More than talk

Liquigreen uses more than a smooth-talking sales pitch to please customers.

September 27, 2012
Lee Chilcote

In the middle of the worst drought to hit the U.S. in 56 years, Liquigreen Lawn and Tree Care of Galesburg, Ill., has found a way to not only survive, but also thrive and grow.

Charles Goodrich, son of owner Jim Goodrich and now the assistant manager of the company, says the secret to its success is paying attention to the needs of customers and adjusting the firm’s sales and service approach to meet their individual demands.

“Even this year, with things being so terrible, we’ve found a way to bring hope for lawn care,” says Charles Goodrich, who grew up in the business his father started in 1996 and now works for Liquigreen full-time. “People call in and try to cancel, and we try to turn that thought around by saying, ‘Maybe skip this application, put the money towards aeration and over-seeding and next year your lawn will get better.’ It’s been successful.”

“People want the best bang for their buck and we do too, so we try to take care of them,” adds Jim Goodrich. “It’s really about staying in touch with your customers.”

Of course, it’s taken more than sweet-talking sales pitches to build Liquigreen’s solid base of 2,500 customers. Charles and Jim say the secret to the company’s success has been great customer service, personalized treatments, getting to know customers personally, maximizing referral-based marketing and having knowledgeable staff.

“We’ve grown every single year,” even through recession and drought, says Jim, who now has 10 full-time employees and serves eight separate counties in central Illinois.

Customer service. It’s not uncommon for lawn and landscape companies to face a flood of cancellations when a drought or other natural occurrence happens. Charles Goodrich says Liquigreen’s approach is to meet with unhappy customers personally, offering whatever it takes to restore their confidence and get them back in the fold.

“Since they’re disappointed with how things look, we’ll go out there and do free service calls,” he says. “Every time something like this happens, there’s always a big switch. The main thing we try to do is prevent them from switching. It’s about being nice.”

Personalized treatments. One of the biggest ways to retain customers during tough conditions is to personalize treatments to their lawns to achieve better results. “Maybe you shouldn’t put down urea if it’s too hot, because it could burn,’” Charles says. “Instead, we will use an organic product that’s almost like mulch for their lawn, to give their lawn the best competitive advantage in times of drought.”

Personal Relationships. Galesburg is the kind of rural, “small town USA” place where one might easily bump into one’s customers at the grocery store on a Saturday afternoon. Chrarles and Jim Goodrich like it that way, and they enjoy building personal relationships with their customers. For one thing, it makes it harder to quit.
“If by chance we were to lose someone, we don’t just let it go,” says Charles, who cites a high retention rate as one of the reasons behind Liquigreen’s overall success. “We invite them out for a cup of coffee to see why and to try to mend the relationship.”

Referral-based marketing. Although print advertising and other marketing are part of Liquigreen’s overall promotions strategy, cultivating referrals is the company’s biggest source of new customers. That’s particularly important in a rural area where the firm’s drivers might travel up to 300 miles in a day to service a broad range of customers.

“Once people contact us, we go out and meet with them, walk the lawn and talk about things they’re happy with,” says Charles. “We measure the lawn off and get to know them. That’s better than anything else we can do, better than any ad we can run.”

Well-trained staff. When a new hire joins the Liquigreen team, Charles and Jim do a fairly thorough training, including riding along with that person to make sure that they feel comfortable. The goal is to maintain an open, friendly relationship where the company’s employees feel comfortable coming to management to ask questions.

“We really try to become friends with our employees as much as we do with our customers,” says Charles. “We haven’t really had many problems with staffing.”

Charles himself is a certified arborist through the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA), so he has become something of the go-to tree expert within the entire company.

Family Touch. Until a year ago, Jim Goodrich made all of the phone calls to customers himself, establishing relationships with just about everyone who used Liquigreen’s services. That’s key to the success of his company, which started out as a franchise but has become an independent brand of its own within the Galesburg area, he

“We’re in business to take care of each other, not to make a million dollars,” he says.

The company’s success is even more powerful when you consider that Galesburg is a struggling, rural area that lost its two biggest employers years ago and never fully recovered. “We had some good industry here at one time, but it’s long gone.”

Despite these losses, it remains a resilient, family-oriented community whose longtime residents are committed to caring for what they have. Charles says that’s a key part of the appeal of Liquigreen, which helps homeowners to make their properties shine.

“People really take pride in what they have here,” he says.