Peter Bugden has been operating Nutrilawn in Halifax, Canada since 1990. During that time, he has won Nutrilawn’s Franchise of the Year award multiple times. He has also experienced significant growth within the past three years, despite the economic recession. The secret to successful franchising, Bugden says, is taking advantage of support systems and developing a strong business plan and sticking to it.
Why did you get involved in franchising and how long have you been doing it?
I was living in St. John’s, Newfoundland when I first got involved 22 years ago, and I felt that Nutrilawn was doing a better, more consistent job than local lawn care companies. Probably the biggest reason is that they weren’t jumping between lawn care, snow removal, sodding and building decks. I was in the medical business, but I was interested in starting my own business. I didn’t really think about starting a service business that wasn’t a franchise, because I wanted some assistance with developing customers.
To be honest with you, it really wasn’t lawn care so much as the homeowner service industry that attracted me. In the medical business, I felt that my individual efforts were sometimes overlooked and that I had less control over the end result. With homeowners, I felt that I could be successful on merit versus just price.
Our customers tend to look at a number of factors beyond price, and that allows you to focus on the delivery system and product. I believe that’s true of individual homeowners, in general. Commercial work did become even a small part of my business until I had already been here for many years. Now, it’s a sliver of my overall business. I built relationships on the residential side first, and then a customer would say, ‘I’m the Vice President of such-and-such, we have ten properties I need you to take care of.’
Nutrilawn was fairly new 22 years ago. It was established enough to be attractive, but new enough to have some exciting territories available. Ecology-friendly lawn care sold me initially. When I started in 1990, environmental issues were first starting to be discussed. I learned they had good systems in place to allow for profitable growth.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of franchising?
Nutrilawn offered proven methods that would allow me to go out and grow my business without spending time researching which type of trucks or products to use. That allowed me to concentrate on individual, local things such as hiring personnel and getting customers, rather than worrying about where I would buy uniforms, what color they would be, or the best type of delivery system. Franchises also offer business management, sales, branding, operations and communications systems.
Another advantage is quickly sharing the knowledge of others. When I first started, the guys who had been in it for a couple years were a great source of information.
If there’s a disadvantage, I suppose it’s the effect that another franchise in another location can have on your business. If a Nutrilawn operation somewhere is doing well and turning on customers, that’s a good thing in my marketplace. But particularly with social networking, there’s a great deal of potential for negative spinoff from something that I have no control over. If there was a Nutrilawn franchise doing something customers perceived as not a good thing, that could affect me in Halifax.
What advice would you have for someone who is thinking about entering the world of franchising?
I would tell them that what franchising gives you are proven systems that will take you where you want to go. It allows you to go out and get the customers. The amount that you spend on royalties is a small charge compared to what you get out of it.
Of course, you have to do your homework. The brand is important, and so is the individual industry. You’ve got to have a good feel from the corporate guys. Talk to the individual franchise owners and see if there’s any consistency between them. If you begin to hear similar stories about how they achieve their success, then you can be pretty sure that there’s a system or culture in place that directs people that way.
What type of personality is best-suited for being a franchisee?
The guys that have been successful in Nutrilawn are proud of their successes, but they understand that there is knowledge to be gained from others. They put success ahead of themselves and the group ahead of their own egos. If you want to reinvent the wheel all of the time, franchising is probably not for you. Yet for anybody that puts customers and their employees ahead of egos, franchising is a fairly safe method of going.
What is the biggest challenge you face being a franchisee and how did you overcome it?
Developing business plans and keeping focused on them. In our climate, quite often you spend 3-4 months developing your plan for the year. Then you go crazy, dust it off at the end of the year and see if you came anywhere close to doing what you had planned to do. You have to keep that plan on your desktop and make sure that week by week, day by day it’s proceeding as you want it to. There are tools and systems in place that can help. Nutrilawn has a dashboard that allows us to see very quickly if we’re on track, alerts us when we’re off, and gives us a chance to get back in. It’s a challenge, but that helps bring things back into focus when we’re heading in the wrong direction.