Cameron Murray is only 25, but he attributes his thriving business success to being thoroughly professional.
Raleigh, North Carolina
Eric “Cameron” Murray seems to have been born with chlorophyll coursing through his veins. He began mowing lawns in his Raleigh neighborhood when he was just eight years old, and 17 years later, he has nearly 405 maintenance accounts and also does design and landscape installations.
“My original customer base — consisting of five neighbors who have all since moved to new neighborhoods — are still my customers,” Murray says. He was born and raised in Raleigh, never straying far from home except for a short stint at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, where he studied business. He returned to the Raleigh area to start his landscape business in 2003, and used his initials to come up with the name for his business, ECM Enterprises. Murray picked up his horticultural knowledge through night classes, on the job and through his chemical applicator license continuing education.
Impeccable (and Numerous) References
“Cameron started taking care of our yard when he was 14 or 15 years old,” Jim Tarleton says. “I was mowing the yard, and he came up on his bicycle and asked if he could do it for me. Aside from routine maintenance, he’s done hardscape work, replaced all of our plantings a few years ago, added irrigation and done some significant drainage projects, as well. It’s been a work in progress.
My original customer base – consisting of five neighbors who have all since moved to new neighborhoods – are still my customers.
“I think the things you look for in a good contractor are someone who does what they say they’re going to do, when they say they’ll do it, at a reasonable price. He does that. I can’t sing his praises loud enough.” As a result of such customer loyalty, Murray built a thriving landscape business.
“The best thing going for me is my age, and the worst thing going against me is my age,” Murray says. At age 16, he went to finance his first pickup truck, and his father had to sign with him. But Murray made the payments, and by 18, he financed a $40,000 dump truck. “At 21, I bought a house,” he says. “Everything I’ve gotten is because I worked for it.” About two years ago, he built a new shop/office to house all the equipment for his growing business.
Murray’s mower fleet consists of 12 mowers of various brands ranging in size from 21 to 60 inches. Due to its ability to adapt to nearly any installation job, he values his Toro Dingo with a 4-in-1 bucket, cultivator, trencher and auger attachments. “It cost me around $30,000 with the attachments, but I love it,” he says. “It’s a money-maker.” Murray has stretched his dollars and this particular piece of equipment by working out a deal with a friend in the landscape business. “I borrow his skid steer, and he borrows my Dingo, so it’s a win-win. We’re competitors, but I couldn’t ask for a better friend.” Murray knows about 30 landscapers in his area and talks with most of them on a regular basis to share ideas.
Selling the Job
One of the greatest challenges facing landscapers today, Murray believes, is establishing a trusting relationship with clients. “I can’t tell you how many homeowners, business owners and property managers I’ve met – and who have become customers – who had a negative experience with a prior landscaping project and landscaper,” Murray says. “After walking their property and hearing the horror stories, I understand why. There are so many instances where people have the money but are hesitant to spend because of the lack of professionalism many landscapers exhibit.”
When people want references, I pull out my entire active client list, hand it to them, and say “Pick whoever you want.”
Murray overcomes this challenge by showing customers his work and providing references – 405 references, to be precise. “When people want references, I pull out my entire active client list, hand it to them, and say “Pick whoever you want.’” Because he serves such a limited geographic area, most potential clients are able to find several friends or neighbors on the list.
When it comes to maintenance, he doesn’t believe in tying customers down with a contract. “If we do good work, they stay committed to us,” he says. “I don’t scare them off with a contract. We sign a brief, non-binding agreement. It’s to the point and says what will be done this year. This is the way it works best for me.”
Murray has learned to increase his success with potential new clients by providing a brochure that describes his services, totaling his bid on the spot, and offering his client list for references. “They know I’m not the cheapest bid out there, but they know I’m a professional. A lot of people commit to it right there on the spot.”
Murray also scores jobs with his landscape designs. Although he subcontracts with a local landscape designer for complicated designs, Murray tackles the smaller designs with the help of Pro Landscape design software. “That program paid for itself 10 times over in the first month,” he says. “Flat, black and white plans don’t sell a job. But color CAD perspective prints give customers a better idea of the project.”
His Tools of the Trade
Murray seeks out smaller landscape jobs that take one to three days. He typically works with the crews on these jobs, whereas his crews are self-sufficient on the maintenance accounts. “I like to get in and get out and get paid, instead of having to wait two to three weeks for a payment on bigger jobs.”
Murray owns four Mitsubishi Fuso trucks – three with open landscape bodies and one special closed cargo truck he values, not only for theft control, but for its advertising potential. He hired a marketing firm to help with advertising, and one of the concepts they developed was using the image of a baby with the slogan, “Hey Baby, What a Great Lawn Company.” He had larger than life images of the baby pasted on the sides of his cargo truck.
“That baby has really been working for us,” he says with a smile. “I have people tell me they see my trucks everywhere. But I’m really just running in a seven mile radius in the north Raleigh area, so it just seems like my trucks are all over the place.” Murray says concentrating his efforts in a limited radius limits transportation costs.
In addition to his CAD software, another way Murray embraced technology was by installing Street
Eagle GPS units on his trucks. This allows him to monitor crews to make sure they are using the planned routes. The units also let him know if a truck is sitting – engine idling – for long periods while a crew uses the air conditioning or heater. He believes the system saves him between $1,500 and $2,000 per month in lost time and wages.
Murray’s success is based on a simple formula: positive attitude + smart decisions = a winning outcome.
When it comes to employees, Murray makes no apologies or excuses when he declares his first bookkeeper is his favorite. His mother, Terry Murray, maintained the books and payroll until last year when he hired a full-time bookkeeper. Murray recently upgraded his software programs to QXpress and Quickbooks which gives him better control over all parts of the business. He is able to send route sheets to drivers through their cell phones – eliminating paper waste. He says it also does a better job estimating costs by integrating his GPS systems with the software to keep a running time on each property visited.
Murray is in no great hurry to become the largest landscaping company in the Raleigh area. He currently has eight full-time employees he splits into three crews, hiring a few seasonal employees when needed. He says his success is based on a simple formula: Positive attitude + smart decisions = a winning outcome
“I believe being a successful landscaper is not measured by the pieces of equipment or the number of trucks or employees,” he says, “but by the satisfied customers to whom you provide the services.” m