July is Entrepreneurship Month for my column. Last week, we kick things off with a story about Montanna McMasters, a young entrepreneur in Weatherford who has started not one, not two, but three businesses. With her Antebellum Alehouse being a bar that serves alcohol, she ran into some issues with city hall. But that didn’t stop her. She knew that her business would be a success that locals and visitors of Weatherford would want to visit. She had passion and perseverance to keep going when she was challenged by city officials and Weatherford is better for her business being there.
Stories of entrepreneurs like McMasters aren’t just in Weatherford. They’re everywhere. These people are our friends, members of our community groups, and even our neighbors. This week, I talked to two of my neighbors that are in very different businesses and in different phases of the business life cycle.
A green thumb from the get go
For Russell Simpler, his business - Smith Lawn & Tree, a full service landscape, irrigation, maintenance, and tree care company – began with his desire to start a business as a kid. So, he looked toward a family member for guidance. “When I was 14 I wanted to work really badly, so I started mowing family member’s yards, friends, neighbors, and it just grew from there. My grandmother always liked to garden - so I learned a ton from her,” Simpler said. And grown it has. Smith Lawn & Tree now has 150 employees and services clients all over the Metroplex. The growth, while welcome, is something Simpler still finds hard to believe. “To be honest, I never thought that this business would grow to what it has become. I always knew that the path we were on was going to be good…having a day to day operation with so many moving parts and then at the end of the day getting everything done, it’s pretty amazing to be part of,” said Simpler.
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While growth is a goal for any business, landscaping businesses have specific challenges as they get bigger and service more clients. For Simpler, especially in the current tight employment market, labor is a challenging issue. “When you are a smaller company running just a couple of trucks your challenges are different that when you have a huge fleet, a management team, and large labor force. This spring has been the toughest yet as far as finding the right help to get the job done. We are still able to get our work completed, we’re just having a lot of overtime right now. In addition, teaching our team to manage clients the way that I like to manage them has always been job number one. If you take care of your clients, then everything else falls in to place,” said Simpler. He not only credits his team with making customer service a priority, but he and his staff have also taken advantage of today’s technology to communicate, manage, and meet client expectations.
As a landscaping company owner and a family man with young children, Simpler’s typical day is pretty busy. He’s up by 4:45 a.m. so he can get to work a little after 6 a.m. For the next hour, he scrambles to get all of his crews organized and off for the day. Then he’s got meetings, paperwork, networking and the typical management issues to take care of during the rest of the day. While he’s never really off work, he tries to get out of the office at a reasonable time to spend time with his family in the evenings. But he wouldn’t have it any other way. Growing a business he started as a kid into a full-service landscaping firm is an amazing feat. But perhaps Simpler’s biggest accomplishment can be seen through his clients’ eyes. “I find that service providers have lost their touch in ‘service.’ I have always made it a priority to provide excellent customer service. I want to be the landscape company that people talk about, that people refer their friends to, and that enjoy working with us,” Simpler said.
Dentists are entrepreneurs, too
We often don’t see doctors and dentists as entrepreneurs. But hanging out your shingle to provide a service is perhaps the textbook definition of entrepreneurism and that’s exactly what Dr. Michael W. Bell, DDS, MAGD, LLSR did 40 years ago. Like Simpler, Bell’s interest in dentistry also spawned from an early curiosity in how the body worked. “When I was a kid I had an uncle in medical school and I was fascinated with what he did. For Christmas, I wanted a model of the human body that I could take apart and put back together,” Bell said. When Bell went to college, he started out as a pre-med student, but then switched to being a pre-dental student after considerable thought. “I didn’t like the life or death aspect of being a doctor. I had always been good with my hands growing up and I loved to build things as a kid. So going into the pre-dental program was a better fit,” said Bell.
After Bell earned his DDS with honors from Baylor College of Dentistry, he started his own practice in Hurst. “I rented space from another dentist and worked seven days a week taking anything I could to get the practice going. I did my own lab work and even made my own crowns,” said Bell. He followed this schedule for four years and, while he built his practice into a thriving one, the breakneck schedule of working seven days a week began to take its toll. He didn’t like going to work anymore, so he sought advice from a retired dentist he knew. “We went to lunch and I told him of my worries. He told me to, “balance the cross of life,” which was work, family, religion, and recreation. While my whole life I always wanted to do things perfectly, he told me that nobody’s perfect and to not try to be a perfectionist. Instead, strive for excellence,” said Bell. So he began reducing his working days over time, eventually getting down to four, which gave him back his enthusiasm for his work.
Bell has been blessed with a steady flow of clients – some have been coming to him for as long as he’s been in business and he also sees generations of the same family members – mostly by referral and word-of-mouth advertising. Another blessing that Bell recognizes is his staff, some of whom have been with him for more than three decades. As far as challenges go, running a business in the healthcare industry means keeping up with regulations, which can be tedious. While Bell hired a firm to deal with compliance issues and to make sure that his practice is 100 percent compliant, managing compliance issues still takes up roughly 25 percent of his time.
As far as advice Bell would give to aspiring entrepreneurs that want to go into the healthcare field, he said it’s not that much different than advice he would give to anyone starting a business in any industry. “The big things for me are to balance the cross of life, setting goals, creating and following a business plan, and not being afraid to fail,” Bell said. “Be around people that you want to be around and that support you, and be content with what you have.”
For more information on Smith Lawn and Tree and Dr. Michael Bell, visit: