Lake Savers named 2011 Best Small Business
Richland ‘green’ firm named Best Small Business for Southwest Michigan
By Yvonne Zipp – Kalamazoo Gazette
Article originally published 5/01/2012 blog.mlive.com/businessreview
KALAMAZOO, MI – What started as a “hobby” has turned into an award-winning business for a Richland man.
Lake Savers, LLC, was named the 2011 Best Small Business for Southwest Michigan by Main Street USA, The Michigan Small Business & Technology Development Center (MI-SBTDC) and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Owner John Tucci will be presented with the award at a ceremony in Lansing on May 3.
Tucci had bought a home on Sherman Lake, which, like many area lakes, was experiencing water-quality issues, and wondered if there was a more sustainable way to take care of weed, muck and algae problems than conventional herbicides.
In 2007, he started experimenting with Lake Bottom Aeration and biological augmentation technology from Clean Flo Intl. to see if it wouldn’t help restore lakes, which are being inundated with more nutrients than they can handle, creating a “compost pile” of muck on the bottom, Tucci explained. The process, sometimes called “bio-mimicry,” accelerates water bodies’ natural ways of absorbing nutrients and helps control weeds and algae, reduce muck and improve overall water quality.
In 2009, Tucci left his former job as a business management consultant to concentrate full-time on Lake Savers. Today, the company has five employees and has worked on lakes around the Midwest, New England, Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
Michigan, however, is “ground zero” for the business, Tucci said.
The first water body it ever treated was Willow Lake in Parkview Hills in Kalamazoo. In 2010, Lake Savers installed a project in South Bay of Indian Lake in Dowagiac – an 88-acre bay of a 500-acre lake.
The lake association hired an engineering firm, Lakeshore Environmental, to set up an independent study to measure results. Those results came out earlier this year, Tucci said, and showed a two-foot reduction in muck and a two-foot increase in water clarity, as well as a reduction in Eurasian milfoil, an invasive plant species.
“If you had to dredge that material, the price tag would be in the millions of dollars. We’re delivering that for orders of magnitude less,” said Tucci. As a result of the study, the independent engineering firm recommended the association expand the program to the entire lake, in lieu of conventional herbicides.
Lake Savers also has come up with innovative ways for lake associations to pay for the sustainable approach over time.
“What we realized is that most lakes are not in a position to collect that kind of money up front to own this equipment and maintain it and take care of it,” Tucci said. “What we’ve done is created a full-service management program, to annualize the cost of the program. We install it, maintain it and manage it for the life of the program. The lake association pays an annual fee.”
That way, Tucci said, Lake Savers can get the cost “in the ballpark of what they’re already paying for annual herbicide and/or harvesting program.”
Also, if after two seasons, the association doesn’t feel the program is delivering results, they can drop it without any further costs.
That leasing program, in addition to the focus on environmental sustainability, is a major part of Lake Savers won the Best Small Business award, said Carolyn Rourke, finance and strategy specialist at the MI SBTDC, located at the Haworth College of Business at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo.
“When he initially developed the business model, the leasing option wasn’t on the forefront. What was excellent about the organization was that … they adapted their business model to fit their customers’ needs,” said Rourke, who has worked as a consultant with Lake Savers from the beginning. Of Tucci, she said, “He’s such an ethical, stand-up guy. He really wants to support Michigan and help with development.”
Michigan’s lakes are a key part of the state’s growing tourist industry, she added. According to a recent study by Longwood International, some 3.2 million people visited Michigan in 2011 and spent $1 billion in the state.
Lake Savers “hits those key drivers and key issues in Michigan on a lot of levels … We know that tourism is one of the Top 3 drivers in the state,” Rourke said. “Using this way of duplicating nature to clean up a lake helps everybody.”
The Best Small Business Award offers winners greater recognition and positions them for growth, Rourke said, as well as bringing them to the attention of key influencers at the state level. For Tucci, it also provides a welcome recognition for his employees.
“Our employees work extremely hard and are very dedicated. They’re taking some risk working for a business as small as ours,” said Tucci. “It’s gratifying to know that their hard work is being recognized.”
Tucci said he doesn’t miss his former career.
“I actually grew up on a lake when I was a kid in Maine,” said Tucci. “It took me 20 years to get there, but I feel like this is what I’m supposed to be doing.”
Contact Yvonne Zipp at firstname.lastname@example.org or 269-365-8639.
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