When Nate Banchiere decided to open an eco-friendly lawn care business in Asheville this year, he was less concerned about people embracing the green idea and more concerned about making it as a business owner.
By day, the father of two works as a banker. But all other hours go straight to the business he operates out of his garage, Clean Air Lawn Care.
It’s a national franchise that began nine years ago in Fort Collins, Colorado, but Banchiere and his new business are local.
He put up the money to start the venture here in town. He hired a UNC Asheville graduate to mow the lawns and do the work when he could not. And it was Banchiere who took the risk when he decided to open a lawn care service that uses solar-powered mowers, electric blowers and organic fertilizer.
“This is the anti-typical franchise,” he said. “I didn’t have any doubt it could work here.”
Unlike the gas-powered, two-cylinder engine lawnmowers used by more traditional lawn care services, Clean Air Lawn Care’s two mowers run on an ion battery that has been charged by the power of the sun. There is no roaring engine. There are no emissions.
That’s because the Clean Air Lawn Care pickup truck has two solar panels on its roof so that the equipment remains charged all day even when the truck goes from job to job.
Though Banchiere said he considers himself to be “a pretty liberal guy,” he admits that he did not realize the impact a single household chore was having on the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the amount of pollution emitted by a gas-powered lawnmower operating for one hour is equal to the amount of pollution emitted by driving a car 45 miles.
Amy Jones, one of the more than 20 Clean Air Lawn Care customers in North Asheville, said it wasn’t just the emission rate that surprised her.
It was the sound — or more accurately — the lack of it.
“One day I noticed the truck out there at my house and I wasn’t even aware that they were mowing,” she said. “It occurred to me that he was in the middle of mowing and I hadn’t even heard the lawnmower. There is a sound, but it’s more mechanical. It’s not that loud obnoxious, gas-pumping roar.”
Like traditional lawn care services, the process begins when customers request an estimate.
“We walk the property with them and get a better understanding on what they want to do, and then we will also recommend things we think would work. We send the customer an offer and they choose whether or not to accept, and then we take it from there,” Banchiere said.
The price is based on the service.
Banchiere said the average lawn size the company mows is 8,000 square feet and would cost between $45-$50 for weekly mowing.
“I wanted to have a business that runs on the triple bottom line, because that’s important to me. I wanted to make money, but I also wanted do the right thing.”
Banchiere began looking at opening a business as far back as 2008, but his dream of becoming a business owner goes all the way back to his childhood.
In addition to operating his fair share of lemonade stands, Banchiere grew up envious of friends whose parents ran a business.
But it wasn’t the money that attracted him to the entrepreneurial life.
“It was that it was this family ordeal,” he said. “I always envisioned myself owning a company and my kids working there someday. I was always jealous of those families that had that, whether I should have been or not.”
Since he started running Clean Air Lawn Care, Banchiere said he has learned the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.
“There were a lot of times where I just wanted to say, ‘Forget it, I quit. Let’s sell this thing and go back to my old life,'” he said.
“It’s been a learning curve. Running your own business is different than working for somebody else for sure. You have to deal with the sales side and the administrative day-to-day stuff that every small business owner has to deal with, as well as random things that will pop up when a part breaks down or your guy gets sick.”
Because this is his first venture into the world of small business, Banchiere said he chose to buy and run a franchise as opposed to starting a whole new business from scratch.
“I was a banker, and I’m still a banker today,” he said. “When I was deciding whether or not to go this route, my due diligence was more focused around what Clean Air could offer me in terms of support.”
Clean Air Lawn Care provided the banker with a website template, marketing materials and, what was most appealing to Banchiere, an online group for franchise owners.
“If I have a question, chances are someone in that group will have the same question, too,” he said. “It’s like we have our own little network where we can ask for help and learn from each other.”
Since starting Clean Air Lawn Care in February, the business has had a steady climb in customers. Many of them, he said, are concentrated in North Asheville.
But while Banchiere works at his day job, his employee, David Wood, is the man pushing the lawnmower day in and day out. Wood, who graduated from UNCA two years ago, admits that when he graduated he did not imagine himself working for a lawn care company. However, the 24-year-old said this job “checks off all the boxes.”
“I’d always envisioned doing something outdoors with positive environmental impact that would be beneficial to the local community,” the environmental studies major said. “It’s new and exciting technology and I get to be outside.”
For Banchiere, it’s the opportunity to live his childhood dream.
Now, he carries two business cards: one for his work, and one for his passion.
“Pardon the pun, but I think we can grow this thing to be something special,” Banchiere said.
His long-term goal is to get to $1 million in revenue within five years.
By Caitlin Byrd
Published by Citizen-Times