The COVID Crisis has presented challenges to all industries and businesses; none have been left unaffected. According to a recent Forbes Magazine article, one thing this crisis has shown is the resiliency of franchising. Independent businesses were left alone to figure it out on their own, while franchises had the support of a franchisor to help navigate business in this uncharted landscape.
U.S. Lawns is a prime example of a franchisor that steps up and acts as a beacon, guiding and supporting their franchisees through this crisis, helping them continue to build sustainable businesses that improve their communities in a time when it was needed more than ever.
U.S. Lawns entered into the pandemic with an already strong business model. With its 35 years’ experience in the landscape industry, U.S. Lawns had already laid a strong foundation to anchor franchisees during times of uncertainty. A solid operational model, support systems and trainings were already in place. Their network of franchisees was strong, united in the brand values that are central to U.S. Lawns. The brand never waivers from their commitment to 100% satisfaction in both franchisees and customers.
As shutdowns and regulations were put in place nationwide, in 49 states U.S. Lawns was deemed an essential service and continued operations with minimal interruptions. Taking swift action, it provided support and resources to help its franchisees to best serve their customers while at the same time keeping them safe. The brand modified their operational systems to adhere to local and federal guidelines, increasing their communication and information sharing as new information was obtained.
Stephen and Elizabeth Carman, U.S. Lawns franchisees in Fort Collins, Colorado, felt particularly fortunate to have the support of U.S. Lawns during this time. “The guidance U.S. Lawns has given us in regard to COVID has been invaluable. As an essential business, we had to quickly make adjustments to our operating procedures. They researched local and federal guidelines and helped us implement all the health and safety measures necessary to keep us running efficiently and, most importantly, safely,” says Stephen, “If we were in business by ourselves, we would have had to wade through all of that alone.”
Jason Cory, U.S. Lawns franchisee in Jacksonville, Florida, agrees, “The response and quick action from U.S. Lawns was great. I was impressed with how well prepared they were to council us and answer our questions during these unprecedented times. They were quick to publish info and materials for our use. It really helped us serve our customers.”
U.S. Lawns also tapped into one of their most valuable resources during this time as well, the power of the network. It hosted weekly conference calls with franchisees to facilitate cross-sharing best practices within the network. Dave Wells, director of brand development says this, “The old cliché of being in business for yourself, but not by yourself is true. You not only have the franchisor’s support team to rely on, you also have dozens of like-minded entrepreneurs facing the same issues you are. At U.S. Lawns we call it the Power of the Network and it has never been more apparent than it has over the last year.”
Both the Stephen Carman and Jason Cory say their businesses have grown significantly in the past years and 2020 was no different in that respect. “The pandemic has not slowed us down,” says Cory.
For many U.S. Lawns franchisees, despite the widespread economic slowdown, their businesses have continued to grow and thrive. The brand’s Item 19 shows that during the peak disruption period of March through December 2020, franchisees saw, on average, a modest increase in gross sales (+0.7%) and a significant increase in both gross profit (+10.8%) and net profit (+12.8%). With responsive support and corporate backing from the brand, franchisees were able to step into their communities and serve their customers in ways independent business were not able.
Your success in franchising begins with finding the franchise offering that is the best fit for your skill set and personal and financial goals. When these are aligned with the right business model you will be better positioned for success.
Finding alignment comes when you have first taken an inventory of what you want from your business and the role you want to take in it. Before you can know if any business offering is right for you, you have to be clear on your short-term and long-term goals, both personally and financially, as well as an accurate assessment of what skills you can leverage in the right business model to maximize your chances for success.
Franchise business models can generally be categorized into three different categories. These categories vary in a number of characteristics: time commitment, entry and operating costs, level of industry knowledge required, scalability, and flexibility. The role you play in the business will differ depending on the business model as well as the ability to scale. Determining which ownership type best fits your goals and skills is the first step in deciding if a business offering is right for you.
An owner/operator model would be an immediate career change and income replacement. The owner would be immersed in the business and involved in daily operations. By avoiding managerial staffing costs early on, investment costs lower, but time commitment will be high. If the owner does not have previous industry knowledge, a support intensive franchisor and a willingness to learn are necessities. If you are detail oriented, able and willing to put in the time required, and looking for an immediate career change, this model would be a good fit. A U.S. Lawns start-up generally fits in this category. Over time, as the U.S. Lawns business matures and is able to support a level of management infrastructure, time commitments become much more flexible. The business can then transition into more of a semi-absentee business model.
A semi-absentee business model is better aligned with someone looking for immediate flexibility. The day to day management of the business is handled by a manager with indirect oversight by the business owner. Start-up costs will be higher and it will likely take longer to reach profitability as the business will need to cover the additional cost of managerial staffing. The owner’s time is spent managing the managers, growing the business and handing big picture tasks. Managerial and people skills are more important than knowledge of the daily operations. The owner may be able to maintain their current employment and commitments, while building the business on the side. From start-up, this investment takes longer to build and is not meant as an immediate income replacement. This model may work will for a U.S. Lawns start-up as long as the owner understands the economies involved and has realistic expectations. This model most accurately describes the U.S. Lawns business model at maturity.
An executive business model or owner/investor model is almost completely hands-off. It requires significantly higher operation costs, but minimal time commitment on behalf of the owner. All functions of operation are hired out and the owner has no involvement in the day to day operations. Because the business runs autonomously, the ability to scale is great if the funds to do so are available. This model works best for businesses that are very transactional in nature. It best aligns with someone who has a large amount of capital and is looking solely for an investment. U.S. Lawns highly discourages this type of investment. It is not a good fit for the relational nature of our model.
After determining whether a business model is in alignment with your ownership goals you can look closely at what the franchise you are considering is offering. What support and training is offered? Will this help bridge the gap between your current knowledge and skills and what is required of you in the role of franchisee? Does this offer you the lifestyle you want in the short term? What about in the long term? If you would be hiring managers to run your business, does the franchisor provide resources and training on how to get the best out of them? Will you have the support you need to succeed within the role of franchisee? Also, take a look at the values and mission of the brand. Do they align with you personally and professionally? What you can expect from your relationship with the franchisor and what will they expect of you helps determine if this is a good match.
When you prioritize finding an opportunity that aligns with skill sets and your personal and financial goals you set yourself up to be more successful. A good franchise should be looking for alignment as well in the people to whom they award franchises. You are entering into what should be a long-term relationship with the franchisor. Both parties need to be focused on making sure that it is a good fit!
Look for these habits to help you determine if a franchise is right for you.
Not all franchisors are created equal. There are great ones and there are others who are short-sighted. When performing your due diligence, you want to make sure that the franchise you are investing is going to be a good fit, now and into the future. This means a franchise needs to have developed certain habits to keep them healthy and growing sustainably for years to come. Here are some habits to look for when considering a franchise.
When a brand demonstrates these five characteristics, it is a good sign that they are committed to creating a positive and growth-oriented brand culture, one you can leverage for your own business success.
The pandemic and resulting economic crisis have caused many of us to reevaluate our financial security, amplifying the desire to have greater control of our financial destiny. It has awakened us all to the reality that job security can not be taken for granted.
It may seem counterintuitive, but times of economic uncertainty have always presented great opportunities for those willing to take calculated risks. With many jobs already lost or furloughed and looming rounds of corporate downsizing ahead, there is no better time to invest in yourself.
No doubt, the business landscape has changed drastically but here are some reasons why entrepreneurial optimism is on the rise and why now is a great time to take the leap into business ownership rather than remaining frozen in the face of uncertain times.
While the climate is right for starting a business, the current slow growth economy leaves many businesses with less margin of error. For this reason, franchising offers a great option for more risk adverse entrepreneurs. Franchises offer:
With so much uncertainty in the world today, your financial security does not need to be one of those things. Now is a great time to take control of your destiny and create greater personal and financial freedom through business ownership.
The global COVID-19 pandemic has changed the landscape of our personal and professional lives; accelerating change and forcing people and companies to adapt like never before. One truth we have learned during this period is that transparent and open communication are more important than ever.
We have seen this in our operations. Proactive and transparent communication strengthened existing customer relationships. Many franchisees took on new customers because their previous service provider could not proactively meet their needs. As a result, during the initial period when many businesses were shut down entirely, and even more saw drastic cuts in revenues, U.S. Lawns franchisees, on average, saw their businesses hold strong.
Still, the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve and is far from over. As we all adjust to doing life and business differently, we also recognize the need to create a Discovery Process that is communication forward, accessible and transparent. Our process has always sought to help candidates better understand not only the U.S. Lawns offering, but franchising as a whole, as we felt this best enabled them to make an informed decision.
But that wasn’t enough anymore. As the world changed around us we wanted to find new ways to add value. We wanted to make sure that every candidate had every opportunity to feel and experience the U.S. Lawns culture and brand. We’ve added more “touch points” to reinforce our brand values and are looking at ways we can use technology to create more meaningful experiences.
The last thing we are looking to do is “hard sell” a candidate for whom our brand is not going to be a good fit. We are asking someone to consider a relationship with our brand that will last at least ten years, so the aggressive sales tactics of yesterday don’t make sense. As such, the Discovery Process is designed to help determine mutual fit and is broken down into three phases, each with its own distinct purpose:
To begin the process you’ll speak with members of our franchise recruiting team to assess your personal goals and objectives in pursuing business ownership and determine if U.S. Lawns might be a good fit to help you achieve them. We’ll exchange some high level information to learn more about you and to answer your questions about the U.S. Lawns franchise opportunity. You’ll also have the opportunity to review the U.S. Lawns Franchise Disclosure Document which explains our franchise offering in detail.
Here you will continue to work with our recruiting team, digging further into the details to align goals and expectations. You’ll have a chance to interact with some of our franchisees and key members of our support team to clarify your vision of life as a U.S. Lawns franchisee. You’ll begin to experience the U.S. Lawns culture and values through our Brand DNA and evaluate alignment with your own core values.
By now you’ve learned what you need to know about U.S. Lawns in order to make a decision about joining our team. We will work together to affirm all you have learned and schedule a call for you to have a one-on-one conversation with our president, Ken Hutcheson, to be formally approved to move forward. We’ll then prepare and execute franchise agreements, schedule new franchise training and celebrate the next chapter in your career and life.
The entire process generally takes about four to eight weeks depending on the comfort and readiness of the candidate. We look forward to helping you explore the U.S. Lawns opportunity.
When examining whether a franchise opportunity is a good fit for you, insights gained from validation are invaluable. Interviewing existing franchisees will help you gain perspective on how the systems and culture of the franchise actually play out and if the franchisor is delivering on its value proposition. It will also help you set expectations as you move forward.
U.S. Lawns is committed to 100% franchise satisfaction and we believe that starts with you finding the business model that best aligns with you. Therefore, we want to provide you with all the information needed to make your most educated decision. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your validation process to give you the information you need to make the decision that is right for you:
Validation gives you an honest look inside a franchise system. It can help you determine overall franchisee satisfaction and whether the franchisor is delivering on promised support. Keep in mind that support systems often change over time and more tenured franchisees may have had different experiences than you will. Your goal is to talk to as many franchisees as necessary to determine if the franchisor offers a viable and successful business opportunity and whether that opportunity is a fit for your personal goals and objectives.
One of the most visited pages on the U.S. Lawns Franchise website is our available territories page. How we define those territories is also one of the questions we get asked the most. Because we understand how important location is when making the decision to invest, we wanted to give you a little insight into our process to help you understand why a particular territory is open or closed.
You have likely already visited our available territories page to see what markets are open near you. Our experienced franchise development team has done an extensive analysis and identified areas where there is demand and opportunity to provide landscape maintenance services under our brand name. We are dedicated to 100 percent franchisee satisfaction and this starts with positioning them for success.
What if the market I am interested in isn’t available?
If you do not see an available market near you, this means that all nearby viable markets are already serviced by existing U.S. Lawns franchisees. This does not mean that there will never be an opportunity near you, just that there are no available opportunities currently. Feel free to complete the request form and we will notify you if opportunities come available near you.
How fixed are market boundaries?
Cities listed on the available markets page are placeholders for territories that will ultimately encompass that city and areas around it, your area of operation and growth potential are not limited by city limits. The minimum size of a territory is a ten-mile radius from the center point, although actual territory size can vary considerably based on commercial property density.
For example, a large well-developed area like Chicago will likely be divided into several smaller sub-urban territories as there will be ample opportunity to build sustainable businesses in concise geographic footprints. On the other hand, in more rural secondary or tertiary markets, territories will necessarily be larger to ensure there is ample opportunity for the franchisee to profitably provide our core services.
The final boundaries of your territory will be determined through conversation between you and us. Territory boundaries typically follow major roads or highways; natural boundaries like rivers or green spaces; or jurisdictional boundaries like state or county lines. Before selling any territory, U.S. Lawns completes a proprietary market vertical analysis to ensure that it meets a standard set of criteria used to establish territory viability.
What does having the rights to a specific territory mean and what do I need to know?
During the term of your Franchise Agreement (10 years plus renewal options), you will have protected rights to provide landscape maintenance services under the U.S. Lawns brand name. We will not offer or provide landscape maintenance services under the U.S. Lawns brand within your territory, or license any other franchisee to do so, without your explicit consent.
Understand that customers do not always recognize or appreciate territory boundaries. For this reason, it is important to develop strong working relationships with neighboring franchisees so you can work together productively to meet customer needs and expectations.
When you look at what U.S. Lawns markets are available, rest assured that these markets have been methodically chosen with franchisee success in mind. When finalizing territories, we work with franchisees to create boundaries that are viable for sustainability and growth. Whether or not the exact territory you are interested in is available, we are happy to have a conversation with you about what opportunities might best fit your goals.
An important step in evaluating any franchise opportunity is a review of the Franchise Disclosure Document (FDD). By the time you receive this document, you’ve probably had a conversation or two with a representative from the brand and just as you begin to develop a picture of your life as a franchisee, a 200 page legal document is dropped in your lap. “Here’s this, have fun.”
Hopefully the brand representative did a better job of explaining this federally mandated document before giving it to you, but assuming they didn’t, let’s review that here. In order to understand this critical document and its purpose in your due diligence process, it is important to first understand where it came from and its intent.
Back in the early “wild, wild, west” days of franchising, there were no laws governing disclosure and, as such, exploitation ran rampant. Fraudulent scams disguised as franchise opportunities were sold in high pressure sales environments where unwitting investors often lost their life savings. Recognizing the need to protect the consumer, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stepped in in 1979 and passed the first franchise disclosure law, known as the Franchise Rule.
While updates and changes have been made to the Franchise Rule since then, the basic requirement of disclosure remains in place. Today, the FTC mandates that all franchisors disclose a potential franchise buyer with a standardized, 23-item document that includes the relevant information a buyer would need to make a decision about the opportunity. The FTC also mandates a 14-day review period that begins once the document has been received by the potential buyer, during which no agreements can be signed or monies can be exchanged.
A thorough review of the FDD is a crucial step in your due diligence process. With a keen eye, reading the document should paint a clear picture of what you can expect from your franchisor and what the franchisor may expect from you. In addition to your own personal review, you may also want to consult a franchise lawyer and make sure that any questions that come up are answered by the franchisor.
While all 23 items in the FDD contain vital information, here is a summary of points of interest to which you may want to pay particularly close attention:
Initial fees are typically straight-forward and non-negotiable. While there may be discounts available in specific instances (veteran discounts are fairly common, for example) the initial fee is the “cost of entry” and provides access to the brand’s trademarks, operating systems, training, support and network.
These fees are often pooled costs of doing business and generally cannot be avoided. While fees can vary from one franchise to another, some are more common than others. Royalty fees, marketing fees, technology fees, transfer fees and renewal fees are all very common, but can vary greatly in amount. As you review the fees, consider perceived value and discuss with other franchisees during the validation process. Do the fees make sense? Are any of them out of line? What latitude does the franchisor allow itself to make in term increases or decreases?
Here you will see a detailed breakdown of investment ranges, including initial fees, operating expenses and working capital. It is important to note that some FDDs are intentionally broad about investment costs, especially if there are different operating arrangements available. An owner-operator franchisee, for example, may see lower initial operating expenses than someone who plans manage from afar and install a management team from day one. For a detailed look at U.S. Lawns investment costs, visit our Franchise Start-Up Costs page.
This item details the assistance the franchisor is contractually obligated to provide. Keep in mind, the franchisor may go well above and beyond what is outlined in Item 11 in terms of support to its franchisees, but any promises of support not detailed in this item should be validated with other franchisees in your conversations.
When it comes to training, pay particular attention to the depth of the training team and the years of experience in instruction.
This particular item is optional to disclose, and not all franchisors choose to include it. If it is excluded, ask yourself why. What is included and how the information is presented can also vary greatly from one franchise to another. Some choose to focus solely on top line revenue, while others will show more detail regarding costs and profitability. A strong Item 19 will also breakdown averages at different phases of the business growth in addition to providing an overall network average. Use this information to determine if the opportunity will meet your expectations in both the short and long term. Get a sneak peek at U.S. Lawns Item 19 by visiting our Franchising ROI page.
The most valuable source of information about any franchise system is existing franchisees. Use this list for validation purposes. Plan to call several franchisees and, if possible, visit them in their businesses. Try to speak to established franchisees, as well as those newer to the brand to get an idea of both short and long term satisfaction. Understand that every franchise will have its detractors, but your goal is to get a sense of the prevailing attitude of the group. Are most of the franchisees positive and happy about the decision they made? When speaking to an unhappy franchisee, listen to their complaints, but also determine what makes this franchisee different from the rest and whether theirs is an isolated case.
Making the decision to join a franchise is not a decision to be taken lightly. Remember, while intimidating in size and scope, the FDD is there to help you understand the opportunity in front of you and make a reasonable comparison to other opportunities you may be evaluating.
When it comes down to it, investing in a franchise is not just about making money, it’s about creating a lifestyle that will give you and your family what you are looking for in life. Alignment is critical and you need to make sure the brand shares your personal goals and values.
If you’d like to review the U.S. Lawns Franchise Disclosure Document, begin by completing the Request for More Information.
So you think you’ve found the perfect franchise opportunity to achieve your personal and financial goals. You’ve done your research, had several conversations with the franchise representative and franchisees, reviewed the FDD, visited the home office and decided this is the opportunity for you. Just as your excitement in making a significant life change reaches its peak, the franchisor presents you with a franchise agreement and your excitement begins to dissipate as fear and anxiety take hold.
At first glance, looking over the franchise agreement feels daunting. There is a lot of onerous language that feels a little one-sided. There is an extensive list of things you must and can’t do and the legal remedies that could be taken should you not comply. You suddenly feel at the mercy of the franchisor who had already told you that the agreement is non-negotiable.
Instead of packing your bags and running for the hills, take deep breath and consider the purpose of the franchise agreement. Could it be that the concise verbiage of the agreement actually serves to protect your investment?
It’s absolutely true, there is a collective benefit to this intimidating list of do’s and don’ts. Think of it as if you were buying a house and the franchise agreement is the homeowner’s agreement (HOA). You found the perfect house in the perfect neighborhood that fits your lifestyle. You look over the HOA rules and feel it’s a little nitpicky. “I have to bring in my trash cans the same day, or else?! I can’t park on the street overnight?!”, and so on….
However, picture this: Your neighbor decides to install a series of upcycled toilets, spray painted pink, as planters in their front yard. While your neighbors take pride in their artistic vision, you are beyond annoyed and concerned that it could have a negative impact on resale value. Who wants to live next to a toilet art installation, right? So, you call the HOA and they make the tacky decorator fall into compliance with the architectural guidelines of the neighborhood. Problem solved; property value salvaged.
In the same way the HOA protects your home investment, the franchise agreement protects your business investment. Much of a franchise’s customer loyalty comes the level of consistency they can expect from the brand. Compliance of the franchise agreement throughout the system protects the brand’s reputation, and in turn, your investment.
When investing in a franchise, look closely at whether the franchisor will be a good steward of the franchise agreement. Here are a few things to consider:
Remember, the franchise agreement not only protects the brand reputation and image, it safeguards your investment. The language may seem one-sided and a bit overwhelming but at the end of the day it is in the best interest of the brand, the franchisees, and ultimately, you.
With more and more women taking control of their professional lives, the number of women owned businesses, as well as their economic contributions are rising at historic rates. For women, entrepreneurship offers freedom, flexibility and rewards beyond a traditional 9-5.
Franchising, with its many advantages, is an ideal way to pursue business ownership. Today, more than ever, there are tremendous franchise opportunities for women to build thriving businesses in all industries, especially in commercial landscaping.
As a $70 billion industry, landscape businesses are growing at a much faster rate than the national average. However, the number of women owned landscape businesses is disproportionately low. U.S. Lawns want to help change that.
With our dedication to 100 percent franchisee satisfaction, we are helping business minded individuals achieve their entrepreneurial dreams. Our franchisees are building sustainable businesses that are generating revenue streams far outpacing the industry average.
It’s time for women make their mark and capture their share of the commercial landscaping market. While you might be worried that you have no landscaping experience, generally basic business operations remain the same no matter the industry. U.S. Lawns has the training and support you need to build your own successful landscape business, no experience required.
While U.S. Lawns franchisees get to enjoy nature and the outdoors, they aren’t stuck on a mower, they have a crew for that. Much of their time is spent running a business, relationship building and client relations, all skills that are highly transferable.
Women owned business are having a rising impact in franchising as their numbers increase. U.S. Lawns is excited to see this trend and want to see more of it in the landscaping industry. We want to help more and more business minded entrepreneurs achieve their dreams and build sustainable businesses in one of the fastest growing industries in franchising. Request more information today!
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