KANSAS CITY, Missouri – Suburban Lawn & Garden Inc. spans seven locations. Its year-round employee roll of 230 grows to 400 in spring.
Serving the Kansas City metropolitan area through three nurseries and garden centers, Suburban Lawn & Garden sells plant material and landscape supplies to both commercial and residential customers. It has grown significantly since its incorporation in 1965.
“Suburban Lawn and Garden started out primarily as a service business,” explained Matt Stueck, owner and vice president of the company. “It was focused on mowing, lawn care and landscaping, but it evolved into predominantly a retail business emphasizing growing and manufacturing landscaping and gardening products.”
Trees, shrubs, perennials, and annuals sold at the retail outlets are grown at Suburban’s two farms, one in Missouri and one in Kansas. Each farm is approximately 300 acres in size.
Suburban Lawn & Garden also makes mulch, producing over 170,000 cubic yards annually. The raw material for the mulch comes primarily from yard waste, which is often delivered by the same individuals who arrive to shop.
“We opened a yard waste recycling center in 1989,” said Matt. “We take in brush, wood chips and yard debris and manufacture them into color-enhanced mulch or organic compost.”
It takes a lot of production capacity to make nearly 200,000 cubic yards of mulch or compost each year. Suburban Lawn & Garden has the production capacity from its HogZilla grinders. In September it took delivery of a HogZilla TC-1564 tub grinder, and it now has three HogZilla tub grinding machines. The company also has a HogZilla HZL-6250P horizontal grinder in service. The four grinders log substantial hours.
“We run our grinders every day,” said Matt. “Making the mulch is a three-step process. We first perform a ‘primary’ or ‘demolition’ grind of the virgin material and let it stockpile. Then, several months later, we regrind through 2-inch screens and color enhance it with our Sahara X3 dye machine a few days later.”
HogZilla grinders are manufactured by C.W. Mill Equipment Co. Inc. in Sabetha, Kansas. The company’s grinders serve many industries, among them construction and demolition, green energy producers, and land-clearing contractors who use them to achieve large-scale volume reduction. They are even put to use to achieve large-scale water reduction in material. HogZilla grinders can be powered by diesel engines or electric motors.
At Suburban Lawn & Garden, all four HogZilla grinders are powered by Caterpillar diesel engines. “The portability of the diesel engines was the critical factor in our decision,” said Matt.
The bulk of the raw material for mulch arrives at Suburban Lawn & Garden thanks to individuals who want to see their yard waste recycled or tree service companies that need to dispose of chips and wood debris. They pay a tipping fee to unload it at Suburban Lawn & Garden.
The only thing the company does not take is construction waste and wood debris from land-clearing work. “We recycle all varieties of virgin tree debris, but it is primarily deciduous hardwoods,” said Matt. “We do not use land-clearing fiber as it is prone to containing large amounts of soil and roots.”
A three-person team staffs the tipping area. It handles 120 to 175 customers each day and as many as 250 customers each day following a storm. Attendants make certain that construction waste is not slipped in with yard waste.
Suburban Lawn & Garden sometimes tows grinders to sites where there has been storm damage, working with communities in need of assistance, and performs on-site grinding.
Suburban Lawn & Garden has been coloring mulch since 2000. Its trademarked java brown color is a current favorite. Brown and black mulches generally hold color longer, and customers seem to prefer them over red, noted Matt.
The Sahara X3 mulch coloring system is sold by BASF, the largest chemical company in the world. It is designed for high-volume production of colored mulch. Suburban Lawn & Garden also uses colorants supplied by BASF, which is headquartered in Germany.
“The majority of mulch — 145,000 cubic yards — is sold in bulk,” explained Matt. Suburban uses a form, fill and seal machine from Hamer-Fischbein to bag mulch. Bagged mulch is sold under the label Summer Field Farms.
“We deliver most of our mulches within a 30-mile radius of Kansas City, but we also service Lawrence and Topeka, Kansas, as well as the Lake of the Ozarks region in Missouri,” said Matt. “We offer free residential delivery with a four-cubic-yard minimum to most local zip codes.”
Delivery fees pegged to distance and the amount of mulch start at around $65. Commercial customers purchase semi-trailer deliveries of 75-80 cubic yards per load. Suburban’s in-house truck shop maintains a fleet of 150 vehicles.
Kansas City, Missouri, has a population of about 500,000. The Show-Me state city is situated primarily in Jackson County, but parts of the city are in the counties of Clay, Cass, and Platte.
Bill and Bo Stueck, Matt’s parents, started Suburban Lawn & Garden. Matt, 45, joined the company after earning degrees in political science and education at American University in Washington, D.C. After graduating from college, Matt taught and coached debate for a year, while at the same time working at Suburban on weekends. Deciding teaching and coaching were “a labor of love” and economically difficult to sustain, he joined Suburban full-time in 1999. Bill and Bo continue to serve on the executive board of Suburban Lawn & Garden, and Bill is president of the company.
Suburban has a 20-year association with HogZilla grinders. “We purchased a used 1992 NG-1264 grinder in 2000,” said Matt. “We originally were an authorized dealer for grinders and would demonstrate and sell them to other end users.”
With the proliferation of Internet communication and sales, C.W. Mill Equipment moved to in-house sales teams, but Suburban Lawn & Garden remained a customer of the company.
C.W. Mill Equipment has been manufacturing diesel and electric grinders for more than 45 years. It follows a path of continuous improvement. Customers can choose from over 20 models, which include self-propelled, track-driven, and self-loading units.
Prior to assembling its strong lineup of HogZilla grinders, Suburban Lawn & Garden had solid experience with other machines.
Matt’s father has had a can-do attitude since he was a boy. “Bill Stueck started his first lawn-mowing business when he was 11 years old,” noted Matt, in the early 1950s.
The four HogZilla grinders of Suburban Lawn & Garden are stationed at the company’s yard waste recycling center. The center occupies 10 acres of the 30-acre operations site. Store locations range from seven acres to 40 acres.
Vertical integration strengthens Suburban Garden and Landscaping, explained Matt. By growing the plants sold at its nurseries and garden centers, it ensures the quality of its nursery stock.
Matt sees vertical integration as just as important to mulch production. Ensuring that only virgin wood fiber is used guarantees a wholly positive reception for the mulch product.
“Our philosophy is to make a consistent, high-quality product in a way that is sustainable for the environment and the industry,” said Matt. “These are the goals that drive all aspects of our business, and the mulch division is no exception.”
HogZilla grinders from C.W. Mill Equipment are a good match for Suburban Garden & Landscaping, said Matt. “We do all our own maintenance in-house. The grinders are on a schedule – daily, monthly, annually.”
Each HogZilla machine runs for 30 to 40 hours each week. Durability defines the machine, explained Matt. “The grinders do last a long time.”
In fact, said Matt, in some ways the longevity of the HogZilla makes it a “victim of its success.” “It will run 20,000 hours without needing to be replaced with a new machine.”
“HogZilla makes their products with the same philosophy as we do our mulches,” said Matt. “They’re always looking for ways to make their customers more profitable and successful.”
Suburban Lawn & Garden also keeps reconfiguring and adjusting to meet market demands. Matt said many refinements have come by traveling the world and learning from others. “We owe what we do to lots of people.”
And Matt aims to reciprocate by telling others about the success of his company and its satisfaction with the HogZilla grinders. “We do have a good relationship with HogZilla,” he said. “Others – garden centers – looking to diversify” should consider a similar mulch-making model, he suggested.
The mulch-making approach at Suburban Lawn & Garden adds value to the business directly from mulch sales. It also drives business to the store. When area residents arrive to tip brush and leaves, many of them also walk into the retail area and buy products.
Matt’s professional path has been different from what he envisioned during college. He is happy with it, though. “I enjoy the wide variety of people I get to meet — employees, customers and suppliers — who make up the lawn and garden industry.”
And in time taken away from work, Matt has some definite pursuits. “Gardening, of course,” he said. “I also enjoy biking, disc golf and cooking.”