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WorkHappy Spotlight: Green Living Yard Works owner Cody Jurgens
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WorkHappy Spotlight: Green Living Yard Works owner Cody Jurgens

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Career happiness doesn’t have to look like a desk in an office with a boss at your door. Sometimes it looks like hands getting dirty for the sake of a perfectly manicured lawn.

Cody Jurgens, 29, originally from Benton and now living in Herrin with his wife, Abby, and their two children, has built up almost 100 clients for his company, Green Living Yard Works. The best part? It’s all his.

“I have help occasionally from my wife and a couple friends if they feel like making money but other than that I’m alone almost every day,” he says. “This is by choice. We’ve gone back and forth on the idea of hiring and don’t like the idea of sacrificing the freedoms I currently have.”

Jurgens is Southern Illinois through and through — he earned his associates degree from Rend Lake and attended SIU business school in accounting for three semesters. “I bailed when realizing two things: Accounting and sitting at a desk most of the day didn’t fit my personality, and I didn’t need a degree to start a mowing business.”

Jurgens has mowed lawns for 10 years — eight of which he has run his own business — with his earlier experience coming with Outdoor Turf Professionals in Carbondale. He regularly maintains an average of 70 lawns per year but scaled to 90 last year before deciding to part with about 20 to “take it a little easier on myself physically.”

Work flexibility is a beautiful thing. Hear more of what drives Jurgens to run his own business below and use his guidance to better your own professional situation.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic had any impact on your business so far? If so, please explain. If not, why do you think that is?

Slightly. There’s been a few instances where customers have wanted to mow biweekly instead of weekly and others have waited three to four weeks to start mowing. That is a small hit, but I completely understand it and mostly, I’m thankful to be working full time.

How can people in the community step up and support small businesses during these unprecedented times?

I feel like the obvious answer is to spend money at our local restaurants, boutiques, etc., through carryout and online options. But I get it, it’s difficult to pay for clothes or eating out or lawn care when you’re making less money. The less common answer would be having faith in God and praying for your local businesses. The only cost is time and opening your mind to what He can do in the lives of others.

What made you decide to launch Green Living Yard Works?

When I was in college at SIU, I worked for a mowing company in Carbondale called Outdoor Turf Professionals. I learned it quickly and have always enjoyed being outside and working with my hands. I was kind of raised that way. I did some math in my head on what the prices of these yards were and what employees were making, gas prices, profit margins, and those kinds of things, and decided I could do it all myself.

My wife and I had just gotten married and with her being from the area, was able to gain lawns pretty quickly via word of mouth. We probably had 25 yards after the first year and gained another 20 to 25 the second year and now it fluctuates around 65 to 75 lawns for me most years.

What’s your favorite part about running your own business?

My favorite part of what I do is the freedom I have. I have two very young children at home and my job allows me to have flexibility. If I need to wake up at 5:30 and start mowing at daylight to get done for an event in the evening, I can. If I want to sleep in, drink coffee and play with my kids till 10, I can and will work the afternoon and evening. On top of that I have the opposite schedule of a teacher and get three to four months off. I just don’t think I’ll ever regret getting that time with my kids. I love it. Having employees also limits that flexibility so we have made the choice to remain solo for now. We just enjoy the freedom.

What are some of the challenges or barriers you faced in getting going?

Abby and I both came into marriage without money or credit. So, basically we had to build that up from scratch and that was brutal. We couldn’t really turn to our parents for credit or financial-related purchases or loans, so we just had to figure it out ourselves when it came to buying a car, mower and house. We’ve had to really fight for what we have financially, but I couldn’t be more thankful for the resources and friends that have helped us in so many other ways along the way.

What does a typical “day in the life” look like for you professionally?

Somewhat redundant. At this point I have had probably 75% of my customers for four or more years. I’m not really looking to grow because as I said before, I love the freedom. I’m really passionate about enjoying time with family rather than try to grow and make more money by sacrificing the important moments. We can always do that later. I don’t do a ton of quotes but occasionally I will and add some customers. Mostly I spend my time with about 10 to 12 yards scheduled Monday through Friday, I’ll drive to them one at a time and mow, weed-eat and blow off the walkways then head to the next. With the experience I have and no miscommunication from having other employees, I emphasize quality and do my best not to miss anything. My customers like my work and I appreciate them.

I’m sure people can be picky about their yards and landscaping — do you have any memorable stories or good customer feedback from working on something that is so important to them?

They can be for sure. But after you do something for a long time you just become confident in it. I get excited when someone wants stripes in their lawn or wants a pond to look trimmed nicely or someone has an Easter event that they want the lawn looking amazing for. I really enjoy making people happy through it.

Has anyone been a mentor or coach for you in getting through challenging professional times? If so, what kind of advice have they given you that has really resonated?

Mike Sturgill, the owner of Outdoor Turf Professionals and Jerod Bathon, a crew leader for OTP. This was maybe one of the first jobs I had after moving to the Herrin area. Mike gave me the opportunity and Jerod taught me the ropes when I was new. The work in general definitely resonated with me as I desired to do it as a career. Advise-wise, mostly just to take your time and understand what you’re trying to accomplish. So many guys do yards quickly to try to crank out as much income as possible, but people care. They want to give their money to someone else that cares with them. Once I figured that out, I was really able to acquire higher-quality lawns and keep them.

When you were a kid, how would you have answered the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Probably not owner of a lawn care company. I wanted to play basketball like every other junior high kid. I still play a lot. Don’t regret giving up on that though.

What’s your advice to people who may feel like they are “stuck” in unhappy work situations?

For those that are in it for the money: We’ve been digging out of a financial hole most of our marriage. We had to take out student loans, finance a mower, finance a trailer, and finance a truck. It wasn’t great but we had to do it. But after all of that we just realize there’s nothing better than being parents and actually being able to be there for our children. Also to put my wife and marriage ahead of work and money and to be the leader God calls me to be. Is living on a single income difficult? Incredibly. But some things are just worth it.

Photos: Southern Illinois schools maintain graduation pomp in unusual circumstances

Joe Szynkowski is a Sr. Director for NuVinAir Global, a Dallas-based company disrupting the automotive industry. Thanks to technology, he does so happily from his home east of Marion. Email Joe@TheUpWriteGroup.com for more guidance on work happiness. 

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