What you can learn from Chris and Matt's Massachusetts- based Noon Lawn Care
Noon Turf Care
Founders and Partners: Matthew and Christopher Noon
Headquarters: Hudson, Mass.
Incorporated: 2001, Lawn Care Division launched 2005
Markets: Central and eastern Massachusetts
Services: Lawn care, tree and shrub care, perimeter pest control, flea and tick control, core aeration, overseeding and lime applications
Company Motto: "Think of Yourself as a Customer"
Employees: 50 peak season
Noon Turf Care is on the grow. Customers. Revenues. Employees. Service vehicles. You name it.
Even in this wobbly, uncertain economy, this Massachusetts lawn care company, run by brothers Chris, 35, and Matt Noon, 32, keeps adding to its presence in the state. More importantly, say its owners, it keeps returning profit enough to fuel the growth.
"People often forget about that part, especially in our industry that's so focused on growth. If it's not top-line growth, you're just spinning your wheels," says Chris, the company president.
Even after increasing its revenues 150 percent these past three years (considered by many to be the toughest three years the green industry has ever experienced), the brothers have managed to keep the company in the black.
They've done it by dividing responsibilities - each brother bringing his particular expertise to the company and by using technology and Web-based services such as Google Earth Pro ($400 annual fee), which facilitate progressive ways to sell and manage their services. The company also employs a "fantastic IT phone system," says Chris, that links in all company employees and records vital conversations.
"Matt runs the production and I do the marketing, advertising and sales," says Chris. "And we have a CFO that gets the numbers for us and a great general manager.
"We run the company by the numbers. We can now look at its performance day to day and concentrate on growing the company and looking for new markets."
Key to the success of their partnership is implementing strategies, taking full advantage of their company's online presence to make doing business with their company "seamless" for customers and prospects.
They're not hesitant to spend money to make it happen either
Noon service techs start their relationship with new clients with a complete lawn analysis, which they build upon through the firm's season-long, seventreatment program.
PHOTOS BY NOON TURF CARE
People are now buying airline tickets online, why not lawn care, they wondered? So, several years ago they invested an estimated $150,000 to develop a custom electronic quote feature for the company website. Seemed like a good idea to them at the time. Turns out it was.
Many property owners appreciate the convenience of being able to contact the company online and receive an instant quote. Online inquiries, even in the evening, elicit prompt quotes from a trained employee who uses Google Earth, and the company's knowledge of the region's neighborhoods, to measure and price services.
It's impossible not to notice the sizable yellow boxed "Get an Instant Quote!" box on an otherwise uncluttered home page. "We don't want you to get lost on the site and begin saying to yourself, 'What am I doing here?'" says Chris.
"We didn't come up through the ranks in the lawn care business," he adds. "We didn't have the experience in it. In a way that was great because we had to perfect our own marketing and service systems."
Noon Turf Care President Chris Noon, right, reviews the monthly sales growth goals with a team member.
Customers can easily access Noon Turf Care using their Blackberry, iPad or iPhone, and they can download the company's app from its website.
After obtaining a verbal authorization to start service for a new client, Noon Turf Care, in most cases, gets a licensed tech onto their property within a day for a lawn analysis and soil test, and to provide the property owner with almost immediate feedback via email.
Inside Service Manager John Guariano trains a new customer service specialist how to route and locate service vehicles on the road.
The following day, the company mails the new customer a "report card" with a more detailed description of the lawn and the soil and any issues witnessed by the technician. Each report card also has a survey on it to rate the client's level of satisfaction.
"Whether the responses are good, bad or indifferent, it's a good way to get the pulse of the client," says Chris.
A matter of trust
The technician that makes the first visit to the lawn will be the same technician that treats it for the year. "It's about building relationships. Our technicians stay in touch with clients. Some customers may not want to be contacted very often, but many of them appreciate having a knowledgeable person to answer their questions. Our technicians always get back to them directly."
Chris says that clients find it easier to cancel companies rather than to cancel technicians that they've come to trust. He's convinced these customer-to-tech relationships help the company's customer retention rate.
Noon's clientele expects premium service and the Massachusetts company provides it with smartly uniformed personnel in clean, modern vehicles.
Hiring for Excellence, Results
Noon Lawn Care is seemingly always in hiring mode because of the growth the company is experiencing. Even so, it doesn't hire every guy off the street, not even if they're experienced lawn care techs. The company wants only "A-players," and it's willing to pay top-flight technicians more than they would receive at similar companies, says Chris Noon.
"You just can't just jump over here and get a job," he explains. "Before we hire someone as a technician, they meet with different groups and different people. We test personalities and conduct three or four interviews."
Chris says he and his brother insist upon a company culture based on mutual respect and cooperation.
"We have a great mesh between sales, service and our customer retention specialists. Sometimes these groups get alienated in larger companies and clients suffer because of it, whether it's the salesperson that makes promises that can't be kept or the service guy who doesn't do his job," says Chris.
"Our intention from the very beginning of the hiring process is to bring everyone together so that we're all on the same page. So that we're all here for our clients."
The company says it hires for the long term and does what it can in terms of compensation and bonuses (based on client satisfaction and retention) to keep the same technicians from year to year.
Chris says the company's goal this year is to boost its customer retention rate by 6 percent. With almost 6,000 customers now, accomplishing that would mean a lot to the company - and to its employees who will share in a special profit sharing arrangement based on meeting that goal.
Noon Turf Care's seven-round lawn care program is its most popular. The brothers feel that technicians can more closely monitor and correct any lawn problems before they become an issue with homeowners if they're on their property every four weeks.
Popular upsells include treatments for lawn diseases, often caused by New England's hot, humid summer conditions and also flea and tick control. Flea control is popular with homeowners who have pets. Because Lyme disease is a serious concern in New England, many property owners living near wooded areas insist upon tick control, as deer ticks are potential carriers of the disease.
As Noon Turf Care constantly upgrades its customer and employee communication capabilities, it's also constantly improving its product delivery system.
The company creates its own computer-controlled, carefully calibrated blends to ensure clients get consistent product each round. A specialized tank system, an idea borrowed from the beverage and fragrance industries, is key to the system.
This season, with approximately 30 vehicles on the road, Noon Lawn Care is the largest independent lawn care company in Massachusetts with plans to keep growing. The brothers are eyeing markets both north and south of Boston.
Starting, running and growing a lawn care company has been quite an experience for two brothers who had much different plans when they grew up in their small commuter community west of Boston.
Matt got into the green industry mowing lawns as a high school student. By the time he began attending Boston College, he had developed a lawn maintenance business, and by his junior year of college he realized that keeping up with his studies and running a company heading toward $400,000 in annual revenues was too much for him. So, he asked his brother for help.
The timing was spot on. Chris, with a degree from Seton Hall and working as a marketing manager in New York City, had been looking for a business of his own. He had already researched several service business opportunities, including a water delivery service.
"Matt called me and said, 'This is demanding a lot of me.' We looked over the P&L and we thought there was a lot of opportunity for growth," recalls Chris.
The two brothers had grown up in Sudbury, Mass., a city of about 17,000 with a median household income of $152,000. They knew the region (about an hour's drive west of downtown Boston) very well, and sensed potential there. The brothers became partners and incorporated the business in 2002.
Within several years they had built the full-service landscape maintenance company to $2.4 million in annual revenues. But as they talked with clients they sensed a greater opportunity providing lawn care.
"We were learning that some of the larger companies had a turn-and-burn philosophy, apparently thinking it's easier to replace clients than to serve them," says Chris. The brothers added a lawn care division to their company in 2004. After selling the maintenance part of the business, they focused their efforts exclusively on lawn care.
"The first year we went into it (lawn care) with a clean slate. It was a tough transition, but once we got it going we found nice growth," says Chris. From 2005 to 2007 the company grew from $1 million to $2 million in sales.
In 2010, it purchased Lawnmaster to become the largest independent lawn care company in Massachusetts. As they head toward $5 million in annual revenues, the brothers are considering branching out elsewhere in Massachusetts.
Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. He has been reporting on service industries, including the landscape/lawn service industry, for the past 28 years. Contact him at email@example.com.