|By DENNE GOLDSTEIN|
Ever since he was a young teenager, Ross Lazarov knew he wanted to be his own boss. Although he started college, he didn’t feel it would be fast enough or worth it with his level of ambition; he was chomping at the bit to start some kind of business.
At the age of 19, Lazarov opened an automotive detail shop in Minneapolis, Minnesota. “I started with very little money or backing and after working for two years, I realized that I wasn’t making as much money as I was hoping for, so I took a night job as a bartender.” Shortly thereafter, he gave up the detail shop.
Lazarov kept the bartending job because, in the back of his mind, one day he would start another business. By working at night, he would have the time to build this other business and still be able to pay the bills.
“Besides, working in a bar, you meet some interesting people,” he said. “Along the way you find out what kind of work they do and sometimes you get some good ideas.” One of the regular customers was a golf course superintendent.
“I was playing a lot of golf, so we got to know each other. He would talk about his job and some of the turf problems he had to address.”
“I was always thinking about what kind of business I wanted to start,” said Lazarov. “I’ve always been interested in turf and as we were having these conversations, over a period of time I started to think about lawn care as a business.” In 1996, Lazarov was in his early twenties, the economy was healthy, the housing boom was starting, it seemed like everyone had extra money to spend—this was his opportunity to fulfill his dream.
He ran a small ad in the local newspaper, bought a used small push mower and went to work. The business grew quickly. Starting out with one or two accounts, by the end of the summer season Lazarov had 40 accounts. The following year, he purchased his first truck and hired a few people; he was on his way. Slowly but surely, he began dropping shifts from his bartending job, until eventually he gave it up completely.
“We learned as we went along. Starting out just mowing lawns— strictly in the residential market—we began adding fertilization and weed control to our services. By 2006, the housing market was in that bubble that was about to implode and we were caught in the middle,” said Lazarov.
His tiny company managed to get through those tough years and now they are back. They have one full service maintenance crew and over 1,200 fertilizing and weed-control clients. If the story were to end here, it would be just another article on someone who always wanted to be in business for himself. He accomplished what he set out to do, makes a good living, and lives happily ever after.
This is not quite the case with Ross Lazarov. After he started his lawn care company, he landed a contract with a real estate company that had 15 locations. They wanted to deal with one company, so if a sprinkler needed to be replaced or repaired, he or one of his crew repaired it.
One of the locations was on a busy boulevard. When the city would plow snow, the equipment would damage a long row of sprinkler heads along the curb. “One day, I walked into a local distributor and told the guy at the counter, ‘I need a case of Hunter PGPs, and a wrench to use to take these out.’ The guy behind the counter said ‘Here’s your case of PGPs, but there’s no wrench’. What no wrench exists? I just figured that those cap fins and the top of the head were made for a tool that would fit and make replacing and adjusting heads more efficient with less digging,” he said. “I was in my twenties and I didn’t know how to go about making a wrench, so I let the idea sit there for the next 15 years.”
He then thought of a few other items that he realized would help in his lawn care business, so he began prototyping and developing those new products. He manufactured and began selling them, but they were not home run Ideas. It just wasn’t a big enough market. All this time the wrench kept popping up in my head.”
During this process, Lazarov got versed in prototyping, engineering, the patent process and different types of manufacturing, “enough to make me dangerous,” he said. From his experience, he could now make that wrench specifically for sprinkler heads that would be an important tool in any contractor’s toolbox.
Using his own money, he began prototyping this wrench. What makes this wrench so different from the others? Lazarov explains, “It fits all sprinkler heads—every manufacturer’s, not just some. It fits all spray heads, all rotor heads, even jar top valves up to four inches. It has a riser-up lock system, where you can lock the riser up on a rotor or a spray head, so you can do nozzle adjustments hands free.
The wrench is angled so it’s more ergonomic than a generic wrench that slips off the head. It grips better and is better balanced. It has directional teeth on the inside that keep it from slipping. It has the ability to extract sprinkler risers and sprinkler bodies from the inside. It has extraction teeth that are on the outside of the jaws. It has drop down teeth that fit those cap fins that started the whole idea!” About a year-and-a-half ago (2015) Lazarov filed a utility patent, started Keyfit Tools and launched the Head Wrench to the market. He introduced it to a number of landscape contractors, who loved it. However, as many who tried before him, getting into wholesale irrigation supply stores is no easy task. And once it’s in the stores, if it’s not displayed it will sit on a shelf in the back room and no one will know it’s there. “That is why brand awareness and the people you advertise with are so important.” Lazarov said.
“Being an inventor and a true entrepreneur is risky business in uncharted waters. It’s not like starting a business and following a proven past or strategy. I hear all the time never stop chasing your dream. Although good advice, it’s different when you are making things that never existed before,” said Lazarov.
“The thrill and potential success is what drives me. I try to see the future and evaluate all possible outcomes of each decision and the potential negative reaction. Currently my patent was granted and now I work with other people with ideas and help them through the process.”
There are many creative people in our industry who think of finding or making better tools so field crews can work more effectively; unfortunately, they don’t have the money or the tenacity to stick with it. It’s been almost 20 years since Lazarov’s idea of a special wrench, which is finally getting to market.
With all the talk about the shortage of labor, if this tool can help speed up the efficiency in the field, it would be worth its weight in gold. The time wasted in the field is money.
It’s time we taught our dollars more cents.