By Charlie Senack
Tackling a part-time job while being an athlete can be tough. That’s why two Nepean High School (NHS) students started their own landscaping business to raise money for university.
MowBros Ottawa Yard Services was started by Noah Edwards and Theo Kalff-Duschenes when they were in Grade 10. The now Grade 12 students say, since launching the business in 2019, it has continued to grow.
“There is a lot of hard work that people don’t want to do in their gardens, but a larger landscaping company might charge a lot to do it,” says Kalff-Duschenes. “An example of that would be laying mulch in the backyard and bringing the garden bed up to look its best. We can do that and we love to do that. We want to do that hard labour that many don’t want to do.”
On top of lawn-mowing and simple yard work tasks, the founders of MowBros say they have also done painting, cleaned eavestroughs, and redone patios. The teens admit much of it has been “learn as you go,” but Kalff-Duschenes adds that his mother — who is an avid gardener herself — has been their biggest consultant.
The 17-year-old friends don’t remember who came up with the idea for MowBros first, but both wanted to find a way to bring in some cash after struggling to find part-time employment. Kalff-Duschenes is a baseball player and Edwards plays football — two time-consuming activities.
“I remember I went to apply for a job and the guy who was interviewing me asked if I played any sports and such,” recounts Edwards. “When I told him I played football, right then and there he declined me the job and said ‘I don’t like football players; they never show up to shifts.’ That made me realize I was really going to have a hard time finding a job while playing football at the same time.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Kalff-Duschenes admits they weren’t sure how the business would do with people looking for new activities. Many took up gardening as a hobby, and the NHS students thought they wouldn’t receive as many calls. But because landscaping has been deemed an essential service, their operations were able to continue.
Aside from Edwards and Kalff-Duschenes, four of their friends are also called upon when large jobs come up. They follow all COVID-19 guidelines when they are on job sites and all payment is contactless.
“From a business perspective — especially last year when we were starting the season — we were not sure if past clients would still be interested because with the pandemic, income for many people has been impacted, and landscaping and yard work is considered a bit of a luxury,” states Kalff-Duschenes.
That’s when they started to partner with local realtors in the community to help stage houses. With Ottawa’s housing market hotter than ever, there hasn’t been any shortage of work to go around.
At least four real estate companies in the Westboro neighbourhood regularly use MowBros for their services, with even more jobs coming from word-of-mouth.
“It’s really great to work hand-in-hand with these realtors who are either selling a house that needs a garden makeover or just-sold a house and are offering our services to the (new) homeowner,” said Edwards. “It has definitely given us a big boost in work because there are less households needing our work because they are taking it on themselves.”
Both Edwards and Kalff-Duschenes are in their final year of high school and are gearing up to attend university in the fall. Edwards will be heading out east to attend the commerce program at Dalhousie University. Kalff-Duschenes will also be attending a commerce program, but has not decided which school to attend.
By managing their own business for the past few years, both say it was a benefit when applying to universities. They admit the competition can be tough, especially for business programs.
“Our company has helped us a lot with our applications for university,” Edwards said. “Not a lot of kids do this; it is a kind of unique thing and so I feel like our business has really helped set us aside from other applicants and has pushed us forward to get into the programs we wanted.
What will happen to MowBros when university starts? Edwards says they may keep the business going on their summers off or will hand over the reins to another group of local teens looking to save up for university. Edwards has a younger brother who is already showing interest in taking over the company.
At a time when finding a part-time job is harder than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHS students have a message for anyone else who may be in their shoes.
“Sometimes people get daunted with the idea of starting a business, or they are intimidated by the things you didn’t fully understand or the things you haven’t fully mastered yet,” said Kalff-Duschenes. “Just do it. Any high school kids can do what me and Noah did. It’s nothing special; it’s just about going out and doing something that you are passionate about.”
“Don’t give yourself barriers,” echoed Edwards. “I feel like a lot of people count things out without thinking if they could actually do it or not. If you apply yourself, you can do anything — that is an expression for a reason. You get as much as you put in.”
MowBros say they still have a few spots left for this summer season. Even if it’s not work they are familiar with, they want the opportunity to learn. Anyone can reach the group of local teens at firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more, and can follow their Instagram page @mowbrosottawa