Emerald Lawns strives to do lawn care ‘the right way’

February 1, 2016 -  By

Camera-photos-463-(2)An Austin, Texas-area firm grows by putting the customer first—and marketing, marketing, marketing.

In 2006, Luke Hawthorne was fed up with the corporate lawn care scene. He’d entered the industry in 1993, grateful for a $10-an-hour gig. After a few months as a technician at a local company, he joined TruGreen. For the next decade, he served as technician, salesman and sales manager but was unable to hit a stride. He even met his wife, Mary, there. She was an office manager.

In 2004, he took a job with Scotts LawnService and was named sales manager of the year. But the couple found little fulfillment working for large lawn care companies. They were sick of saying, “This is not how we’d do lawn care at our company.”

The ever-confident Hawthorne wasn’t thinking hypothetically. He believed he and his wife could build a better company by doing things “the right way.”

So that’s what they did. Hawthorne quit his job and opened Emerald Lawns in June 2006, serving Round Rock, Texas, near Austin. When Hawthorne quit his job at Scotts, he asked his wife to follow him. That same day, she put in her two-week notice and went to work managing the office in the couple’s guest room.

The Hawthornes’ commitment to customer service and the marketing machine they’ve built have netted them an annual growth rate around 30 percent. In 2015, Emerald Lawns earned about $4.3 million in revenue, servicing 7,500 customers. To the dismay of Mary, who liked to work in her pajamas some days, the company now has an office with 35 full-time employees.

LM0116_10530736_nRModern marketing

In the beginning, Hawthorne purchased new homeowner lists and left thousands of offers for free consultations on the doorsteps of these target clients. In the first six months, the company gained 250 customers and earned $50,000 in revenue providing fertilizer, weed control and aeration services.

Emerald Lawns generates business differently than it did 10 years ago. The days of door-to-door marketing are gone, Hawthorne says.

The company has outsourced marketing for the past five years.

“I don’t know anything about (marketing),” he says. “It’s not a full-time position, so I couldn’t hire anyone to do it for me. So it made sense to talk to professionals.”

The company started working with a local agency last year to create print ads and build its online presence, which now includes a blog and Facebook page with more than 2,350 “likes.” Emerald Lawns works with another local agency on its TV and radio presence.

The company budgets $225,000 a year for marketing, and it’s always evaluating its tactics. For example, the team recognized some media, like most print, aren’t very effective anymore, so Hawthorne says 2015 was the last year the company will advertise in the Yellow Pages. And it’s using the leftover money on new tactics like daily deal sites.

Some lawn care companies shy away from sites like Groupon because they take about 50 percent of the revenue from the deal. Emerald Lawns negotiated its take to 60 percent, but it’s not just about the Groupon deal itself, Hawthorne says. He values obtaining the customers’ email addresses, which are added to the company’s email marketing list.

Emerald Lawns’ Groupon deals offer a $25 fertilization and preemergent application or a $60 aeration, and the goal is to sell a full eight-application program. About 30 percent of customers who purchase a Groupon deal end up buying the full program. Others buy one-off services.

“Even if they just chose to do the one Groupon application, I’ve captured their email and I email them whenever I’m scheduling top dressings, mosquito control or whatever,” Hawthorne says. “So I don’t just send (an email marketing offer) to my active customers. I send it to active customers, canceled people who did just one application or people I did an estimate for. Capturing emails is a big deal to me.”

Word of web

Nearly half of the company’s new sales come from referrals from existing customers, whom it rewards with a $30 credit. Referrals bring in $634,000 in revenue annually.

Referrals aren’t only word of mouth anymore, Hawthorne says. Sites like Angie’s List and Yelp have taken referrals to the web, which is the biggest way business has changed in his eyes. The company credits review sites for $142,000 in annual revenue. On Angie’s List, Emerald Lawns has more than 600 reviews, 500 of which are ‘A’ ratings. It also has a four-star rating with 67 total reviews on Yelp.

Those numbers are cultivated; they’re not accidental. Yelp gives anyone with a negative anecdote a soapbox to ridicule your company, and one or two negative reviews can sink your score, Hawthorne says. It can be unfair, he says, noting he also knows it’s part of the game. So to get satisfied customers to leave positive reviews, Emerald Lawns simply asks. The company surveys customers via email. Satisfied clients are prompted to give Emerald Lawns a positive review on Yelp or Angie’s List, although Angie’s List subscribers are typically dutiful reviewers and less of a concern than Yelp reviews, he says.

In Emerald Lawns’ survey, dissatisfied customers follow a different track. They’re asked why they’re unhappy, and their answers are relayed in an email to Hawthorne. He monitors every email from customers, making sure they receive a prompt response. The longer customers linger in dissatisfaction, the more likely they are to leave negative reviews, he says.

“We’ve nipped the bad reviews in the bud by sending out this email and taking care of it before it becomes a major problem,” Hawthorne says.

Reviews aside, he’s dedicated to making sure the job is done right by correcting any mistake brought to his attention, typically free of charge.

“We do the right thing for our customers,” Hawthorne says. “I think success follows with that.”

Photos: Emerald Lawns

About the Author:

Dillon Stewart graduated from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, earning a Bachelor of Science in Online Journalism with specializations in business and political science. Stewart is a former associate editor of LM.

1 Comment on "Emerald Lawns strives to do lawn care ‘the right way’"

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  1. Nice article! Congratulations on building a great company! We are on the same track with marketing, one thing we have done is start to look at whether the marketing vehicle is creating more leads or enhancing branding! Thanks for sharing with us!