Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

March 19, 2012

Homegrown success story

Lawn-care business spawns other lucrative enterprises

Tim Preston
The Independent

FLATWOODS — Mike Wheeler began his business with nothing more than a push mower and a weed trimmer.

Today, Tri-State Lawn Care is just one aspect of a homegrown empire that spans real estate, landscaping, swimming pools, commercial and residential construction and bulk materials.

“I started at 13 years old working for my grandfather and uncle mowing, or mostly with a weed eater. I did a lot of walking and picking up trash,” Wheeler said.

“I started doing it on my own for $15 or $20 a lawn, and I thought, ‘If I work hard and fast, I can do well with this.’ The business grew, and I got friends to help as I got more calls. Paul Daniels, Evan White and Chris Fannin were the main guys who helped me out a lot.”

Wheeler worked from a building behind his parents’ house, as well as a room in their basement and also attended classes at Ashland Community and Technical College, where he studied business and accounting. Before long, the demands of his growing business and college courses became more than he could juggle.

“I had 10 or 12 employees and couldn’t keep up with school and work, so I had to make a decision, and it was pretty tough,” Wheeler said, recalling his mother wasn’t thrilled with his decision, but encouraged him to follow his dreams. As the lawn care and landscaping business grew, Wheeler said customers began asking if he knew anyone who could help with construction projects.

“People would ask if I knew someone who could build a wall or redo a bathroom for them. I would hire a person who knew how to do it and learn from them,” he said, citing his own experience working in construction as a teen. Those jobs eventually prompted the opening of another business, Tri-State Construction, taking care of commercial and residential projects including the new King’s Daughters Medical Center facility in Sandy Hook.

Wheeler said his businesses continued growing, leading to the purchase of property at 1305 Argillite Road that continues to serve as his headquarters, office space, a showroom and storage areas. “We were running out of room, and this place has 32,000 square feet. We thought, ‘We’ll never grow into this,’” Wheeler said, acknowledging the business now has barely enough room to take care of everything from a fleet of vehicles to preformed swimming pools and tons upon tons of bulk materials ranging from gravel to mulch and salt.

Tri-State Composite Pools was the next business launched by Wheeler, who said the swimming pool business was a good fit with his landscaping services and construction interests.

“We do modular construction with green homes and the composite pools seem more green than pools with throwaway liners. That seemed to take off pretty good,” he said.

The Flatwoods entrepreneur said bulk material sales were also a natural extension of his business and now offers natural stone, pavers, gravel, mulch, sand and topsoil for pickup or delivery. “Everybody needs topsoil. I can’t tell you how much topsoil we’ve sold,” Wheeler said, explaining the material is in such high demand he has purchased property with good dirt to keep his customers supplied.

“And, I’ve been dabbling in real estate for about 10 years,” Wheeler said, describing a few of his property interests including development of a subdivision with Platinum Properties.

Wheeler’s various businesses have been blessed, he said, declaring his dependence upon good people to get many jobs done and keep customers happy.

“A lot of it is communication. I try to let everyone know what to expect to take care of a customer ... and what I expect from them. I like to discuss jobs before they start and be prepared. My employees are our backbone. I have had to learn to kind of let go and give them room to make mistakes,” he said, quickly adding any mistakes are corrected and considered as a lesson for future projects.

“It’s the people working with me that made this all happen,” he said.

Wheeler, a 1992 graduate of Russell High School, said he strongly believes his efforts have been blessed by a higher source.

“A big part of it is my faith. All these blessings come from God is what I believe,” he said, adding he believes in working with others in the community to try and make it a better place.

“We get quite a few requests from the community, and it is tough thing to choose which ones to do. We want to help as many causes as we can because they are all good,” he said. “I think that’s one of the biggest reasons I am in the service industry. God allowed me to do it, and maybe in some way we’ve reached someone else.”

Wheeler also credits his wife, Kelley, and their three children, Alexis, 15, Nate, 11, and Chase, 9, as his inspiration. Wheeler said the family’s interests include everything from Zumba and kick boxing to soccer, basketball and the martial arts.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2651.