Lawn and tree care biz targets big sales of $39 million. Start your very own from home

Spring-Green knows how to drive home success. From front to back: Barry Matthews, COO, Ted Hofer, Director of Start Up Support, Tom Hofer, CEO, and James M. Young, Vice President of Marketing. Since its founding in 1977, Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp. has enjoyed an average of eight percent growth annually. In baseball parlance, Spring-Green has played smart baseball. Its strategy of hitting singles and doubles to move people around the bases has succeeded in building successful franchisees and loyal customers. It’s a homerun!

In 2006, Plainfield, Ill.-based Spring-Green—already one of the top five lawn and tree-care companies nationwide—will be swinging for the fences. The company has created new marketing strategies, program offerings and systems designed to differentiate Spring-Green from its competition and offer broader appeal to potential customers.

Its ambitions are grand. With systemwide revenue of more than $23 million in 2005, Spring-Green’s aim is to grow revenue to almost $39 million in 2009, an increase of more than 60 percent. Spring-Green has 63 franchises operating in 22 states. It added 13 new franchises in 2005.

“We have had a very successful history, but very rarely did we try to swing for the fences,” said James M. Young, Spring-Green’s vice president of marketing. “Today we’re being selective in our pitches and making some moves that will allow us to hit some home runs.”

The market potential for growth is enormous. According to Scotts, the largest provider in the do-it-yourself market, the lawn service industry cares for the lawns of 10.5 million or 15 percent of American households, accounting for 75 percent of total lawn-care dollars spent—a share three times the size of the do-it-yourself market.

As new-home construction grows, the lawn service industry is expected to keep pace. Industry consolidation also has left a void in the marketplace, offering increased opportunity for Spring-Green, which is positioned between the industry’s behemoths and smaller “mom-and-pop” companies. Spring-Green offers customers the personalized attention of smaller operations with the technology of large service providers.

The services and programs Spring-Green is offering franchisees and customers in 2006 include:

A web-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform which will provide myriad new real-time services to be offered to franchisees and customers.

A call center for new franchisees, which when combined with web-based software will allow operators to answer phones for franchisees and make sales, schedule service and solve customer-service problems.

A new web site whose e-commerce capability has the potential to make Spring-Green the first lawn-care company to do a significant amount of business online.

A Start-Up Support program that provides unprecedented assistance to new franchisees in building their franchise during the first two years.

A “Flex Start” program, which takes into account the seasonality of a lawn-care business and allows an individual who opens a franchise late in the season to operate it on a part-time basis until Jan. 1 of the following year. The program allows individuals to keep their jobs while launching their franchise.
The moves are significant for Spring-Green, which Young describes as being in “maintenance mode” since about 2000. The company had matured in terms of both its senior management and many of its franchisees. Growth was consistent; change was minimal.

Spring-Green CEO Tom Hofer joined the company as its third franchisee shortly after it was founded in 1977. He later sold the franchise back to Spring-Green and joined its management team. He was named president in 1987. A former Navy pilot who grew up on a farm, Hofer realized Spring-Green couldn’t remain in maintenance mode for long.

“Life was good and things were calm, but Tom recognized that was only going to be for a period of time,” says Young, who joined Spring-Green in April 2004 as vice president of development. “We weren’t shaking the tree.”

Spring-Green expects to add 15 new franchises in 2006. Young said the lawn care industry is attracting a new breed of franchisees. It has evolved from a part-time business opportunity in its formative years. Spring-Green awards generous territories and sets high expectations for franchisees, who are expected to build the business so they can manage it and eventually remove themselves from daily operations, says the franchisor.

Many of Spring-Green’s new breed of franchisees are baby boomers looking to escape corporate America and take control of their lives or thirty-somethings who value time with family. They’re receptive to technology, enjoy the flexibility of not being tied to a retail storefront or retail hours and enjoy building a recurring-revenue business.

Spring-Green invited its Franchise Advisory Committee to attend its two-day strategic planning meeting this past March. Together, the management team and franchisees identified 19 factors of critical importance to Spring-Green’s long-term goal of producing $100 million in yearly revenue.

“We have a good combination of old school and new school thinking,” Young said. “You get a good blend of conservative history along with an optimistic, progressive outlook. Certainly our corporate culture feels that energy. It’s a good feeling,” said the expert.

In June 2005, Ted Hofer—the 30-year-old son of CEO Tom Hofer—joined Spring-Green to head its Start-Up Support program for new franchisees. Already more than 20 franchisees are involved in the program which provides on-site assessment of the franchisee’s market and equipment needs; generation of all sales leads for the first year; daily interaction with the three- to four-member support team, if needed; and assistance in formulating both short- and long-term business plans. It is rare for a franchisor of Spring-Green’s size to offer such an expansive program for new franchisees.

“We have 29 years of history in our company,” Young said. “It was important that we make the investment to make our new franchisees successful and we’re seeing a return. It gives them a great comfort factor.”

Reminiscent of other sons who follow in their father’s footsteps in business, Ted Hofer wasn’t handed his title. He spent six months spraying lawns for one of Spring-Green’s five company-owned locations before joining the corporate staff.

“I am really pleased that Ted joined Spring-Green,” Tom Hofer said. “Ted ran another business of ours a few years ago, and he also owned and operated a franchise in another franchise system. Ted brings the perspective of a franchise owner to our corporate staff. We have always been close, but working together at Spring-Green adds a special dimension to our father-son relationship.”

Taken from WEB