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Franchising: What you need to know

January 14, 2020 -  By
Jon Bennett of NaturaLawn (Photo: NaturaLawn)

Do your homework Jon Bennett, a first-year NaturaLawn franchisee, says it’s important to do research on an organization before becoming part of that franchise. (Photo: NaturaLawn)

“You’ve got to work on your business, not in your business,” says Benjamin Schoot, a franchisee with The Grounds Guys in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “The longer you’re on a truck, the longer you’re handcuffing your business.”

Schoot is not alone in this assertion. The motivation to join a franchise is often more about the need to grow a business than the day-to-day operations.

New and veteran franchisees from TruGreen, NaturaLawn and The Grounds Guys share their experiences, the type of support they get and advice for lawn care professionals mulling the jump to franchising.

Words of advice

“Do your homework,” says Jon Bennett, a first-year NaturaLawn franchisee from Scranton, Pa., who was a golf course superintendent and assistant superintendent for 13 years prior. “What does that franchise provide you as an owner? What are you paying your money into, that startup fee — what does it give you?”

Bennett’s business is 98 percent residential with 65 percent focus on lawn care, 15 percent pest control, and the rest is a mix of both services. This year, he hit $75,000 in revenue and eyes doubling that figure next year with the addition of a full-time technician and a part-time technician in the fall.

Another important piece of advice from these franchise owners is to understand the economics and layout of the area.

“Is it a tightknit community, or is it spread out?” asks Dennis Roberts a TruGreen franchisee in Billings, Mont. “Does it feel good? Is it the kind of market you’d want to be in?”

Roberts was an early TruGreen franchisee, first helping then-ChemLawn open one of the first franchises in the late 1970s in Kentucky and then helping open franchises in Iowa and Colorado. In the early 1980s, Roberts took the opportunity to open his own ChemLawn franchise in Billings. He now has five franchises in Montana.

Roberts’ franchises netted close to $5.3 million this year. His clients are 85 to 90 percent residential.

Schoot says it’s also important to set small, reasonable goals, especially when it comes to earnings.

“You can’t come in as a startup and say ‘I want to be a million-dollar business,’” he says. “Why don’t we talk about $300,000?”

Schoot’s Myrtle Beach business is 60 percent design/build and installation and 40 percent mowing and landscape maintenance. His clients are 70 percent commercial and 30 percent residential. He hopes to be close to $2 million in revenue this year, and he’s been in business for 12 years.

Support system

“Oftentimes, franchises are looked at as a disadvantage because you have to pay franchise royalties, but what you get from that corporate company or franchiser is much more valuable than the royalties you have to pay to be a franchisee,” says Kevin Vidrine, a TruGreen franchisee in Lafayette, La. “You walk into a wealth of resources.”

Vidrine was originally a Scotts LawnService franchisee, joining in 2007, and became a TruGreen franchisee when the two companies merged in 2016. Vidrine’s business is mainly residential, with a focus on turf and ornamental care. It does about $4.75 million in annual revenue.

Franchises also come with the advantage of offering almost limitless resources, too.

“Anything we need, we make a phone call and say, ‘I need help with a cellphone plan,’ or ‘I need help with product orders,’ or ‘I need to buy fertilizers,’ or ‘I need to buy a new truck,’ or ‘I need help with collections,’ or ‘I need help with computer software,’” Vidrine says. “Anything — and I mean anything — that we need in our business, TruGreen has a resource for.”

And it’s these resources that are the main draw for many lawn care professionals. That’s the case with Bennett.

“I didn’t like to start from scratch,” he says. “(The franchise has) the expertise, the marketing — everything that comes with running a business, it has knocked down in the 30-plus years it’s been doing it.”

For Jim Laramee, who started a NaturaLawn franchise with business partners in North Attleboro, Mass., in the early 1990s, the support from NaturaLawn ranged from agronomic training to setting up a telemarketing call center.

“That support was extremely helpful to us setting up the business,” he says. “And it still is now.”

Laramee’s $7.2 million business is about 98.5 percent residential, with a focus on lawn fertilization, mosquito control, seeding, trees and shrubs.

For Schoot, a highlight of joining The Grounds Guys was a dedicated franchise business coach, “somebody that you can bounce ideas off of,” he says.

And that business coach also helps push the franchisees to keep moving the business forward, which is exactly what both Schoot and fellow The Grounds Guys franchisee Matthew White were looking for in a franchise opportunity.

“He pushes me and makes sure I’m making good, sound decisions,” White says of his coach, Marcus Holmes. “I can call him anytime.”

White joined The Grounds Guys in 2018 and is based in Gulf Breeze, Fla. His company has a 70 percent commercial and 30 percent residential client mix. The company focuses on lawn care, tree services, design and build, and more.

Bennett has a similar experience with NaturaLawn, noting all new franchisees have two years of full support to help them get established, whether that’s visits to the franchisee’s location or whatever is needed.

“(The company) invests a lot of time and money back into you,” he says. “Not many companies do that.”

Follow the path

“As long as you follow the system and do things the way they’re supposed to be done, it’s hard to fail,” Laramee says. “This NaturaLawn system has been around for quite a while. They’ve made the mistakes; they’ve had the successes.”

Franchisees say it’s critical to follow these established systems created by the parent company, as tempting as it might be to deviate from what’s been set out for lawn care professionals with an established business.

“When you get on as a franchisee, you have the rainbow, and if you don’t follow everything, you won’t get to the pot of gold,” White says.

Schoot adds that it’s important to be engaged and connected to the franchise. It’s the reason lawn care professionals are investing in the franchise in the first place.

“When I first joined, I was the guy that paid for a name, I looked like a Grounds Guy, I was producing work like a Grounds Guy, I just wasn’t really engaged and wasn’t connected,” he says. “Once I got engaged and connected with the system and the other owners, my business just continued to grow and grow.”

The network of other franchisees is an invaluable resource for both new and established franchisees.

“We can call upon veterans that have been in the business for 30 or 40 years and ask them their opinion and experiences and learn from their mistakes and call upon them for their knowledge,” Vidrine says.

Roberts agrees. “We’re a small-knit group — there’s probably 30 owners — we’re like a big family,” he says “The best friends I have in this world are other franchise owners. We work with each other; we talk with each other.”

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Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University. She can be reached at

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