Chicagoland lawn care company carefully targets advertising

Joe Khouri, owner of Green Tee Lawn Care in Batavia, Ill., credited the success of his business to a good product, good customer service and a sound advertising formula. He operated restaurants in the Chicagoland area for a number of years before moving to St. Louis, where he operated restaurants for about two years. He returned to Chicagoland in 2007 to launch Green Tee in the western suburban community.

Joe Khouri discusses increased business that required moving into a larger building.
Photos courtesy of Green Tee Lawn Service.

Khouri cited similarities in operating the two types of businesses. “The same things apply to a restaurant and to a lawn business. You have to use good products and provide good customer service,” Khouri said. Additionally, carefully targeting an advertising budget is a consideration that Khouri identifies as a key element in success.

His entry into the green industry was an outgrowth of his long-term interest in green lawns. “I was always interested in grass and lawns,” he said. “You can live without a lot of things, but you need the green grass. Everywhere in the U.S., people and businesses are proud of their lawns. You don’t always see this in Europe and other places.”

Green Tee serviced approximately 2,000 lawns at the end 2007, with approximately 4,000 by the end of 2008. That customer base expanded to more than 9,000 at the end of 2009. The firm recently moved into a larger building to accommodate equipment and products. About 85 percent of the lawn accounts are residential with the remaining 15 percent business lawns.

Despite the current economic slowdown, Khouri has been able to increase his lawn care business by focusing on the three elements of good products, good customer service and advertising that he sees as most important in his success. Combining those elements with a strong work ethic, Khouri sees a bright future and expects people to continue their interest in having attractive lawns.

Services

Providing excellent service that assures beautiful lawns is the highest priority to assure the success of Green Tee. The lawn care firm offers several programs with a basic package of seven fertilizing applications with weed control. Fewer yearly applications are available upon request.

Fertilizer applications usually start in late March and continue through late September. “We start with fertilizer and preemergent weed control,” Khouri said. The middle applications are geared toward encouraging growth and controlling weeds. Organic fertilizer is used during the summer months when lawns are most sensitive to burning. The fall application is a winterization program to help the grass produce a stronger root system, and is done in conjunction with aeration when appropriate.

Chicagoland is known for its unpredictable weather, which ranges from heavy rain to drought conditions. “Mother Nature is our biggest challenge, and we can’t change the weather.” While Green Tee follows a regular schedule for fertilizer and weed control applications, adjustments are made based on weather conditions that affect lawn needs. “We use Lesco products from John Deere Landscapes in Batavia,” Khouri said. “John Deere keeps a well-stocked warehouse and usually always has the products we need. If not, they can get them in for us quickly,” he said. Green Tee uses Lesco spreaders and 19-inch Lesco walk-behind aerators.

The lawn on the left receives the Green Tee fertilization program, while the adjoining lawn is untreated.

Mark Svatek, branch manager for the Batavia John Deere Landscapes, said he and sales rep Jeff Kolbe work with Khouri. “John Deere has six warehouses between here and the East Coast and can assure prompt product delivery,” he said.

Customer service

For Khouri, providing customer service is paramount. The ability to provide excellent customer service starts with comprehensive training for technicians. “Our technicians represent our company,” Khouri said. With the technician representing the company, the importance of the service provided by that technician cannot be underestimated.

Green Tee currently has about 40 employees, mostly state-licensed technicians. Khouri emphasized the role of the technicians in delivering the product. “Our reputation is based on the product and on good customer service,” he said.

Comprehensive training is crucial to the technicians starting without experience. Khouri said it’s important to be honest with customers and in all business operations. “I do what’s right in business, and I don’t hire technicians away from other services,” he said

A Green Tee technician applies a fertilizer treatment to a residential lawn.

Khouri personally contacts customers to resolve any issues that may arise with lawns. “Educating customers is very important,” he said. “We try to educate customers by discussing expectations. Green Tee’s business has grown to a significant degree based on the customer service provided and referrals from satisfied customers.” Khouri emphasized that a strong work ethic has been essential in building his business and he expects that type of work ethic among his employees in delivering excellent service to Green Tee’s customers.

Effective advertising

Khouri’s wife, Tonia, works with him at Green Tee, managing the office and coordinating advertising. Green Tee began as a new company with no customer base, and Khouri sought customers throughout the western suburbs. “We used our own formula for advertising,” he said, which included carefully placing ads where they would receive the highest visibility. “We advertised in newspapers and in community magazines,” he said.

“With the community magazines, we were always on the covers. People look at the covers,” he said. He pointed out that while the advertising budget might allow for fewer ads placed on covers, a greater number of people saw them, which gave his business more exposure. Additionally, Green Tee used direct mail and door-to-door advertising. Trucks provide rolling billboards and Khouri took advantage of the opportunity to highlight his lawn care company throughout the area. “We drove our trucks around the neighborhoods which provided good advertising for us,” Khouri said.

He emphasized that targeting a specific percentage of costs for advertising is essential, and that targeting that advertising is important. While the company’s advertising remained the same for two years, the budget was reduced the third year as referrals increased.

Looking ahead

While the recent state of the economy has made a significant impact on housing start-ups, Khouri hasn’t seen a major impact on his business. He said that the pride people feel in the appearances of their lawns will continue to spur their interest in having excellent lawn care services.

Khouri expects to continue expanding Green Tee operations with an emphasis on adding more business lawn accounts. Additionally, he is considering options to teach other business owners ways to develop successful formulas to advertise and provide top-quality customer service in their own businesses, elements of business development that he sees as key to success for any company.

Nancy Riggs is a freelance writer and has been covering the green industry for Turf for almost 20 years. She resides in Mt. Zion, Ill.