BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — As soon as Craig Bauer was old enough to drive, he bought two mowers and started his own business – Bauer Lawn Maintenance (BLM).
This year, Craig is marking his 40th year of providing lawn care to the Anthony Wayne area and beyond.
“My dad (Duane ‘Fuzzy’ Bauer) was in the landscape business his whole life. I learned a lot from him, but I had larger ideas,” he said.
While his dad has since retired, Craig’s business has flourished to include providing landscaping for new homes by Brian McCarthy, Gulfstream Development and other builders, as well as providing lawn care for large firms such as Owens-Illinois and Spartan Chemical.
“I think of myself as being very customer service-oriented,” he said. “I believe that’s why our client retention rate is 75 to 80 percent.”
Growing up in the area, Craig saw customer service was a priority for his father as well as his grandfather, Elmer Bauer. The owner of a 30-acre dairy farm, Elmer also drove the truck to deliver milk for Borden Dairy, which was located in Whitehouse.
As a kid, Craig enjoyed tinkering with engines, so his first two mowers were inoperable push models from McBride Equipment. The owner, Nick McBride, allowed Craig to pay him back the $80.00 for the two mowers after he earned some income.
John Richert and Bill McKnight, the Anthony Wayne High School FFA teachers, helped Craig get those mowers fixed up during shop class. Soon, he had his first customers: Harlan Reichle’s properties, including condos on Applegate and Waterville-Monclova, as well as two widows, who liked to give him iced tea and cookies after he was done mowing.
“We’d sit and talk for an hour afterwards,” he said.
When he graduated in 1983, BLM’s first commercial contract was to mow the 30 area Food Town properties in Ohio and Michigan. He hired his friend and two others and they drove as far as Milan, Adrian and Rockwood, Mich., working seven days a week to manage the accounts. Soon, he added Ohio Bell and Gas Town (now Speedway) and hired more employees.
In the meantime, Craig bought three trucks and attached street sweepers.
“We could mow properties during the day and sweep the parking lots at night,” he said. “I didn’t get a lot of sleep. I kept a two-way radio next to the bed in case the guys had a problem. This was in the days before cell phones.”
By then, he had a dozen employees, and decided to branch out even further to include landscaping. With some assistance from Marty Kronman, as well as knowledge picked up over the years of working around plants, he began working on yards for the new homes springing up quickly in the Anthony Wayne area.
“We had a saying on Monclova Road if we saw another landscaping truck go past. We’d say, ‘We own this street!’”
BLM had contracts to landscape Clearwater, Crystal Ridge, Blackstone and Waterside. During the busiest year, Craig’s crews landscaped 350 new homes.
“After the crash of 2008, that dropped to 20,” he said.
Thankfully, the commercial landscaping portion of the business was still strong and sustained the business.
While BLM operated for 24 years on Monclova Road near the I-475 overpass, in 2016 the operation moved to join a sister company that Craig started in 2011: Ohio Compost.
“We had so many grass clippings that we decided to start recycling and composting it. One of my employees suggested that I turn it into a business,” Craig said. Coincidentally, Lucas County at the time was looking for companies to operate yard waste drop-off sites for residents in the western suburbs.
He opened Ohio Com-post in 2011 to accept grass, limbs and other yard waste, and since has expanded to take construction waste, including bricks, concrete, asphalt and fill dirt.
“Everything is recycled and resold,” he said. “If we bring in 5,000 yards of brush, we sell 5,000 yards of mulch.”
Customers often arrive with empty garbage cans to load up on mulch that’s available in three colors. It’s more environmentally friendly and less costly than bagged mulch, he said.
“If someone thinks mulch and topsoil, I want them to think of us,” Craig said.
While the BLM business is already booked up with commercial and new build projects for the season, Craig recently hired his daughter, 2011 AW graduate Brittany Schroeder, to serve as marketing director for Ohio Compost and BLM.
She’ll be maintaining the website and Facebook page to share technical tips and lawn care expertise. Coupons will be available online and in The Mirror each week, she said.