This year, we held our Annual Conference in Williamsburg, Virginia because it represents that intrinsic American spirit which is at the core of U.S. Lawns’ genetic makeup.
Our life stories share some great parallels with our country’s founding fathers. They recognized that strength comes from unity. They also understood that the only way to truly stand united is by respecting each another’s differences and sharing a common goal.
Thanks to their courage to make tough decisions and take bold actions, we have the freedom to live the American Dream in this, the most powerful nation in the world. That is incredibly inspiring. But what inspires me more deeply, is being right in the middle of this U.S. Lawns community.
The people who make up our nationwide Network each take a lead role in making America the greatest nation of the face of this earth. We’re the giants that carry the weight of the world on our shoulders. Working without a safety net; all in; creating jobs; paying taxes; helping out our neighbors.
But we’re fortunate. We’re all part of the U.S. Lawns team, the family, the army.
Our spirit is deeply embedded in our DNA, in alignment with the spirit of our founding fathers–the spirit of America. Like this great country we live in, U.S. Lawns was built on a solid foundation: a diverse group of people with different motives but bound together by a common cause. We’re changing lives for the better; rocking the world in our communities. This is the spirit of U.S. Lawns every day.
Our story and our culture are like nothing else in the industry. It’s what enables us to provide our customers with something nobody else can: the radical connectivity of a national network and the radical personalization of local service.
This sets us apart from our biggest competitors, who continue to grow bigger–and more impersonal. We dominate the market, by leveraging our personal service, following our mission, and remaining true to our vision. Our goal is to be the #1 grounds care company in the nation.
To be very clear, our go-to-market strategy is centered on people.
It’s about a Home Office team of passionate professionals supporting a network of dedicated owners and their employees. It’s serving customers that place value on relationships with people. It’s having respect for the gardeners and crew leaders who get the work done. We’re fortunate to be part of U.S. Lawns. As a brand, we’ve built a foundation that is second to none in the industry.
What does that foundation look like?
• We’ve moved up to #5 on the list of largest companies in the landscape industry.
• Today, we’re the second largest grounds care provider in the nation.
• Our geographic footprint covers 251 territories in 41 states, giving us the broadest coverage of any service provider in the industry.
• Our newest owner, Aldrick Estrada, U.S. Lawns of San Jose just joined the U.S. Lawns Network this spring; the owner with the most tenure, Todd Moerchen, U.S. Lawns of Clearwater, has been in the system for 28 years.
• Our collective experience, knowledge, resources, systems and tools are second to none.
• The cornerstone of this foundation is our people: The Home Office team, our owners, managers and employees, our partners and customers.
That’s a solid foundation. And we are producing. By all accounts, we’re recognized as an industry leader. We are doing things others find difficult and we’re better for it. Still, we can always stand to improve and we all want to, because only through growth can we create better opportunities for ourselves, our employees and our customers.
That’s why U.S. Lawns’ Home Office is continuously adding new tools and initiatives for franchise owner-operators. Tools that strengthen our ability to work as a united front, and show employees, partners and customers how much we care.
So, we’ll keep doing what we’re doing well, and we’ll also replace a few old habits with new ones that will change the future. We won’t be shy or weak about it, either.
Although it is human nature to want to adopt the concept that, “ignorance is bliss,” in fact, ignorance is pain when it comes to customer satisfaction.
Yes, the truth can sometimes hurt. Especially when it comes to the way people view you and your business, which, as every small business owner can tell you, are really one in the same. Your business is you, and that’s a scary proposition that can lead you to lie to yourself because:
1. You’re afraid to find out what your customers are really thinking, and
2. You’re concerned that a customer satisfaction survey will serve as a catalyst to drive some negative action by your customer.
Now really, what you’re doing by burying your head in the sand is setting yourself up for more damage than the truth could ever create. Ignorance is not bliss, it’s future pain. It’s future loss. And when it comes to knowing what your customers truly think of you, it could be the difference between you retaining that customer or being fired, and that’s powerful.
At U.S. Lawns, we recognize that knowledge gives you more control. One of the tools we provide our local commercial landscape management owner-operators to gain valuable insights and improve overall customer experience, is our customer satisfaction survey process.
It improves communication, by opening another channel. Understand, there is more to customer satisfaction than work quality, and good communication is critical here. So again, the customer satisfaction survey offers another communication channel, and it typically provides unfiltered feedback. Customers are more likely to say things on a survey they wouldn’t be comfortable sharing with you in person or over the phone.
It identifies problems. U.S. Lawns believes in a culture of “no surprises” and utilizing any tool that can help identify and eliminate surprises places you in a position to create value for the customer. Let’s say the customer is sharing negative feedback with you. You now have the chance to bring resolution to that pain point, therefore creating and delivering value to that customer. In turn, you’re strengthening the customer relationship, which often leads to the chance to generate enhancement sales.
So, you’re communicating, you’re opening another channel of communication, and you’re generating real, straightforward, unfiltered feedback, which enables you to have an open dialogue with your customers and demonstrate your value. This all creates better opportunity for your business.
Many people don’t realize that the customer satisfaction survey process is really a tool to generate more revenue in your business. Strengthening customer relationships creates referral opportunities, so it doesn’t just end with that particular relationship but can be a lead into many, many more relationships.
Ultimately, all of this supports the U.S. Lawns brand vision of 100% Client Retention. By retaining 100% of your customers you’re creating incredible opportunity for growth with each relationship. More than just the profit produced from that single relationship on that single property, it continues producing over two, three, five, ten years, infinity on. Then there are the referrals and new opportunities that customer connects you to. When you really start quantifying all of this, you’ll be blown away by the true value a single customer can mean for your business over the long haul.
So be brave, seek the truth. It may be painful, but in the end, it will hurt far less than losing customers when you only needed a few simple answers to keep them satisfied.
That’s part of our DNA and our Mission & Vision.
Chris Seaborne and Tim Harrell, owners of U.S. Lawns – Team 008 of Frederick Maryland, know first-hand the importance of starting off the winter season prepared, and it all begins now.
In a recent conversation with Seaborne, he explained that while preparation of equipment and materials usually takes place a little later, the middle of June–beginning of July is when you should start the customer side of things.
This is the season when snow and ice management contracts are up, so you should be sending out renewals. It’s also an opportune time to start talking to people about snow sales during the calm after the spring landscaping frenzy.
It’s also good to catch them before they go on vacation or take a summer break, so they can have plenty of time to review the new contract. They probably won’t sign it in June or July, but as Chris said, “At least they’ve got it, so then when August-September rolls around it’s a quick ‘Hey, I’ve got to review the contract. I’ll get it signed and back to you,’ versus ‘Oh, send me all the information, we need to take this out to bid.’ You don’t want your current customers to take it out to bid in September or October, you want to nip that in the bud and take it out to bid now.”
So, how do you approach them? According to Seaborne, it’s pretty straightforward with current customers, because you’re always on their sites or talking with them about landscaping. This ongoing dialogue makes it easy to broach the subject with a simple “Hey by the way, your snow management contract was up at the end of March, we need to get something in place for this winter.”
New customers are more of a challenge. You don’t know when they start their process for snow and ice management, so that conversation only takes place when they have a need. They’re not likely to be calling this time of the year to discuss snow management unless their contract is expired or they’re unhappy with their current vendor. This means pursuing new winter contracts requires making sales calls and utilizing the Direct Sales Dial Up program offered by U.S. Lawns’ Home Office.
It’s important to understand that since snow management is all about logistics, you need a lot of time and information to prepare properly. We’re talking about big equipment, multiple job sites, and multiple subcontractors and employees here.
To quote Chris, “It’s different than landscaping. If you were to go bid Disney World and all of a sudden you picked up the contract and had to start mowing their grass next month, do you think you could pull that off? That’s what we’re looking at, maybe not to that scale, but a lot of the jobs that we bid require five or ten or fifteen people to be there when it snows. I can’t just make that happen in five minutes. So, I want to get that ball rolling now so I know what equipment I’ve got available when a new customer calls me and wants to do something in September or October.”
This brings us to the matter of subcontractors. If you’re thinking of getting serious about winter services, a big decision is whether to invest in your own staff and equipment, or hire subcontractors.
Seaborne made a great case for hiring subcontractors as he expanded on the subject with: “Last winter we serviced about 130 commercial properties, the smallest being a bank, the largest being a sixty-five acre distribution center. We subbed out sixty-five pieces of heavy equipment, combined. If I had to buy those, what would I do with them the rest of the year? So, I have to use subcontractors because it makes more sense; I can’t do that many jobs without them.”
He continued with some very sage advice, “Just make sure your subcontractor agreement specifies company and customer expectations. That includes codes of conduct, training, reporting procedures, and responsibility for repair of any damage to client properties. Remember, at the end of the day they are your face on your customers’ sites.”
Now, subcontractors may be the ones working on the job sites, but U.S. Lawns of Frederick manages all the logistics, which is very complex. They have to map out where all their clients are located in relation to the subcontractors to make sure they’re operating at peak efficiency; they also have to look at every single property and determine what equipment is needed on each. With that many clients, it’s a huge undertaking.
The final thing to consider is the commitment involved. It’s critical to be highly responsive, and you’ve got really know every customer’s business to be successful. As Chris said, “You have to intimately know each facility that you’re doing, what their operation is like and what effects their operations. It’s not a nine to five job.”
Ultimately, it all comes down to getting behind your customers’ eyes, constant communication, early preparation, and total commitment. And it’s precisely these qualities that make Chris Seaborne and Tim Harrell legendary winter warriors in the U.S. Lawns Network.
Every business has a mission statement and a set of values. Many have them listed on a plaque which hangs unread, on a faraway wall; others, like us, are more actively committed to living those values.
Here at U.S. Lawns, we are obligated to put our culture into practice because with our geographically diverse team, we’ve got to make sure that everyone sees and shares our vision.
This is the reason we must work by the same rules and standards, towards the same goal–we’ve got to take our newest gardener, newest franchisee, or newest Home Office employee and somehow communicate why they’re really here. We’ve got to show them the big picture.
This is not just limited to employees either. It moves and expands into the circles of our customers and business partners too.
So, how can we make sure they see our vision? How can they want the same end result? How do we get them to carry out our mission?
In our case, we’ve got an advantage because our mission is so simple. Yet, so powerful.
This mission being 100% Customer Retention. It’s the very simplicity that makes it easier to share across cultures, geography and language.
You’ve also got to consider this: a true mission is far more than just a goal or an ideal. It must be something we work for intentionally every day. When you have clear purpose, it’ll be obvious to those people around you; not just your employees, but everybody in your community.
Think of all the times you’ve been misled. Here’s a big one, you take your car to the dealership to be serviced early one morning. You’re greeted by employees with bright smiles on their faces who’re doing everything you expected when you bought your car there two years ago…But (and there should never be a “but”), while they’re smiling, they’re giving you the bad news that the loaner car they promised in their advertisement is not available; it may be two days before your car will be done; and by the way, there are some unexpected add-on costs.
They’re not representing the same mission the company is communicating, and believe me, people notice.
You can’t fake a mission like 100% Customer Retention, and the best part is, when the customer knows how much they’re really valued, they’re going to value that relationship in return. When the employee knows how much they’re valued, they will value that relationship in return. When the vendor knows how much we value our customer, when they know that we expect 100% of our customers to be satisfied, they’re going to step up and deliver.
This goes full circle back to making sure your customers, business partners, and your employees see your vision–and here’s the crucial part–and want the same result. If they don’t, they should not be an employee, a customer or a business partner.
Now, as we have for over thirty years, we continue to remain steadfast in pursuit of our mission. How do we get there? We talk about it, we act on it, we let everybody know that that’s what our goal is, and we do it with passion and consistency. That’s what we mean by “abide by the same rules and standards to work for the same goal.”
Summer can be the most expensive time to operate in commercial grounds management, which makes your summer plan critical. There are several aspects you need to take into account when planning.
First, you must make sure you have enough people to fulfill the agreements you’ve made with your customers.
Second, if you plan to subcontract out any services such as your agronomic programs or your irrigation maintenance, you need to make sure that you have planned and budgeted for it. This determination is usually made by one of two things:
Item number two will not only vary by state, but may also vary by county in a state. From U.S. Lawns’ perspective, we always want to make sure we are obeying licensing requirements. And, just as in any business, when you don’t have the in-house capabilities for the job, you’re going to get a better job done more efficiently by hiring (or subcontracting) a specialist.
As you’re working on your summer plan, you also need to make sure that you’ve got enough equipment to do everything you’ve committed to do; that you’ve got a plan in place when–not if, but when–some of that equipment doesn’t function properly. This means working with a dealer that has a loaner plan for you or you have a good level of backup equipment in your operation, or both.
Another big consideration is that although some regions have a more definitive start and stop to the horticultural season, even places like Florida, Texas and California have slower growth months. This translates to the need of fewer people and less equipment to effectively maintain client properties.
This is all so important in planning your ramp-up because you’ve got to plan your financial side too, and you can’t do that if you haven’t planned everything else. If you don’t know how many people you’re going to need, what subcontractors, if you’re going to use any, will cost, and what impact equipment problems are going to make, you can’t financially prepare.
This is why a summer operational plan is so important, you can’t do the financial plan without the operational plan.
But remember, you can have the best operational plan in the world, and if you don’t have the money to drive it, it doesn’t matter.
The long and short of it is, if you’ve done a good budget (which means it’s not flatlined, it shows the variability in the season), you should be able to do fairly accurate cash flow forecasting based on your anticipated monthly billing amounts and expenses.
If your cash flow forecast predicts you’ll have some slow periods, you’re also going to need a line of credit or something to get you through. And if you do use lines of credit, you’d better be disciplined enough to pay them off first thing, when you collect your money.
A final key to the success of your plan is to make sure you’re collecting your money timely. If you’re in a twelve-month market, but you’re only collecting your money every forty days, that means you’re only collecting your billing nine times a year but still spending twelve months’ worth of money. So, your profit and loss statement and your budget vs. actual can show you as being profitable, but if you’re not collecting your money, you’re going to go out of business.
There really are no secrets here–it all comes down to planning, budgets and follow-through.
Beasley, who lives in Natchez, Louisiana, owns U.S. Lawns Team – 346 in Alexandria, LA as well as Lafayette, LA Team – 426 and has three shops between the two territories. His is a success story filled with worthy insights into retaining customers, regardless of the tactics competition is using to try to steal them away.
In a recent conversation with Beasley, he made it sound easy enough, saying: “I guess it starts with me. As long as I’m happy the managers are happy; when the managers are happy the crew leaders are happy and on down the line. So, when everybody’s happy and in a good mood it flows all the way through back to the customer.”
The real question is, what does it take to make sure everyone stays happy?
According to Ken, the top complaints he hears from commercial property owners and managers are all surrounding consistency. Customers want to know when they can expect their crew to be there every week. As importantly, they want to know it’s going to be the same crew, familiar with their property and its needs, week after week.
Ken boiled it down like this: “We just do what we say we’re going do. We’re consistent. We come on the same time of the same day every week. Consistency is really a big thing.”
He keeps customers because he remains constant and true. Being consistent with his crew plays an equal, if not bigger role in client retention. Admittedly, Ken has seen his share of turnover, but it’s been several years now, and it’s because he understands the value of showing how much he appreciates people – internally and externally.
He expanded on the ways he expresses appreciation to his customers: “Well, when they have a concern, we overreact for sure. But every chance that I get personally, and my managers do it too, we just let them know that we’re so thankful. That’s the big thing, I mean we’re not rocket scientists, we’re just mowing grass. But when folks know that we genuinely appreciate their business and we genuinely care about them and their success it goes a long way.”
He then continued introspectively, “I tell my managers all the time, ‘Don’t think of a contract as money, think of it as we’re going to help these folks out, like we really, sincerely think that the product that we’re selling you is going to help save you money and make life better for you. And if you do that and you really mean it – you have to really mean it; you can’t fake it; you’ve got to be sincere about it – but when you do, it’s kind of hard for somebody to say no to it and if you’re consistent with that, it’s kind of hard for them to fire you; and the money comes afterwards. Of course, we’re doing this for money, that’s why we’re working, but if you put the customer first, the money comes afterwards and it’s usually better.”
Beasley applies the very same principle to his team, and he invests in them because he knows that ultimately, having happy employees translates to higher productivity, better work, and positive interaction with crewmates and clients alike.
“One thing we do that goes farther than people realize is, after they’ve been with us for 90 days, every year on their birthday, my manager picks them up from the job, takes them to the store and buys them a new pair of work boots. But the really cool thing is, they get to spend an hour in the truck with their manager and talk. I think that has paid off for us big time, it just makes people think they’re part of something special.”
They also hold an annual conference each year, modeled after the U.S. Lawns Annual Conference, where awards are presented and door prizes are given away.
Communication is another key ingredient to customer loyalty. His team has face-to-face communication with property managers on a weekly basis, and tour the property once a month to do quality control. He’s even been known to send 50 employees to one property at the same time in order to save a contract. He maintains that the reason they retain their customers has more to do with the fact that they communicate with customers and respond to their concerns so well, than the actual work they do.
“You have to believe in the product that you’re selling. If you don’t believe in your product, you will not sell it, and if you believe in your product it’s easy, easy, easy to sell. I believe our product is awesome. There’s nothing like us out there and I really, really believe that, I don’t just say that because it sounds cool, it’s truth. We really have a great product and it’s exciting that we get to offer it to people. As long as I feel that way then everybody feels that way all the way down the line. It works. We’re proof of that, we believed in the brand, and we believed in the systems and it paid off for us big time.”
Ken gets right to the heart of who U.S. Lawns really is, and it’s also why he’s fulfilling our mission every day. We’re so proud that he’s part of our stellar Network!
Blog by: Mike Fitzpatrick, Vice President of U.S. Lawns.
Commercial grounds care is a routine, redundant, repetitive business. The best way to be efficient is to have well trained employees, and the only way to have well trained employees is to train them.
You shouldn’t assume that just because a new hire has experience, they will do things the way you want them done. The only way to make sure your crew members are doing their jobs properly is to train them on your systems and processes.
Yes, we’ve all heard (and maybe even briefly entertained them ourselves) a few emotionally charged arguments like “I don’t have time to train,”. However, logic dictates that you don’t have time not to train.
The next one you’ll hear is, “I train them and they just leave.” Well, that’s certainly better than not training them and having them stay.
Now, beyond efficiency, training is integral to creating a “best place to work” culture, because it shows your employees you care about them. Besides that, how will you ever have people prepared to move to the next level as your business grows, if you don’t train them?
U.S. Lawns believes wholeheartedly in training, which is why we provide a multitude of training tools, topics, videos and testing so our franchisees have access to everything they need to help their employees become certified.
It’s also worth stating that in the landscape maintenance industry safety is paramount, especially with all the equipment our franchisees’ crews use to perform their jobs. Training is a key element to making sure every U.S. Lawns crew member goes home at the end of the day in the same condition as they arrived to work.
Trained crews are also something that U.S. Lawns promises to our customers, so it’s vital that every franchise owner is fulfilling the promise to put well trained employees on the job site.
It’s been said that constant learning is the key to a long life, and this is true in business too. At the end of the day, you’ll never be efficient, you won’t be as profitable, and you won’t be able to retain your people if you don’t continually train them. It’s not a one and done thing, you may complete segments or levels of it but training is ongoing, it never ends. Good thing it keeps us all youthful.
Blog by: Mike Fitzpatrick, Vice President of U.S. Lawns.
It’s Time To Pay Attention To The Landscape
Springtime is when we begin to pay special attention to the landscape all around us. Budding trees and early blooms elevate the spirits, and it’s a prime time of the year to make property improvements.
For U.S. Lawns, This Is Enhancement Season
Now, before we go any further, we recognize that people tend to shy away from the word “enhancement” because somewhere along the line it became associated with unnecessary expense.
So, to clarify what it means to us: Enhancements in the most basic sense, are property improvements–and enhancements play an important role in how well property owners and managers achieve their goals.
Whether it be renting a hotel room, an apartment or office space, or maintaining the grounds of a retail establishment, there are a multitude of enhancements that contribute to safety as well as aesthetics.
It goes without saying that you’re far more likely to draw the right customers when your property has visual appeal, and making surface enhancements like planting seasonal flowers and adding fresh mulch is a great way to accomplish that.
Enhancements Are Valuable To Customers
But plant material has a life cycle, and at some point, it all needs to be refreshed, removed, replaced or rejuvenated with some serious pruning. It’s also important to remember, as plants grow and mature, safety issues develop too. They start blocking signs; tree canopies get heavy, their lowering branches threatening the eyes of passersby; plants grow up and block ingress and egress visibility so drivers can’t see properly as they enter and exit the parking lot; Addressing each of these issues would be considered an enhancement.
The Reasons To Plan Enhancements
Understanding the value of enhancements is critical to the end game, and planning ahead is equally crucial. This is for a number of reasons:
The last two points are big. You need to make sure your landscape contractor is able to get the specific items necessary to fulfill your vision. You also want to be certain you get on their schedule before it fills up. Not to mention that it is wise to let a specialist help you build your budget and create the plan that will be most effective in achieving your goals.
Partner With A Specialist
You need a landscaping partner with the expertise to handle basic maintenance as well as enhancements, so you can continue to focus on your own specialty. That’s why we’re here. Your local U.S. Lawns grounds care specialists will partner with you to maintain and make improvements to your commercial property, and we’ll help you build your budget too. After all, it’s what we do every day.
Blog by: Brandon Moxam, Vice President of U.S. Lawns.
In commercial grounds care, much like all other service industries, strengthening customer relationships all begins with the concept of radical personalization. In the most basic sense, it’s all about developing a business friendship.
Now, we’re not talking about getting together for beers and chicken wings here, so before we get into the how’s of being a business friend, let’s define what a friend is. A friend is someone you confide in; it’s somebody that you share experiences with; and it’s someone that you watch out for. It’s someone that you know has your back and will come through for you when you really have a need–and you do the same thing for them.
As it applies to our customers, being a business friend means climbing a few steps up the value chain, so you’re not just existing within a customer/vendor relationship.
It is this approach, which separates U.S. Lawns from competitors. Our franchisees are all committed to being true business partners and true business friends with our customers.
We’ve found that the most effective way to best accomplish this is to look at yourself though your customers’ eyes. This is how you can determine if you’re delivering what they’re really looking for. First and foremost, ask yourself these questions:
No one likes to do business with someone difficult. And as you ask yourself this question, be sure to look at whether you’re offering a quality service and/or product. Ultimately, it won’t matter how great you are at building relationships if you have a really poor product or service to offer, because nobody’s going to want to do business with you.
Convenience means getting what you want the moment you want it, without bending over backwards to make it happen. In the commercial landscape management business, you’re setting yourself up for failure if you’re just sitting by the phone waiting for the customer to contact you.
At U.S. Lawns, responsiveness is in our DNA. Our franchisees have weekly contact with customers through documentation of the services performed that week. Not only does this foster engagement between your team and your customer, but it also provides an opening to discuss future enhancement opportunities as well as things you’ve seen on the property that could impact your customer’s business.
Before you can strengthen a relationship, it’s important you start off on the right track. It’s all about setting proper expectations. So, when you start a new relationship with a customer the agreement you execute should outline exactly what services have been mutually agreed upon for that specific property. There should be no gray areas.
Then, from more of an operational perspective: set the job up correctly; document everything; communicate exactly to your crews how to properly service that property; and communicate the customer expectations to your crew leader and crew members.
If all you do is deliver upon what was promised when you started that relationship–if you just show up do what you committed to doing, you’re already going to be 90% better than the competition.
What we’re really saying is this: U.S. Lawns has the backs of our customers. We’re going to be there when they need us, and matter of fact, we’re going to be there before they need us.
We understand that as commercial real estate/property managers and owners you have a lot of different things going on in your world and at the end of the day we want to take that landscape service piece and sweep it off your plate.
You don’t have to worry about this, we got you.