CompanyPonderosa Lawn and Plow
OwnerChristina Sodemann-Perkins and Dale Perkins
Empty nesters access SBDC services to start a business and achieve their dream
SPOKANE VALLEY, Wash.—Christina Sodemann-Perkins and her husband Dale Perkins had long wanted to quit working for others and open their own small business, but the issue was, what to do and where to do it? Dale Perkins grew up in the lawn care business and Sodemann-Perkins had extensive experience in business management, so when family matters brought them back to Eastern Washington for good in 2019, opening their own lawn care and plowing business seemed like the obvious decision. That didn’t make it easy.
Perkins was a commercial truck driver and Sodemann-Perkins managed a medical practice. They were in their mid-40s and had three young adult children. Their extended family was skeptical of their plan, but if not now, when?
Perkins started a side hustle doing lawn care in 2019 and was just gaining momentum when COVID shut things down. He kept his full-time job and continued picking up new clients, just more slowly than they anticipated. Finally, in late winter 2022, Sodemann-Perkins ran the numbers and together they decided it might be time to lean into Ponderosa Lawn and Plow full-time.
That’s when they contacted Lorena Lowell, a certified business advisor with the Washington Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
The Washington SBDC is a network of more than 40 business advisors working in more than two dozen locations across the state to provide one-on-one, confidential, no-cost advising to small business owners at any stage of business development and in just about any industry. SBDC services are available in person or via Zoom to any small business owner or entrepreneur in the state, regardless of where they live.
“It seemed on paper that Dale could go full time with the business; it would be squeaky, but doable” Sodemann-Perkins said. “It was at that point that I reached out to the SBDC for some guidance, specifically for help with the purchase of equipment and working capital.”
Sodemann-Perkins was looking for someone to review her numbers, talk through the risks and make a plan to move forward, and that’s what she got with Lowell.
“Lorena was honest about her concerns, but not discouraging in anyway,” Sodemann-Perkins said.
When the Perkins’ started meeting with Lowell in 2022, one of the first things they tackled was an updated business plan. “The business plan was essential,” Sodemann-Perkins said. Talking with Lowell helped her strengthen her financial reporting and put together more reliable projections.
While SBDC clients are typically assigned to the SBDC advisor located in or near the community where their business resides, SBDC advisors can work with clients anywhere in the state, depending on the client’s needs or the availability of advisors. Lowell is located in Goldendale and Ponderosa Lawn and Plow is in Spokane Valley, but according to Sodemann-Perkins, meeting via Zoom or communicating via email wasn’t a problem.
“Having Lorena in my corner was huge,” she said. They would talk through different decisions and if Sodemann-Perkins decided to pursue a plan that Lowell cautioned against, that was okay, too. “Lorena would say, ‘If this what you are going to do, then this is how you should probably do it,’” Sodemann-Perkins said.
While she and her husband were committed to their business, it made a difference that Lowell was a steady and supportive resource when they needed her.
“She had a lot of good things to say about what we were doing that was just uplifting,” Sodemann-Perkins said.
Sodemann-Perkins said the foundation of their success so far was to start slow, focus on customer service and build the business by word-of-mouth. Dale Perkins continues to do most of the lawn care, while Sodemann-Perkins focuses on the office work, but in 2022 Sodemann-Perkins also got licensed to apply herbicides and fertilizers.
In 2022 they were voted the best lawn care company on their neighborhood social media app, which was huge validation that they were on the right track.
While they currently do all the work themselves, they are planning for growth, including possible franchise opportunities. So far, their revenue has exceeded their projections and they’ve been able to accelerate their purchase of equipment, including a commercial air compressor for winterizing sprinkler systems. A $4,500 Working Washington grant from the Washington State Department of Commerce has also helped. Next year they plan to add fertilizer and herbicide treatments to their services.
Owning a small business, even a seemingly simple business like theirs, is complicated, and as their staff and services grow, it will only become more so. Being able to check in with Lorena on a regular basis makes a huge difference, Sodemann-Perkins said.
“This is the happiest we have ever been,” Sodemann-Perkins said.
The Washington SBDC is made possible through a cooperative agreement between the U.S. Small Businsess Administration and Washington State University, which is the statewide host of the SBDC network. Funding for SBDC services is provide by the SBA, WSU, the Washington State Department of Commerce and multiple other state and local funding partners, including institutions of higher education, economic development agencies, civic and business groups and municipalities.
For more about Ponderosa Lawn and Plow, go here.
For more about the Washington SBDC, go to www.wsbdc.org.