What’s your DNA? We’re talking about branding – the cultural makeup of your company, your vision and values, and how you go about telling the world about it.
Haven’t thought about it lately? Then, perhaps the owners we talked to this month will provide a compelling reason why examining that first impression – the “look and feel” you send out to the public, from prospects to potential workers – is worth the time and money. Maybe you’ll discover, like James Rose of Perfect LawnCare in Williamstown, Ky., that renaming your firm is reinvention.
“I couldn’t get accounts the way I wanted because when people called, they thought the company was just me and it wasn’t a team,” he says.
His business went by James Rose LawnCare, founded when Rose was 10 years old. It was time for a fresh image that showed the years of expansion and professionalism. He chose Perfect LawnCare because of his father’s advice to, “Do everything right the first time and make sure it’s perfect.”
The rollout of Rose’s new brand was a complete re-launch of his company.
“I was scared to death,” he admits, “but I knew I had to grow or die.” Growing meant evolving his brand.
This month, Lawn & Landscape spoke with companies that staged a complete brand refresh to find out why, how and what’s next for these evolving firms. All of them share one thing in common: The courage to ask, “Who are we, really?” Then, they created a strategy to get real, and to get more business.
All in the name
A last name like Pickel sticks out from the bunch, but Michael never considered slapping his moniker on the company until he realized that most of the phone calls his office fielded were mowing requests. His company, which was named LawnScapes, does so much more.
So Pickel began surveying his customers, asking them: “What do you think of when you see the name LawnScapes?”
Pickel wanted to know how clients referred to his company when they talked to others. He was surprised to learn that they called his firm “Mike Pickel’s company.”
“I used to think that you didn’t want your name on your company because it seemed arrogant, or there wasn’t that much creativity involved, but for this area, it makes a lot of sense,” says Pickel, who grew up in Landenberg, Pa., where his company is based. He’s involved in the community – and people know his family.
Meanwhile, while batting around this idea of a name change, Pickel attended a conference where an industry consultant asked him (without knowing about Pickel’s name-change ideas), “Did you ever consider changing the name of your company?” LawnScapes just wasn’t a fit, he suggested.
Pickel didn’t jump to change the name immediately.
“My biggest concern was how it would affect our business,” he says, relating that he was concerned that the call volume would drop off.
To address that, Pickel decided to launch the new company name during Memorial Day weekend.
“In the Northeast, you can lose contact with customers from January 1 through March 1 when business is slower,” he says. “It’s hard to get people engaged in lawn care when there is snow on the ground, so we didn’t want to do a name change on March 1 and confuse a lot of folks.”
Pickel used winter and early spring to prepare for the launch. That included recruiting a design firm to rework the logo. He decided to change the name and keep a signature leaf image so clients would still recognize the company. Web developers shifted the existing site (remodeled to include the new name) to the new URL, and new team dress was ordered. Signage was purchased for trucks, and Pickel saved two-thirds of the cost because of his prior experience applying adhesive signs for a printing company.
On Memorial Day weekend, crew members volunteered in shifts to help change out signs and remove old LawnScapes logos from vehicles and the building. The following Tuesday, the company officially became Pickel Landscape Group.
With a name like Pickel, people recognize the person behind the operation. “My family has been in the community for a long time so everyone knows me,” he says.
Now, Pickel gets more referral business because his company name aligns with his family’s reputation in the area. This has resulted in work such as installations for charter schools and large development projects.
“We are the busiest we have ever been, and we are getting calls from the type of clients we want to get calls from,” he adds.
A postcard campaign resulted in 15 calls, five solid leads and two large jobs amounting to $45,000 in sales. A similar campaign last year with the old name resulted in two calls and no business.
“All the growth we are seeing is directly related to the name change,” Pickel says.
Pickel sent a letter about the company’s name change to clients and prospects, one a former marketing executive. Pickel asked her why she had not responded to his ad pieces in the past, and she said, “To be honest, in January, February and March, I get several postcards a week – Lawn Busters, LawnScapes, Lawn This and Lawn That. Nothing really sticks out.” Pickel does.
“With a last name like Pickel, it would be silly not to leverage that,” Pickel says. “And, I’ve had nothing but positive results.”
Refreshed and focused
“It’s hard to have a great business that does everything,” says Adam Jackson, partner in Nature’s Turf, which transitioned from a business rooted in landscaping into a dedicated turf care firm this year. He points to Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 List: “The top 15 are focused businesses,” he says. “You focus on one segment to make the business run well.”
Nature’s Turf was founded as Nature’s Nursery and Landscape Company, which evolved into Nature’s Landscape Services in 2004 when Jackson’s father bought out his former partner and focused on landscaping rather than the competitive retail garden center business. The company offered traditional maintenance and design/build services. “We rode that to the peak of the housing market here in Atlanta,” Jackson says.
At its largest point in 2007, the company’s revenues were about $2.5 million, with 50 employees. Then, Atlanta suffered a drought and the housing market collapsed.
“That affected our sales on the construction side,” Jackson says. But that same year, the company had purchased a small turf care business that had served as a loyal subcontractor for years. Its strong recurring revenue helped maintain the company during tough times.
“Turf care seemed to be the only thing that was working, and it was working so well that we stopped doing landscape installation and traditional lawn maintenance and are 100 percent focused on turf care now,” Jackson says.
The transition to total turf care was more of a slow creep. By 2012, Jackson said he felt the pressure to rebrand the business. One year later, he mustered the courage to launch a complete corporate identity change. The new firm did a handful of landscaping jobs in fall 2013, but now it refers that work to other trusted businesses in the area.
The change was a significant effort, involving a marketing firm out of Atlanta that helped the company decide on a new name and brand. “We ironed out the logo and tagline, and trademarked all of that and redid the website and all of the signage,” Jackson says.
The rollout on January 1 resulted in more brand clarity, Jackson says. Beyond that, the business is more strategic now. All marketing and training is centered on turf care.
“We wanted to build a business that was more recession-proof with more recurring revenue,” Jackson says. “We were so sensitive to the economy before and the business cycle that the business was unsustainable because you have to let all your key people go anytime there is a slowdown in the economy.”
Jackson says the only mistake the company made was not doing this sooner. “I would have done this three years ago, but it took years to decided to take the plunge,” he says, adding that this new direction veered away from the company’s roots, at first making it more challenging to pull the trigger on the rebranding.
But the rebranding has not only resulted in laser focus from a strategic planning perspective, but it also has motivated employees.
“It has been positive for team members because they feel like they are part of a business that is growing and on the upswing,” Jackson says, noting the new uniforms and signage, along with the modern fleet the company maintains. “They feel like they work for a company that is getting better each day.”
Revealing a brand DNA
“It’s not just the story, it’s how you tell it.” This inspirational one-liner, along with a crowd of hand-written ideas, notes-to-self and reminders, cover the windows of Ken Hutcheson’s office at U.S. Lawns headquarters in Orlando, Fla. It’s a new space – the company left the building it inhabited for 89 years and shuffled up the street to a facility that, Hutcheson says, “matches our brand DNA.” The stretches of windows (that managers use as marker boards), and messaging, are one example of the openness and honesty that wraps around a redefined mission to deliver 100 percent customer and employee retention.
“We’ve had unprecedented growth over the past five years, continuing on the heels of growth for many years, and we were at the point of 260-plus offices and thousands of customers – and somewhere around 12,000 family members that our company was impacting,” Hutcheson says.
The sheer volume of business, geographic spread (covering 44 states) and franchisee expansion creates “critical implications.”
“We must deliver a consistent, replicable customer experience, and equally important because we are in the service industry, we have to also deliver that consistent employee experience,” Hutcheson says.
U.S. Lawns had always been operationally focused, Hutcheson says. “But to really take your business to a different level, an exponential level, you have to deliver a full experience,” he continues.
That experience was fading out – or at least it was difficult to clearly define when there were so many people involved in the U.S. Lawns brand, from clients to franchise owners and employees. Longtime members of the U.S. Lawns team spoke the language. But new operations in places farther away from home office – well, Hutcheson wasn’t quite sure.
A rebranding initiative was necessary to establish consistency, set the bar high for customer and employee experience, and prepare the company for future growth.
“First, we had to figure out not what we wanted to be, but who we really are,” Hutcheson says. U.S. Lawns brought in some branding consultants who embedded themselves in the business. “They went on the road and interviewed customers and employees, they became stalkers in our office, attending meetings,” he says.
Then, the team presented some key words and phrases that described what they saw, U.S. Lawns’ brand DNA. The messaging must reach several audiences, including U.S. Lawns’ three business sectors – franchisors, franchisees and strategic accounts. And the many circles of people the company touches – home office, employees, franchise owners, customers, prospective clients and the communities where U.S. Lawns’ people work.
Some of the phrases on the list included: improve your community, improve your life, competitive camaraderie, disciplined, stable, responsive, Americana and, most importantly, 100 percent customer, employee and franchisee satisfaction.
So with the brand defined, how do you launch it? How do you get the newest U.S. Lawns franchise owner up to speed on the brand, the service promise and the culture in 140 characters or less?
Rebranding involves visuals, but equally important are tactics. From a visual perspective, U.S. Lawns changed its theme color to blue, and with that came new uniforms, truck logos, fresh marketing and more. It worked with partners in the uniform business and truck financing to assist franchisees as they made the switch. The message was communicated at every level, from owners to gardeners in the field, from customers to community members.
Hutcheson thought the rollout process would take two years. It was completed in six months, thanks to “competitive camaraderie.”
But, he stresses, this is a journey. “Our greatest challenge now is to keep that momentum,” he says. This will be accomplished by introducing more tactical brand-focused initiatives – an employee retention program, tools to elevate the customer service experience, a mission to “be the best place to work.”
A rebranding initiative is successful if it changes lives. “You can’t do this for personal satisfaction,” he says. “It has to be a project that will change the life of the prospective customer, that employee, the home office, employees and the owner.”