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Like many entrepreneurs, Tom Oyler had a dream. He wanted to build his Florida landscape maintenance business, Oyler Brothers Landscaping, into a giant company that could service the needs of customers in many different climates and regional areas. Based on his experience, he knew that people who lived locally and knew the community added value.
He also knew that extra attention would be given if that person had some ownership.
He and his two partners began opening satellite offices outside of their geographic area, and selling those to local owners. However, there was a fatal flaw with that idea: Oyler was creating competition for himself. As these new businesses began to expand their service areas, they began to infringe on the areas where the Oyler Brothers were working.
Realizing their dilemma, in 1986 they called upon Ken Hutcheson, owner of a flourishing interior plant franchise, to consult with and to create a successful franchise model. He had prior experience in assisting other franchise companies.
“The early pioneers of U.S. Lawns—those early principals, those early franchisees—set in place the mission and values that we work with today...”
Hutcheson entered the picture and helped create a successful franchise model that has grown to be one of the leaders not only in the franchise market but in the landscape industry, as well. He also helped create an operating manual and a sales manual for Oyler, and aided them in creating the name U.S. Lawns. “They were not a franchise company that chose to enter the market. They chose to franchise because they felt that it was a better way to deliver maintenance service to their customers,” says Hutcheson. “That’s an important distinction. They knew the business, inside and out.”
The franchise model that was created was also unique. It was started in the likeness of what Tom
Oyler was doing in the maintenance division of his own company.
In 1995, Hutcheson sold his interior plant franchises and was looking for another opportunity when Todd Moerchen, who was a franchisee and part-time executive of U.S. Lawns, called and asked him to come onboard.
A year later, Oyler sold U.S. Lawns to Environmental Industries, now ValleyCrest Companies.
That year, U.S. Lawns was supporting 15 franchisees. “Until we became part of ValleyCrest, we really were still in a prototype mode,” Hutcheson says.
When Hutcheson became president of the company in 2001, there were 65 franchisees. Marking 25 years of service to customers and franchise owners, U.S. Lawns has reason to celebrate. Today, the company boasts having 239 franchisees in 39 states and has big plans to continue expansion.
“The early pioneers of U.S. Lawns—those early principals, those early franchisees—set in place the mission and values that we work with today, and they have guided U.S. Lawns to where we are now,” Hutcheson says. “We set out in 1986 to transform the landscape maintenance industry. We did it with four ideals in mind, which are trust, quality, service, and value. We still live with those same four ideals.”
There have been small changes, nonetheless. One change was in the language used to define what U.S. Lawns and others in the industry do. The change from landscape maintenance to landscape management was a major step in providing more for customers and offered a much broader scope of involvement with them.
More importantly though, the mission statement of the company became its foundation. That mission statement reads: To provide our customers with the highest quality landscape management program at competitive prices through a national organization of dedicated local owner operators and their employees, supported by the expertise of today’s most accomplished industry leaders.
Hutcheson chuckles over mission statements by other companies.
“You see so many companies that have a mission statement done by a PR agency, and it gets updated and changed every few years,” he says. “We have a mission statement that was created 25 years ago, and it is the same mission statement that we have on the wall of our conference room today. And we live by it.”
“Commercial landscape management was our focus in 1986. It is still our focus.”
He also stresses the beginning of the mission statement: To provide service to our customers. “In 25 years, most of the decisions we made and still make are built around what is a market need and what is a customer need,” he says. “If you don’t build around the needs of the market, you will be left behind . . . we owe it to our stakeholders (which are the customers, employees, franchisees) to be on the cutting edge.”
National in scope, U.S. Lawns is comprised of dedicated local owner operators and their employees. Each one of the 239 offices in 39 states are franchise owned and operated and exist to serve the local customer. They all aspire to the company’s mission statement and the same four ideals: trust, quality, service, and value. This provides a level of consistency and integrity throughout the entire company.
More than 50 certified franchise professionals work out of national headquarters to support their franchisees. They have that same level of professionalism in the world of landscaping. With offices in 39 states, they are able to serve the climate needs of local customers, backed by the resources of a national company, while providing consis tency of service.
Some of the executives are active in the international franchise association and others, like Hutcheson, are active on the boards of directors of colleges that teach courses in franchising. This brings a level of support to franchise owners that is unparalleled.
“We may have more volume and locations than we had in 1986, but our passion for the ideals and the entrepreneurial energy I see in this team and the commitment to those four ideals has not only remained intact, but has grown even stronger,” Hutcheson says. “It is our foundation.”
“We perform completely under the franchise model. We started with that model in 1986, and we’re still there today,” he adds. “We have professionals in our home office who are active and engaged in two industries. One is in the world of franchising, where we are a well-respected franchise company and one of the larger ones in the country. We also are respected professionals in the world of landscaping, specifically commercial landscape management. Commercial landscape management was our focus in 1986. It is still our focus.”
With offices in 39 states, they are able to serve the climate needs of local customers, backed by the resources of a national company, while providing consistency of service. But more importantly, they are able to serve the needs of multilocation, multi-site customers. This is a change Hutcheson has seen in the industry in the past 25 years.
But it is more than just climate differences and matching horticultural elements. U.S. Lawns was built around a customer model. The owners are part of the community they live and work in. They know what the labor is like, what the community is like. And, more importantly, they can respond to the customer. Having a local owner operator and their team and their resources on the spot is something that no one in this industry can do. You can only do that if you have a passionate owner in the community that you are serving.
“I think that passion is one of the defining things that U.S. Lawns has that separates us from other franchisors and separates us from other companies in the landscape industry,” Hutcheson adds. “One thing that I’m very proud of is that I still have the passion, and our franchisees still live and breathe with that passion. But I’m equally proud that the 50-some-odd home office people share that same passion. I see it when I overhear them talk to others about U.S. Lawns. I see that same fire in their eyes. I hear that in their voice. I see it in the eyes of the franchisees and in the eyes of our customers.”
In addition, their Operations Manual is key to their franchise owners’ success. “Our Operations Manual is not just a book. It is a series of systems and processes that aren’t static. They change on a regular basis,” Hutcheson says. There are systems that allow a brand new person to come into the industry and be successful, or take a person who’s already in the industry who can convert their business to one that is successful.
As the company expanded, U.S. Lawns introduced new services to their franchise owners. Last year, they offered a snow summit that brought franchisees together who were in seasonal markets and offered strategies for snow and ice management. “That’s the type of support we didn’t have ten years ago. We didn’t need it ten years ago,” Hutcheson says.
For the last three years, U.S. Lawns has worked aggressively to be sure that they fulfill the needs of all of the owners. What’s most important is that these processes are now tailored for the northern market—if they plow snow—or in the southern market—if they do agronomics. Most importantly, they deliver these goals and systems not just electronically but through the skills of a regional franchise advisor, a real person. That person gets behind the franchisee and helps him with any of these concepts.
U.S. Lawns plans to continue to fulfill its mission to its stakeholders. They have two goals: one is to build national strength and the other is to build local commitment. National strength is achieved by increasing their customer base. “In five years, we look to have another 200 to 250 franchises. So we’ll be in that 500 range,” says Hutcheson.
Local commitment is achieved by increasing market density, which means growing the number of customers within each franchise territory. Both of those objectives play into supporting their customers more effectively. What will it take to reach these objectives? It will take their customers, it will take their support team, and it will take their franchise owners—-all working together. This is a people business.
One thing U.S. Lawns has witnessed in 25 years is steady growth.
“During good times, during difficult times, the commercial customer needs the services that we provide, and they pay for it,” Hutcheson says. “We have grown consistently year after year after year, even during difficult times.”
Their focus on people—whether it’s their customers or franchise owners—by finding out what their needs are and being able to service them, has made U.S. Lawns a company of service as opposed to a company that is just making money. It is making a difference all across the industry in the lives of their team, their franchise owners, and their customers. Tom Oyler’s dream has been fulfilled.