Dozens of LCOs across the country have received calls and letters from Matt Jesson, president and owner of Green Lawn Fertilizing and Green Pest Solutions, asking if he can come visit them. Those initial visits often develop into meaningful mentorships and close friendships – with plenty more calls, visits and golf games along the way – as Jesson soaks up advice from the most successful lawn care leaders.
On a map in his office, pins mark the 40-plus companies Jesson and his team have visited over the past 14 years, spanning 20 states and into Canada. “Every business is doing something better than you are,” Jesson says. “You can always improve and learn from others.”
By integrating these best practices into his own company, Jesson and his team have grown Green Lawn Fertilizing to over $13 million through 14 years of consistent growth – while giving back to the industry even more than they’re gleaning from it.
Building a strong foundation.
Jesson’s landscaping career began in fifth grade, when he and his older brother, Keith, started Jesson Landscaping.
By his senior year of high school, the business had 75 customers. When his brother went off to college, Jesson bought him out and continued growing the company. While Jesson earned his marketing degree at West Chester University and played defensive tackle for the football team, he hired a full-time employee to manage the business and several college friends helped out. In 2002, after a couple of years working in the business development department of half.com, he decided to follow his dream and focus solely on the landscaping company.
In 2004, Jesson Landscaping officially became Green Lawn Fertilizing. He dropped his name because he wanted a brand that easily explained his services. But, at the time, no one on his leadership team knew much about the business of lawn care, so he used a treat made in Philadelphia to get on the good side of industry veterans.
“I wrote letters to several business owners who were on Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 list and included some Tastykakes,” he says. “I asked if I could bring my team to visit, and several businesses welcomed the opportunity.”
That first year, Jesson reached out to Jim Campanella, who was president of Lawn Dawg. After visiting each other’s companies, Campanella agreed to consult Jesson on weekly phone calls, where he reviewed his numbers and answered his questions. Early on, Jesson sent Campanella a blank score card from Pebble Beach golf resort with both of their names on it; by the date, Jesson wrote, “When we hit 5,000 customers.”
“He listened more than he spoke, and asked a lot of great questions,” Campanella says.
In the spring of 2007, Jesson booked a tee time at California-based Pebble Beach and accommodations at a nearby resort. He flew Campanella there to help him celebrate 5,000 customers and over $2 million in revenue, with the game of golf he’d promised.
Planning for growth.
Joe Kucik, owner of Real Green Systems, remembers the first call he got from Jesson 15 years ago. It was about a study Jesson was doing to evaluate Real Green’s software and would share with Kucik.
“I’m thinking, here’s this little company doing a big software evaluation? I was expecting it to be a couple of pages, maybe a checklist,” Kucik says. “It turned out to be a 150-page document. When I saw it, I was blown away, like holy cow, this guy is doing things the right way.”
Jesson’s penchant for planning is one of the first things people notice about him.
When he brings his team to visit other companies, they bring “about 400 spreadsheets,” says Chris Senske, president of Senske Lawn & Tree Care, based in Kennewick, Washington. “Any number that could be produced from operating a business, Matt has a spreadsheet for it.”
Jesson’s team tracks more than 50 daily reports and 100 weekly reports, constantly analyzing data to fine-tune operations. When he launched Green Pest Solutions as a separately branded division in 2012, for example, it was after two years of writing business plans and meeting with leaders like Ian Robinson at Massey Services about combining pest and lawn care services.
“Matt’s an impressive guy – engaging, approachable and personable,” Robinson says. “How could you not instantly like him and sense ‘here’s a guy on a mission.’ He knows a tremendous amount, but never presumes to know it all.”
About six years ago, Jesson invited nine other LCOs to meet twice a year as a peer group and openly share financials, sales and marketing strategies and results. When Senske received the invitation, his lawn care business was stagnant – as were many around the country. He asked his VP of operations to “humor” him and attend the first meeting.
“He came back so energized and excited about how, with the right marketing mix, we could grow lawn care again,” Senske says. “It has more than doubled, almost tripled, with double-digit growth since Matt, with his youthful exuberance, enthusiasm and energy, inspired us to reach for the stars and grow the lawn care business.”
Beyond the peer group, Jesson willingly shares advice and data with anyone who asks, welcoming at least half a dozen companies to visit his operations each year.
“I’ve always tried to have an open door to any companies that want to improve,” Jesson says. “That was one thing Jim Campanella told me. He said, ‘Matt, I’m going to help you; just make sure you give back when you’re able to and help other young leaders grow.’”
Drive to be the best.
In March 2018, Jesson will graduate from a three-year executive education program at Harvard Business School.
Two years ago, Jesson announced a 20-year plan targeting consistent 13 percent annual growth with a goal of hitting $100 million. “My goal has always been to have great leaders and operate the business today like a $50 or $100 million business, because we’re going to get there,” Jesson says.
Between growing his business exponentially, building a national network of like-minded leaders, enjoying season tickets to the Philadelphia Eagles and regularly hitting the greens (with a goal of one day playing Augusta National), Jesson still makes family time a priority. Kristy, his wife of six years, is his “rock and strongest supporter,” and they enjoy summer vacations to Ocean City, New Jersey, with their 2-year-old daughter Juliet and newborn baby, Joslyn, who arrived in late August 2017.
In fact, Campanella says Jesson turned down a golf trip invitation in September so he could stay home with his wife and daughters.
“Any business owner in this industry should aspire to be like Matt,” Campanella says. “He demonstrates pride and professionalism in everything he does and says. He never stops trying to learn, because he has a drive to be the very best at everything he does – in both his personal and professional life.”