When Conner Oakes was 18 years old, he had his entire future mapped out. First, he was going to attend either the University of Western Ontario or the University of Waterloo, both of which had granted him acceptance. Then he was off to law school to fulfill his dream of becoming a lawyer. While it was a great plan, he ultimately had to go in another direction. “My dad ended up getting sick and my siblings and I had to take care of him,” Conner recalls. When his dad, Chuck ‘Shiner’ Oakes passed away from cancer, Conner had missed the deadline to sign up for university, so now he needed to find a Plan B. “I didn’t really have any money at the time, so I figured, why don’t I just start cut- ting grass? That’s where it started.”
In 2010, Conner created Green Scene Lawn Care and Landscaping in Corunna. Conner had some experience in the field, having worked for a small lawn maintenance company prior to starting Green Scene. “I really had no idea at the time how things would work out,” Conner admits. “Prior to opening my business, I used to help my uncle do outdoor work around his house; things like planting trees and build- ing waterfalls. He also had a lot of gardens that we worked on. It kind of grew from there. I like dealing with people so I had no issue with meeting people who could hire me and give me jobs. It was nice to be out and on my own. Going solo put me in a much happier place.”
Conner quickly found there is more to running a lawn care service and landscaping business than simply filling the lawnmower with gas and firing up the engine. “There was so much to learn. From doing quotes and learning all about customer service and also doing the repairs on your own equipment. Of course, there are fallbacks and headaches, but you learn to deal with them. I learned at a young age that things will break so there’s no sense sitting around and worrying about it. You do your best to get it fixed so you can get back out there and complete the job.” Even after the passing of his father, Conner received plenty of support from his family. “My mother Lorie- Anne Williams was one of my biggest supports. And I couldn’t have asked for a better role model and mentor than John Shelley. He was my mother’s fiance and has recently passed away. But he was a key part of getting us where we are today.”
To date, Conner’s most significant adjustment was learning how to properly handle Green Scene’s finances. “I can go out there and work and put in all the hours required to get a job done, but getting back to the office and making sure you bill properly and that people are paying you was a learning experience for me.” Fortunately, Green Scene has a lot of loyal customers that make the billing process easy. “But like any small business, we occasionally get someone who feels that they don’t need to pay in a timely fashion. It has only happened a few times, but after you have put in all the hours to do the job, it is frustrating.”
Green Scene employs up to 15 people during the summer and 10 during the winter. That said, one of his biggest challenges is finding and keeping good workers. “Working in yard care and landscaping is hard labour,” Conner says. “I am fortunate to have a great crew, but when we need to find extra guys for things like snow removal, it can be difficult. We focus on competitive wages – $25 an hour – but getting people to commit to the season can prove difficult.”
Green Scene is Canada’s only dealer of custom artificial palm trees and also owns a large parking lot sweeper to clean parking lots at large businesses such as the Sarnia Courthouse. Green Scene offers plenty of services including weekly lawn maintenance, gardens, full landscaping, hardscaping, waterfalls, fireplaces, and fire pits. “We can put in pools and spas as well as irrigation systems, snow removal, and salting,” Conner says. “We also do commercial cleaning as a side division. We are planning to open a landscape yard at our shop in Corunna, but that will take a little time.”
To make things easy for their business clients, Green Scene offers bundles of their services. “We offer so many services in one convenient package,” Conner says. “A lot of our clients are looking for someone to take care of not just their lawn, but their eavestroughs, their windows, their gardens, the fertilizing, and spraying. They want somebody to pretty much do it all, including their snow removal and concrete work. We often get multiple jobs from one customer. And with a focus on service, they keep coming back."