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After working part-time for minimum wage at a local restaurant, Blake Tuttle did the math: work for an hour for minimum wage, or cut grass for an hour and make at least triple that. The choice was clear, he wanted to mow. By the time Tuttle headed to Michigan State University to study agriculture, he had nearly 60 loyal customers. Many more customers later, Tuttle shares what he anticipates will be a historical year.
Working in Northeast Michigan
Our area is special. We get more tourism traffic in the summer as people come to spend time on Lake Huron. Our population during the summer is around 6,000. In the winter it’s closer to 1,000. We have a lot of snowbirds that go south to get out of the cold. We do more commercial snow-plowing then.
As far as our most requested service, landscaping is number one. That includes mowing, tree care, and upkeep. We recently expanded into excavation projects around Lake Huron where 90% of our customers live. Because erosion and high-water levels continue to impact the lakeshore, we’re doing more shoreline projects that involve placing two- to four-thousand pound limestone boulders to protect the homes.
No Slowing in 2020
At the start of the pandemic shutdown in 2020, the local police allowed us to continue working on the lakeshore homes because some of the houses were being undermined and washing out. We stayed busy placing rocks to protect homes from being damaged or washed away.
Plus, with more people staying home and wanting to enjoy their own homes, we’ve seen an increase to create new outdoor living spaces or tidy up the space they currently have.
Booking Up and Planning Ahead
This is the first year in the history of our business that we have jobs booked through spring that were contracted last fall. Most people when they call you, they know it’s not going to happen in the next few weeks. It takes time to get the materials and plan out everything.
There were some materials that we just couldn’t get last year, like certain stones. Scheduling was tough, especially when a customer paid us in the spring and had to be scheduled later than anticipated because of material delays. Some customers opted to go with natural stone or their second or third choices just to get the project done. We had to compromise and improvise.
Cause for Concern
The labor shortage was worse in 2021 than in 2020. We don’t anticipate it being an issue this year. I have a core group of full-time workers out in the field and Missy Pehrson, my designer and sales associate, in-office. We typically have some part-timers or college students help during the summer as well. This year, we believe we have what we need to get the jobs completed.
At the moment, I’m very concerned about the soaring price of gasoline. At $4.00 a gallon, that’s double what we were paying a couple years ago. Just last year, I spent nearly $40,000 more on gas alone because we have eight trucks. On top of that, we have maintenance costs like oil changes and tire replacements. In the end, the people paying for it is the customer. It all adds up. It’s tough on all of us.
Owner: Blake Tuttle
Address: 3266 E. Huron Rd., Au Gres
Specialties: Landscaping, Lawn maintenance, Mowing, Tree care, Excavation
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Story by RACHEL SCHRAUBEN
Photos courtesy of BLAKE TUTTLE