Ken Hutcheson // President, U.S. Lawns

Departments - Tips from the Top

February 10, 2016


From a really young age, I’ve always had a desire to see things grow, whether it be relationships, animals, plants, whatever, and that was from truly a young age. I would say that was probably fueled by my family, my friends, my work.

After school and even during school, and to be frank, before school, I was working in the horticulture services industry. I was involved in nurseries. My core business was the interior plant service business and that’s where I got to really know people, customers, commercial customers, employees and route work – what it took to really satisfy the needs of the market. So for many years, out of college on up until U.S. Lawns, my core business was interior plant service businesses.

In 1995, I sold my businesses and stepped out for a while. Then I ran into a U.S. Lawns person, and I had already had some involvement off and on actually since they were founded. I actually worked as a consultant to help the founders in ’86. So I stayed in touch with them. In ’95 when I became free again and had nothing to do, I said it might be a fun ride for a couple of weeks or so. That was in 1995.

We strive for 100 percent customer retention. Now understand, that’s a vision. That’s never going to be reality. But that is our vision. So, if you share that with your manager, just those four words – 100 percent customer retention, you’ve just given him an idea of what he needs to do.

If I’m out on a visit to one of our branches and I’m speaking to a crew leader, I’ll share with him these words: 100 percent employee retention. Put that burden on him and tell me he doesn’t treat his newest gardener with maybe a little more care than he would have if he didn’t know he needed to hold himself accountable for keeping that guy another day, another day, another day.

You don’t wait until you need a new customer to look for a new customer. You are marketing all the time. Your best tool to find a new employee is to make sure your current employees are happy, they look good, they speak positively about you and your brand, and they’re at a place where others would want to work. No different than if you’re recruiting customers. The best way to get a customer is to keep your current jobs looking great and to get referrals.

I was at the GIE+EXPO show in October sitting at some round tables and I was sitting with a table with someone who knocked my socks off in a positive way. He’s talking about, with just pride, about what they do. He’s talking about employees and he’s using their names, not their titles. He knows their families. This is a big company, by the way. He knows a little about them. And I’m thinking, “This is why this guy will take his company into the next generation of success. It’s personal. He is close to his customer. He is close to his employee.”

Instead of building your business to satisfy your emotional and financial needs, craft your business model to fulfill the needs of the market and the customer.

I’ve got to tell you the best days I have are when I have no idea how I’m going to get everything done. The best days I have are when it seems like it can’t all be done. Then at the end of the day when you’ve crushed it and you got it done and you’ve moved the company ahead or you’ve moved yourself ahead. The greatest days are stressful days.