DERBY — Kevin Payne is celebrating the 30th anniversary of his business a little quicker than most owners. He just turned 51.
“I decided at 20, we needed to do this full time,” said Payne, owner of TenderCare Lawn & Landscape.
Payne, who grew up in Derby and went to Butler Community College on a football scholarship, was sure he wanted to be a football coach until he spent a summer working for Hillside Nursery’s farming operation.
Although it was hot, hard work, Payne found that he enjoyed it.
“I learned from some very good people about trees and planting and how they grow – root structure and propagation,” he said. “I’ve done all of it.”
Soon he was making more money doing his own landscaping projects and lawn maintenance on the side.
So when he married his childhood sweetheart, Cindy, he decided he might as well go into business on his own.
Cindy is TenderCare’s office manager.
TenderCare is a full-service landscaping business, offering design, installation and maintenance across the Wichita area, as well as installing irrigation systems and swimming pools.
“We do some elaborate landscaping,” Payne said. “We have some people contact us before their house is even started. It’s a lot of fun when you can design something, install it and maintain it.”
TenderCare has done landscaping jobs worth a half-million dollars along with work for high-profile clients such as Wichita State baseball coach Gene Stephenson, whose photograph is among the sports paraphernalia in Payne’s office.
But Payne said smaller jobs and lawn maintenance are just as important.
“I don’t care if someone is spending $200, you still want to do a good job,” he said.
In fact, that part of the business has become crucial since the recession.
Started in a garage, TenderCare had grown every year to a maximum of 70 employees in 10,000 square feet of space.
But when the new housing market went bust, TenderCare saw its revenue drop 40 percent. The company currently employs 45 people.
“It is tough because when you’re a small business, you know all these people personally,” Payne said. “The vast majority were all great people.”
Within the past year, Payne said he’s “started to see a little turnaround, but we’re still very cautious.”
He’s focused on doing work for people who have decided to stay in their current homes, making their backyards more attractive with fire pits, bubbling ponds and other affordable features.
Payne also remains active in sports, coaching youth football teams and acting as “color man” for radio broadcasts of Derby High School games.
His best friend runs a couple of bars near Chicago’s Wrigley Field, so naturally the Cubs are his favorite team.
Payne says he also might spend another three decades involved in TenderCare.
“Even when I was young, I enjoyed mowing lawns and making things look nice,” he said. When he makes a client happy, he said, “That’s fun – it really is.”