After working in the lawn care industry, Terry Jungels and Mark Cavin recognized what was missing from most companies was a little TLC. So in 1989, together they founded Total Lawn Care (TLC) to provide a higher level of service – not only to meet the agronomic needs of each lawn, but also the individual needs of each customer. Primarily a lawn care company serving residential clients, TLC sees a range of lawn conditions across Indianapolis.
In older areas of town, lawns have built up fertile organic matter over the years. But in areas of new construction, topsoil has been removed to leave behind clay, gravel and low fertility. To solve each property’s specific challenges, the team had to tailor their solutions with a personal approach.
“We always try to have a relationship with our customer,” Jungels says. “When we started, we wanted to knock on every door and we wanted to shake everyone’s hand.”
As the business has grown, Jungels and Cavin have hired technicians who can take ownership of the relationships along each route, becoming the face of the company that customers can recognize.
“Some companies will have a service manager, maybe a sales manager or a production manager,” Jungels says. “Our technicians handle all those responsibilities, so they will go out and meet the customer to bring them on board, they provide the treatment, and then if those customers have a problem, they can contact those individuals. There’s no separation of responsibilities, so they get to develop a relationship with our customers. Then they’re doing business with an individual as opposed to a company.”
For that arrangement to work, it requires technicians who are trained across service areas and committed to long-term care. That begins with TLC’s year-long training and shadowing program to onboard new hires, and continues with regular product training from vendors.
“We have new employees ride with another individual for one whole year to see how we do things the TLC way,” Jungels says. “They’ll see different problems in lawns throughout a whole growing season, and they’ll see how we interact with our customers. Then, we provide them with a small route in their second year to develop their skills; generally that area is near our home base where we can provide the most support.”
Because TLC invests in employees from day one by committing to a full year of training, Jungels finds that employees are more willing to invest in TLC.
As a result, turnover is low. Most employees have worked there several years, and some more than 20. That employee retention helps support TLC’s customer retention, which steadily measures around 90 percent.
“When they stick around for a year of training with us, they tend to be with us,” Jungels says.
“We don’t have every original employee that started with us, but most of them have been with us five years minimum, so they start getting to know their customers. When you develop a personal relationship with someone, it’s just human nature that you want to do a better job for them.”
In addition to the natural power of personal relationships, TLC put other systems and strategies in place to motivate employees to grow their territories – while also keeping workloads in check.
The organic-based approach
Though Terry Jungels studied soil fertility and soil chemistry at Purdue University, he didn’t want to rely too heavily on chemistry to grow healthy, green lawns. He started TLC Total Lawn Care with Mark Cavin committed to Integrated Pest Management that highlighted cultural practices and minimized chemical applications.
“We just wanted to reduce our needs on chemistry and use more biology,” Jungels says.
With algae blooms increasing around Indianapolis, TLC responded two years ago by building an organic-based program around Holganix, a probiotic product. Every morning, TLC technicians mix fertilizer in with the refrigerated Holganix solution for same-day applications that cover multiple issues in one round. “The absorption of the material is just better, so everything we put in there gets utilized almost 100 percent by the plant,” Jungels says. “This product allows us to reduce our nitrates by up to 80 percent and our pesticides by about 50 percent.”
While the organic-based program may cost customers more per application, it requires fewer visits throughout the year because pre-emergents and fertilizers are combined. If pesticide is still necessary, it’s injected through a separate pump for targeted application.
“The cost is plainly higher, but we also feel like we’re providing a better benefit to the homeowner and our guys,” Jungels says. “We’re trying to reduce the runoff to our reservoirs and rivers here, and if we can utilize these things to help reduce our nitrates, it’s a big savings for the environment.”
By making technicians part of the planning process every spring, TLC makes the company’s success a common goal. The owners share total projected revenues with the staff, setting goals by tying a bonus percentage to each increment of growth.
Room for growth.
Collaborative planning and thoughtful scheduling ensure that technicians can “comfortably handle” their territories, while leaving room for growth and time for attentive service. By staying slightly overstaffed and knowing the team’s capacity, Jungles knows when to hire so workloads don’t get overwhelming.
“We empower our technicians to know what our goals and numbers are and what we need out of them,” Jungels says. “It motivates them to continue in their territory to keep it growing and prosperous, because they get rewarded on those goals. We split (the rewards) between the guys equally. Referrals and leads come from all over and may lead to growth in other areas, so we do it as a team.”
TLC relies on referrals, rather than marketing programs, to sustain business. Through Angie’s List, for example, the company has been named a Super Service Winner every year since 2006. TLC also drives word-of-mouth by having its trucks and yard signs concentrated in certain ZIP codes, and by getting involved in local events and sponsorships.
But, at the end of the day, customers want green lawns, so the lawn care company’s ultimate goal is healthy turf. Over the years, TLC has tweaked a five-step application program built on integrated pest management to develop strong, deep roots so plants can build resistance to drought and disease. A couple of years ago, TLC even switched to an organic-based program to continue their quest for a healthier ecosystem.
By setting agronomic success as the ultimate goal, TLC strives for more effective products and more skills and knowledge to tackle any lawn issue. Rather than aiming at growth in its customer base, TLC sets out to grow the green lawns that customers want, knowing that the results will speak for themselves.
“When we developed our business, we wanted to develop things first agronomically and then look at the economics of it,” Jungels says. “We didn’t want to base ourselves on the economics of making money. We sort of hoped that the economic success would follow with the agronomic success. Now, we have a nice business and we’re one of the larger local lawn care businesses in Indianapolis.”