5 Questions: John Bell

Photo: LM Staff
Photo: LM Staff
John Bell (Photo: LM Staff)
John Bell (Photo: LM Staff)

John Bell

President, Free Spray Lawn Care, Mansfield, Ohio

1. How and when did you get your start in the industry?

Like many, I started out as a high school kid with a mower. Free Spray started in 2000 doing fertilization (and) weed control applications only. We’ve grown quite a bit over the past 20 years. We started out slow for the first five years — I was quite young then. I started right out of high school. As we’ve grown, we’ve figured out the way to make things work, and now we’re in a rapid expansion period. We offer fertilization, weed control, flea and tick control and outdoor pest control. We’re getting into mosquitoes this year. That’s new for us.

2. What’s the origin of the company name?

We’re not exactly sure how we came up with it. We tossed around a bunch of different names, but it stuck. They always say ‘free’ is the most powerful word you can use in marketing. We were looking at Green Spray, or Lawn Spray, or any combination you always hear. What we came up with turns out to be unique. People remember it, they ask us about it. Anytime we talk to people they say, ‘Oh, we remember that name,’ or ‘what does that name mean?’ What we’ve adapted it into over the years is, when you start service with us, you’re going to get some type of free treatment from us, whether that be a pest control treatment or one of your lawn care treatments. It’s just a unique name that tends to stick with people.

3. Tell me about you and your family. What do you all do for fun?

I’ve been married to my wife Kim for 12 years now, we have two daughters, Ally and Avery, ages 11 and 6. The girls are very active in sports, even my youngest. We love to travel, and we’ve been to Germany a couple times and Luxembourg. We did a World War II history tour — you see battlefronts and all sorts of cool stuff. I’m into history. The kids love to go to amusement parks and so do I. I hate heights, but I love roller coasters. I guess when you’re strapped in, you’re going so fast, it’s over so fast your body doesn’t have time to think about it.

4. Do you have a favorite tool to get the job done?

We’re very traditional. A lot of companies that do strictly lawn fertilization and weed control services are dedicated to zero-turn equipment. We’re primarily hand-spray. We do have some zero-turn equipment for larger properties. I think being traditional has paid off well for us. There have been a lot of springs in the past few years that have been so wet out that other companies haven’t been able to work, while we’re able to get out there right away. Look at new products, new technologies and how they can help your business … but don’t get so caught up in it that you look past the old standbys.

5. How would you say your customers have changed over 20 years?

Every day customers want to be involved less and less. Twenty years ago when I got started in this business, they would want to know exactly what you’re doing when and how it would work. How it would solve their particular problem. Customers now just want something that is simple and easy to understand. We’re going to come in and give you a program that’s going to take care of the problems with weeds, take care of the problems with color. Here’s what it’s going to cost, and we’ll handle everything from there. Everybody is pressed for time now; they want simple solutions. The biggest thing you can do is make your program simple and easy for your clients to understand — that is going to take you the furthest.

Photo: Seth Jones

Seth Jones

Seth Jones is is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. A graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Seth was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. He has more than 23 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories.

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