There’s something about a healthy lawn that makes Charles Hagen’s day. He takes great pride in seeing those blades of grass shooting skyward, especially after two years of drought in the area.
Hagen and his wife, Laura King, own King Hagen Lawn Care, which provides what it calls boutique horticultural services for lawns, trees and shrubs. The company, run from the couple’s Overland Park home, provides a variety of services to keep lawns healthy as well as looking good. Services include fertilizer application, weed and insect control, and seeding and aeration.
“That’s the backbone of what we do,” Charles Hagen said.
King Hagen also provides mite and bug treatment for trees and shrubs. There is one thing the company does not provide — regular mowing.
“I just do it on occasion so we can see how what we’re doing affects the lawn,”
Hagen grew up in the Lawrence area on a 12-acre farm. Hagen helped out on his family’s property as well as that of another family that farmed 2,000 acres. Hagen worked on the farm from sixth grade until he left for Coffeyville Community College, where he played football.
“I could get rid of a lot of stress on a 300-pound tractor,” Hagen said. “I’ve always been in the green industry.”
Hagen returned to Lawrence and earned a degree in business administration from the University of Kansas and went to work for a lumber company. He transferred to Maryland with the company; there he met his wife and took a significant step in his career.
“I was delivering lumber to a family-owned business — it was Chemlawn. It was an amazing company. It smelled like home, and I went to work for them.”
After a year, Hagen went to work with some employees from Chemlawn who formed their company. Hagen gained extensive experience in lawn care. He helped care for the lawns at commercial and government sites around the Washington area, including Crystal City and Arlington National Cemetery.
“There’s nothing like being in the National Cemetery after dark,” he said.
Hagen moved to Chicago for a new opportunity. But after three years of cold winters in the Windy City, Hagen decided it was time to move back home. He joined Hermes Landscaping in fall 1997 as head of the maintenance division; by the time he left the company to start King Hagen, he was president of the firm.
Q: Why did you decide to go out on your own?
“The time was right,” Hagen said. “The idea of having my own family farm type of company was always with me.… A job like that (at Hermes) takes a lot of time, and I thought I could do this and spend more time with our family.”
“I like the day-to-day work and being involved with my customers,” he added.
Since starting his own business, Hagen said he never missed any of his two children’s events.
Hagen did go through the formal process of creating a business plan. He credits his wife’s support for getting the company off the ground.
“We had a kind of family meeting to talk about the change in the household,” he said. “It was a bit of a transition.”
Q: How do you market the business to get customers?
Since the company started in 2004, Hagen said most of his customers have come through word of mouth referrals. But he has tried other marketing methods.
“We started by putting door hangers on people’s houses and that was a waste,” Hagen said. “We put tons of door hangers but got no response.”
King Hagen signed up its first customers within 15 days of officially going into business.
“We did a lot of networking,” he said.
Hagen also put in place another tactic.
“For a long time we’ve relied on a good neighbor referral rewards program,” Hagen said. The program offers 25 percent off to the new customer signing up for service and 25 percent off to referring customer for their next application.
“It kept us in the market and still does today,” Hagen said.
Q: How do you compete with the dozens of other lawn care companies in the area?
“There’s so much work out there,” Hagen said. “All you have to do is focus on your work and just do a good job for your customers.”
Hagen said he does offer a slightly different approach.
“I’m applying the same kind of thinking my dad did and my grandfather did,” said Hagen. “Things like never watering between noon and midnight during hot weather — that’s like boiling vegetables.”
With just the two of them in the company, the Hagens split responsibilities. Hagen handles all of the outdoor duties as well as billing while King does the website and marketing. Mobile phones make it easy to stay in touch and meet customers’ needs.
“I spend less time in the office, which is a good thing for me,” Hagen said.
Q: What do you do during the off season?
“There’s really very little down time anymore,” he said. “We run winter applications until December and then do a dormant program and have book work to be done.” There also are equipment repairs and maintenance work to be done.
Over the years King Hagen has been in business there have been challenges, but Hagen said the biggest one is Mother Nature.
“It’s very different every year,” said Hagen, noting that the area was just coming off of two years of drought. Despite the ever-changing Midwest weather, Hagen is glad to be his own boss in the lawn business.
“I like growing grass,” he said. “It makes the house look greater and people like to play on it … (and) my schedule is pretty nice.”
IN A NUTSHELL
COMPANY: King Hagen Lawn Care
TELEPHONE NUMBER: 913-825-5296
WEB SITE: www.kinghagenlawncare.com