Turf Magazine - April, 2014

SOUTH FEATURES

Extreme Green

Georgia Lawn, Inc. delivers client satisfaction to keep growing
By Suz Trusty


Georgia Lawn, Inc. is off to a strong start in the Atlanta Metro market.
Photos courtesy of Georgia Lawn, Inc.

Strategic planning is the basis for Georgia Lawn, Inc., based in Alpharetta, an affluent community of about 58,000 people located just north of Atlanta. The rapidly growing lawn service company is the creation of two men.

Jason Holbrook and Scott Brown met through a mutual friend and their business relationship developed from there. Holbrook was the computer pro, working with website developers and enhancing SEO (search engine optimization). Brown continues to hold a full-time position as a financial advisor, helping to provide working capital for small and medium-sized businesses.

Prior to focusing on his financial career, Brown was the regional manager for TruGreen Landcare's Los Angeles Division. While there he earned two national awards from the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), and later served a stint as president for two different Atlanta-area lawn care companies.

Georgia Lawn, Inc.

Owners: Jason Holbrook, chief operating officer (COO); Georgia Hawkins, chief executive officer (CEO); and Scott Brown, chief financial officer (CFO), consultant and financial advisor

Founded: 2011

Headquarters: Alpharetta, Ga.

Markets: Cumming, Alpharetta and all of the Atlanta, Ga., metro area

Services: Lawn care, including fertilization and weed control, core aeration, grub and fire ant control, mosquito suppression, overseeding, tree and shrub care and deep root fertilization, flower and shrub bed pre-emergence weed applications

Employees: 8 peak season (more as needed to accommodate company growth)

Websites: http://www.georgialawn.com; http://www.alpharettagrass.com

Holbrook had previously owned and operated a local lawn maintenance company, mowing lawns, trimming shrubs and contracting out the chemical work. "But I was doing my own yard and it looked better than those I subbed out," he says.

As the two men compared their lawn care backgrounds and discussed the local market, they determined that, working together, they could develop a lawn care company that "stands behind its promises by giving bend-over-backwards service to its clients and making their lawns extreme green."

Holbrook says, "Scott was interested in getting back into the industry and I wanted to learn from someone who had proven success in the technical, financial and operational aspects of the business. I told him I'd do all the work if he'd guide me along the way."

They launched Georgia Lawn, Inc., in October 2011 with a Dodge pickup, a trailer and a lawn aerator.

To get started they used fliers in targeted neighborhoods, sent classy glossy postcards by direct mail and added some savvy shopper couponing. "Along with the postcards, one of the greatest returns came from using those guys that stand on the side of the road waving signs. We offered our aeration service at a special price to get our foot in the door. Our sign waver was stationed on the main traffic route for a couple hours a day."

They also did (and continue to do) a lot online. The company initially developed two interactive websites with both promotional and informational content and is keeping both up. The main site, http://www.georgialawn.com, is drawing about 10,000 visitors a month during peak season months. The second, http://www.alpharettagrass.com, gets fewer hits but still draws well. It also serves as Holbrook's testing site for trying out new looks or ideas or special promotions.

"The double websites definitely helped get our brand out faster," says Holbrook. "It's a great way to direct people to us and offers multiple options to connect with us through social media. It even allows me to advertise while I'm asleep."

Aeration demand grows

That first fall they did around 300 aerations. During 2012, combining both spring and fall seasons, they did 2,000.

Georgia Lawn's customer breakout is now 90 percent high-end residential and 10 percent commercial. Much of the commercial work is on the business sites of the company's residential clients. The remainder is for contract accounts with landscape companies, providing services for business parks or homeowner associations (HOAs).

Basically, according to Holbrook, his clients "just want to see green grass. The less they talk to me pretty much translates to the kind of job we're doing for them. No problems equals no talk."



The difference between a Georgia Green lawn and an untreated lawn is dramatic.

Holbrook's goal - immediate response - is what he says sets his company apart from other quality lawn service providers in the Atlanta market. With the interactive website and social media, the customer contact is a whole lot faster and that connection can occur at any time.

"I'll usually get the emails when they're having a glass of wine after work," he says. "It could be a question about the back left area of the lawn where the dog plays. I'll respond to their email right way and that blows them away. Without email and various related technology it would be much harder to maintain that level of response."

Obviously, there are complaints; that response is immediate, too.

"If a customer emails with a problem, question or concern, they'll get an email right back. If they call; they'll get a call right back," says Holbrook. "When there is an issue, I go out to their site and take care of it personally; that same day when possible, early the next morning if not. We shoot for the same level of response in the office if there is a billing issue."

Fine-tuning services

The Atlanta area is in the transition zone, so Georgia Lawn developed one program for cool-season turfgrasses and another for warm-season grasses, each with eight applications. They match the time of applications and lawn care products for the specific needs of each turf type. Several of the applications include micronutrients, bio-stimulants and beneficial bacteria.

They equip trucks for the eight-step lawn program with a large skid sprayer containing the mix for the primary treatment for either cool-season or warm-season grasses. They rely upon a smaller tank filled with a seasonally adjusted mix to control other specific issues most likely to occur on that grass type. Holbrook says, "That's one of the best decisions we made because it cuts down on repeat trips."

Homeowners in the Atlanta market are becoming more aware of the benefits of aeration, so that's a growing market for the company. "We offer a discount for prepaying for the service by credit card," says Holbrook. "Each year more people take advantage of that."

Georgia Lawn uses Exmark ride-on aerators. Holbrook says, "They do a great job for us. We can pull plugs up to 5 inches long. They can cover up to 2 acres in an hour, so we get in and get out fast, and they don't leave a big mess."

Holbrook has tried different seed mixes for overseeding cool-season lawns, but now uses straight Titan Rx, a turf-type tall fescue being promoted as heat, drought- and disease-resistant.

"The variety of grasses already there provides a good base for establishment of the seedlings," he says. "We overseed primarily in the fall. That's the best time for success here. Ideally, we'll apply the seed following aeration and in conjunction with a limestone application, since so many area lawns have low pH."

Mosquito suppression is another growth area, with a large percentage of lawn care customers inquiring about that service and many choosing to add it. Other optional services include tree and shrub deep root fertilization, pre-emergent applications in shrub and flowerbeds, and grub and fire ant control.

"We do some perimeter pest control, but the majority of our customers have an interior pest control service that also handles the perimeter treatment," Holbrook says. "Moles are a big problem in several areas. We can use products such as Talpirid, but we are also looking into obtaining the licensing for mole extraction."


Georgia Hawkins

Organizational details

At this point, Brown is filling a less active role, though still serving as consultant and financial advisor. Georgia Hawkins has stepped in as a partner, handling the administrative side of the business, including the billings and financials.

Holbrook continues to handle the websites and the social media, tackling all the updates and sending out all the posts.

"Almost all of our customers prefer that we contact them via email, rather than by phone, to let them know what day we'll be coming to their site for aeration, an application or other service," he says. "With their computers, tablets and smartphones it's the most effective way to connect with them and the most efficient for us."

The company clearly marks all of its trucks with the company name and logo, the phone number and the company's main website address. Lawn techs wear company uniforms.

Lawn applicators work alone, but there are two people on the aerator crews. They drive to work sites pulling an enclosed trailer that generally contains two aerators along with any tools they may need. Optional service crews vary in size according to the assigned tasks. Currently, Holbrook communicates with the crews while they are in the field via cell phone, primarily through a combination of texting and calling.

"Our spray tech or aeration crew leader always goes to the door before they start the service to see if the property owner has any questions, concerns or problem areas that need special attention," says Holbrook. "I do the training and strive to educate our personnel and keep them up-to-date so our customers can get their questions answered immediately."

Holbrook tries to employ veterans, especially those that have been deployed overseas, or people who are in the reserve.

As of this past March 1, Georgia Lawn had pre-booked 25 percent of its spring aerations and had more than a full treatment route signed up for its eight-step lawn care program.

"Our retention rate on lawn treatment customers is running between 85 and 90 percent. When our aeration customers see that we come on the scheduled day and do what we say we're going to do, many opt for our lawn care program, too," says Holbrook.



Georgia Lawn, Inc., customizes its 8-step lawn programs for properties that feature either warm-season or cool-season turgrasses.

Looking ahead

Growth has been rapid for the young company and the strategic plan calls for that to continue.

"We see fast growth as our greatest opportunity and our biggest challenge," says Holbrook. "Our major focus is keeping our quality up to the standards we've established, and that our customers expect, as we continue to grow. We want to keep our clients happy with weed-free, extreme green lawns and use that in marketing to their neighbors."

Suz Trusty is a partner with her husband, Steve, in Trusty & Associates, Council Bluffs, Iowa. She has been involved in the green industry for over 40 years. Contact her at suz@trusty.bz.