It took a pencil, a bar napkin and maybe 30 minutes at the Iron Horse Brew Pub to sow the seeds of Lawns of Montana.
Carl Christofferson was 22 when he and a partner scratched out a business plan to build an all-service lawn care, snow removal and sweeping business in the competitive Missoula market.
That was in 2004, and while the partnership is no more, Lawns of Montana is a mature and still-growing enterprise with branches in Helena, Hamilton and Kalispell.
“What set us aside from a lot of people is in most companies people get done working at 5 o’clock,” Christofferson said. “We had no problem working around the clock, working every day, and we worked at a very high speed.”
Now an employer of up to 40 people, Christofferson is ready to branch out further. Access Storage, a 127-unit mini-storage facility and U-Haul rental, is all but complete on the property adjacent to his lawn care offices at 7766 Thornton Drive near the Wye. It should be fully operational by mid-June.
Christofferson was born and raised in Missoula. He graduated from Big Sky High School in 2000 and the University of Montana in 2005.
He was fresh out of high school when he and a partner started RCC Sprinkler, and was still going to college in marketing and management when he and Ken Ellis launched Lawns of Montana.
They got a small loan of less than $2,000, bought some hand tools and a trailer and financed the first walking mower. The tools of the trade have multiplied to 13 mowers, a couple of sweepers and two dozen trucks.
An early decision was to fit the mowers with headlights. Drive by businesses on Reserve Street or Expressway Boulevard at midnight and don’t be surprised to see white Lawns of Montana trucks and workers in the company uniform shirts mowing away.
Christofferson woke up one day in 2007 or 2008 and decided he wanted to grow the business in Helena.
“I drove over there and picked up probably two or three customers, and word of mouth spread. That’s how I picked up the majority of my biggest accounts,” he said.
The Hamilton branch was launched next as the Missoula business spread south up the Bitterroot to Lolo, then Florence.
“The next thing you know it’s in Stevensville, so we decided if we went to Hamilton we could work our way back and tie everything together,” Christofferson said.
The Kalispell addition blossomed with more and more calls from property owners on Flathead Lake. Now Lawns of Montana has about 65 lawns to take care of from Polson to Whitefish.
“To be honest, I couldn’t even tell you how many lawns we cover,” Christofferson said. “There’s a lot.”
Eyebrows raised when he vaulted into the mini-storage unit business this spring.
“I’ve been told by different contractors that’s a terrible location and it wouldn’t work here,” Christofferson said. “I guess one of the things I like to do is prove them wrong.”
Christofferson recalls taking one vacation in his early years of business: half a day to go to the lake. With a dependable coterie of employees, including his sister/office manager Jessica Christofferson, his mother Sandy and an aunt, Kate Gibson, he has a bit more time to relax with his family and play some golf.
College courses provided him with a business vocabulary, he said. “But the best way to learn is to go out and do it. They don’t teach you how to bounce back from a bad business decision or anything like that.”