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Case Study: Franchise Power

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WHAT LANDSCAPE CONTRACTOR’S eyes wouldn’t light up at the prospect of ten to fifteen percent of business growth a year, every single year? Or new accounts where the work is under written contract? Or when you’re able to pay your bills on time, every time?

This is the last decade’s reality for Mississippi landscape contractor David Purcell, a former independent who now operates the U.S. Lawns franchise in Ridgeland, Mississippi.

“My company used to be named Plantscape Landscape Management,” Purcell recalls. “In reality, I was a grass cutter, with maybe three fellows working with me, many more residential accounts than commercial accounts, and gross sales of about $300,000.”

Purcell became a U.S. Lawns franchisee in 1999. “Since then, thanks to U.S. Lawns, I’ve grown ten to fifteen percent a year, to where I’m about to gross $2,000,000. I never thought this Mississippi boy would ever be running a $2,000,000 business, but it’s happening.”

U.S. Lawns made Purcell’s meteoric success possible. Twenty-five years old, with more than 240 franchisees in thirty-nine states, U.S.

Lawns is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the ValleyCrest Companies. With both new franchisees who’ve never been in the landscape industry before, and professionals like Purcell who convert an existing business to a U.S. Lawns franchise, the firm draws a sharp distinction between “landscape maintenance” and “landscape management.”

“We’re landscape managers,” emphasizes U.S. Lawns president Ken Hutcheson. “We see an upside profit limit for contractors who do mostly residential landscape maintenance.

We focus on commercial accounts, where the franchisee can have an actual relationship with the customer —whether that customer runs a shopping center or an apartment complex—and has a smaller number of better-paying accounts to manage. Thirty to seventy-five commercial accounts is ideal.” Purcell immediately saw the advantage. “Most of my residential business had to be renewed every spring, since they weren’t on year round contracts. As I shifted over to managing the landscapes of commercial accounts, I was able to let those residential accounts go, one by one. I still do a limited number of residences, but typically only when I’ve got a relationship with the customer through a business account.” Acquiring a U.S.

Lawns franchise benefited Purcell in other ways. “To be honest, in 1999, we were sort of raggedy-taggedy. A couple of guys, a couple of trucks, no uniforms, not enough professionalism. In fact, one of the best things about U.S. Lawns is that I realized I could buy the wheel, instead of having to reinvent it.” Every U.S. Lawns franchise ‘looks’ like every other one, Hutcheson explains. “Our franchisees wear uniforms. Our trucks look identical from state to state. Our logo is the same. Each franchisee takes on the U.S. Lawns name. Each franchisee uses tested manuals, systems, and forms, instead of having to create their own. It lets the owner focus on the most important thing: growing the business.” New franchisees get six days of training at the Florida headquarters, then on-site visits from a U.S. Lawns representative three times in the first ninety days. Then, more visits through the year. There are meetings at the state and regional l e v e l , g r o u p m e e t - ings at the local l e v e l , and specialized educational get-togethers, like a re- cent two-day “Snow Summit” about snow and ice removal. Hutcheson stresses that the fiftyperson-plus U.S. Lawns headquarters staff is comprised of both franchise professionals and landscape professionals. “The franchise professionals do the training, inspiration and motivation. Training not only is in our proprietary systems, but looking specifically at your territory, seeking to identify potential new customers. Inspiration looks at long-term goals and dreams. Motivation is all about short-term goals and keeping your people accountable. It’s crucial as your staff grows.”

For Purcell, that staff grew quickly. He now has crew chiefs, an operations manager, and an administrative assistant, in addition to more than thirty men in the field. “Actually, compared to 1999, it’s easier for me. My biggest problem is that I still have that urge to micro-manage.”

Being a U.S. Lawns franchisee is not for everyone, but Purcell gives massive credit for his growth and success to his parent company. “It’s not like going to your local Subway sandwich shop,” he notes. “Customers are not going to walk through your door. But if you’re willing to work to succeed, you’re a fool if you don’t buy one.”

 
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