By Nancy Moffett

In 1988 Michael Rhoads was 22 years old, recently married, working a full-time job as a machinist and two part-time jobs to make ends meet. With little money to spare, this didn’t seem like a good time to start a business. But that’s just what Rhoads did, spending the couple’s last $175 on a weed whacker so he could start Mike’s Lawn Maintenance in Allentown. He had worked for other lawn care companies cutting grass and liked the work.

“I quit my full-time job in March of 1988 and only made $7,000 that first year,” Rhoads says. “It was a lot of hard work, but I was determined not to fail.” By the end of the year he had 40 accounts, and the business continued growing from there. “I wanted to prove the naysayers wrong,” he explains, and he worked long hours to do so. His wife, Tammy, answered phones and did the paperwork in those early years.

By 1992 Rhoads was able to buy a home on Main Street in Macungie with an apple orchard out back and room to put up a shop. The couple and their growing family of three children lived in the home running the business from there. “It took a lot of sweat, blood and my wife’s tears to make it work, but we did it responsibly. We never borrowed money, and I worked 10 years straight from sunup to sundown in the season,” Rhoads recalls. Indeed, the Rhoads’ took their first vacation just two years ago.

Six or seven years in, there were more “Mike’s” businesses popping up, so Rhoads changed the name of the business to Turf Professionals, Inc. (Turfpro). Today, the business is still run out of the Macungie house, while the family
lives nearby.

Fast forward to the company’s 25th anniversary in 2013, and Turfpro now does business in Lehigh, Bucks and Northampton Counties; has 30 employees on work crews; five people in the office and a full-time mechanic to keep its fleet of 22 trucks running. The company has five divisions: Landscape Design, Lawn Care, Detail Division, Weekly Mowing and Irrigation…a far cry from one man with a truck and a mower.

Turfpro’s extensive work in landscape design grew out of Rhoads’ lawn customers asking him for the service. He accepted all jobs, learning through trial and error and by taking courses in horticultural and landscape design at Penn State. “I also have a good vision,” he says, that allowed him to design and build outdoor living spaces and plantings.

Today Rhoads and landscape designer Michele Vasko handle the design work, while operation manager Matt Smereski oversees crews and installation. Other members of the management team include Brian Dunning, sales and scheduling; mechanic Tony Antler and office manager Kaitlyn Rhoads, Michael’s daughter. His son, Shaun, works in the Detail division.

A visit to Turfpro’s website shows the extent of their offerings. Grounds maintenance, irrigation, fertilizer programs and snow and ice removal are available for both commercial and residential settings. They also offer tree and shrub care, hardscaping and landscaping for homeowners. Landscaping services offered include patios, fireplaces, fire pits and grills, outdoor kitchens, water features, walls, paver driveways, balustrades, steps and more. A look at the photo gallery shows a wide range of projects in various styles – from naturalistic water features to casual patio and seating areas to a formal garden/patio combination reminiscent of the Gardens at Versailles. All show the company’s commitment to quality workmanship.

“I have a good staff,” Rhoads says, “with a low turnover rate.” Length of service ranges from two to 23 years, with an average of 15 years. “It’s important to keep good company morale,” he explains, “and recognize the hard work of our employees who helped build the business.” During the downturn of 2008 and ’09, there was only one extensive layoff of six weeks, Rhoads points out. “We always have seasoned people, and we’re stronger for making it through the tough times.”

Indeed, the last two years have seen good growth, and Rhoads is excited about 2013. His vision is to set the bar for customer service even higher, making sure dealing with Turfpro is a pleasurable experience from start to finish. “One of the biggest compliments we receive, other than for our work, is how we communicate and show up on time for estimates and services and keep the customer informed throughout the process,” he explains.

The Turfpro website echoes that commitment to keep customers informed. For instance, the Tips for the Season section in March addressed such issues as snow mold on turf …lime and crabgrass control…spring clean-up and how to mow when the grass returns. It even contained a link to a You Tube video that showed project drawings fading into photos of the finished result…all to the tune of “Here Comes the Sun” after the “long, cold, lonely winter,” an imaginative way to connect with customers. Turfpro also offers monthly specials and a customer referral program through the website.

“I created this and I’m proud of it,” Rhoads concludes. The business’s success is testament to the work ethic his parents instilled in him and to heeding the words of famed coach Vince Lombardi: “The difference between a successful person and others is not a lack of strength, not a lack of knowledge, but rather a lack of will.”

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