Offering an innovative franchise model and embracing all the benefits tech can bring, it’s fair to say that Tom Thumb Lawn Care isn’t prepared to let the grass grow beneath its feet
Lawn care might not seem like the most cutting-edge sector but Howard Abramson, managing director of Tom Thumb Lawn Care, is unequivocal about the opportunities presented by the burgeoning industry. “The market is at an embryonic stage,” says Abramson. “This means there is a massive potential for growth.” By embracing tech and an innovative model, Tom Thumb Lawn Care hopes to be at the head of the flourishing UK lawn care market and be the leader in creating luxurious lawns.
Abramson has a long history of tending to lawns, having worked in the industry for well over a decade. “After attending university in Manchester, I fell in to the lawn care market after researching various different franchised businesses,” he says. Abramson ran a small lawn care business for several years in Liverpool, until he was tracked down by one of the market leaders to help one of its territories that had gotten caught in the long grass. “My role was to re-establish one of their ‘abandoned’ franchises in Essex,” he explains. “I increased its customer base by over 2,500% in that time.”
Before long, Abramson came across Tom Thumb, a small-scale business that handled tree-care and gardening, in addition to lawn care. “The business was run as a very small operation but it had the building blocks of a great lawn-care service,” he says. However, Abramson quickly began to recognise that the existing owners didn’t appreciate the huge opportunity for growth that lay in front of them. “As soon as I started speaking to them, I realised they simply didn’t see the potential in the lawn-care market,” he recalls.
After a round of negotiations with its previous owners, Abramson took over Tom Thumb and began to grow the lawn care side of the business. “I did a complete overhaul by introducing an approved lawn care method, standard operating procedures and new branding,” he explains. The business also started asking new customers why they wanted to leave their old provider; this meant it could focus on delivering exactly the sort of service customers needed. “Things took off pretty quickly and our customer base grew rapidly,” he says. “We had a fantastic reputation within the local area and this grew beyond the borders of our territory.”
But what does Tom Thumb’s lawn care entail? “A lot of people ask me what I do and then say ‘so you cut lawns?’” he says. “It couldn’t be further from the truth; we do completely the opposite.” Typically Tom Thumb will visit clients between four and six times a year; its core service entails treating lawns with fertiliser, weed control and moss control. “Following each treatment, we identify any additional problems and advise our customers how we can address them,” explains Abramson. These additional services can include anything from fungicide or insecticide treatments to scarification and aeration of the lawn.
But whilst it offers an impressive range of treatments, this is far from being its primary differentiator in the market. Understanding what separates Tom Thumb Lawn Care from your average franchise first requires a little knowledge about the nature of the people behind it. “Most of our team are quite young,” says Abramson. And this has bestowed some natural benefits for a franchise looking to gain an edge over its competition. “We’ve grown up in a really technologically advanced age and that’s something we really want to take advantage of,” he explains.
Certainly being innately technologically savvy has had some real benefits for the franchise, as the day-to-day running of Tom Thumb Lawn Care simply wouldn’t be possible without embracing some seriously sophisticated tech. One example is its appointments system. As franchisees will sometimes be carrying out more than 30 treatments a day, which may vary wildly in length, scheduling appointments and factoring in travel time can be immensely complicated. Fortunately, they’ve devised a solution to this problem. “We’ve developed an algorithm to suit our requirements with the help of a Hungarian mathematician who went to MIT,” says Abramson.
But it doesn’t end there. Since Tom Thumb Lawn Care is essentially a van-based franchise, franchisees need to be able to access the central CRM system even whilst they’re on the go. “The day’s customers, all of their account history, that all needs to be accessible with or without 3G,” explains Abramson. Unfortunately, 3G is still notoriously patchy out in the countryside, which is why the app is able to work effectively offline and seamlessly sync when franchisees find signal. “Outside the customer’s property, they can log that the treatment’s been completed and they’ve made these recommendations,” he continues. “As soon as they get back into 3G it will update our central system.”
Given the decentralised nature of its service, choosing to take Tom Thumb Lawn Care down the franchising route was a no-brainer. “Franchising is the way forward for many domestic service businesses,” he says. Not only would the capital investment involved in setting up multiple local branches from scratch be prohibitively expensive but Abramson maintains that having a stake in the business’s success boosts the commitment of all involved. “It’s the motivation and determination that a franchisee has over an employee that really makes the difference,” he says. “Employees can come and go, whereas a franchisee has a vested interest in the business.”
It was very important to Tom Thumb Lawn Care to make sure its franchise model reflected the needs of its franchisees. “We wanted to really design the package around what the franchisees want because we’re firm believers that if our franchisees are happy, our customers will be happy,” says Abramson. It wasn’t hard for Tom Thumb Lawn Care to build its package organically; essentially, it packaged up 180 of its customers and sold them to one of its star employees as its first franchised territory. And the model certainly proved successful. “Within a few months, we had somebody knocking on our door asking if they could take the next franchise,” Abramson says.
Part of the reason for the model’s immediate popularity is the additional level of support it provides for its franchisees. “We’re on hand 24 hours a day – or as close as,” Abramson explains. “There’s a dedicated phone line that will come through to my mobile phone no matter where I am in the world.” Tom Thumb Lawn Care also takes on a lot of the customer service for its franchisees, such as rescheduling treatments, booking quotes and answering technical questions. “From day one, our franchisees can concentrate on growing their business and maintaining their current customer base,” Abramson explains.
Additionally a lot of time has been spent revising the training package Tom Thumb Lawn Care provides new franchisees. “Our franchisees are not botanists or plant scientists,” says Abramson. “They simply don’t require that depth of knowledge.” Rather than focusing on deep technical knowledge or giving franchisees exhaustive training on marketing and business practices, the package is carefully focused on giving franchisees what they need to provide great service to their customers. “Our training package has been designed to turn a franchisee into a lean, mean, amenity-lawn-care-service machine,” Abramson says.
Franchisees certainly have begun to join thick and fast but Tom Thumb isn’t prepared to just rest on its laurels. “We’re constantly researching how new technology can be implemented in to our business to improve the experience for our franchisees and our end consumer,” says Abramson. The franchise has some big plans in the offing for its network, with a target of signing up between 12 and 14 franchisees by the spring of 2016. “Since joining the bfa, we’ve really started to kick things into gear,” Abramson says. “Our goal is to expand into a UK wide network. Then who knows from there?”