Two weeks ago, Zack Kline quit his full-time job at a Rockville payroll company to take the plunge into business for himself, an eco-friendly landscaping company he hopes to one day grow into a national franchising model.
For now, Kline, 24, rides from house to house, taking soil samples of prospective clients, answering emails and trying to put his A.I.R. Lawn Care company on the map. It’s an ambitious if risky idea, inspired by hot, humid summers toting around gas-powered lawn equipment and $5,000 in start-up money from a college business competition.
“There’s a lot of excitement for it and yeah, it’s a little nerve-wracking because you don’t have that consistent cash flow,” Kline said. “You have to figure out how you can be as resourceful as possible.”
Kline is one of many young Bethesda entrepreneurs trying to make it on their own in a time when the unemployment rate among 20- to 24-year 0lds is nearly double the national average, more and more young adults age 20-34 are living in their parents’ homes and some college graduates can’t find jobs.
A pair of Walt Whitman High School grads recently started a website that refers drivers to car repair shops. Two North Bethesda residents started a late night shuttle service between bars in Bethesda and D.C. last year and recently expanded it to Washington Nationals games for summer weekends.
“Unfortunately, a majority of people in our generation get labeled as lazy, not really driven and a lot of other negative connotations,” Kline said. “It gets older people, I think, kind of excited to see someone that maybe reminds them of themselves when they were younger, but also just to see that there is potential and hope for the up-and-coming generation.”
Kline’s eco-friendly pitch is rooted in the solar panel on his truck and the one soon to be installed on a newly-purchased equipment trailer. He uses electric blowers, mowers and trimmers with batteries that charge via the panel in order to avoid noise and gas pollution from conventional equipment.
He said he came up with the idea while working for a landscaping company on a large lot in Darnestown during a 95-degree Code Red air quality day. His job was to trim and edge the perimeter of the whole property using a gas-powered weedeater.
“My girlfriend at the time said, ‘Why is your face so red?’ Well, it was 95 degrees outside and I had this hot motor right next to my head, not a great combination,” Kline said. “And that led me to thinking, also seeing the amount of gas we used in all the trucks and the bigger mowers, that’s when I started thinking that there had to be a better way.”
Kline started researching equipment and won honorable mention for the idea during a business competition in his junior year at Salisbury University. In his senior year, he won the $5,000 first prize, which he put toward his truck and some other equipment. With a family loan and his own money from his previous job, Kline hopes to expand his part-time client list of 20 to 100 or 120 by the end of this summer.
On Monday, Kline got an early start. At 8 a.m., he visited a home in Bethesda near Seven Locks Road to do an estimate. He did another at a home off Old Georgetown Road at 10 a.m. He then went to Bethesda Green, where he is a member of the nonprofit’s green business incubator, to check emails and make a contact with someone who provides eco-friendly pest control services. At 2 p.m., he was off to pick up new car magnets with his A.I.R.’s logo before an interview with a reporter at 3 p.m., another estimate at 5 p.m. and an evening full of more emails and planning.
He lives with his parents, who he says are supportive of his effort, and pays nominal rent.
“That’s challenge within itself because you know when you’re young you want to have that freedom,” Kline said. I’m still under their house, so therefore under their rules.”