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A cut above the rest

Written by Martin Morris on Monday, 01 March 2021. Posted in Interviews

For Steve Welch, Brand Manager at TruGreen Professional LawnCare, being a cut above the rest is the implied aim.

A cut above the rest

For Steve Welch, Brand Manager at TruGreen Professional LawnCare, being a cut above the rest is the implied aim. Steve explains to Elite Franchise what success has meant for TruGreen and what the company intends doing, moving forward.

With his previous 32-year background in the sports sector - including engagements with major football league clubs - Steve’s credentials; not least an industry Grounds Manager of the Year award collected along the way, were always second to none when it came to grounds keeping.

Despite his decades long involvement though the desire for change eventually proved irresistible - Steve’s subsequent move (in 2009) to TruGreen being made because: “It felt the right time to look at an alternative sector, as there is life outside of the world of sport.”

TruGreen, the world’s longest established lawn care franchise network, started out in the US in 1973 - the business being acquired in 1990 by home services specialists, ServiceMaster. It now treats over 3.4 million lawns worldwide. 

Having previously managed large teams, setting-up both training and operational processes as well as being responsible for budgets in excess of £1million, Steve was approached by the Managing Director of ServiceMaster to head up the TruGreen brand. “I felt it was a good opportunity to use all my skills to support a franchise network, both technically and operationally,” he says. Indeed, the past 11 years have allowed Steve to work on “developing the franchise we have today, with the support of the team at head office, with a proven model, good operating systems and strong growth.”

In the commercial sphere, unsurprisingly, methods have greatly improved over the years with regards soil structure and drainage, along with the quality of grass seed - the sports sector in particular having greatly benefitted from the introduction of hybrid pitches (where plastic is weaved into the natural grass surface), coupled with the use of growth lighting systems throughout the winter allowing the grass to grow 12 months of the year, according to Steve. Yet whether it’s the sports sector one is talking about, or not, lessons continue to be learnt across the industry. 

“So while there are various levels of investment by the customer in the domestic market, the advancements in machinery, drainage, soil structure, aeration and the use of growth regulators and wetting agents within treatment plans are just a number of things that are used in achieving an improved quality of lawn at a manageable price,” says Steve.

While the company services both residential and commercial customers, the emphasis in the UK is on residential with only a small number of commercial opportunities, such as the local bowling green or cricket square, for example, being undertaken. 

“ServiceMaster entered the UK lawncare market in 2004, and since then has been growing the business in a sustainable way that has allowed for stability in our network, with 36 franchise businesses, and over 25,000 customers,” says Steve. 

He adds: “To date many of our businesses have been operating as single operators, but as part of our expansion plans for the franchise, we are working with our franchisees in allowing for more multi van and multi technician businesses, which will lead to a larger number of customers across the network.” 

Meanwhile, marked differences in climate and approaches to lawn care mean TruGreen in the UK operates independently of its U.S. counterpart.

Despite TruGreen’s significant franchise and customer metrics, coupled with continued growth of the UK lawncare market more generally, the reality at present is that even if you combined all existing providers only in the region of 10% of the market is actually being covered. “So the lawn care sector is still to reach a commoditised market, with significant growth forecast for many years ahead,” says Steve.

TruGreen’s model is based around the three pillars of marketing, sales and customer service, according to Steve. “We see the franchise as a sales and marketing franchise that offers lawncare, so the model is built around a strong marketing and business plan in allowing TruGreen to offer a high level of service through the ongoing training,” Steve notes; adding “TruGreen is a bespoke service, so we complete a free lawn analysis and then put together a treatment plan for the individual customer in achieving a quality lawn that meets the customer’s expectations.”

For would be franchisees the step-by-step process to formally becoming one is simple enough -  TruGreen, upon receiving an enquiry, then making direct contact with the prospect and looking to arrange a face-to-face meeting (virtual meetings in the past 12 months) to discuss the franchise in detail and to look at potential operating territories. 

“All areas have the same demographics, with a minimum of 40K target market properties, (detached with a front and rear garden), that are owned outright or mortgaged,” notes Steve.

He adds: “We also discuss the two-week training academy, and ongoing support, including the review of our financial illustrations, so giving the prospect all the details they need to complete their due diligence into the brand.” All prospect franchisees are then asked to speak with members of the operating network and to meet and spend a day out on site to understand the day-to-day processes of operating a franchise.

Purchase cost for a new territory is £28,000+VAT, but there are a number of finance options TruGreen can offer through the High Street banks or the government backed start up loan. The management fee, meanwhile, is 10% of revenue paid monthly (one month in arrears). There is also a monthly fee of £42+ VAT paid into the central advertising fund.

For those going on to become franchisees Steve says TruGreen will encourage them to participate in the support being offered across all areas of the business; including having regular marketing and business planning meetings, as well as attending the virtual fortnightly network meetings; and regional meetings at other times throughout the year.

“No matter what your query or question regarding your franchise journey, you can be sure there’s someone on hand who’s been there and who can offer you practical and real-life advice, allowing you to be in business yourself but not in business alone,” says Steve.

For individuals considering going down the franchising route with TruGreen, however, Steve offers some important advice. Firstly, you must have a love of practical work and working outdoors. Also required is an attention to detail with a can-do attitude, while being prepared to work flexible hours in managing the seasonality of the franchise.  

Positive, enthusiastic and being a self-motivated person with good communication skills are also essential qualities when it comes to operating a successful lawncare business, according to Steve. 

But he adds: “An understanding of lawncare isn’t essential, as full training and continual support is offered to every franchisee, for as long as they operate the franchise, allowing them to become a highly skilled and knowledgeable business owner and operator.” 

Meanwhile, in terms of his own remit as Brand Manager Steve describes leadership as “the art of motivating a group of people to act towards achieving a common goal. In a franchise setting this can mean directing franchisees and colleagues with a strategy to meet the Brand development.”

Yet leadership doesn’t occur in a vacuum of course; core values also being equally important. 

“We are a franchisor with strong principles, believing that training and support is key to success in our franchise brand. We work with the individual to achieve this personal goal, as there is no upper limit to what can be achieved,” says Steve.

“We also believe strongly in our model and operating systems, and have developed our own CRM, so giving our franchisees the tools they require in achieving their own personal success, which collectively leads to brand success,” he adds. 

The company also prides itself on its level of service as well as offering the customer a bespoke treatment plan to meet their expectations.  It has proven a successful formula to date. 

As Steve puts it: “We encourage our franchisees to engage with the customer in clearly detailing the progress of their treatment plan, which goes a long way to achieving the high level of customer satisfaction and customer retention.” Indeed, customer retention was an impressive 90%+ across the network in 2020.

And, despite COVID-19, 2020 proved to be very productive year for TruGreen, with four new territory sales and five resales, according to Steve. “So this has shown that both the brand and franchising have been resilient throughout the pandemic,” he notes.

TruGreen, as would be expected, is as COVID-19 prepared as any other business - all franchisees being supplied with leaflets - for display in their vans - detailing the company’s COVID practices and social distancing measures. Yet, ensuring it complies in a COVID secure manner both operationally and when applying treatments also means engaging with supply chains and ensuring they remain robust too.

“Throughout the pandemic, we have had regular meetings with all our suppliers to make sure there have not been any supply or delivery issues, and have sent out regular updates to the network to maintain their confidence,” says Steve.

Looking beyond COVID however TruGreen is aiming for continued growth, “adding new franchisees to our network in a controlled manner in allowing for us to give the level of support that we feel vital to the Brand success,” says Steve.

But he adds: “We are also looking to move through the gears, as more of our businesses increase capacity and become multi van operators, with the aim of significantly increasing our market share.”

It should prove an interesting journey.

About the Author

Martin Morris

Martin Morris has more than 30 years of experience writing about topics for national and trade papers, ranging from banking and investment through to energy and computer security. Technology is transforming the financial landscape and it is my job, I believe, to both engage with and inform readers about the rapid changes that are underway there and elsewhere.

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