One vendor's lawn care business spurred by years of sales with his closest companion.
Mario M. and his four dogs were living in his maroon Chevy. It was back in 2012, during a dip in the economy and after losing his business staining log cabins, that Mario became homeless. He began selling The Contributor at the Jackson Downs Shopping Center in Donelson — always recognizable with his fluffy white Great Pyrenees, Bear, at his side.
A few weeks later, a client offered to let Mario and his dogs stay in a barn on his property, and for a while, Mario and his furry family took shelter in Carthage, Tenn. But Mario was cooking up something in his head: a business plan for something more.
“Me and Bear, we’d sit out there selling The Contributor on Lebanon Road — Bear was under his umbrella for the shade,” Mario smiles. “I would see all these landscapers driving by with their equipment, and I’m sitting there thinking, ‘Hmm. I could do that.’ I have a truck. If I save up some money and get a mower and a used trailer, I could do that.
“I just set my mind and decided that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to save up my money and get what I need and do my research. After a while, it finally happened.”
Mario saved for months, using the money he’d earned from his Contributor business to start Bear Care Lawn Service. The same truck he and his dogs lived in now pulls a trailer full of lawn care equipment.
Mario says it’s Bear who pays for the business — it was only right that he be its namesake. “When I’m out there selling papers, everything is for Bear. My customers will give me a treat or an extra $5 to get him a bone. Bear pays for all that equipment. I just collect the money for him. He’s my CEO. You know who the boss is when his picture is on the side of the truck, and I get more calls driving down the road because people see that.”
In 2016, Mario purchased a home with his earnings from selling The Contributor and caring for the lawns of many of his Contributor-turned Bear Care customers. He’s been in his home for two years now, although he says if it was just him, he could live anywhere, but he bought the home for the dogs.
"If it weren't for my dogs, I wouldn’t have come up with this goal ... They’re the reason I do what I do and have a purpose to keep on going. Now at the house, they’ve got a fenced-in yard to run around in and a solid roof over their heads. Someone told me you could tell a good man by the way he treats his dog, and that meant a lot to me,” Mario says.
“I take care of Bear. He’s my buddy, and he goes with me everywhere. He’s been my right hand man, my right hand dog.”
Mario and Bear found each other almost 12 years ago, when Mario was working on a client’s home. Bear was just nine weeks old and his client realized that the size of the Great Pyrenees was just going to be too much for her. “She was walking him to her car to take him to a shelter, and I said, ‘No!’ She said, ‘He’s all yours,’ and I told her I’d take him!
"He’s everything to me. He took care of me." After two years of running Bear Care Lawn Service, Mario has got his plate full with 22 yards. But he said he wouldn’t have it any other way. “When you’re growing up, you take it for granted, but when you lose it all and you have to do it again, it’s harder the second time around. You really appreciate things a lot more. I’m glad I’ve gone down the road that the Lord took me down because I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned to appreciate more and to be more humble.
"I’ve been blessed, blessed, blessed many times over. I can’t get tired of saying that. People say you’re lucky, but no. It’s not luck. I’ve been blessed,” he says. “Life is good. I am proof that it can be done.”