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Mike Kirk

Mike Kirk Understands Motivation

Mike Kirk Understands Motivation

U.S. Lawns Hall of Fame member Mike Kirk knows what it takes to retain customers and employees. He’s had one customer for over 12 years and one manager for 14 years. Other employees have been with him 4 to 10 years. What’s his formula?

There are a number of factors, the largest being Mike’s sincere love of people, which drives the loyalty of his team and his customers alike. Mike summed it up this way: “They’re like family, that’s the way we operate. We love them; it’s truly a family atmosphere. We know them personally and know their families and try to provide a good career for them so they can take care of their families.”

Success = Industry Expertise + Careful Planning + The Right People

But it has also taken industry expertise along with the ability to surround himself with the right people to realize his measure of success.

With a degree and background in accounting, Mike is a self-confessed numbers guy and is all about planning. A part of U.S. Lawns family since 2002, he owns the Northeast Mississippi territory, and operates in perfect harmony with U.S. Lawns’ model, culture, systems and philosophies.

He is quick to credit his faith for being “blessed with a very dynamic team that shares our culture, believes in our culture, and understands the importance of taking care of our customers.”

But he leaves nothing to chance, starting with his selective hiring process to vet new applicants and ensure they’ll be a good fit. He will even pay a finder’s fee to any employee that introduces a new hire that works out well and stays on for at least 90 days.

Kirk said of building a successful business, “It’s kind of like eating an elephant. It’s one bite at a time, and that’s how you get there.”

Mike plans not only for the coming year, but also takes a longer view with a three year plan. He sets out the budgets and together with his team, lays out a roadmap for how they’re going to get where they want to go.

Mike involves everyone to some extent: his managers and even some crew leaders and gardeners. It’s all part of his culture, which he aptly refers to as a family culture.

Foster Individual Accountability

His experience has proven that by understanding what it will take to get there, and setting the goals to make it happen, everyone feels some responsibility for the company’s success. At the same time, they can each see a promising career path emerging. This is just one way Mike cultivates individual accountability, which is vital.

Celebrate Accomplishments

Kirk and his management team are quick to celebrate the things employees do well. They do routine performance evaluations with employees, and offer real incentives for exemplary behavior, safe practices, and going above and beyond for the customer.

There is even a monthly “All Star” award, based on standards that include: attendance and punctuality, conduct on the job site, being properly uniformed, weekly maintenance of trucks and equipment, turning in paperwork correctly every day, keeping log books up to date, housekeeping and grounds care at the shop, completion of nightly paperwork, making the 7:02 dispatch every morning, and avoiding GPS violations such as speeding or reckless driving.

Performance recordkeeping takes place on a whiteboard out in the shop that starts each month with everyone’s name on it. If an employee commits an infraction, their name is removed. Then at the first monthly safety meeting there is a drawing from all the names remaining on the board, which awards a $300 Visa card to the winner.

Treasure Family Above All Else

They also have employee and family activities; most recently, their annual family Christmas party. Mike finds it to be most well-received when they hold it at his home as opposed to a public venue.

They provide other events throughout the year, such as taking an afternoon off with pay, or setting up games and enjoying a cookout at the shop. According to Mike, “Our workdays are long, we get tired and run down, and there never seems to be enough hours in the day to take care of everything. But we’ve found if we’ll just take some time and invest back in the team and just truly show our appreciation to them, then when we work 12 and 13 hour days they’ll hang in with us and get the job done.”

It’s not uncommon for him to take a crew to lunch when he sees they’re doing a particularly good job. And even though salary is obviously integral to keeping the team happy, he’s actually had people leave for a higher paying job only to return because they missed their U.S. Lawns family so much.

Have High Expectations And Invest In Your Team

Although Kirk may have high expectations, he’s willing to invest in his team in many ways, and he understands it matters greatly for his employees to know how much they are appreciated. He’s also an exception to the norm, as one of the original franchisees to recognize the value of keeping his team employed and together, even during the off season–an act which promotes the culture of family, and also benefits customers by having an experienced crew ready to go at spring startup.

Mike has even been known to hire in the off season if he finds a candidate he doesn’t want to lose. In his words, “If we see a good person, we make an investment in them even during a time when we really don’t need them so we’ll have them when we do. It’s an investment that has paid off for us; we’ve found exceptional people by doing it.”

Now you may wonder how to keep a crew busy in the off season, but Mike has that covered too. It takes aggressive planning and good customer relationships. The long and short of it is, by working with customers each year to establish their annual landscaping budgets and then managing to perform under budget, the result is left over money at the year’s end–a surplus customers often choose to invest on recommended enhancements that can be accomplished during the off season.

Other ways Kirk ensures the well-being of his team is by utilizing the comprehensive training tools provided by U.S. Lawns Home Office and investing in his facilities, vehicles, on-site training and equipment. After all, as he so perfectly articulates it, “Our jobs are tough enough with good equipment.”

Make Sure They Know How Much You Appreciate Them

In the end, Mike’s greatest motivator for his team comes from this basic philosophy: “You show someone you appreciate what they do. I still personally hand out every paycheck and shake their hands and just let them know I appreciate what they do every day. I can build relationships with the customer and sell the work, but I’m just part of the process, I can’t do it without them, and I make sure they know that.”

His is a formula that’s tried and true, and U.S. Lawns is proud to count him among our own.

Landscaping Ideas that will Enhance your Property's Value

U.S. Lawns Team

A Perfect Expression Of Our Brand DNA

A Perfect Expression Of Our Brand DNA

Stewardship Beyond The Call Of Duty

One of the greatest qualities all U.S. Lawns franchise owners share in common is a deep commitment to caring for our communities. It’s reflected in our daily actions and planned events throughout the year. But sometimes, it’s the unexpected which really makes our dedication shine.

Today we’re proud to share one such story—that of Baton Rouge’s U.S. Lawns-Team 533 franchisee, Alex Carruth.

It all began on August 13, 2016, which marked the start of a four-day rain event resulting in devastating floods. As rivers overflowed their banks in southern Mississippi and Louisiana the record-breaking deluge continued. People quickly became dangerously stranded. As the deadly flood waters Rose at an alarming pace, emergency responders become overwhelmed, without the resources to handle all necessary evacuations.

Fortunately, the region is well-known for its large population of courageous hunters, fishermen and salt-of-the-earth people who genuinely care about the safety and welfare of their neighbors. Recognizing the need for assistance, these generous men and women organized a grassroots rescue effort affectionately known as the Cajun Navy.

Even though Alex had only been a part of the U.S. Lawns family for approximately one week, he didn’t think twice about it. He immediately jumped into action along with many other locals, and turned his flat bottomed boat into a search and rescue vessel. He spent long hours working beside fellow citizen sailors and first responders to deliver supplies and help people and their pets escape to safety.

We Salute The Cajun Navy

Thanks to the selfless acts of Alex Carruth and so many others like him, the tragic loss has been far less than it would have otherwise been. We’d like to salute all who serve in the Cajun Navy. And here’s a special shout out to you, Alex. You exemplify the values that make U.S. Lawns so great. We’re honored to have you as a member of our Network!

Landscaping Ideas that will Enhance your Property's Value

U.S. Lawns creating customer relationships

The Service Revolution: Things Just Got Real

The Service Revolution: Things Just Got Real

One great thing about U.S. Lawns is that we don’t just talk the talk. When we embrace an idea, we make sure it gets done. This can lead to times of great change, as we’ve recently seen, and sometimes growing pains aren’t comfortable. But we face the future boldly, holding strong to the traditions that bind us, and acting together to become a better company.

“Getting things done” has two parts in our culture: innovation and execution. You need both to accomplish your goals. And in 2015, we’ve accomplished a lot. We revamped Crew Training so your employees can deliver better performance and service. We launched a recruiting package to help you find the best talent, and become the best place to work. We created a Sales Bullpen to boost your business.

All of these products are part of something bigger: The Service Revolution. That’s an idea whose execution phase will continue at the Annual Conference, July 23-25. That’s when you’ll get things done (with a little support from Home Office).

The Service Revolution has been the focal point of our communications this year. We’ve discussed many aspects, including tools, touch points, and timelines. The Conference will allow you to put all of these into practice. We’ll spend some time with the details, and some on the big picture.

Because it’s been a while, let’s back up and revisit the “big idea” behind the Service Revolution now: where did it come from? Why is it our mission? Remember that customer intimacy has always been part of the franchise model. From the time we rebranded, we knew that the best way to beat our competition was to be game-changers in the area of local service. Why? Because nobody except U.S. Lawns can provide that. National companies are too big; local guys are too small.

We started looking at other companies who’d accomplished similar game changes in their industry. Starbucks. Walmart. Amazon. Offering a unique service model had put them on top. That’s when we decided it was time for a Service Revolution.

A Service Revolution is the best possible way to compete. You may recall what we’ve said before: Big companies keep getting bigger and more impersonal. That’s not franchising. It’s not great service. And it certainly isn’t U.S. Lawns.

We hope you’ll join us at the Conference. And more importantly, join the Service Revolution. It’s not just an idea anymore. It’s time.

U.S. Lawns Creating a Service Revolution

How to Create a Service Revolution

How to Create a Service Revolution

Thanks for tuning into Ken’s message on Friday. We hope it addressed any questions or concerns you may have about our service revolution. As Ken reminded us, our focus will remain on building strong franchisees, and ensuring an economically sound transition for each of you.

As our President, Ken’s job is to inspire the troops.  But every idea has two parts: innovation and execution. Innovation is the big picture; but execution means getting it done. The service revolution is no exception. This article is about how to get the service revolution done—every day, with every customer, in every U.S. Lawns location.

Radical Personalization

You’ve been hearing the term “radical personalization” since the Conference. In Ken’s video, he gave it a definition: making every single customer interaction personal.

Imagine for a moment how your business looks to a customer. Break it down, and think of each instance when the customer comes into contact with you, your employees, your services, or even your brand. This could include everything from a proposal delivery, to a job site interaction, to the invoicing process, to seeing you at a local property managers’ association event.

Each of these moments is called a “touch point.” And to execute a service revolution, it’s important to talk very literally about what must change at each touch point. No doubt, you already know which touch points are positive for your customers, and which could use improvement.

Point By Point

For the next few months, we’re going to use this blog to address specific touch points in your business. We’ll talk about ways to make each aspect better. And we’ll discuss how those improvements can really pay off.

Plus, for every touch point we address, we’ll also talk about how Home Office is gearing up to help you achieve your goals. There’s a whole menu of new products and resources coming in 2015, designed specifically to help you create radical personalization. We won’t ask anything of you without showing exactly how we plan to help.

Time for a Revolution

Are you ready? We’ve got some solid tips on how to make your service better. Just like Ken said, you are the Spartan Army, mighty not in numbers but in purpose. And we are behind you all the way. Let’s win this market.

Being served a latte at Starbucks

Think Big, Act Small: Radical Personalization

Think Big, Act Small: Radical Personalization

“The bigger a company gets, the smaller it has to act.”

That’s a quote from John Moore, author of the book Tribal Wisdom and former marketing director at Starbucks. And it’s pretty relevant to a national grounds care company whose lifeblood is local franchisees. We think there’s something to be learned there.

Because, if there’s any big company that’s learned to “act small,” it’s Starbucks. Back in the 90s, the chain grew so quickly that it began to overrun small coffee shops in local communities. People started joking about seeing a Starbucks on every corner, and in some cases, it wasn’t a joke. Quality declined, consistency wavered, and service no longer claimed top priority. In fact, Starbucks didn’t have a very good relationship with customers, who saw them as the embodiment of corporate culture.

Luckily, a phenomenal leadership team saw the downward trend, and had the vision to turn it around. Starbucks started acting like a small coffee shop, instead of competing with small coffee shops. Today, there aren’t as many retail locations, but profits are much higher. Ask any coffee drinker, and they’ll tell you why.

Starbucks has good coffee, but more importantly, they have excellent service.

Last year before the conference, a Home Office employee stopped at her usual Starbucks, grumbling about having to catch a very early flight to Baltimore. The barista bought her latte and thanked her for being a good customer.

That’s a big company acting small. It’s a national chain providing local service. (Sound familiar?) When Starbucks baristas deliver that kind of service, they create brand loyalty—otherwise known as 100% Client Retention. They make 100% Customer Satisfaction look easy… and certainly attainable.

Starbucks isn’t the only big company who dominates the market by “acting small.” Retailers like Amazon and Zappos are not only huge companies, but they’re completely online. Customers don’t even have a brick-and-mortar location in which to have personal encounters with employees; and yet, people continually rave about the service. Amazon has disrupted the market so much that big booksellers like Borders have been forced to shut their doors. DVD rental stores like Blockbuster are a thing of the past. Like Starbucks, Amazon has found a way to dominate the market by acting like a small retailer. (A small retailer that just happens to have everything you might every want to purchase, that is.)

U.S. Lawns needs to remember that we, too, can dominate the market. And we don’t have to be anything other than who we are: a big company who acts small. “National strength, local commitment, and the power of the network,” as we say. Nobody else in the industry can deliver that.

100% Customer Satisfaction is so crucial because that’s what “acting small” means. It’s what local commitment means. And that’s the piece that gives us our competitive advantage. What’s more, if we take our cue from businesses like Starbucks, we’ll see that this kind of radical personalization of an industry that has previously acted highly impersonal can allow us to change the marketplace in ways that are revolutionary. It will put us on top, in a really big way.

As we ramp up to this year’s conference, we’d like to challenge all of you to consider this radical personalization. 100% Client Retention is a part of that. 100% Customer Satisfaction is a part of that. All the other things we’ve blogged about in connection with that initiative are a part of that. The Customer Connection is just another way of saying it.

Right now, commercial grounds care is undergoing some changes as an industry. These changes will make things more impersonal, not less. This is our chance to leverage our service excellence to completely change the game. Because it’s not how big you are that matters; it’s how small you act.

U.S. Lawns Team

100% Customer Satisfaction and the Crew Leader

100% Customer Satisfaction and the Crew Leader

Last week we talked about Customer Satisfaction and why service is one of the most important business tools you possess. Now, we’re going to focus on another important (and closely related) advantage: the people who work a job site and make customer service happen.

It’s become something of a cliché in the business world that “people are the most important assets.” But it’s also profoundly true, especially in a service industry. If 100% customer satisfaction is your primary goal, you can’t get there without hiring and training the best staff.

Focusing on your employees is the first step in serving your customers. That’s why companies like Walmart, Starbucks and Google make such a big deal about being great places to work. It’s why the U.S. Lawns Home Office does the same. Employees can’t and won’t provide extraordinary service unless they’re happy with their jobs.

So, what does this mean for you? As a franchise owner, it’s different than a Fortune 500 company like Starbucks, or even our Home Office. The size of your staff will vary, depending on how long you’ve been in business. If your franchise is established, you’re probably responsible for an Operations Manager, an Office Manager, and perhaps even GMs for multiple territories. Newer franchisees are still focused on building their crews. All of these positions are important, but there’s one employee every franchisee has—one who serves as the ideal model for employee satisfaction and customer service. That person is your Crew Leader.

The Crew Leader position may not be the highest on the org chart, but we guarantee it’s the most important from a customer service perspective. So, if you want to achieve 100% customer satisfaction this year, start by taking a look at your Crew Leader.

We should all be familiar with the job duties of a Crew Leader. We have listings along with job descriptions posted on our local web pages, as we’re constantly looking to expand our crews. At a basic, operational level, the Crew Leader is responsible for managing the activities week-to-week on each job site and delivering quality work on time. This involves delegating tasks to the most capable members of the crew, supervising their activities and following up to ensure completion of these tasks. It also involves keeping schedules and punch lists of duties to be performed. The Crew Leader may also conduct safety tailgate meetings.

At this level, the Crew Leader’s role is focused on the grounds care staff. He is their manager, their coach and their mentor. When a new gardener comes on board, it’s the Crew Leader’s job to train him. It’s the Crew Leader’s job to enforce the rules for safety and performance. The Crew Leader reports back to the owner or manager on the performance of the team. Consequently, he is responsible for motivating the team and setting a positive example.

You can see how the Crew Leader plays a pivotal role in getting a job done. Customer satisfaction depends on the Crew Leader’s ability to lead. If someone on the crew isn’t properly trained, that’s the Crew Leader’s fault. If deadlines or important tasks get missed, the Crew Leader is responsible. In microcosm, the Crew Leader is your business; his hand is on the lever of customer satisfaction at all times. The Crew Leader must constantly manage the human capital of the crew. If a gardener has complaints about a job, the Crew Leader gets an earful. He works constantly to motivate his team, and keep them happy—so they, in turn, can serve your customers.

But there’s another dimension to the Crew Leader’s job: he also interacts directly with your clients. In this role, the Crew Leader does not so much represent the crew as the U.S. Lawns franchise itself. When discussing the progress of jobs with your customer, Crew Leaders must provide exemplary service at all times. They must be positive, responsive, and flexible to all clients’ needs. And they must follow up with the client to ensure that jobs have been satisfactorily completed.

As you can see, the Crew Leader’s function is to represent all aspects of the organization. If anyone is unhappy—you, the crew or the client—the Crew Leader is the one who must hear about it. His client is both internal and public, and his primary job is service. In fact, you might say a Crew Leader’s job description could be boiled down to three words: 100% Customer Satisfaction.

So, what’s important to learn from this? A few things:

• The Crew Leader is your “anchor” position if customer satisfaction is your goal. Make sure you’ve got the right people in that role.
• Train your Crew Leaders to be all-star players on your team. Encourage them, coach them and support them.
• Make sure everyone understands that Crew Leader is not a landscaping position; it’s a customer service job. That sets expectations right away for your team, including the Crew Leaders themselves.
• Rely on the Crew Leaders to take the lead on customer service, and take ownership of that aspect of grounds care. Crew morale will rise, and your service ratings will, too.
• Every single person in your organization is crucial to achieving 100% Client Satisfaction. You may never have thought about the Crew Leader before. Now think about the other roles in your organization. How is each person uniquely positioned to help your team generate revenue and stand out from the competition by providing unparalleled customer service?

U.S. Lawns Team celebrating

Reflections from Baltimore: Still Moving in a Bold Direction

Reflections from Baltimore: Still Moving in a Bold Direction

It’s hard to believe our next annual conference is just a few months away.

Last year in Baltimore, we made history. With record attendance and a dramatic rebranding, we launched a new era for U.S. Lawns. Most of us are still working to implement the details of the new brand today. But as we head into the 2014 conference season, it’s important to reflect on how we’ve changed in the last nine months, and why.

It started with unprecedented growth. Over 270 locations…170 franchisees…market presence in 44 states. In franchising, this kind of reach has major implications. Every provider from Raleigh to Reno must deliver a consistent, replicable experience. Our franchisees must be unified by a single message.

Your Turf. Our Lawn.

In 2013, we realized it was time. Time to come together…time to show the world our strength. We’d seen the landscape industry crowded with amateurs since the recession began. Local businesses needed to see immediately, at a single glance, that U.S. Lawns was the #1 commercial grounds care franchise in the nation.

As the trucks rolled into the streets of Baltimore, bearing our new insignia, a drum corps wearing our crisp, new uniforms marched us into the sun. Few can forget that moment of excitement which defined the entire conference-or the rallying cry that soon rang out: Your Turf. Our Lawn.

Since that inspiring weekend, it’s only gotten better. Those freshly wrapped trucks soon appeared on the streets in the Carolinas, Florida and Mississippi, where franchisees initiated a race to see who could rebrand fastest. Competitive camaraderie spread like wildfire, with many of you stepping up your internal operations. We saw franchisees cooperating across territory lines at an unprecedented level. And crew members also got in the game, starting their day with our newly-adopted company chant.

Everyone wants to feel like they’re part of something big. We always knew U.S. Lawns was an incredible team, but now we’ve articulated our success in a bold, unapologetic way. And clients look at us differently, because of our updated appearance. Potential franchisees who once passed us over are coming back again.

As for us, we look at ourselves with renewed confidence in our ability to grow, succeed and meet the challenges of tomorrow. It’s important to remember what we said at the conference: rebranding isn’t change. Everything about our “new look” is simply a better expression of the values we’ve always held. Strength; professionalism; community; loyalty; trust…those of you who have been with U.S. Lawns for a long time can attest that these are truly at the heart of our DNA.

Last year we rebranded. We began a journey. The task of communicating our vision to the world will keep us engaged for years to come.

Let’s get ready for Nashville…2014.

U.S. Lawns Franchise Network

Franchise Network Growing at Record Pace

Franchise Network Growing at Record Pace

U.S. Lawns announced a record-breaking year of growth in 2012, awarding a total of 28 franchises. The down economy has not stopped the success of this company, with 126 franchises joining the nationwide network since 2008. Almost half of these have been “conversions,” or existing landscape business owners that converted their business to a U.S. Lawns franchise.

With the addition of new franchisees, U.S. Lawns can service more areas and strengthen referrals among existing locations. Overall, U.S. Lawns is now the #1 landscape management franchise, meaning additional support and resources are available to franchise owners.

“Business owners are searching for ways to improve their business and gain a competitive edge in their local markets,” noted Brandon Moxam, U.S. Lawns Director of Franchise Recruiting. “Franchising is a natural fit for these entrepreneurs. They’re committed to the industry and they’ve already taken on the risk of business ownership, but want the branding, systems, processes and support of a national company.”

So, how much of a factor has the economy been in the number of business owners seeking a franchise opportunity?

“We’ve seen a high number of candidates who have been displaced from corporate jobs who found the opportunity to own a business was preferable to the less than stellar job market,” Moxam said. Additionally, the economy has forced individuals to take a hard look at where they’re at with their careers, even if they are still employed. We have had just as many candidates reach out to us who have hit the ceiling in their current careers and want to make a change as we’ve had those who are out of work.”

The company is on pace to set another banner year for franchise recruitment in 2013, as new efforts are made to strengthen the national brand.

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