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Balance the business

Features - Lawn Care, Industry News

How targeted website traffic helped Springfield Lawn Barber increase its margins.

Brooke N. Bates | December 18, 2013

lawn barberRon Richardson was at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon last year in Springfield, Ill., chatting with three long-time Springfield residents. They’d lived there at least long enough to know of Springfield Lawn Barber, the lawn care and landscaping business Richardson has been running for 15 years.

But when he mentioned the company, nothing happened.

“I’ve got 1,500 clients, and they’d never heard of me,” Richardson says. “I’ve spent hundreds of thousands on radio and direct mail and advertising, and these people have never heard of me. That kind of clinched it that we had to make a change.”

It was obvious that Springfield Lawn Barber’s traditional marketing methods were becoming less cost-effective, and even obsolete, as consumer attention shifted online. Of course, Richardson had already developed a website about seven years earlier. So, he headed online and started searching for keywords related to his business.

But none of the queries he typed – from landscaping to fertilization to weed or pest control – pointed to his website. While he got plenty of phone calls and emails from existing clients requesting service, he was missing out on much of the market. If others knew of Lawn Barber at all, it was as a mowing service.

So last winter, Richardson made a strategic decision to invest in new technology – a website upgrade and new mobile app that would make Lawn Barber easier to find and access.
 

Name game.

The root of the company’s identity issue was simple: It was all in the name.

“The biggest problem I had as a business is that I’m Springfield Lawn Barber,” Richardson says. “That name does not say that we do landscaping. That name does not say that we spray for weeds. That name does not say that we kill bugs. The name obviously says mowing, and for many years – for every year since this year – mowing was always the biggest part of the business by far. But mowing is low-margin, high-problem; we wanted to grow the other sides of the business.”

The other sides of the business – fertilization/weed control/chemical application – are more lucrative, with higher margins and more profit. To grow them, Richardson applied strategic online advertising.

Of course, the new company website, www.springfieldlawnbarber.com, details all of the company’s services across pages of pictures and text, laid out intuitively to help visitors find whatever they’re seeking. But by using search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising sparingly on certain keywords, Richardson targeted those looking specifically for the services he wanted to grow.

“We don’t pay for any keywords that have anything to do with mowing,” says Richardson, who worked with a web developer to launch the site in April, perfect it by May and begin PPC in June. “We’re all about landscaping, shrub trimming, killing weeds and bugs, things of that nature. That’s been our focus, and we’ve seen more new customers because of it than we thought we would see.”

Mobile makes it easy for existing customers to order service

The purpose of Springfield Lawn Barber’s strategic technology shift wasn’t just to attract new customers through a website. In fact, before Ron Richardson even thought about getting found online, he was thinking about the hundreds of customers who had already found – and continued to use – his services.

He wanted to make it easier for them to do business with Lawn Barber again. Sure, they could call – and the phone would be answered – or they could email – and receive a reply, usually within minutes. But he wanted to do more. He wanted to give them the power to simply order service.

Richardson turned to a mobile app that could simplify the process into a few quick swipes.

“We use QuickBooks Pro, so all of our customers are in the system by their address,” Richardson says. “So the way the app is designed is that clients simply have to put in their address and then what they want done. They don’t have to input their name, their phone number; just their address. It makes the ordering process easier.”

Mobile service orders come in as emails, which are quickly addressed. Dozens of customers are already using the app to make “reordering” more convenient – which ends up reducing the call volume, as well.

“The goal was to eliminate a lot of phone calls and also to give people the opportunity to contact us when they’re thinking about it,” Richardson says. “I use it myself: I’m out in the yard when I see something. I have my phone, so I go ahead and send myself a work order, basically, is how it comes in.

“When people are walking around their yard, that’s when the app really is valuable. It makes it easier for them to order service. ”

That targeted approach made the web much more powerful than traditional mass marketing methods, which may have produced a lot of phone calls – but also a lot of tire-kickers. With focus, the website funneled hot leads right where Richardson wanted them, balancing the three segments of his business within just a few months.

“We’re seeing exactly what we hoped to see, which is: people click on us and they call and we answer the phone,” Richardson says. “And then we run the estimate the same day, and we execute the job within a couple of days. Clients love that kind of service; all we really needed was that initial phone call, email or contact.”
 

Answer the call.

Basically, what happens after the website delivers leads is even more important than the technology itself. Execution is the foundation that allows Lawn Barber’s website to succeed. The cornerstone is Richardson’s adamant expectation that “we will answer the phone, we will respond to emails, and we will run those estimates – and I mean today.” That attentive, accessible work ethic carries through the ranks to every aspect of each job.

The crews know their day isn’t done at a certain time or when they finish their route sheet; it’s only done after they check with the router to make sure no one else needs help.

“In this industry, what clients want is execution; that’s what it boils down to,” Richardson says. “Any business that’s good executes well, and has people that are empowered and can make decisions and know what’s expected of them.”

For employees to be empowered as the service scope shifts, Richardson needs cross-trained crews that are as flexible as they are efficient. Their skills must be as balanced as the business, so they can shift seamlessly from grub control to tree trimming.

With these pillars in place, the website doesn’t just make Lawn Barber’s service more convenient for customers to find – it also makes the business easier for Richardson to run. The balance of services from targeted advertising allows an operational balance, as well.

“From a management perspective, it’s much easier to have all three facets of the business in balance,” Richardson says. “It’s really hard to run a large mowing operation. We were doing seven mowing rigs and we’d only have two fertilizer rigs and two project rigs. That’s just out of balance, not only in sales but manpower.”

The true test will come next spring when Springfield Lawn Barber hits peak demand season. Richardson plans to pull the plug on all traditional mass advertising and focus all efforts on the Internet. With the laser-focus of online tools, he has more control than ever to keep the business segments balanced.

“The biggest differential between us and everybody else boils down to management,” Richardson says. “Technology helps, great tools help, a genius team helps, but we are only as good as our management. Even without the technology, we had a nice, strong business. It’s just strengthened the areas where, long-term, it will make us more profitable.”


 

The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.