Grounds Guys franchisee triples business

Photos: The Ground Guys, Donald alarie
Dan Reid (left) credits his General Manager Nathan Gonzales (right) with getting him to consider a franchise.
Dan Reid (left) credits his General Manager Nathan Gonzales (right) with getting him to consider a franchise.
Dan Reid (left) credits his General Manager Nathan Gonzales (right) with getting him to consider a franchise.

The Grounds Guys franchisee Dan Reid has tripled his business—and can now take a day off.

By 2012, Dan Reid was routinely working 60-plus hours a week.

He’d rise at 4:30 a.m. to do invoicing, then work in the field all day and return phone calls after 5 p.m.

“There were months when I worked every day,” he says. “There were months when I worked all of daylight.”

Reid, 34, formed Morning Star Landscapes in 2003 after landscaping for a friend’s dad in high school and attending Bible college.

“I had fun for a few years,” he says. “I always enjoyed seeing a project take shape.”

Nine years in, he had about 10 employees was grossing $600,000, but he didn’t have a regular paycheck. He always thought things were “just about to turn the corner,” but it never got any easier.

His optimism was starting to run out. The husband and father of three young kids says he would have sold the business if he thought he could find a buyer.

Unbeknownst to him, his General Manager Nathan Gonzales put in a phone call to Dwyer Group to learn about its new landscaping franchise brand, The Grounds Guys. He’d previously worked for Mr. Rooter—another one of Dwyer Group’s 11 service industry franchise brands. He recognized that Morning Star was held back by its lack of systems.

Gonzales planted the seed, but it took Reid more than a month to call the franchisor himself.

When he finally did, things moved quickly. He spoke with an existing franchisee the next day. The next week, Reid told The Grounds Guys he was ready to come down to its headquarters in Waco, Texas, to learn more. He officially bought in as owner of The Grounds Guys of The Rogue Valley (Ore.) in January 2013—two weeks after his initial contact with a franchise developer.

“I was ready for a change and willing to take a chance because what I was doing wasn’t working,” he says. “I could have slowly figured things out, but the franchise was a shortcut. We’ve done in three years what would have taken me 20—if I would have made it.”

Today, he’s a two-time winner of The Grounds Guys Franchisee of the Year Award. His revenue has tripled to about $1.8 million, and his profits have grown tenfold since 2012. What’s more, he now typically works 40 hours a week. He took two weeks off in December and recently went on a snowmobiling trip.

“I couldn’t do that before,” he said. “If I was gone, everything would fall apart.”

A growing franchise

Dan Reid with his wife, Janna, accepting a Franchisee of the Year Award.
Dan Reid with his wife, Janna, accepting a Franchisee of the Year Award.

The Grounds Guys was founded in Canada as Sunshine Grounds Care in 1987. The company began franchising in 2005. In 2010, Dwyer Group entered into an agreement to market the franchise in the U.S. under a new brand name—The Grounds Guys—which also was adopted across the Canadian locations. Last year, Dwyer Group acquired The Grounds Guys
of Canada.

The brand has had extreme growth—from five units the first year to more than 230 currently, according to President Chris Elmore.

That growth, combined with the success of existing units and the support the franchisor offers its franchisees, earned The Grounds Guys the top spot on the LM Franchise Best Buys list.

He attributes the growth to a few things, including the support of parent company Dwyer Group—the holding company for service industry-based franchise brands, including Mr. Electric, Mr. Appliance, Molly Maid and Aire Serv, where Elmore got his start as an HVAC technician.

He also says the company’s growth is due to the fragmented nature of the landscape management industry, where so many businesses have revenue less than $1 million.

“Small business owners are hungry for systems and processes,” Elmore says.
Case in point is Dan Reid.

“The amount of hours we were working and the pay—it was a result of not understanding how to run the business,” Reid says. “I was good with the technical things, but I was struggling with running a business.”

What Reid’s learned

Reid’s business is about 60 percent landscape installation and about 40 percent maintenance. Each The Grounds Guys franchisee’s business looks a little different, he said, noting some in Canada are half snow removal.

“The area The Grounds Guys helped us streamline most has been maintenance,” Reid says, adding the franchise’s software and systems have been key to that progress.

Prior to joining, Reid’s maintenance business was only about 15 percent commercial. Today it’s about half commercial, half residential. The construction side remains about 90 percent residential.

The first few months in 2013 were a steep learning curve, Reid says. There were many changes to be made, as his franchise consultant connected with key team members and trained them on the new systems.

For example, Reid’s office manager was trained on QuickBooks—learning, among other things, how to classify revenue as either construction or maintenance so the team could look at the numbers separately. Gonzales took over the maintenance division and was trained to give estimates using new software.

“I just let the franchise coach our people,” says Reid, who hasn’t done a maintenance bid in three years. Letting go of many daily functions has been a major step for him—and the growth of the business.

“What’s really fueled our growth is the training,” he says. “We’ve been able to increase our capacity so much faster than we could before.”

Readymade company resources have been a boon, as well.

For example, hiring went from a haphazard process to a system with a set list of questions to ask and an employee handbook.

“It’s all things we knew we had to do before—the handbook, what questions to ask—but it was daunting,” Reid says. “It was nice having that provided for us.”

Morning start-up is another area where The Grounds Guys processes have made a difference. Every morning, the lead team member for each division arrives 20 minutes early to meet with the foremen, who make sure their trucks are loaded. Then the whole company huddles at 7 a.m. for a quick talk about what happened yesterday, what’s on the schedule for today, a uniform check and to share good news.

“We’re trying to get the guys focused on the task at hand: to create a remarkable experience for our customers,” Reid says.

He uses one word to describe what the morning looked like before: “disorganized.” There were people standing around or employees would show up right before work started, he says. And there was a disconnect between divisions. The maintenance team would show up and do their thing. The construction crew would have a meeting.

“Now we all meet together,” he says. “It unifies the team and allows them to see how everything is connected.”

And by 7:10, there’s not a truck left in the yard.

“That just creates more efficiency, which creates better profits,” he says.

Other beneficial systems include a quality process—the GC3—crews use when they arrive on-site and a shut-down process for the end of the day.

As The Grounds Guys of The Rogue Valley grows, Reid’s challenge becomes the same as any expanding landscape company—hiring and training.

“We’ve gotten to the size where we’re training salespeople,” he says. “Realistically, after I train a salesperson, I won’t have a daily function anymore. My job now will be trying to make sure everyone has the tools they need to be successful and to set the vision of the company.”

Dan Reid on franchising

Dan Reid, owner of The Grounds Guys of The Rogue Valley is a two-time winner of the franchise’s Franchisee of the Year Award. He encourages others to consider a franchise if what they’re doing isn’t currently working. That was the case for him.

“I really believe in franchising and what we’ve been able to do has been pretty exciting for me,” he says. “The biggest thing is it gives people hope.”

If you are considering a franchise, he emphasizes finding a company you click with.

Reid says he felt like The Grounds Guys was a good fit right away. “No one took themselves too seriously and the franchisees were open and willing to help,” he says. “Find a company with similar goals.”

He said it’s also important to remember it’s still hard work and requires a big commitment.

“The franchise will give you all the tools, but they won’t do anything for you,” he says. “You’re working just as hard as ever before, but you’ll get 10 times the results because you’ll be putting your energy in the right places.”

Finally, even if you don’t go the franchise route, he encourages business owners to compensate for their weaknesses.

Whether it’s going back to school or hiring a consultant, you need to recognize the areas where you’re weak. “It’s often about finding someone who’s passionate in that area and working with them,” Reid says. “Find help for the things you’re not good at.”

The Grounds Guys’ fundamentals

Chris Elmore

You can hire a consultant or attend seminars to learn about what makes a
successful company, says The Grounds Guys President Chris Elmore. But there’s no one to hold you accountable for mastering the basics, like there is in a franchise.

“That’s why people come to us—not because we have great deals with John Deere, Exmark or Billy Goat,” he says. “It’s not because we have 230 locations. It’s because we focus on building businesses.”

Elmore acknowledges The Grounds Guys had “quite a bit of turnover” in the early years. But he says that’s under control now, as the company focuses on its six fundamentals. Those include:

  • Targeted sales and marketing;
  • Operational efficiency;
  • Financial awareness;
  • Network participation;
  • System implementation; and
  • Compliance.

Elmore says: “To be one of our successful franchisees, you have to master those six fundamentals.”

Photos: The Ground Guys, Donald alarie

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri

Marisa Palmieri is an experienced Green Industry editor who's won numerous awards for her coverage of the landscape and golf course markets from the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association (TOCA), the Press Club of Cleveland and the American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE). In 2007, ASBPE named her a Young Leader. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, cum laude, from Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism.

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