Last year was busy for Senske Services, No. 59 on the 2023 LM150 list, with $52,700,000 in lawn care revenue and 19 percent overall growth from 2021 to 2022. The company also offers pest control and tree care to primarily residential clients.
Chris Senske, second-generation owner and operator and acquisitions ambassador for Senske Services, says this growth came in two forms: 1) organic growth and 2) acquisitions, including Desert Green in Richland, Wash., and Rentokil’s lawn care operations in Washington and Utah.
The 76-year-old company shows no signs of slowing down. In December, private equity firm GTCR invested in Senske Services, and Casey Taylor and Nathan Hurst joined as co-CEOs. Chris Senske says this investment will help his family’s business continue to expand. The company anticipates growing 77 percent in 2023 over 2022.
“We were just about at the end of our ability to make any more purchases,” Senske says. “We had tapped most of the credit that we could use at that point in time. To continue the growth path we had, we were going to have to do something else. And frankly, the market looked ripe to take advantage of the prices that some of the private equity firms were paying.”
Senske calls the process of vetting private-equity firms a fun experience. Senske’s leadership team rented out a local winery and investors gave their pitches during individual time slots. He said he looked for the opportunities the investment team would bring his company and how the investors would fit his operation’s culture.
“One of the things that impressed us the most with the team from GTCR was (co-CEOs) Casey and Nate had done this process before with the characteristically same kind of business,” Senske says, referring to their experience at route-based commercial water filtration business Waterlogic. “They had both had customer service orientation and on Casey’s behalf, it was a family business to start with. So, it just felt like a good match.”
Taylor says GTCR will help Senske with the resources needed to maintain growth.
“Chris has always had a great background in innovation. We’re going continue that,” Taylor says. “Having those deeper pockets, but not losing the family business atmosphere is our goal.”
Senske says the investment from GTCR will help the company continue expanding. Taylor notes the company’s ambitious growth plans are no secret.
“We have aggressive growth plans for the U.S. and eventually Canada,” he says. “The goal right now is to establish more platforms throughout the U.S.”
Taylor says this plan includes potential expansions into the Midwest, Southeast and Texas.
“We want to be in 30 to 35 states within the next four or five years,” he says. “That’s the goal — just complete domination of the market.”
Senske says he’s proud of the direction in which he’s guiding his family’s operation.
“That’s part of the excitement for me is to see this family legacy carried forward and taken nationally, internationally, globally,” he says. “We’re looking for great partners who want to be part of this team and grow.”
Culture is a big part of what makes Senske Services tick. And at the heart of Senske Services, Taylor says, is Chris Senske.
“He built the business,” Taylor says. “He took what his dad did and grew it to a tremendous degree over the last many years. He’s certainly the heart of the business.”
Senske says the business centers around four core values: do it right and do it safe, teamwork, accountability and growth. Senske says he’s heartened when employees spend their entire careers with his family’s company.
“We’re retiring people with 30 years or more of experience in our business,” he says. “It’s sad to see ’em go because we’re losing that expertise, but it’s also very rewarding to see how they provided for their families, made a career and had a successful life.”
As the team at Senske brings acquisition targets into the fold, Taylor says it’s a great opportunity for the Senske team to learn from them.
“We’re looking for like-minded businesses and we don’t necessarily want them to lose their culture,” Taylor says.
He says it’s also a great opportunity for employees of those new additions to grow their careers.
“We’ve got opportunities for regional managers and lots of growth and lots of opportunities for them,” he says. “Hopefully that gives them a true career path, which they didn’t have before.”
What it’s like to work at Senske Services
Casey Taylor, CEO of Senske Services, says Chris Senske, acquisitions ambassador, is the driving force of the company’s cohesive and thriving work environment.
“He’s built the culture that makes it fun to come to work,” he says. “He really takes care of his employees and always makes sure to take care of his customers.”
He says Senske has built a culture of innovation and investment and it’s an infectious environment to be a part of.
“You walk in the door, and you feel like this is a team that I want to be a part of,” he says. “People are cheery, they’re having fun in the office. There are goofy things going on and decorations, and you can tell the culture is really good. But also, at the end of the day, they’re serious about the results.”
Taylor says it’s part of that work hard, play hard mentality that pushes him to come into the office every day. The company emphasizes a strong work-life balance.
“Having a focus on aggressive growth, that’s just fun to be around too,” Taylor says. “Part of it is just working for a winner and you feel like that at Senske. You feel like they’ve always been a winner. You’re not stagnant, it’s not the same thing year over year over year.”
Senske says part of the reason his family business is in the position it’s in is thanks to some lessons he learned over the years. A key piece of advice he offers other business owners is to know and understand what your operation is good at.
“Over the years I tried the insulation business in the ’70s during the energy crisis. I tried telemarketing,” he says. “We tried to do design/build landscape and we just weren’t good at that. We just chose to focus on lawn care and pest control.”
Senske says it’s also important to keep investing in your operation.
“I always tell folks, ‘Don’t get too greedy,’” he says. “When you are starting, it takes a lot of money to grow a business. You have to keep pushing money back into it. It does take some sacrifice to be able to grow early on.”
Along the same line, Senske says it’s important to know your numbers when you’re considering an acquisition, expanding routes or adding service. While larger operations may want to capitalize on every opportunity to grow, he says he’s learned the hard way that you need to do some homework first.
“The first time we tried to work in the Seattle market our consultants told us, ‘Don’t go to Seattle. It’s not the right decision,’” he says. “And I spent 10 years banging my head against the wall trying to sell lawn care to a market that wasn’t really buying much lawn care at the time. We ended up selling those customers and now 15 years later I bought ’em back along with several thousand others.”
The valuable lesson he learned was the need to understand the market before expanding there, he says.
“One of the things we try to instill in the business at all levels of management is to get advice from your peers, get advice from your boss — if it’s that type of relationship you have — and get advice from someone who may be your subordinate,” he says. “Then you meld all that data and generally, we make a better decision.”
Originally published to landscapemanagement.net by author Christina Herrick