“It’s busier than it’s ever been,” said Brian Scolforo of Brick Hill Property Services, which serves around 200 clients in southern and central Berkshire, as well as Columbia County, N.Y. He said he’s been getting between 10 and 20 calls a week, which is higher than an average summer season. “We’re kind of staying where we’re at–we don’t have the availability to add more clients.”
Nate Samson at work
Samson started his business, which also offers snow removal, in December 2020. Though he’s currently accepting new customers on his mowing route, he expects to be fully booked by the end of the season with 50-60 regular clients.
“I’ve been picking up three to five customers in a single day,” said Nate Samson, owner of Nate Samson Property Management, which serves northern and central Berkshire.
A shortage of employees, an influx of new residents, and weeks of rain are presenting challenges, but plenty of work, for Berkshire lawn care companies this season.
The demand has created opportunities for new lawn care businesses locally and nationally. The number of lawn care providers in the U.S. increased 5 percent from 2020 to 2021, according to the National Association of Landscape Professionals.
“People usually use a lawn care company for years. Right now, all those companies are fully booked out,” he said.
Scolforo and Samson both work with full-time residents as well as second home owners and property owners maintaining Airbnbs and other short-term rentals. They both said they’ve gotten calls and business from new residents coming from more populated areas.
Samson said he’s serving property owners from New York City, Framingham, Mass., West Haven, Conn., and the wider New England area, all who have moved here or bought property in the last year or so. “We have at least six customers who own property up here and are doing Airbnb and stuff like that with them,” he said. “If you’re coming from the city, you’re used to getting quality service on a dime, in a minute,” Scolforo said. “It’s hard for them to call us and hear four to six weeks out. I know some other companies won’t give quotes right now. It’s tough–we don’t have the amount of people or the amount of labor we wish we did.”
The employment shortage, widespread across professions that pay by the hour, also prevents landscaping companies from taking on new clients. Scolforo has been posting job listings, but still is having trouble finding employees. “There’s the highest demand we’ve had for service, and it seems to us like there’s the least amount of employees available,” he said. In April 2021, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development reported nearly 200,000 job postings in Massachusetts, the highest number over the entire period this data has been recorded. The Berkshire Workforce Board’s most recent fact sheet reported 2,449 open jobs in Berkshire County as of June 21, 2021, with 125 open jobs in building and grounds cleaning and maintenance.
Unemployment claims continue to decrease in Massachusetts and Berkshire County, and are now down to pre-pandemic levels, according to the Berkshire Workforce Board. In May 2021, the Berkshires’ unemployment rate was 7 percent, slightly higher than the rate for Massachusetts overall (6.1 percent). The additional $300 per week in Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation for those receiving unemployment benefits runs until the week of Sept. 4; U.S. landscaping and groundskeeping workers make a median hourly wage of $15.26, according to the National Bureau of Labor Statistics. Samson currently has one employee helping him on his mowing route; he usually does around 10 homes per day, depending on the weather–he’ll mow in light rain, but this month’s heavy rain has caused some delays. “The biggest thing right now is finding good help,” he said. “But if I get a brand new customer, I’ll make the time.”
What everybody wants — a freshly mowed lawn.