For most 14-year-olds, mowing lawns means making some spare spending money. For Kevin Douglas, it meant the birth of a burgeoning business.
After accepting his first job cutting grass for his grandfather four years ago, the now 18-year-old businessman has taken what was once a summer gig and evolved it into a multi-service shop, S&K Snow Plowing & Lawn Mowing.
The company, which he founded in 2007 with his father, Scott, has since grown from something he ran out of his home into a business that handles everything from landscaping to automotive repairs, employing upward of 19 people depending on the season.
“I started with a few residences and it just kept getting bigger and bigger,” Kevin Douglas said. “One day, we just got the idea to see if we could make it even bigger and away it went. It’s been fun to watch it grow. I never dreamed it would be this big, especially while I was going to high school.”
Though he got his start mowing a handful of lawns, Kevin Douglas eventually scrapped together enough cash to buy his own riding lawn mower, adding commercial clients to the point that his father saw real potential in his venture.
Those landscaping services have since grown to include tree stump removal, edging, rock and mulch installation, sod repair work and clean-up services specific to fall and spring.
As that business grew, the services also expanded into snow plowing, with Kevin Douglas biding out his first job before he even had a vehicle ready to handle the first big snow of that winter in 2008.
Even after they added a truck, Kevin Douglas said, he had to ask his older brother, Jeremy, to help out because the then 15-year-old was too young to drive the truck and handle part of the plowing.
“We didn’t have a truck. We didn’t have anything and just threw a bid out there,” he said. “We did it all on four-wheelers and with shovels, and just did whatever we could do.”
Though he found success at an early age, it didn’t come without sacrifice.
There were winters that business was so hectic, he said, that he would go two days without sleep, taking care of his plow shift at night before heading to class first thing in the morning, then back to work again as soon as school let out.
That meant finding the right balance between school and work, as well as putting other things aside, with even major holidays falling victim to the wrath of Mother Nature.
“During a big snow storm, we have to do whatever it takes to make it happen,” Kevin Douglas said. “We’ve missed Christmas because of snow.”
The Douglas family (from left: Jeremy, Kevin, Kim and Scott) pose in front of their sign at their multi-service shop, which is located on Highway TT in the Town of Sun Prairie. After starting the business as a summer lawn mowing gig at age 14, Kevin Douglas has since grown the business with the help of his father into a multi-faceted company that employs as many as 19 workers depending on the needs of the season, as the company handles commercial contracts in snow removal and landscaping services (photo by Tim Neuenschwander).
Still his mother, Kim, who has come on board full-time to handle the financial side of the family business, said she never let her high schooler forget about responsibilities in the classroom.
“I made sure his education was his priority,” she said. “I knew he had to have his business, but his education was far more important.”
Since those early days, the business has become even more diversified, the family said, with their latest addition incorporating automotive repair, the field in which Scott Douglas made his living for 35 years before going full-time with S&K.
After more than three decades at a corporate dealership, Scott Douglas said he tired of watching customers walk away wondering if they’d just been duped, wanting instead to make sure clients feel comfortable with the work performed.
“It often felt like customers would leave the facility not knowing what had been done with their vehicle,” he said.
“They felt like they paid a bunch of money but were leaving empty handed. I’m here for those customers.”
The automotive component has rapidly evolved into a major field for S&K, administrative assistant Mandi Foreman said, as the company has tripled its business in the repair services since they introduced automotive just a year ago.
Their auto services run the gamut, she said, including jobs as small as a standard oil change to tasks as big as transmission repairs and engine overhauls.
That automotive component has grown by leaps and bounds simply through word-of-mouth referrals, Scott Douglas said, as the company prides itself on making sure the job is done right.
“Everybody that comes to this facility to get their car repaired has sent three or four people back,” he said. “That’s the best form of advertising, when you can prove what you’ve got going out your door.”
Customer service is critical to the equation, Foreman said, as the shop tries to educate customers on the repairs performed and why they were necessary, so that they don’t walk away feeling like they were taken to the cleaners.
They also only recommend work that is required to keep a car in top running condition, Foreman said, unlike some service shops that try to nickel and dime customers with fixes they don’t need.
“We tell them everything that is wrong with the vehicle and go through the list to tell them what’s important to fix and what’s not,” she said.
“We tell them if they need to have the work done and aren’t just selling them parts for the sake of selling them parts.”
That sense of trust is fundamental to their way of doing business, Scott Douglas said, which is based on an old-school style of customer service, something he believes has been missing from the automotive repair industry for far too long.
“We’re trying to bring back the days where your word was your word and your handshake was a handshake,” he said.
“You don’t see that very often anymore,” Scott Douglas added. “Back in the day if you shook someone’s hand and said something you meant it, and we still believe in that.”