How It All Began
Tom Jessen was 4 years old when his widowed mother uprooted him and his sister, Laura, from his birthplace Chicago, to live out in the country near Valparaiso in Northwest Indiana. His mother had some family there and they’ve been there ever since.
Jessen went to a small country school. “There were 12 grades and 12 rooms in the school.” He attended Indiana State University, but he ran out of money, so he moved back home and took a job working on a punch press to earn money to complete his education. While working full-time he also carried a full class schedule at IU Northwest, an extension of Indiana University. He was planning on a career as a teacher.
Married His Highschool Sweatheart
While still in high school, he started dating a girl named Kathy, she was 16. Jessen married his high school sweetheart, and after they got married, he went back to Indiana State University,Terre Haute to complete his last year of schooling and get his degree. But 1971 wasn’t the easiest of times.
“Teaching jobs were hard to come by,” says Jessen. “I had to find something to do, and I didn’t want to go back to work in a factory.” He moved back to Valparaiso. “When I was a kid, I helped my Uncle paint his house,” Jessen remembered, “So I decided I would become a painting contractor.” After selling his first job he took the down payment and bought the ladder and brushes he needed.
Our First Truck
One day in 1973, while painting a house, a high school friend, who had been working for ChemLawn in Indianapolis, came by and said, “Hey Tom, I’ve got a great idea, let’s go into the lawn care business, they don’t have anything here like it. We’ll work all summer, earn lots of money and go to Florida in the winter.” “He borrowed $5,000 from his parents, my mom mortgaged her house to get me the $5,000 and we started in business together,” says Jessen.
“In those days, if you recall, they used large sized tank trucks. We bought a used Hertz truck , cut the box off and put a 1000 gallon tank on it. I helped design and build the spray system. That was our first truck.”
However, it is one thing to talk about a business and what is required to make it work, it is another to put it into practice.
“During the first year, our money ran out, so I went back to part-time painting to help support my wife and new-born daughter, Dana, while I continued spraying lawns full time to build the business,” says Jessen. His persistence paid off. Five years later, by 1979 they had built up a pretty good business. “We had about 3,000 accounts, but we also found we had major differences of opinions, so we split the business up along county border lines. We still get along to this day. He kept the name Perma-Green, Inc.; I became Perma-Green Supreme, Inc.”
Finding a Better Way
“I remember my mom used to say to me, when I was a kid, ‘you’re always looking for an easy way,’ I always thought maybe it was a better way. But whatever God-given talents He gave me, I’ve always felt blessed that I was fortunate to recognize opportunities. When we first went into the lawn care business, I felt I had the foresight to see the future.”
Now, on his own, Jessen began seeking easier/better ways to streamline his business, so he began looking for a computer system to help him manage the business. Remember those heady days of 1979-80? They didn’t have the sophisticated computer programs like they have today.
“I heard about a lawn care operator in the Detroit, Michigan area who had designed a computer system,” says Jessen. “I called him and he told me something very intriguing. He was in the lawn care business and he sprayed lawns applying one gallon per 1000 square feet instead of the 3 or 4 gallons of mostly water that everyone else was spraying.” My comment to myself was, ”I’ve got to see that. If this really works we don’t need the large expensive trucks anymore!”
The Birth of Low-Volume Spraying
When Jessen saw the equipment and the results, he was able to recognize immediately the potential of Low-Volume spraying. Although skeptical at first, he started testing the concept on his own lawns to be sure.
Once convinced of the efficacy, Jessen began designing sprayers specifically for Low-volume for his own use and for sale. He used small mini-pick up trucks and 12 volt pumps. He decided to take a shot and bought a booth at the next PLCAA show.
“Some guy from the Northeast, I don’t remember if it was Pennsylvania or New Jersey visited the booth. He actually bought the sprayer with the proviso and I delivered and set it up for him,” says Jessen. “And that’s the way I started in the spray equipment business.”
After all his years in the lawn care business, one of the main things he learned was customer service. “You can’t build a business without providing good service,” Jessen said. So he proceeded to build the best equipment he knew how and did the best he could to take care of his customers. He loved the business.
When ServiceMaster began to franchise lawn care, they came to Jessen to build all their spray systems. They also asked him to design something different, a walk-behind spreader/sprayer.
“When they stopped franchising, I lost a good portion of my business,” says Jessen. Still he kept working and improving on the spreader/sprayer concept. .
The Ride-On Spreader/Sprayer
“After seeing spreader/sprayers work, I knew that they were more efficient and profitable than even Low –Volume spraying, and every serious lawn care business owner wants to be more profitable,” Jessen thought. “ I also knew that a small self-propelled ride-on spreader sprayer that worked well on small lawns, as well as big lawns, could truly revolutionize the entire industry. The series of ride-on units we designed did all that and then some,” says Jessen.
“Although there are still some guys using the liquid spray trucks, thousands upon thousands of operators now use ride-on sprayer/spreaders because they are faster, easier, and actually do the job better. Any more, it’s hard to compete using only your feet. This is the future,” says Jessen.
After spending 27 years in the lawn care business, Jessen sold that end of the business so he could concentrate on the manufacturing side. His imagination, persistence, and design talent has earned him 8 Patents.
So, Whats Next?
What is the future for PermaGreenⓇ Supreme? “You know, I’m always tinkering with something,” says Jessen. “We are constantly working to improve the units. More importantly, I want to always be at the leading edge of lawn care equipment design.”
Tom Jessen has no intentions of retiring in the near future. “I still like what I do and there are things that I have not accomplished yet,” says Jessen. “I also have an obligation to take care of the people who have been working with me for so many years.