Landscape companies can start to all look the same to customers. White trucks with green lettering. Red trucks with white lettering. And names that follow a standard convention – owner’s name plus landscaping or lawn care – can be limiting when a company wants to expand into hardscaping, snow removal or other services.
That was the problem facing Josh Sherman in the spring of 2015. Sherman started Great Lawns as a high school student and grew the Lexington, Kentucky-based company to a $600,000 maintenance and installation business with 30 employees.
But after 16 years, the company needed a change. It was struggling to attract enough talented employees and to stand out from its competitors. So, Sherman hired his longtime friend Keller Ross as a partner and operations manager, and the two decided to rebrand the company.
“We knew if we wanted to be in this game with all the players … we had to do something. Great Lawns would disappear in that (market),” Ross says. “We thought about it, but didn’t think about it long. If we were going to invest in something, we were going to invest in this.”
HOW IT WORKED.
Ross and Sherman met with Bullhorn Creative, a marketing company in Lexington, to develop their new name and brand. In fact, Bullhorn’s partner, Will Coffman, helped start Great Lawns with Sherman all those years ago, so he knew a little bit about the business.
The process, Ross says, involved talking a lot about what Great Lawns was, and what he and Sherman wanted the company to be. Then, the marketing firm came back with about 150 names that they voted down.
Eventually, they settled on the new name – Plot – and the company colors – purple and white. Ross says he wasn’t sure the crews would like it, but he liked the simple name, and that it was different than anything else in their market.
On a Friday afternoon last June, Ross and Sherman held a party after work, brought in a food truck and announced the company would now offer a 401(k), life insurance and a better health insurance program.
They also had a local shoe store come out and gave every employee a new pair of boots. Then, they showed the team the new trucks and new uniforms.
“One day we weren’t Plot and the next day we were,” Ross says. “Our website changed overnight. We decaled trucks in one weekend.”
The rebrand process meant a new logo, uniforms, truck decals and website, but it went beyond the cosmetic. It signaled an investment in the company’s employees and served as an outward sign to the industry that it was focused on growth.
“It was unbelievable. They were standing up and clapping in the end. Just looking at the guys, they loved it,” Ross says. “They go home and tell their wives, ‘We’re in good Shape.’”
After the launch, Ross noticed a change in the employees: They were more focused and productive, and injuries dropped.
“They started coming in earlier. They were shaving. They were getting haircuts more often,” Ross says. “It’s crazy, a culture change just like that. They’re proud of the logo; they’re proud of the company.”
And people outside the company noticed the change too. A few days after the announcement, Ross says, eight people showed up from Plot’s competitors to ask for a job.
“They had heard we were investing in the company and our employees,” Ross says. “They were coming from the top-tier companies. They were knocking on our front door saying, ‘We want to be part of this now.’”
Coffman, at Bullhorn, says the rebrand was a success because it was an external manifestation of lots of internal changes the company was going through.
“They wanted to build something successful and forward leaning – a dynamic thing, not static,” he says.
A few days before the rebranding announcement, Plot sent a letter to its clients to let them know about the change, and announce Ross joining the company.
Overall, Ross says, they were happy with the change. They asked if Sherman was remaining with the firm (he is) and many wrote back to say they liked the new, professional look.
Plot posted about $600,000 in revenue this year, and the costs for the rebranding – time spent with the marketing company, new paint for the trucks, uniforms, etc. – were about $65,000. Ross and Sherman began the process in May and it was completed in June.
“We microwaved it because we wanted to get it out. Especially in summer, we wanted to make a splash,” Ross says.
Ultimately, Plot hired two of those eight guys who showed up out of the blue, and will need to hire even more in the spring to handle its planned growth.
Ross says the new name and focus have been a boon to the company, and recommends that landscapers considering a similar change keep an open mind.
“Most business owners are control freaks naturally, and have not worked with people who are good with branding,” he says. “Josh just let down his whole guard. He let people say Great Lawns maybe isn’t a good name. A lot of companies would say, ‘That’s my name. You don’t tell me my colors need to change, my trucks need to change.’ It’s been the best decision we’ve ever made.”