Successful Michigan entrepreneur offers lawn care model to surrounding states
Founder and President: Aaron Samson
Headquarters: Grand Blanc, Mich.
Markets: Southeast Michigan
Locations: Grand Blanc and Rochester Hills, Mich.
Services: Lawn fertilization and weed control, organic fertilization, grub control, core aeration, tree and shrub care, deep root fertilization, ornamental care, perimeter pest control, mole and vole control, mosquito control, and flea and tick control
Employees: 45 peak season
“If I can make it there. I’ll make it anywhere,” sang Frank Sinatra about New York, N.Y.
Aaron Samson says essentially the same thing about his Grand Blanc, Mich.-based Lush Lawn operation. He says if his lawn care system can make it in southeast Michigan, it can make it anywhere.
The cities of Detroit and Flint, suffering horrendous jobs losses for decades and insulted even more by the 2007-08 housing crash, are the largest population centers in that market, of course. (Many of you may only know of Flint from the 1989 movie, “Roger & Me,” produced by documentary filmmaker Michael Moore. In the movie, Moore showed the economic wreckage caused by the loss of 35,000 jobs in that city due to the closing of GM plants there. Flint, by the way, is GM’s birthplace.)
Samson’s success, in spite of that, is why he’s now offering Lush Lawn franchise opportunities to would-be company owners in the nearby states of Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.
“We are one of the few lawn care companies that have grown gross revenue year after year by 30-plus percent,” says Samson.
Fine place to live
Contrary to what you may have heard, southeast Michigan is a fine place to live, raise a family and recreate.
While Detroit and Flint are hardly prime lawn care hotspots, the region is dotted by dozens of attractive smaller cities and communities, many of them built around recreation-rich glacial lakes. Automobile and parts-supplier executives and middle managers populate many of these commuter communities. They live in nice homes surrounded by well-tended lawns and maintained landscapes.
In spite of the economic woes of Detroit and Flint, southeast Michigan remains a vibrant lawn care market.
PHOTOS COURTESY LUSH LAWN.
The picture of southeast Michigan being primarily vacant, aging factories and empty weedy lots is not an accurate one – not by a long shot. With the automobile industry back on its feet there, and the housing market strengthening (June 2012 up 20 percent from June 2011), people there are starting to spend again.
Even so, give credit where credit is due. Lush Lawn grew briskly even when that regional market cratered at the height of the recession, and when the national media had all but written off the region as a lost cause – at least in terms of its industrial economy.
One thing the region has going for it, and has since its boast of being the auto manufacturing capital of the world, is its hard-working, lunch-pail-carrying work ethic.
Samson, like so many other successful land care business owners, personifies that.
What began years ago as a side business as an accounting student at nearby Walsh College has blossomed into a lawn care company that now has about 10,000 customers and this year is budgeted to generate $3.5 million in revenue.
“The one-truck, one-lawn mower, one weed eater out-of-the-parents’ backyard kind,” he laughs, recalling his modest start in the industry. “It was a love-love relationship between accounting and lawn care; and lawn care won out,” he says. “It certainly is what my background was. I had a lawn care business, and then (1996) added the fertilizing.
“I didn’t really think it would be lawn care forever,” he says. Eight years later, he sold his business, Standard Lawn. The sale had a powerful impact on Samson, who had started the company from scratch.
“I sort of hit an epiphany, especially in 2004, when I sold my other lawn care company. I couldn’t believe how much I missed it,” says Samson. “I thought, ‘Hey, I sold the company; everything’s great. I’ll have all the time in the world.’ About two months later I was miserable. I’m addicted to lawn care, so I got right back into it and I’ve never looked back.”
Putting everything in forward motion (state requirements: accounting, financial audits, etc.), he launched the business into the franchise market, offering franchises in several states: Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and later in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Kentucky.
Setting up shop
Samson hired two branch managers that have been instrumental in the growth of the company. Brian Schubert manages the Grand Blanc branch, and Joel Fickel manages the new Rochester Hills branch near Detroit. The location was a smart move, with 4,000 customers already.
Schubert was a branch manager for Barefoot before TruGreen acquired it, and Fickel, who also has a background in accounting, had his own lawn care business prior to working with Lush Lawn.
“The two men have very different personalities, but are equally effective in the business,” says Sampson, who realizes how valuable a proper team is to the success of any business. Much of his team’s well-earned confidence lies in its history of working with and building successful companies.
“We know the lawn care business and we understand how to acquire and take care of customers,” says Samson, crediting some of its success to the Internet, social media and, a large part, to state-of-the-art operating and accounting systems.
Lush Lawn is targeting franchisees that have had a successful track record.
Aaron Samson, left, with Chris Byrd
Lawn Care Pro Takes on Heavyweight Champ
Lush Lawn President Aaron Samson can say he put on the gloves and battled former, two-team heavyweight boxing champion Chris Byrd, 42, in the ring. No, there were no televised weigh-in shenanigans. No, HBO didn’t carry the fight pay for view. And, no, a rematch is unlikely.
Nevertheless, Samson went four rounds with Chris Byrd at the Westside Baptist Church. The event was put on to raise money for the Whaley’s Children Center in Flint, Mich. The Center, a nonprofit child care institution, treats abused and neglected children.
Byrd, born in Flint, is a retired heavyweight champion who once held the WBO and IBF titles. Nicknamed “Rapid Fire,” Byrd compiled a 40-6-1 record as a professional boxer.
“The training was tough. I went to the gym two hours per day for about three months,” recalls Samson. “He didn’t take me real seriously, which was fortunate for me! It was fun. We raised around $4,000.”
If you want to see some YouTube videos of Samson bobbing, weaving and telegraphing looping bombs at Byrd (one of which dislodged Byrd’s head gear), type in “Samson Fights Byrd” on Google.
Hey, hats off to Samson who displayed flashes of boxing prowess and showed a lot of heart in the ring.
“It doesn’t have to be in the lawn care business,” says Samson. “We are all about support and marketing and operations.”
He claims his franchise ideology differs from others in the lawn care industry, which use “a top-down centralized approach.” His is based on “an idea culture” with a de-centralized approach. He likes the concept of trading ideas; being receptive to improving existing systems and embracing a more open approach to business not always found in the more traditional styles.
“We have a successful track record in the new economy; the new technology, that’s what we have, and that’s what our competitors and other franchise groups lack,” he claims.
Samson is looking for franchisees that are willing to take their systems and build on them. Purchasing a Lush Lawn franchise costs around $100,000 for fees, equipment, in-house training, marketing and ongoing support, he says.
Samson hopes to attract dynamic individuals for at least three new franchises this year, and an additional 10 within the next three years. “The results are there and I think we can replicate those results in other markets across the United States,” he says.
He believes that if proper methods are used, finding good help is not a difficult task. “With the right recruiting, and the right incentives and bonuses in place, it’s easy to recruit really good employees,” he adds.
Samson has a “Wall of Fame” established at the branches where customers’ letters of praise are posted for technicians to see. “We get all sorts of feedback from customers … compliments for our techs and crew and office staff,” he shares.
Lush Lawn offers special financing and discounted rate for military veterans who take advantage of its franchise opportunity.
Pamela Walton is an experienced reporter and writer who works and lives in Gainesboro, Tenn. Contact her at [email protected].