Turf Magazine - April, 2014

FEATURES

Franchisors Continue on the Growth Path

Established players seek partners to fill gaps in the U.S. map
By Mike Ingles

If you own a lawn care business, you're being targeted by companies who use algorithms and cloud-computing and can explain to you, in minute detail, how having a lawn care business with satisfied clients is just not enough anymore. This is business. Big business.

Phil Fogarty, a Weed Man franchisee, offers a dual perspective. Fogarty splits time between running two of his own Weed Man franchises in the Cleveland, Ohio, area and also promoting the many benefits of this popular brand to potential franchisees in eastern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and upstate New York.

"I spend time vetting new franchisees, to make sure they're a good fit," says Fogarty. "Then we get into the training, understanding various systems, education and developing marketing plans." Fogarty is known as a sub-franchisor for Weed Man doing everything he can to make new franchisees successful in his region.

Weed Man is the largest franchisor in the lawn services business, with projected revenues in 2014 of over $140 million. Starting operations in Canada in 1970, Weed Man began franchising in 1976 and soon sold all territories available in their native country. In 2000, the company began offering franchises in the United States and today has about 350 territories established across America offering fertilization and pesticide applications to commercial and residential customers.

"It's a family-oriented business with a culture specific to the home services trades," says Jennifer Lemcke, chief operating officer, Weed Man USA. "About 88 percent of our franchises are placed with established enterprises, such as lawn maintenance companies or perhaps pests control businesses that are already visiting clients' properties on a regular basis."

Lemcke says Weed Man is cultivating many company franchisees who are buying additional territories as their initial business grows, increasing revenues and margins; sometimes, adding franchises for family members who are looking to start their own operations. "We have about 350 territories in the United States, owned by 146 franchisees, so you can see the trend is for multiple franchise-owners," says Lemcke. "When completed, we'll have 1,600 U.S. territories."

Next month in part two of Turf's Franchising series, we'll look at the franchising costs involved within these various disciplines, and examine financing as well as special discounts for veterans. We will also get an estimate on start-up expenses and what this capital outlay buys for a new franchisee, examine royalties and take a look at equipment needed to make a smooth transition.

Part three of the series will cover marketing, how brand marketing works, social media, telemarketing and direct marketing programs.

Increasingly sophisticated

Franchising in the lawn care industry can be traced back to the 1960s, but today's franchisors offer many advancements to what was then considered a "cookie-cutter" industry, a one-size-fits-all proposition. Today, franchisors offer sophisticated business strategies, planning, marketing design, training and software development and introduce new technologies such as cloud computing, allowing data to be addressed from many different locations on a real-time basis. These algorithms and business templates are design-specific to geographic regions of lawn care markets, so chemical applications are particular to soil types and weather patterns.

"With our advanced systems we can measure a property from our computer screens, and we can view potential clients' lawns during different seasons and can tell which properties have been fertilized and which have not," explains Fogarty. "We utilize real-time information as to what has been treated and with what chemicals, and our field technicians utilize tablets so everything is recorded instantaneously."

Franchisors claim these newfound capabilities and technologies can be expensed more economically through franchising than by individuals acquiring the needed hardware and software and developing treatment programs and marketing plans for their own business models. These costs are further reduced because the parent companies have established a learning curve based on their years of experience in collecting applicable data. In addition, many franchisors offer company product lines, which have been field-tested to ensure desired results.

The Grounds Guys Landscape Management, Inc., started as Sunshine Grounds Care by 10 brothers in Canada in 1987. The Grounds Guys franchise operations expanded to the United States in 2010 under an agreement with the Dwyer Group, a leader in franchising business networks with franchises such as Glass Doctor (auto glass replacement) and Mr. Rooter (plumbing services). The Grounds Guys, not only offers fertilization and pesticide applications, but services such as lawn maintenance, site enhancement, irrigation and tree planting or relocating.

"The Grounds Guys is an excellent franchise opportunity," says Chris Elmore, president. "We focus on providing professional property management and giving the customer the best experience with a trained, friendly and knowledgeable landscaping company."

Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp., Naperville, Ill., can trace its franchising operations back to 1977 when Bill Fischer started a lawn care business, and his former classmate at the University of Illinois, Tom Hofer, also studying agriculture economics, invested in the company's very first franchise. By 1980, the pair had pooled resources and established Spring-Green, which today offers a complete listing of property services including lawn fertilization, weed control tree and shrub care and irrigation system maintenance.

Like other franchisors, Spring-Green also recruits from owners of established green industry businesses who are looking to diversify, increase profit margins and increase sales. James Young, president of Spring-Green Lawn Care, says, "We offer a Green Associate Roll-In Program to qualified candidates who are established independent green industry businesses that provide professional lawn and tree care and wish to convert the lawn and tree care service portions of their green industry business to our Spring-Green brand."

With over 7,500 communities now under contract, Spring Green continues to experience solid growth with revenues of over $41 million in 2013 and a 90 percent revenue growth in the decade from 2000-2010, having also grown average revenue per customer 72 percent since 1990.

A unique option to new Spring-Green franchisees is their FlexStart program, which allows owners to operate their franchises in a part-time capacity until January 1 of the following year, at which time they must convert to full time or have a full-time manager. This allows franchisees coming from outside of the green industry to gradually establish their business over a longer term and provides a means for them to keep their current occupations as they develop their lawn care companies.

U.S. Lawns

4700 Millenia Blvd., Suite 240 Orlando, Fla. 32839

1-800-U.S. Lawns http://www.uslawns.com/franchise

Services: Full service landscape management, irrigation management, fertilization & pest control, seasonal color design & installation, arbor care management, irrigation, anow & ice management

Weed Man USA

#B3-1129 Wentworth St., W Oshawa, ON L1J 8P7

888-321-9333, http://www.weedmanfranchise.com

Services: Lawn fertilization, pest control, core aeration, etc.

Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp.

11909 Spaulding School Drive, Plainfield, Ill. 60585

800-777-8608, http://www.springgreenfranchise.com

Services: Fertilization, pesticide, tree & shrub care, overseeding, aeration, irrigation system maintenance

The Grounds Guys, LLC

1010 N. University Parks Dr Waco, Texas 76708

877-558-5296, http://www.groundsguysfranchise.com

Services: Grounds maintenance, fertilization, weed control, irrigation, lighting, design, snow and ice removal

Mosquito Joe Franchising, LLC

Virginia Beach, Va.

855-564-6563, mosquitojoefranchise.com/steps-to-ownership.html

Services: Mosquito control

Clean Air Lawn Care

P.O. Box 2087, Fort Collins, Colo. 80522

888-969-3669, http://www.cleanairlawncare.com

Services: Organic lawn maintenance, organic applications, mulching, spring cleanup, weeding

Clients expect more

Brandon Moxam, director of brand development, U.S. Lawns, Orlando, Fla., says clients are expecting more from their service providers than ever before.

"Today's grounds care customers are much more discerning. The ability access to information has changed the game. Customers are researching and buying services much differently than they did even 5 years ago. We are leveraging our technology and resources to continue to help our entire network educate the market and nurture potential buyers."

U.S. Lawns owns a large position in the green-industry franchising by providing property management features to businesses, retailers and HOA's across the country. Founded in 1986, its services include nearly every aspect of property care, including snow and ice management. With 250 locations, U.S. Lawns is the commercial lawn care company in America in terms of locations with 250. A key factor in its success is with clients who have properties in multiple locations and who are looking for that same consistent services not always afforded by independent contractors, says Moxam.

The environmental movement has also spawned franchises with a unique niche to offer both established and new members in the lawn care industry. One of these is Clean Air Lawn Care, Inc. in Fort Collins, Colo. Established in 2006, Clean Air has developed an organic treatment lawn services business, complete with solar-powered mowing services to help lessen air pollution. With 55 established franchise operations, Clean Air Lawn Care provides soil amendments to supplement soil biology and allow the root systems and stems of grasses to grow and be healthy enough to fight off many weed infestations and diseases as it is curbing wild grasses from germinating without the use of chemical applications.

Kelly Giard, founder and CEO of Clean Air Law Care, says, "We use organic fertilizers, organic preemergent weed control and micro-organism soil builders to ensure the soil is healthy, then mow to proper lengths for the season and mulch grass clippings wherever possible. It all adds up to a healthier more vital lawn safe for kids and pets." In 2009 by Entrepreneur Magazine named Giard as its Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year.

"We're adding service options that cater to water pollution and conservation with organic-only treatment programs and zero chemicals or pesticides combined with sustainable mowing practices," says Giard. "We've seen exceptional results in drought-stricken regions like Texas and California over the last couple years."

Clean Air Lawn Care introduced their first solar sprayer this year, utilizing their existing solar technology from mowing operations and have furthered this technology to power liquid treatment applications. Trucks are equipped with 400 feet of hose, a 250-gallon tank and an electric motor. Giard points out that it "runs all day with no fuel and is nearly soundless."

Cashing in on mosquitoes

Add-on franchises, such as Mosquito Joe, Inc., can be a seamless natural extension for existing lawn care businesses. Mosquito Joe began operations in 2010, providing mosquito control services to residential and commercial customers, and repelling and killing outdoor pests such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. In 2012, the company initiated a national franchising expansion and moved its corporate headquarters to Virginia Beach, Va. In just over a year of franchising, Mosquito Joe now has locations in 15 states with more than 25 franchisees and 50 territories sold.

"As consumers become more concerned with the use of chemicals around their homes, it has become increasingly important for us to provide more detailed education on the products that we use in our treatments. All chemicals used by Mosquito Joe are EPA approved and applied by certified technicians," says Angela Zerda, director of marketing,

She says the company uses chemicals called pyrethroids as its frontline barrier spray. Pyrethroids are a synthesized version of the naturally occurring organic compound pyrethrin found in chrysanthemum flowers, as their frontline barrier spray treatment.

"As more customers seek all-natural options, Mosquito Joe offers an all-natural product made with rosemary, gerniol and peppermint," Zerda says.

Franchisors targeting the green industry come in many shapes and sizes. The green industry is moving at light speed with advanced systems and technologies that make it necessary to develop these new services efficiently while understanding the business products behind them.

Mike Ingles is a freelancer writer living in Columbus, Ohio, who writes articles about business and the green industry.