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As you know, large scale property management has different challenges than overseeing a local office park or strip mall. But both types of properties can benefit from highly personalized solutions. In today’s economy, commercial real estate is becoming increasingly branded and standardized. Perhaps you work for a management company, a global broker, or a nationwide retail/restaurant chain. If so, it goes without saying that you need top quality national service providers to care for those properties.

But the best companies in the service industry know how to “act small,” even when servicing their largest clients. Regardless of your company’s size or how many facilities you manage, here are a few service propositions you should look for in selecting the right partners to meet your property needs.

• Dedicated contact person. National companies with exemplary service will typically assign property managers a single contact, or Account Manager, to handle their requests and act as a point of service escalation. You shouldn’t have to deal with a call center or multiple service reps when dealing with a problem. After all, your job is about getting things done quickly, without having to hire a lot of support staff. An account manager acts as an outsourced member of your team, working with the local provider to make sure jobs get done.

• Centralized accounting department. How many times have you called a service provider and been transferred several times—just because you wanted to speak to about your bill? Exceptional partners offer their clients a dedicated accounting team, with a direct line to call anytime. At U.S. Lawns, we also centralize your billing, so that even if we’re servicing multiple properties, you’ll get one, invoice formatted the way you need it for all the work.

• Onsite people who care. You might not immediately see the benefit of our crew leaders taking you through the property for a quality inspection, or a local U.S. Lawns franchisee showing up to ask how things are. But if anything ever goes wrong, you’ll be glad they’re here to help. Real, in-person service is one of the most overlooked aspects of doing business. No matter how big the corporation, only human beings can solve problems. Our team takes pride in being on-site at your properties with the best service in the industry, whenever you need us.

• Customization and Responsiveness. No two properties are like. Large or small, you shouldn’t get the “cookie cutter” treatment. You need a partner who will tailor a plan to your specific needs and budget. And one who consistently takes time to ask about your needs for the future. No one can predict when a problem will arise, but the best service providers act in a responsive manner, acting quickly and efficiently whenever they are needed. Because all U.S. Lawns grounds care teams are locally owned, we’re just a few miles away if an irrigation system breaks or an unexpected snow storm hits. Which means increased efficiency, decreased overhead, better safety, less liability—and a lot less stress for you.

At U.S. Lawns, we’ve built our reputation on the belief that personal service helps property managers succeed. To us, it’s just as important as being a national company with 270 locations in 44 states. If you’d like to talk to someone about your grounds care who also understands customer service, contact us today.

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Maybe you’re a property manager, employed by a corporate chain. Or maybe you’re an investor who’s focused on building a commercial real estate portfolio. You might also work for a local company, overseeing a handful of properties. In any case, your job is a challenging one. You’ve got to juggle the needs of multiple properties, and possibly hundreds or thousands of tenants. Moreover, you need to keep each facility running smoothly, and at equally high levels of quality. And there’s only one of you.

There’s no doubt that commercial real estate is a highly specialized industry. You probably have significant training and talents to meet the daily challenges of a multi-property portfolio. At U.S. Lawns, we manage grounds for some of the nation’s largest corporations, who say that’s sometimes a good place to start improving operations. Here are some helpful hints we’ve heard from our clients in 28 years of business:

• Keep your staff small. Just acquired 20 facilities? Don’t go out and hire a hundred people. Maintain a core of employees that you trust, and communicate with them regularly. Expand your team carefully, as geography and other needs dictate. This reduces overhead and increases your efficiency. One simple way to do this is outsource. For instance, U.S. Lawns has 270 locations in 44 states, and can handle grounds care for all your properties, without adding a single person to your payroll.

• Be efficient. You’ll feel like you’re running a smaller operation if your facilities are maintained routinely, quickly and on-time. Because it’s impossible to stay on top of so many locations at once, don’t be fooled by maintenance companies that promise an “all-seeing” approach … claiming to fix problems before they even arise. Realistically, we’ve found that our multi-property partners want a responsive company—that is, an open line of communication with someone who’s always on the job, and can address any situation with immediacy. For us, being responsive also includes knowing what you want, and customizing your maintenance program for you.

• Keep your tenants happy. Our clients who rent to businesses and retail tell us that a lot of administrative time is wasted on tenant complaints. Sometimes, this is because responsiveness is lacking (see above), and irrigation systems are breaking or parking lots aren’t being swept. Other times, you’ll find that all tenants really want is an attractive, well-maintained facility, so that they in turn can attract employees and customers. Either way, at U.S. Lawns we make 100% Customer Satisfaction our top priority—which means if your tenants aren’t happy, you won’t be happy, and we’re just not satisfied with that.

• Reduce billing. Again, nothing wastes time like having multiple vendors and bills for each of your properties. At U.S. Lawns, we consolidate your invoices and give you one accounting contact—whether you’ve got 5 locations or 50. By reducing paperwork, you’re free to manage all the other important aspects of your properties. And if you work for a corporate chain, we know this type of streamlined process is exactly what you’re looking for.

Perhaps the most important piece of advice we can offer is to find partners you trust. Delegating allows you to focus on your job, not five other people’s. U.S. Lawns is a franchise, with expert owners managing grounds care for our clients. With that kind of personal service and trust, you can definitely check landscaping off your list of things to worry about, no matter how many properties you manage.

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Property Management is a marketing job. No matter how many other hats you wear, your success is ultimately a matter of how many tenants you recruit and retain. And whether you manage one office building or multiple retail locations, you are responsible for presenting and selling your company’s physical brand.

That’s a big responsibility, especially when “brand” refers to something as tangible as a location. Your physical brand is crucial to your success in sales. Why? Because people and companies rent based on their experience of a space—how it looks and feels. If you’re working for a national chain with multiple locations, it becomes even more crucial that your grounds convey the right brand. Imagine a McDonald’s with fountains in the back, instead of a playground? While it might be just the look for an office headquarters, the consistency that customers associate with the McDonald’s experience would be ruined.

As a property management professional, it’s vital to understand your brand, and to consistently leverage it for profitability. Here are a few helpful hints on building a successful physical brand from the nation’s leading grounds care experts at U.S. Lawns.

1. Create an experience. Whether we’re talking about facilities or toothpaste, “brand” is really just another word for experience. We mentioned the McDonald’s brand in conjunction with their famous playgrounds. Likewise, most chains have a signature “look and feel” at all their locations. If you’re the manager of a national chain unit, you’re responsible for making sure this brand gets conveyed. If you’re a regional business, your brand may be less defined. Talk to your owner and make sure you understand what a customer or potential tenant is supposed to experience when walking your grounds. Should it be corporate or local? Upscale or economy? Ornate or simple? Knowing the answer to these questions is the first step in making landscape decisions.

2. Be true to yourself. Brand is also consistency. Visitors to your property should have the same experience every time they arrive. Otherwise, you’re not projecting the core experience and values that define your company. If you manage multiple locations, you should obviously keep the same look and feel consistent through all properties. If you manage just one, it’s still important to focus on maintaining a consistent level of quality and appearance. (And making sure your location matches with any others in neighboring cities.) By reinforcing the same experience over and over, your property will become a selling asset that sets your company apart—whether for its beauty, its serenity, its cleanliness, or its professionalism.

3. Consult with experts. Anyone can mow your grass, or plant a few shrubs in a bed. But maintaining your brand requires an expert who understands your industry, is familiar with your type of property, and can create an experience that sells. Furthermore, you need a team who services multiple properties consistently, and who can stay within any regulations handed down by your corporate office. U.S. Lawns is the nation’s largest commercial grounds care company, specializing in branded properties such as retail, restaurants, banks and corporate headquarters. Our team can handle everything from basic landscaping to winter weather care to seasonal color—as well as reducing overhead with centralized accounting and operations. And even though we’re a national company with locations in 44 states, each office is an independently owned franchise. So you get to work with a true business partner, who understands your property’s needs.

By cultivating grounds that offer the visitor a consistent experience, or consistent brand image, you’ll ensure that your property is memorable, marketable, and a maximum investment for your company. Want help developing your physical brand for one or more locations that you manage? Contact us at 407-246-1630.

The U.S. Lawns Franchise Resource Library

By Ken Hutcheson, President, U.S. Lawns

In today’s economy, staying within budget while keeping a landscape looking beautiful can seem impossible. But a healthy, attractive landscape does not have to break the bank. Making smart choices, such as conserving water through efficient irrigation systems and tailoring a scope of work specific to the needs of a hotel property can help cut costs in the long term. Also, taking easy, extra steps to maintain the health of plants will lessen the likelihood that landscape renovation will be necessary. By utilizing the tips below, a hotel owner or manager can help preserve a healthy landscape that retains its maximum value while generating cost savings over the long-run. Keys to achieving a desired result rely in having an acute sense of awareness and understanding of the needs of a landscape and partnering with the right commercial landscape management professional.

Water Conservation

Wasted water is wasted money. With water demands rising and frequent droughts threatening supply, responsible water use is a smart business practice and an essential component of environmentalism. Irrigation audits are one way to ensure that a hotel property is realizing the maximum benefits of its irrigation system. After assessing a hotel’s current irrigation system and identifying any inefficient components, a landscape professional will consider the area size, local climate, sun exposure and specific plant varieties in determining the most appropriate and cost-effective irrigation program for a property. Tailored systems cut annual water costs significantly and some systems even qualify for tax credits. Investment in an irrigation audit and implementation of the proper system are effective ways to maintain a beautiful landscape without draining unnecessary natural and fiscal resources.

Sufficient hydration is key to maintaining the health and appearance of a property’s landscape. There have been significant developments in irrigation technology, which allows landscape professionals to design customized systems. Because these systems are based on a particular property’s needs, they will produce not only reduced water usage, but lower ongoing maintenance expenses.

The “smart” controller is the most technologically advanced development in water conservation on the market today. Regardless of how efficient an irrigation controller’s watering schedule is, it must respond to the always-changing weather conditions—specifically rainfall and evapotranspiration (ET)—to protect the health of the landscape and gain maximum efficiencies. ET is the amount of water lost from the soil through evaporation plus the plant’s water loss (known as transpiration); both are dramatically affected by weather conditions. A smart controller uses current weather and ET information to water a landscape only when needed. Smart controller systems work with virtually any controller, converting a conventional irrigation system into one that is weather-smart and self-adjusts according to accurate real-time weather data. As the weather changes, a smart controller receives automatic hourly updates and prevents the controller from watering unless needed. This results in significant water savings and a healthier landscape.

For those who want to stay on the cutting edge of water conservation technology, the answer may be investing in moisture sensors. Moisture sensors are designed to detect the moisture levels in the soil, making it the most efficient method of watering. Moisture sensors will continuously measure soil and only allow a watering cycle when the moisture drops below a certain, customized, threshold. So while a “smart” controller that measures rainfall may still allow a watering cycle the day of or the day after a rain storm, regardless of rainfall amounts, a moisture sensor will accurately read the moisture level in the soil and will keep the watering system turned off until the excess moisture has dissipated. The biggest detractor of these moisture sensors are the initial purchase and installation costs; however, due to their extremely efficient ability to determine how much moisture is in the soil and how often watering is needed to maintain a beautiful landscape, they pay for themselves, saving precious dollars on water bills.

Landscape Renovation

Every landscape undergoes changes that make it less attractive or less functional as it matures and responds to the stresses of the artificial environment that encompasses a property. Over time, the condition of the landscape may deteriorate to a point where it does not meet brand standards. While this may seem like a hassle, it is actually an opportunity to renovate all (or a portion) of a landscape and incorporate changes that may enhance the appearance of the property while increasing efficiencies in water usage and maintenance requirements.

While it is an important element, beauty is not everything when it comes to landscaping. It is equally important for a landscape to be intelligently designed. This means taking ease of maintenance, sustainability, and water usage into consideration. These are key details to discuss when working with a landscape contractor to develop a landscape plan. If done properly, a well-designed project can significantly reduce a property’s operating costs, while still keeping it attractive and impactful.

Native Landscaping

Plant selection is a critical element of sustainable landscaping. Native plants are accustomed to the climate and soil conditions that allow them to flourish with minimal care and assistance. Using native plants significantly reduces water, fertilizer and pesticide needs. As native varieties are more naturally inclined to thrive in their natural habitats, they require less care and lessen overall associated labor costs. Using a wide variety of native species in landscape design will reduce the risk of widespread plant loss to a single disease. Opting for perennials over annuals when possible will also reduce material and maintenance costs. Furthermore, the ecosystem will benefit from native landscaping, since birds, butterflies and other local fauna thrive in the natural sanctuary.

Seek guidance from a landscape professional when planning the new landscape. Planning and placement is everything. Professional landscapers can help hotel owners identify specific types of trees, shrubs and plants that are suited for particular reasons and needs. For instance, areas of the property where the trees should be planted are key decisions. Trees can provide summer shade for buildings, pedestrians or parking areas, which can keep air conditioning costs down and comfort levels up. Those same well-placed trees lose their leaves in the winter and let the warmth of the sun into those same areas for cold-season comfort; again, helping reduce heating costs.

The size and growth potential for trees and shrubs are also important factors to take into consideration. While a shrub, ornamental tree, or plant may look attractive in an area when small, anyone planning a landscape must consider how large the plant will become when it matures. A plant that is poorly placed may require excessive pruning to keep its branches away from sidewalks or parking places. Over-pruning can cause poor plant health and detract from the natural beauty of the plant. Native flowering shrubs can be strategically placed, and smaller native plants can be added to create a flow and scale to fit a particular property.

Proper Landscape Management

A starting point in developing a plan to more efficiently utilize resources and keep a hotel landscape green and healthy in all seasons is to partner with a professional landscape management company. A company such as this will have the skilled personnel available who are capable of understanding the needs of each business and its property. By utilizing the knowledge and resources of a professional landscape contractor who specializes in the needs of local area plants, trees, gardens and landscapes, the most appropriate planning can be detailed to best suit any hotel grounds. In addition to reducing the negative environmental and financial impact, working with a qualified landscape contractor can help to incorporate green practices into a hotel’s grounds maintenance. This can help to establish a practical and efficient way to conserve water and energy, reduce labor and material costs and keep a hotel property looking its best.

By combining professional assessment with careful planning and regular maintenance, hotel owners and managers can stay within budget while still showcasing a property in its best light. Proper irrigation, periodic landscape renovations and proper maintenance can lower a hotel’s landscaping expenses without detracting from the look, presentation or health of the grounds. Also, while native plant varieties nicely complement a hotel’s aesthetic, they often require less watering and care to thrive. By partnering with a professional, local landscape contractor, hotel owners and managers can ensure the most appropriate practices will be put into place. The tips above can help bring a healthy look to any exterior and present a lasting impression of a hotel landscape, all without breaking the bank.

This article originally appeared on HotelExecutive.com.

The U.S. Lawns Franchise Resource Library

Ken Hutcheson receiving an award

With a career in the green industry that spans over 30 years, Ken Hutcheson, president of U.S. Lawns, was presented with the prestigious Lawn & Landscape Leadership Award during the Green Industry Great Escape in Las Vegas in 2013.

The annual Lawn & Landscape Leadership Awards recognize outstanding individuals in the green industry. Now in its 13th year, the program has honored dozens of business owners, executives and researchers for their leadership and dedication to the landscaping industry.

“I am honored to have been chosen as a recipient of this award,” said Ken. “We have come a long way as a company since the early days in 1986, and it has been a tremendously rewarding ride to get to where we are today. Truly, it is the people I have met along the way that makes this ride so exciting. The ideas that are born from a single thought, the energy people bring to every discussion, the synergy created by the franchise itself gives us renewed energy every day. It feeds passion back into the cycle when people are encouraged and empowered to help drive the train. That is franchising.”

“No one deserves this award more than Ken,” said Mike Carlo, U.S. Lawns multi-territory franchise owner. “I don’t know any man who is more driven.”

The U.S. Lawns Franchise Resource Library

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