Darrick and Melinda Stirling could give plenty of advice. After two years as U.S. Lawns owners, they’ve already landed in the Million Dollar Club and expanded their operation to two territories in the Kansas City area.
But Darrick and Melinda aren’t the types to brag about their accomplishments. In fact, what motivates them most is service to others—particularly, giving back to charitable organizations. It’s something they’ve always done as a family; and recently they’ve discovered the advantages of building a service culture within their business.
But don’t take our word for it. Here are some tips that Melinda Stirling, head of the franchises’ service initiative, offers to others who want to become a truly service-based organization.
1. Don’t know where to start? Yes, you do. Almost every professional organization has a volunteer committee, Melinda reminds us. That includes your local Chamber of Commerce, as well as groups like the Apartment Association of Kansas City, where the Stirlings first got involved. “We took the advice of U.S. Lawns and joined these groups for networking, and we found so much more,” Melinda recalls. “I was immediately given the opportunity to join the Volunteer Subcommittee, and today I’m the chair. In this role, I represent U.S. Lawns.” The transition to a service culture, she says, was completely natural.
2. It starts at the top. People in your company need you to lead by example—and they need to see you’re sincere before they’ll join in. Darrick and Melinda have placed an emphasis on volunteering from day one, which soon trickled down to their GM and another member of the leadership team. “It isn’t going to happen overnight, especially if the owners have never given to charity or volunteered before,” Melinda cautions. By letting the change happen organically, people have come to see U.S. Lawns of Kansas City as a service-driven company—and now, the crews are ready to join the action. “One of the nonprofits we volunteer at has an outdoor classroom that’s badly in need of landscaping. This is where we all come together as a team and pitch in,” Melinda says.
3. Don’t do it for the sales—they’ll just happen. As a believer in the principle that “you reap what you sow,” Darrick and Melinda caution owners never to volunteer purely for business motives. However, they remind us that good deeds do get noticed, and usually by the right people. “When I started volunteering with the apartment association, I made a connection with a property manager,” explains Melinda. “At no point did I solicit her for a bid, because I was really more focused on the people we were helping. But later on, when one of our sales people approached her for a project, she threw out a bid she already had and took ours instead, because she knew we were a trustworthy company.”
4. Absolutely do it to meet other service-based companies. These are the kinds of networking connections you should pursue from networking: other businesses who are giving back. “When you volunteer alongside other local businesses,” says Melinda, “you get to see which ones really care about people. Those are the companies you want to work with. Those are the companies you want to refer to, and get referrals from.” And who knows? You might even learn a few things from them in the process.
5. Follow the need. “There are so many people less fortunate than us. That is why we give back in the first place,” notes Melinda. If you have it in your heart to give, it won’t be hard to find people who need your help. U.S. Lawns of Kansas City gives time to multiple organizations, helping children in poverty, victims of domestic violence, and the hungry. They also donate to an orphanage and a local food pantry. None of these causes is about commercial grounds care, but all of them address real community need. According to Darrick and Melinda, charity is not about personal recognition or gain. It’s simply taking care of a need where one exists. And if you think about it, that’s what U.S. Lawns seeks to do in every community by making properties more beautiful and helping commerce thrive.
Creating a service culture may not be an instant process, but it is a worthwhile one. By helping employees feel like they’re giving back to the community, you’re creating a mindset that also yields pride in workmanship, generosity to customers, and team spirit. Like the Stirlings said: you reap what you sow.