No room for hot air

Features - Lawn Care

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

April 8, 2013
Lee Chilcote

In the middle of the worst drought to hit the U.S. in 56 years, Liqui-Green Lawn and Tree Care of Galesburg, Ill., 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.

“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 Liqui-Green’s solid base of 2,500 customers.

Charles and Jim say the secret to the company’s success has been great customer service, customized 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 happens.

Rural rules

Traveling 40 miles for a job can turn into a great business opportunity.

Liqui-Green Lawn and Tree Care of Galesburg, Ill., offers service in an eight-county area, and its service calls often require driving 40-45 miles at a stretch. The secret to success in a rural area, says Assistant Manager Charles Goodrich, is not only good, efficient routing, but also using one’s referral network to cluster customers together.

“If you’re going to travel 40 miles in one direction for one job, that’s really tough,” Goodrich says. “If you take care of people in rural areas, and they like you, they’ll tell their neighbors. Then, instead of one, you might go out there for multiple people.”

Maintaining strong customer relationships and taking advantage of word of mouth are key. “You might travel 300 miles from morning till night, so you gotta make it worth it.”

Although Goodrich says that it might make sense in some cases to travel more than 40-45 miles, he rarely strays from that self-imposed limit. Why? Because other companies are in the Peoria and Quad Cities regions, and he doesn’t want to compete with them.

“Out of respect, we stay away from that,” he says. “It’s kind of an unofficial boundary.” At the end of the day, maximizing efficiency and profitability is also about setting up efficient routes, too. “You have to cluster your jobs together so that it makes sense.”

Charles Goodrich says Liqui-Green’s approach is to meet with unhappy customers personally, offering whatever it takes to restore their confidence and bring them back into 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.”

Customized treatments.
One of the biggest ways to retain customers during tough conditions is to customize treatments to their lawns’ specific organic situation 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.

Charles and Jim Goodrich like it that way, and they enjoy building personal relationships with their customers.

For one thing, it makes it harder for them to drop the service.

“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 Liqui-Green’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 Liqui-Green’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 Liqui-Green 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,” Charles says. “We haven’t really had many problems with staffing.”

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 Liqui-Green’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 says.

“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 hasn’t fully recovered.

“We had some good industry here at one time, but it’s long gone,” Jim says.

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 Liqui-Green, which helps homeowners to make their properties shine.

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

Photos courtesy of Liqui-green