Spotlight on Success

Supplement - Franchise Guide

Steven Keys, U.S. Lawns. Joe Tanner & Steve Smith, Nutri-Lawn.

June 20, 2012

Steven Keys, U.S. Lawns

Steven Keys says that without the backing of a strong franchise model he wouldn’t have been able to grow as rapidly as he has. Keys currently operates in eight different territories in two states with six individual offices, and he’ll likely be adding a seventh by the end of this year.

All of this has been during a tough economy. Keys says his success can be boiled down to two factors – financial management and cold calling – both of which he says U.S. Lawns’ headquarters has supported him in.

“Successful financial management means staying in a good cash position,” says Keys, who currently operates in both Georgia and South Carolina. “When the economy goes bad you can’t get a loan and this becomes even more important. For many, the work is still there, they just don’t have the cash flow available to keep business going. I believe if a business is in a good position going into a bad economy they can continue to sustain it even through difficult times. That’s what we’ve done.”

Keys says that the U.S. Lawns franchise model has fully supported him in financial management. He’s able to keep track of the financials in the most detailed fashion. “You need to know your position in terms of the financials at all times,” Keys says. “We’re looking at the profit and loss statement every other day to see if we’re profitable for the month. That’s while we still have time to make changes. If you’re not dissecting your company until the end of the month, you’re already too late. How can you even know if you’re making money on a job? You need to track everything from materials to man hours.”

Besides full financial support Keys says that learning to make a good cold call has been the other facet that’s contributed to his success. In his previous ownership of a residential lawn care business Keys says he picked up work through flyers and word of mouth. But when he learned to make a good cold call with the U.S. Lawns’ model, it changed the ballgame.

“When I first started out with U.S. Lawns I was slumping a little so the home office sent a gentleman over who taught me how to properly do a cold call,” remembers Keys. “In fact, the first one I did, I sold. So I started to grow my business by cold calling. Then we also got referrals coming in. A lot of people don’t like to ask for business but that’s what works – and I promise it does. Sometimes it comes down to persistence.”

Where persistence can really pay off is the commercial market, Keys says. It’s very easy to be told the manager is busy and to get turned away. While many companies wouldn’t bother trying back again, Keys does, and that makes a difference. “Even if a manager tells me ‘No,’ I still put a reminder in the system to call back again in six months – maybe the middle of the summer when stuff is really growing,” he says. “You’d be amazed how many jobs we get from customers that initially said no.”

Keys’ success has led him to become the first-ever winner of the U.S. Lawns’ President’s Award. The company says it’s because he goes “above and beyond.” Keys enjoys helping his peers and encouraging other U.S. Lawns franchisees as both a mentor and adviser. “We’re getting to the point where a lot of the guys I helped out over the years have built up their businesses to the point where they’re now helping me,” laughs Keys. “They’ve always known they could come to me for advice and now I can go to them, too.”

Joe Tanner & Steve Smith, Nutri-Lawn

When it comes to making a great sales pitch, it’s hard to beat experience. Joe Tanner who handles sales and service for Nutri-Lawn Halifax in Nova Scotia says that the longer he’s in the business, the more confident he is making a sale. But he also says that being part of a franchise has really contributed to his success.

The Nutri-Lawn franchise model provides a support system that Tanner says he wouldn’t have if he were doing it on his own. “While the employees in the field are seen a lot more, the inside staff are key players in it with us and we couldn’t do it without their support,” says Tanner, who was recently added to the Nutri-Lawn’s “wall of fame” in their new office after exceeding $400,000 in sales as well as surpassing $1 million in both sales and production. “Overall the Nutri-Lawn franchise model supports us in many ways.”

Steve Smith, general manager with Nutri-Lawn Halifax says that even the communication among other franchise owners has been a major support. “We have the ability to share ideas, information and experiences,” Smith says. “That support system of people in the industry is invaluable and one of the greatest benefits of being in a franchise system. When we started using a new weed control last year, for example, it might have been new to us but it wasn’t new to Nutri-Lawn as a franchise so we could reach out to other franchises for their expertise. That’s true of not only a new product or application but even new marketing ideas. You can bounce ideas off of one another and talk about what did and didn’t work.”

Support is also felt from headquarters. “We have a full-time agronomist on staff and an agronomic manager that supports the franchise from that standpoint,” Smith says. “He travels to our franchise at least once a year to run training sessions with the staff. I can only assume that if we weren’t a part of a franchise group that we wouldn’t have those things so easily at our disposal. We are often able to get answers immediately.”

Diligence is also important, says Tanner, particularly when it comes to following up on estimates. “You can do the estimate but if you don’t follow up, a lot of times the customer might see you as not being very interested in the work and they may go with the person that is staying on top of it. Following up is so important,” he says.

Both Tanner and Smith also contribute much of the franchise’s success to customer service. “You have to care about what you’re doing – whatever it is that you do,” Tanner says. “When you take pride in what you do, that shows and customers recognize that. We have great guys that really care about what they do when they’re out there. They put a lot of care and pride into their work so I can sell jobs being confident that they’re going to follow through with the hard work.”

Smith agrees. “This industry always comes back to customer service in the end,” he says. “Your competition can buy the same fertilizer, weed control, aerators, and even drive the same truck. But, at the end of the day, it comes down to the level of customer service you’re providing so that the customer will continue to do business with you. It’s not all about the lawn having zero weeds and being 100 percent perfect. It’s about making sure that the customer is happy at the end of the day. That will actually keep the customer coming back more than the perfect lawn.”