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Features - 2013 Franchise Guide

Owning a franchise allows contractors to offer a service they can’t get off the ground on their own.

June 3, 2013
Brian Horn

No matter what he tried, Ben Goodall kept hitting a wall when it came to growing the lawn care side of his company,

His maintenance business was just fine, but branching out to lawn care was proving to be a big challenge for Goodall. But instead of scrapping the idea all together, he went a different avenue and invested money in a NaturaLawn of America franchise.

With proven systems, and loads of experience supporting him, Goodall was able to break through the wall, and now runs Goodall Landscaping in Topsham, Maine, a maintenance company and owns two NaturaLawn of America franchises to provide lawn care services.

“It’s been a good move for us,” says Goodall, who adds that he’s made 10 times more in revenue with a franchise than he could have with his own lawn care business.

But will it be a good move for you? After all, running your own company and then using a franchise to provide an extra service might hurt the brand of your own company. Plus, how much say is franchise management going to meddle in how you run your own company? And then there is the upfront cost that you have to pay to buy the franchise – about $30,000 for NaturaLawn.

L&L spoke with experienced contractors to gain insight on how the independent company/franchise relationship works.

Separate ways. Goodall runs his two companies as separate entities, and uses NaturaLawn as if it was subcontractor for Goodall Landscaping.

“(Work) would be billed through Goodall, but then, to keep our internal books square, we would pay NaturaLawn like we would any subcontractor,” he says. “Then, on the NaturaLawn side, NaturaLawn doesn’t really sub work to Goodall Landscaping, so the majority of the customers are standalone NaturaLawn customers for the lawn care end of things.

“But obviously, the larger company Goodall feeds NaturaLawn an awful lot of work.” So, customers only have to write out one check for the work, which Goodall sees as an advantage.

“We’re positioning it as a one-stop shop when it comes to the Goodall and NaturaLawn,” he says. “But behind the scenes it is two different companies. But we find that the people like the seamlessness of that alternative.” Goodall has crossover when it comes to office jobs like human resources, but Tom Curdes, owner of Barron’s Lawn Service and Weed Man of Toledo, Ohio, says his operations are completely separate.

Customers get separate bills if they are having their lawn mowed by Barron’s and treated by Weed Man, which has start-up costs that range from $40,000 to $50,000. “There’s a direct division and we don’t co-mingle anything,” says Curdes, who has three franchises and co-owns them with his wife, Rosemarie. Curdes says he keeps his three companies separate (he also has a real estate company) because it’s just easier to manage that way.

But employees have access to each other’s computer systems to avoid working on a customer’s property at the same time. “If we have a Weed Man customer that’s a mowing customer, we make sure that we aren’t out there on the same day trying to do fertilizers as we are mowing,” he says. “We can go right into their history as Weed Man and see what their mowing day is. We always try and work around all of that.

“We have to be more firm on our commitment on our weekly mowing. We can move a fertilizer day easier than we can move a mowing.” While both Goodall and Curdes like to keep the brands separate, they both cross-train technicians to help out when time permits and work has to be done.

“One of the biggest things is sharing the employees during the winter,” Goodall says. “We use NaturaLawn employees to help with the Goodall winter services and during the summer those key employees switch hats and go back over to the NaturaLawn side.”

Marketing. While they like to keep the entities separate, Goodall and Curdes will use one company to get customers for another.

“I’m able to leverage my Goodall landscaping brand to help grow NaturaLawn and on the flipside of that I’m able to leverage my NaturaLawn franchise to grow my landscape company. So it does work well in that regard,” Goodall says.

Curdes says, “You may be on the phone with a Weed Man prospect talking to them, and as you are talking to the Weed Man prospect they may say, ‘I am looking for somebody who can take care of everything for me.’ Well, we have the ability to do that with both companies.”

Both Curdes and Goodall say management at their franchises don’t interfere with how they run their maintenance businesses.

“That’s up to my discretion on how I want to conduct myself on that end,” Goodall says. “But there is a moral standard and ethics that I have to follow.”

But they say their respective franchises have taught them a lot and they apply knowledge and strategies gained from the franchise systems in their maintenance business. “You’re paying for all the systems and all of the ups and downs that NaturaLawn of America had gone through, and hopefully you’re going to avoid all of those costly experiences because you have a system to follow,” Goodall says. “You are buying more or less a blueprint on how to run your business.”

Curdes says he also can call other Weed Man franchisees and pick their brains on topics, on top of what he gets with the systems. “With Weed Man, you have national attention where you can interact with other contractors or other people that own Weed Man franchises,” he says. “I didn’t have that prior to getting involved with Weed Man. I was the lone man out trying to do my thing.”