McDonalds, Jiffy Lube and RE/MAX. When you think of these three businesses, images of driving to the golden arches to get fast food, servicing your car with an oil change and buying or selling a house with a real estate agent may spring to mind. These are very different industries, and you might not think they are related. However, these three businesses have one thing in common with a number of other growing companies — they're all franchises.
Franchising, in general, is a method of distribution. A franchise is a business that a person can buy into in order to start up his or her own local establishment. The franchisee pays a weekly fee and in turn receives training, the chance to buy supplies at a discounted price and the right to use the company's trademark as a selling advantage. Franchises are found in practically every industry, from restaurants and real estate to lawn care and grounds maintenance.
A person can join a grounds care franchise in two different ways. The most common entry point is when a person with no previous lawn care experience, but who is business minded and has some background in marketing, contacts the franchisor about starting up an establishment. This person then receives training from technical, horticultural, agronomist and equipment experts and attends certified courses pertaining to different areas of the business. The franchisee also participates in ongoing training by attending informative meetings and conferences to obtain recertification when necessary. This method accounts for about 90 percent of grounds care franchise formations.
The second way a new franchise is formed is when an existing lawn care and landscape business converts into a member of a franchise. By adopting the same business structure and systems and going through the same training procedures of the parent company, the existing business pays franchise fees to take on the franchise name and trademark, but also has an existing client base.
If you are an independent lawn care business owner who has never considered franchising as an option, you might be thinking, what does this article have to do with me? What are the benefits to joining a franchise? Why are there so many independent companies in the marketplace? And if you are trying to decide what direction you should take your business, keep reading.
One of the major grounds care franchises today is Lawn Doctor. With its trademark green thumb logo on everything from work trucks to marketing materials, Holmdel, N.J.-based Lawn Doctor has been up and running for the past 37 years and currently has 470 franchises operating in 40 different states.
Lawn Doctor offers residential and commercial lawn, tree and shrub care. Its services include tree and shrub maintenance, perimeter pest control, pesticide and fertilizer applications, core aerating and fire ant control. Lawn Doctor technicians also provide other lawn care services depending on your geographical region.
Lawn Doctor focuses on ways to enhance the business through the implementation of equipment, communication tools and information-gathering focus groups.
“In the past 24 months, Lawn Doctor has developed a stand-on delivery machine and a 1-800 number (800-4LAWNDR), held various focus groups to test that number and gather other thoughts and opinions, and completed major enhancements to the computer software used by franchises,” said Russell Frith, president and CEO.
Frith also highlights the four major benefits that a franchise can offer its employees.
- Marketing materials
The recognized trademark and company name found on trucks, in commercials and on the company Web site at www.lawndoctor.com, are what initially reach those interested in either buying into a franchise or converting their existing business. The franchisee can then turn around and use these marketing materials, such as brochures, door hangers, commercials and seasonal mailings to benefit their own business. “A team of seven marketing professionals work exclusively to improve the performance of franchises in the marketplace,” Frith said. The corporate office also conducts market research to aid the franchises in determining what services work best in which regions and what the clients are looking for.
Each franchisee, no matter if they have had previous lawn care experience or not, receives continuous training in the technical, chemical and equipment sectors, as well as in business practices. The company sponsors meetings and national training sessions that cover everything from computers to the latest techniques in pest applications. Group-sponsored discussions also encourage information sharing between different regions.
When you join the Lawn Doctor franchise, you implement a set business structure and system that has been designed to guide daily procedures and provide discipline. This includes a computer software program that manages jobs, supplies and equipment parts, and also can print out mailings for seasonal marketing. Lawn Doctor supplies its franchisees with 15 operation manuals, which include equipment, chemical and personnel manuals. Traveling representatives also visit each franchise to ensure the business is running smoothly and to supply company support.
- Buying Power
As part of a franchise, the regional owners form buying groups to negotiate better prices on mass quantities of supplies from dealers. This leverage of combined purchasing allows the franchisees to invest the monetary savings into their profit margin. This buying power is not only limited to chemicals and equipment parts, but services that a franchisee also uses everyday to complete his jobs, such as a cell phone.
In the past two years, five existing lawn care and landscape businesses have converted into Lawn Doctor franchises. One of those is now known as Lawn Doctor of Antioch, Gurnee and Lake Villa, which is located in northern Illinois and owned by Chris Shkyria. Before converting his business, Shkyria owned a lawn and landscape business for 11 years and employed eight workers at a time, but 40 throughout the years. The constant turnover and difficulties in training new employees to keep their work consistent with each client is one of the reasons why Shkyria decided that joining Lawn Doctor was the best option for his business.
“By going down to two people, my business became more dependable and profitable because there is not a turnover problem or as much overhead,” said Shkyria. “Clients like their jobs performed a certain way each time, and there were just too many mistakes from the turnover of employees.”
Another reason Shkyria made the conversion from owning his own business to joining a franchise is the added benefits he gained from the name recognition of the Lawn Doctor franchise. “If I went up to your door offering my lawn care maintenance services as Chris from small business Lawn and Landscape, but then five minutes later came back offering my services as Chris from Lawn Doctor of Antioch, I'm 90 percent more likely to get the job as a Lawn Doctor representative than as the other guy just based on the name recognition alone,” Shkyria said.
Shkyria also gains exposure for his business with seasonal mailings and door hangings. With the Lawn Doctor computer program, Shkyria can print out 20,000 letters to local potential customers and current clients about spring and summer fertilizer and pesticide applications, and fall seeding options and maintenance. He usually sends out five mailings a year, three in the spring and two in the fall. Shkyria places door hangers on the doorknobs of homes surrounding yards he has just serviced to show the visual proof of his applications. The door hangers advertise free lawn evaluations to these potential clients as a way to expand the client base and give estimates of lawn services.
“With the Lawn Doctor software and marketing tools, I have more time to run and grow my business instead of chasing down jobs or the guys I used to have on my crew,” Shkyria said. “I can actually respond to calls immediately and perform more office work because the Lawn Doctor image sells itself.”
On the other end of the spectrum lie lawn care businesses untouched by the franchise world. These can vary from small, local independently-owned ventures to larger corporations with locations scattered throughout the country. One of the larger businesses is The Brickman Group. Although you might think it is a franchise, you would be wrong.
Brickman has been in operation for 65 years and is currently based in Gatesburg, Md. Some of the company's most recent projects include a park at Padre Stadium in San Diego, Calif., in which families can have picnics while enjoying a baseball game, as well as the design and maintenance of the baseball field at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, Greece. With 110 branches in 23 different states, this company could be confused with a franchise. However, Margie Holly, communications manager, attributes the expansion to the growth and movement of its clients. “Brickman originated in Chicago and as its clients moved to different parts of the country, the company went as well,” Holly said.
The family-owned landscape business also shifted from a design/build company to a firm specializing in lawn care and maintenance. About 85 percent of Brickman's business is commercial landscape maintenance, and the remainder is dedicated to builds and installations. It also performs snow removal, tree care and sports turf application jobs.
The reason why The Brickman Group has never considered becoming a franchisor is that they believe that quality and service starts with family. Instead of bringing outside people in to run their business, Brickman takes inside people and trains them to head up the new branches.
“Brickman has established a stable duplicateable model that can be put in place, and these branches are supported by regional offices,” Holly said.
If a territory is getting too big for one branch, employees are brought in and trained for a set amount of time, usually two years. Once the branch is ready to split into two branches, they are already prepared and are able to function consistently with the other branches.
Brickman also offers in-house training through a program called Brickman University, similar to training programs offered by franchises. Employees gain consistent education in the core curriculum of horticultural maintenance, as well as in customer service and crew management.
For Ryan Lindsay, president and owner of Lindsay's Lawncare, Inc., in Champlin, Minn., the key benefit of keeping his business independent of a franchise is the personal touch he is able to provide for his clients. “My customers and I are on a first name basis, and I'm the one who calls them back if they have a question about anything,” Lindsay said. “The hardest thing about owning your own business is that it is very time consuming, but there is a point when you just make time for your family.”
Lindsay's Lawncare offers clients many services including fertilizing, mowing, dethatching, spring and fall clean-ups, lawn renovation, seeding and small landscape applications.
“We advertise in the spring, but we have received most of our growth through word of mouth,” Lindsay said. They also provide clients with refrigerator magnet business cards and encourage their clients to call and ask questions regarding services. “Our business just has that personal touch that I haven't seen in any franchised business.”
JUST GETTING STARTED
Twenty years ago, Brad Johnson considered joining a franchise and decided against it. Now he is starting his own. Johnson is the president and owner of Tulsa, Okla.-based LawnAmerica, Inc., and has recently received the licensing to start and operate a franchise business and is registered in most states.
The core business services offered by LawnAmerica are residential fertilizer and weed control applications, but it also performs aeration, seeding, insect control and tree and shrub care jobs. The company's Web site is www.lawnamerica.com. With 20 years of experience under his belt, Johnson is ready to teach some new guys the tricks of the trade.
Johnson is looking to open three to five franchises this year in Oklahoma and the surrounding states of Texas and Arkansas. He is offering his own employees, who have worked for him for at least 3 years, a discount to help them purchase their own franchise. “I want to help those with the same principles, values and systems duplicate what I have done here in Tulsa,” Johnson said.
“If I had had a mentor from the start, learning the business would have been a lot easier,” Johnson said. He wants to enter the franchise business and give those interested in starting a franchise the opportunity for a support system and buying power, as well as providing marketing guidance and customer service principles.
“Being an independent lawn care owner can sometimes be lonely,” Johnson said. “You can't bounce ideas off of your competition the way you can with another owner in your franchise. Other franchisees might be having the same problems you are experiencing and you can educate each other by discussing solutions.”
THE DECIDING FACTOR
Whether you keep your business running independently or if you decide that joining a franchise could help your business in the future is entirely up to you. Consider the benefits of each option and the effects your business will have on your clients.
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