business book?

A book that has formed a lot of who I am today is “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie. My dad made me take the course when I was just 18 years old. I dated this girl whose father was the instructor. She took the class, too. But my dad said, “No, you have to take it separately.” He really wanted me to focus. I’ve been married to that girl 35 years now.

Another book that has really influenced me is “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey. I can remember being at a NALP-sponsored event [though it wasn’t called NALP then], sitting on a beach in Puerto Rico reading that book. It starts off with a drawing of an old woman but if you look at it a certain way, you should also be able to see a young woman. The book tells you not to move on until you can see both. I kid you not, I sat in that beach chair for two or three hours and I could not see the young woman. But when I finally did, it changed my life in a big way. I realized there are two sides to every story.

What does it mean to you to be a landscape professional?

The first word that comes to mind is, “Awesome!” This industry is rewarding because you can really see the fruits of your labor. When we take a decrepit looking lawn and turn it around and that customer calls to say, “Wow,” it means everything.

What does it mean to you to be a NALP member?

I just filled out my renewal today, and where it asked me a reason why I want to belong to the organization I put “professionalism.” I feel that anyone can be a landscaper or a lawn care provider but when you have a national association standing behind you, it tells me you’re a step up from the regular Joe. It steps up your game. We’ve been involved in the Renewal & Remembrance event every year since its inception. In fact, last year, I was recognized for being at every event and that meant a lot.

Where do you see your family business in five years? Where will you be?

I see us adding to our building because we’ll need more room. We’re continuing to grow and it’s really exciting.

My son has been here a while and learning more and more. Hopefully he’ll take over one day. I’m Mike the Fourth and he’s Mike the Fifth. Of course, I’d like to still be here, but maybe fluctuating between Key West and Northern Canada. Key West for sun and fun and Canada for snowmobiling. Even after I do retire fully one day, I’ll be around. I’ll be answering questions and I’ll still want some sort of presence. It would be hard not to. I was born in 1962 and this business started in 1964. It’s always been a part of my life. When I was five years old I was going on estimates with my Dad. I learned to drive on our equipment. Most of our family members have been involved in this family business. It’s not just something you move on from easily.

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