Nutri-Lawn – Burlington:
After 17 years, former oil industry executive still enjoys successful lawn care business

By Allan Dennis

Seventeen years ago Don McQueen left a successful career in the oil business to turn an avocation into a vocation. McQueen never planned to be self employed, but the move turned out well, building upon his agricultural background prior to the oil business.

After investigating the opportunities that existed, McQueen decided upon, at the time, a relatively young lawn care company named
Nutri-Lawn. Even back in the 1990s, Nutri-Lawn had an ecology friendly system in place to care for lawns. "The company's philosophy grabbed my attention," he says. "They were way ahead of the curve."
After numerous moves across the country with oil companies, McQueen moved back to his home turf in the Hamilton area. Today, living in Oakville, he operates a successful Nutri-Lawn franchise in Burlington, serving commercial, residential and municipal clients in the communities of Halton, Hamilton and surrounding areas.
Even though things have been a bit tough for the lawn care industry, McQueen still maintains his enthusiasm for the business. "It is a great place to work. There is still a place for lawn care companies," he says. He notes that the strong will survive.

Lawn care companies are messengers
Hit with the provincial ban on all chemical pesticides back in April of this year, McQueen finds lawn care companies have become the messenger on the issue to inform consumers what is involved with the new law. He says that a number of customers understand that without our previous tools (pesticides), the focus is more on agronomy to fix the problem, rather than on pesticides to treat the symptom. "Unfortunately, when pest thresholds are too great for the lawn to overcome, in some cases there are no real effective solutions available to us." He uses the example of chinch bugs. "There are no approved products to control chinch bugs right now."

Then there is the problem of the recession which was a double-whammy for lawn care operators, while the past two consecutive summers saw record amounts of rain, which didn't make things too pleasant for those lawn care companies that include irrigation as part of the business.

Despite all this, McQueen is still excited about his business and is optimistic for the future. "This is a fantastic business to be in. There are so many good people in this industry." He is confident he and his company will be around for many years. He says it will take creativity, hard work and preparation, but the industry will survive.
One area that falls under the creative aspect is the Christmas Décor part of the business. McQueen's company has been handling this unique service for 11 years. "It's been very successful for us," he says. "It also provides year-round employment." He reflects that Christmas Décor is much different than the lawn care service. "It's very creative and a great way to end the year after a busy lawn car season."

Education important
He believes that in order to survive in today's business climate, it is important to promote education. "People are surprised when they find out how well educated some of the leaders are in this industry." On top of formal education and experience, he cites certification, IPM and the numerous seminars and courses offered by Landscape Ontario. "By educating members of the lawn care industry, it not only helps with conducting the hands-on task, but also improves our image as an industry."

McQueen first became involved in the LO lawn care sector group back in 2000. "I joined the committee just as the pesticide issue was beginning to steam-up. Being involved with the LO group really opened up my eyes to the industry."

He says that it's amazing how members of the sector group will be so open about how they deal with problems. "Even though we could potentially be competitors, we do share best practice information among us," says McQueen. "I have made some great friends from serving on the committee. And, from a professional point of view the sector group really does elevate the professional status of lawn care operations."

On the issue of fighting the pesticide ban, McQueen says that the lawn care group really worked hard and tried it's best to fight the issue, "but politics overcame science."

With optimism, McQueen says, "Our industry will continue to be around far into the future. There will be a transition over the next three to five years as new products and services are introduced to take care of turf. Once homeowners become used to the new age of lawn care, the industry will be off to new heights."
With people such as Don McQueen among the leaders, the industry is in good hands as it works to find its way in a new world.