Imagine my surprise when my landscaper fired me for declining to purchase the exorbitant amount of mulch he recommended.
When we moved into our home we were blessed with an abundance of brand new mulch courtesy of the meticulous previous homeowners, who installed planting beds, a rock wall adorned with roses and hydrangeas, and many mature trees. This past spring as our garden awakened from the long cold winter, we discovered many bare spots, necessitating an investment in new mulch. Mulch is one of those things you take for granted; you don’t miss it or think about it until it’s gone. And mulch gets back at you for forgetting its existence in the form of a large premium!
We asked our new landscaper, who had mowed our lawn for only one season, for an estimate for mulch. Due to the expansive planting beds and prior experience with the numerous other gardens we had lovingly maintained at previous homes, we expected the job to cost upwards of $3,000. While we passionately plant, prune, fertilize and endlessly tinker in the yard, a huge mulching job is too onerous on our day jobs, as well as collective herniated discs.
The landscaper’s proposal shocked us: He estimated that we would need 100 yards of mulch, but stated that he would ‘make do’ with 75 yards by spreading it thinly in some areas to the tune of $6,500! I’m not sure if we were more astounded by the cost or by the sheer number of yards he needed, especially when another landscaper estimated that we needed only ten to twelve yards. Was he mulching just my one-acre property or the entire neighborhood?
In the meantime, a friend’s son needed some work, so we ordered 30 yards of mulch in bulk from a local wholesaler. We didn’t know how many yards we needed given the 90 yard discrepancy in the estimates, but figured that starting with a third of the landscaper’s outrageous estimate was reasonable. But then my friend’s son started spreading it and we realized we only needed about ten yards for the entire project. We were left with two mountains of dark mulch on our driveway. Twenty yards of mulch for sale anyone?
As luck would have it, severe thunderstorms were in the forecast, so I had to get tarps and heavy rocks to shield my mulch mountains from creating a bigger mess, while we figured out how to get rid of them. I was furious with the landscaper’s insane estimate, which got us into this mess in the first place and desperately wanted to relieve him from mowing our lawn for the rest of the season – but I knew cutting him off mid-season wouldn’t be fair, as I was sure he relied on the seasonal income. The day before our next mowing was scheduled I received a voicemail from his wife, who runs the office and manages the books:
“I’m calling to let you know that we will no longer be cutting your grass. When you’re a customer who’s not loyal enough to buy mulch or use our other services it’s very hard for us to conduct business and go further in our business relationship, so we’re not interested in working for you anymore. I will send out your final invoice. Thank you.”
I didn’t know if to laugh or cry. I listened to the voicemail again, noting the irony of the trifecta: The landscaper overestimated the number of yards we needed by almost 90. He proposed to overcharge us by thousands of dollars, and then ― fired us.
My landscaper just fired me.
I let that sink in while looking out at the large expanse of growing grass that would potentially go uncut while I found a new service. Because of the rain it was already too high. We don’t own a lawnmower because my husband’s work hours are not compatible with this type of time investment (we choose to spend our time working in the yard on other weekly maintenance). And me? I’m not compatible with operating large machinery. And then I remembered the mulch mountains, spreading their dark stain across my newly sealed driveway. How, for crying out loud, did the landscaper think I needed THAT much mulch?
I made many phone calls to my neighbors for recommendations for other landscaping companies and was not-so-surprised by the recurring theme: Everyone knew the landscaper who fired me, and everyone had incurred his and wife’s wrath and rudeness in the past. I explained my situation to one of the guys and acknowledged that this was the busy summer season and I understood that he couldn’t get me on his schedule for a while. (I also begged and cried. But just a little.) To my surprise, he offered to assess the situation in person and met with me that same day. He shook his head, mumbling under his breath about crazy estimates and more mulch than several houses combined would need in a season. He shared that he had just completed a commercial job for a housing plan, using 120 yards of mulch for all the houses, so 100 yards for just mine, blew his mind! He offered to rearrange his schedule and come up with a solution.
The next day he showed up with an amazing crew that not only restored my yard to the hilt, but my faith in humanity. Within 48 hours of being fired by my landscaper, my yard had never looked better, and I was confident and excited about my new working relationship. I thanked him profusely and we shared a laugh when I said, “Can you believe I got fired by Mrs. S?”
“She did you a favor,” he said. “Life is too short to be nasty and people should help one another.”