Jonathan Orcutt was about 12 years old when he learned his first lesson in efficiency. Around that age, he started mowing lawns in his neighborhood with his family’s old 21-inch, 100-pound push mower. When one of his neighbors bought a new, lightweight, self-propelled mulching mower, he negotiated a deal to mow their lawn for free in exchange for using the mower to do several other yards.
“I learned the importance of working smarter instead of harder,” he says. “By making my life easier, I was able to produce more work.”
Orcutt continued doing landscaping and lawn care throughout high school and college, and worked in construction after graduating. “I always thought I wanted to start a business that was more professional than a landscape company,” he says. “I was afraid of falling into the landscaper stereotype – working long days, long hours and fighting through the grind.”
When he asked himself what he knew best and enjoyed most, though, he kept coming back to landscaping. So, when he started Driven Landscapes in 2012 at age 26, Orcutt knew he’d have to work smarter, not harder, to avoid that grind and set his company apart.
Driven Landscapes is almost entirely focused on the residential market around Norfolk, Massachusetts – more than 99 percent residential, to be precise, with revenue of $1.2 million in 2016.
“We don’t bother quoting commercial work,” Orcutt says. “The only commercial work we have is because residential clients happen to manage a commercial property.”
It took Orcutt a couple years of running Driven Landscapes before he realized he couldn’t call or visit every client himself. He needed more scalable systems to ensure consistent quality and communication as the company grew.
“It was about the second or third year in business, when we started approaching a half million dollars, that I realized things needed to change,” Orcutt says. “I realized I couldn’t be on every jobsite, putting out every fire. I had to find ways to standardize the work without making clients feel like it was standardized, like they’re just a number.”
Orcutt began developing standard operating procedures to align employees and clients to the Driven way. It started with a month of daily training sessions, talking to employees about each service and procedure. Since then, the company has developed onboarding manuals and new hires are paired with a field manager or senior crew leader for one-on-one training.
Educating clients, however, was another challenge entirely.
“There are a multitude of ways to perform each serivce, whether it’s mowing a lawn, pruning a shrub or spreading mulch,” Orcutt says.
“Every landscape company does it their own way, so clients are accustomed to services that aren’t always consistent with your practices. We learned early on that we had to onboard clients to how we operate, what services we offer and what they include.”
Orcutt says they did experience some pushback at first.
“Clients would say, ‘My old landscape provider did it this way,’ and you can’t say, ‘Well, that’s why they’re your old provider and we’re the new one.’ Instead, we took time to explain why we do it a certain way and how it benefits them.”
Clients who wanted their lawns mowed every other week had to understand why Driven mowed on a weekly basis during peak growing season. If clients refused to accept the new system, Orcutt was able to focus on those who better aligned with the business.
“It’s important to set expectations with clients as opposed to trying to meet theirs,” he says, “because you can’t be everything to everyone, as my mother always said.”
Orcutt invested in a full-time office administrator who handles client communications. She talks on the phone with each new client (or corresponds via email) to figure out what services they want, and then explains what each service entails.
Definitions of each service are posted on the website and included within a quote, and clients receive emails before and after certain services (such as post-installation watering and care instructions after any seeding or planting jobs.)
“Setting these expectations with our clients saves a tremendous amount of back-and-forth,” he says. “If you don’t take time to educate clients on what they’re about to receive, it can create questions once they get the quote.
“We looked at all the questions clients were asking and found ways to answer before they even asked. Being proactive and educating them minimizes the amount of questions and administrative labor so we can prevent fires instead of putting them out.”
Once Orcutt scaled his business to surpass $1 million in revenue, he decided to share what he’d learned with other business owners by franchising his model. After two years of building the program, Driven Landscapes Franchising launched in the summer of 2016.
The first Driven Landscapes franchise opened in April in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, led by two former employees who had worked for Orcutt since 2013. Orcutt is working on a few more locations throughout New England.
“We aren’t in the business of selling franchises to anyone,” he says. “We want to work with qualified candidates who fit our culture. Our success depends on our franchisees’ success, so we’re going to be very selective about who we work with.”