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In the Keys with Steven Keys

Since 1998, Steven has grown a highly successful commercial landscape business with U.S. Lawns. And as such, he has a lot of wisdom to share. Having accomplished the many goals he set for himself over these almost three decades, Steven is now enjoying the fruits of his labor. When the U.S. Lawns Podcast set out to interview Steven, it was fitting that he called in from the Florida Keys, where he is now able to spend half of the year.

When Steven first joined U.S. Lawns, he tells of not having any experience in selling, “I had worked as a sprayer for a chemical lawn care company and also did some residential landscaping. I knew nothing about sales. Turns out it’s all about sales!”

“U.S. Lawns taught me how to approach sales. Long before we had the call center, I would just call someone up and ask for the opportunity to bid. If they already had a contract, I would ask them to let me bid just for practice! Now there is a call center that helps with that, so we walk into already warm leads. But I loved cold calls.”

When asked what he learned over the years about sales, Steven offers this advice, “You need one person dedicated to lead generation. It takes time and cultivation. There must be consistency and follow up with everything to get that foot in the door.”  

With the support from U.S. Lawns, Steven was able to bridge the gap in his sales knowledge and quickly grew his initial two franchise locations into $1 million each. From there he went on to purchase a total of 11 territories with 13 offices over three states. 

The drive to succeed was in Steven from Day One. Seeing this, his U.S. Lawns advisor helped him make a plan and budget and then told him to get in there and get after his goals aggressively. “My plan was to grow my offices to $1 million each and resell them. To grow, you can’t just sit back and wait for it to happen. There are too many professional options out there. You have to go in and ask for the work.” 

Adding, “I had a dream, made a plan and executed that plan. My advisor helped me make a budget. I didn’t know the first thing about making a budget. He told me, “A budget is a plan. We need to plan to know where to go.” Now one of the most important reports I get is the Budget versus Actual.” 

Having been successful in his goal to grow his territories and resell them, Steven now owns only one territory and spends half his year in the Florida Keys, a 12 hour drive from his current territory. “I am able to do this because I have the right people in place,” says Steven, “I have a general manager, an operations manager, an account manager, office staff and a call center. The rest I am able to manage by computer or phone.”  

He goes on to say, “I had to learn to let go and trust. I knew my goal was to travel and get out of the office. It was a process. I made mistakes. I was always trying to hire the perfect person to take over for me. I learned that if it’s not working, its best to move on and find someone who is more suited for the job.” 

Steven believes that in addition to learning how to hire and when to fire, learning how to train effectively and then not micromanaging has been key to his success.  “Train people to do the job you need them to do and then get out of their way and let them do it. You can’t grow if you are micromanaging. If you want to grow to the next level, you need to allow people to do the job you hired and trained them to do. That means allowing them to sometimes make mistakes.”

Having spent the time getting the right people working for him, Steven is now able to promote from within. “My account manager started as a gardener,” he explains, “Jonathan was willing to do work and now he’s one of my best employees. There is a pathway to success for them with U.S. Lawns.” 

When asked if he had any advice for his younger self, Steven says, “I was very competitive and got caught up in being top sales. I drove sales on and on, but I didn’t drive profit. You also have to focus on delivering. Track profit per job and then evaluate every year. Ask yourself, “Did I profit? Was I efficient?” 

Another piece of sage advice Steven mentions is in regards to the power of the U.S. Lawns network. He says, “I highly recommend going to the annual conference. One of the best parts of the conference is networking with the other owners.”

In conclusion, Steven offers this to sum up his journey with the brand, “If you ever see a turtle on top of a fence post, you better believe he had help getting there. U.S. Lawns has helped me tremendously.” 

To hear the entire Keys in the Keys U.S. Lawns Podcast episode, click here

To learn more about how U.S. Lawns can help you build your own sustainable commercial landscape business, click here

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