Fall-Winter 2014 Kanger

  • Kanger keeps entrepreneurial eye on the future

    Kanger keeps entrepreneurial spirit

Cody Kanger, a junior in mechanical engineering, closed down the business he ran in high school but hasn't given up on one day again being his own boss.
To say that Cody Kanger is all business might be an overstatement, but not by much.

While in high school at Creighton Prep in Omaha, the junior mechanical engineering major from Papillion ran a successful lawn care and snow removal business for more than four years. The money he earned from that venture has helped pay for part of his college expenses as he works toward his degree.

But that wasn’t what Kanger envisioned happening when he started CJK Lawn Care as a high school freshman. The original plan was to have a pair of buddies keep the business going while he pursued his engineering degree and then for Kanger to start a new business venture – buying a house or a piece of commercial property in Lincoln and renting it out.

“I planned to keep running some kind of business while I was in college,” Kanger said. “There was a plan for where the money was supposed to go, but it ended up going to school. My ACT score wasn’t high enough to get grants or anything like that. I didn’t get financial help from government programs or anything else.”

The need to help fund his own education and the demands of being an engineering student caused Kanger to rethink his plans to keep the business running while in college.

“It was about the business first, then get a degree. I figured that the business would be something I’d have forever,” Kanger said. “I thought about it and, once I ran into the issues you face your freshman year, I thought it would be easier to start the lawn service up after finishing a degree than it would be to be mowing 10, 15 years down the road and then want to go back and get the degree.”

Kanger’s ability to adjust his career goals to fit the changing circumstances is something he’s learned from the experience of running his own businesses, especially since his first try didn’t exactly take off.

As a 12-year-old living in Plattsmouth, Kanger and his family spent a lot of time at Beaver Lake, and Kanger was inspired to try making money on his own over the summer.

“I started a beach-care business. That didn’t work. Turns out that not a lot of people wanted their beaches cleaned,” Kanger said with a laugh. “So, I started mowing lawns. I had one lawn out there, then we moved to Papillion and I started mowing lawns in the neighborhood.”

That first year in Papillion, Kanger said, he found a couple of clients. The next year, thanks to referrals, it grew to six.

Before his junior year in high school, the business grew large enough that he had to hire two friends to cover all the requests for his services.

By the summer of 2012, before he came to UNL, Kanger’s business had grown to 51 clients for mowing, 26 for fertilizing, 20 for snow removal and a few others for landscaping projects.

Kanger also learned that running a lawn-care business required a lot more than pushing a mower – payroll, scheduling, budgeting, maintaining equipment and supplies, paying taxes and the need to advertise and market the business. When going door-to-door proved too time-consuming for his three-person staff, he enlisted seven more people to pass out fliers and used internet tools such as MapQuest to target his team’s marketing efforts.

All that experience, Kanger said, may have helped him land an internship this past summer with CNH Industrial tractor division in suburban Chicago. That internship helped Kanger learn what direction he’d like to take in his engineering experience.

“Those were the things I explained to people when I was applying for internships. I feel I’ve got a little business experience,” he said. “With CNH, I was a test technician and was climbing all over tractors all day in a test bay. This next summer, I’ll be working at an internship for XMark and, I assume, I’ll be doing that with lawn equipment.”

Even though he’s committed to getting his degree, Kanger isn’t ready to limit his professional goals – there is, he said, the allure of once again running his own business, perhaps even another lawn-care business.

Perhaps Kanger could build the world’s best lawn mower.

“Maybe. Who knows?” he said. “That’s a good idea. I’ll have to think about that.”