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Ken Hutcheson: How a Focus on Culture has Helped U.S. Lawns Lead its’ Industry

Intentionally cultivated and fostered, the U.S. Lawns’ culture is what has propelled the brand forward to lead its industry and set the foundation for growth. Ken Hutcheson, president of U.S. Lawns breaks down the culture into four principles. These principles are what help the brand change the lives of their franchisees, helping them build sustainable businesses that improves their individual communities.

“National strength, local commitment. Think globally, act locally. That’s been our model since 1986 and it has served us well.” Hutcheson says “It was important for us to build an organization with a culture that is aware of the impact our personal actions have on the community as a whole -- from the families of our employees, to the customers, to the vendors, to the entire landscaping industry.  We need to be respectful of the interconnectedness of the personal and business universe.”

This holistic focus on culture has been a driving force behind the brand as it has expanded into new markets over the years, keeping pace as the needs of their commercial customers has changed and grown. “As we scaled and continue to scale, we are committed to never compromising on the responsiveness and service excellence our customers have come to expect from U.S. Lawns,” says Hutcheson.

“U.S. Lawns provides the systems and support to the franchisees, who then in turn provide a hometown service. There is a relationship there that in the absence of a strong culture will not work. We are not just one business, but more than 250 independently owned businesses operating together under one brand.” He explains, “The difference between a successful franchise and an unsuccessful one is the people, the team and the culture. The business model is proven, success comes down to having the right people with a shared set of values and mission to execute it.”

Defining a brand’s mission and values is the first step to intentionally building a positive and growth-oriented culture. Once defined, it sets expectations for how the brand will conduct itself in its relationship with its franchisees and in turn their customers. In his own words, Hutcheson breaks down U.S. Lawns’ culture into four principles.

1) Brand leader, brand adopters.

To quote Simon Mainwaring. ‘The keys to brand success are self-definition, transparency, authenticity and accountability.’ Great companies have brands that others want to follow. These are not built from the outside but expressed from within; it’s in their DNA. Our brand is not a logo. It is our way of life. What lies in the DNA of our company sets us apart and might truly inspire others to follow our example. Franchisees need to more than just lease the brand; they need to buy into the DNA of the brand.”

2) Economic interdependence.

When I think of interdependence, I think of the Gandhi quote, ‘Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency.’ In the franchisee and franchisor relationship, as well as in the business owner and customer relationship, each party needs the other to be successful. The more collaborative you can be with everyone who does business with you, the more you are creating a relationship of mutual respect rather than a top-down relationship. By emphasizing collaboration with our business partners, we create a more inclusive relationship that increases our bottom line.

3) Abide by the same rules and standards to work for the same goal.

“The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.” - Helen Keller.  A company without a sincere mission will fail; and you cannot fake a sincere mission. Choose goals that inspire participation from others who do business with you. U.S. Lawns’ brand vision is 100% franchisee satisfaction and 100% client retention. Our franchisees and clients can expect actions from us that strive to achieve that vision. When the customer knows how much they’re valued, they’re going to value that relationship in return. When your vendors know how much you value your customers, they’re going to step up and deliver as well.

 4) Individual accountability.

The concept of getting “buy-in” from employees or customers is important, because it reaffirms that people have a choice. It reminds us to respect the freedom and autonomy of all human beings. Respecting others who don’t go along with your business model actually helps strengthen your culture. Franchisees have some autonomy, they aren’t employees, they make their own choices. A Madaleine L’Engle quote comes to mind, “Because to take away a man's freedom of choice, even his freedom to make the wrong choice, is to manipulate him as though he were a puppet and not a person.”

With these four principles as the benchmarks to guide the brand’s culture, U.S. Lawns’ has positioned itself as an industry leader. Keeping in mind there is an interconnectedness between the individual franchisee and the franchise as a whole, has allowed U.S. Lawns to build a culture people want to be a part of. Hutcheson sums it up this way, ““When your vendors buy in, when your customers buy in, when the community buys in, that is when you win. That is when good becomes great.”

For U.S. Lawns, great is the standard. 100% franchisee satisfaction and 100% client retention is more than a motto, it is what drives the culture.

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