Lawn Franchises - good or bad?

Discussion in 'Starting a Lawn Care Business' started by Zimbo, Aug 23, 2008.

  1. Manicured

    Manicured LawnSite Member
    Messages: 18

    Thanks for the welcome Az

    I bought a US Lawns franchise because I wanted to expand my business into the commerical market. I had great sucess in the residental market but I always felt intemidated when it came to bidding on large properties. Secondly, I was looking the answers in solving employee issues (finding and keeping good employees). I had really began to feel frustrated and angry when I thought that I had a large number of loyal customers and excellient equipment but the success of my business was always being sabitoged by the incomidence and lack of commentment of others. Third, I was looking forward to buying equipent and supplies (seed, fertilizer and chemicals) at a discounted price. Lastly, I was looking forward to being a part of a non-competing group of other franchise owners that I could bounce ideas off of or ask for help.

    Well, shorting after getting into US Lawns they told me that they wanted me to drop all of my residental customers. I of course refused because it was those loyal customers that had provided for my family for seven years. Inaddition, I was making more per man hour doing my residental customers than they claimed I would make only servicing commerical properties.

    US Lawns answer for finding good employees often centered around hiring H2B seasonal workers. I did not except the idea of letting a foreign worker drive my new primary work vehicle with thousands of dollars worth of equipment on it.

    The discounts at supply stores were not that big and only applied to certain products. US Lawns had national purchising contracts with John Deer, Exmark, Grasshopper and Echo. I use Walker, Gravely and Honda. There was no established John Deer or Exmark dealer close to my location. I did however, take advantage of the discounts on Echo products. The sad thing was that my local Echo dealer had to sell me the products at a discounted price but at his loss. In other words, Echo did not reimburse my local dealer. After buying 2 line trimmers I began to feel a little guilty. One of the "trainers" with US Lawns really tried to chastize my in front of other new franchise owners by saying that walker and Gravely were bad mowers. I of course responded by asking him how many hours he had operated a Gravely 260Z or a Walker mower in the field to which he said none. I then stated to him that perhaps he should make recomendations based from actual field experience rather than from igorience. From then on I was considered a rebel.

    I was not rich when I applied for a US Lawns franchise but I had an established business, great credit (over 800) and very little debt. US Lawns also allows you to finance the 29,000 franchise fee.

    Now let's discuss the debt issue. I had a 2000 Ford F350 extended-cab dump truck. This truck was in great shape but it was bright red. US Lawns vehicule color was white. So, I kept my red Ford and bought a new 2005 GMC cab-over-box truck (18 ft vanscaper). The truck was great. But after six months of bidding properties their way I did not get one single contract. As some of you might immagine the alarm bells started to sound off. In six months I suddenly found myself in a lot dept and going into the Winter months. Some debt is ok but I was at my personal limit. Sadly, most of the franchise owners are in a lot of debt. One franchise owner stated to me that he had been in US Lawns for 3 years and was still unable to take a salary from the business. It was only because of his wife's great paying job that they were able to provide for his family. Inaddition, a lot of the franchise owners finance their equipment purchaces by using home equity loans. I incorporated my business in 2002 so I never wanted to put business debt on personal property.

    I did come to enjoy the friendships I had made with the franchise owners that were located close to me. They were always very helpful and there was no question I couldn't ask. I still talk to them every now and then and consider them as friends.

    With all the differiences of oppion with me keeping my residential customers, my refusal to use only their approved equipment, the fact that I was already grossing more per man hour than I would with a contract using their bidding method, the idea of the sucess of my business would be greatly hinged on the ability of me applying and paying for seasonal foreign workers, the fact that I had not gotton one single contract, the fact that I was 60,000 in US Lawns debt with no new income to service the debt as I was going into the Winter months was all I could take. So, I call US Lawns and told them I wanted out. Surprisingly, they were very helpful and arranged the sale of my franchise to another franchise owner located in city close to me. In February of 2006 I sold the new GMC truck to another franchise owner and I was out. My net loss was about 10,000 but learned about 10,000 worth of knowledge.

    During the year of 2006 I concentrated on paying off my debt and focusing on what made my business a sucess in the first place. In May of 2007 I bought a new superlawn truck and began to change the ways I hired and compensated my employees.

    Last week I got my first HOA property that will pay 2,000 a month. I have two really great employees and now for the first time I feel confident in my abbilities and at peace with my future.

    I hope this was a blessing to someone.
  2. mattxb

    mattxb LawnSite Member
    Messages: 39

    Very informative post, thanks for taking the time to post this. :drinkup:
  3. Az Gardener

    Az Gardener LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,899

    Thank you very much I really appreciate the information. I am surprised that anyone is still buying one of those.
  4. Cart-Away

    Cart-Away LawnSite Member
    Messages: 29

    I hope that we are not suggesting that all franchises are a poor business decision. There are many great franchise systems that do a very good job in allowing franchisees to prosper, keep existing business and expand their opportunities well beyond what can be done as an independent. Franchising still remains one of the safest ways for new business owners to enter many industries. Support from a dedicated franchisor, who is flexible to the franchisee's needs find a win/win solution for everyone involved.
  5. Zimbo

    Zimbo LawnSite Member
    from La.
    Messages: 7

    I would like to say thanks to all of you for giving your input on franchise opportunities... Manicured, your post really hit home. I was hoping that someone, like yourself, who had experienced with a franchise system would reply... Hopefully, others will do so too. Please continue sharing your thoughts on this topic... I still want to hear both sides of the story...but as of now, I am leaning more toward doing this on my own.
  6. Zimbo

    Zimbo LawnSite Member
    from La.
    Messages: 7

    Cast-Away, Could you give me some more input on your post. It sounds like you have some knowledge about specific franchise opportunities, and I am interested in learning more.
  7. Cart-Away

    Cart-Away LawnSite Member
    Messages: 29

    We started looking into the franchise industry about 3-years ago. We manufacture concrete batching, mixing and delivery systems. Cart-Away is the leader in this market niche and has been supporting customers for over 15 years. Our experience working with rental store operators and landscape material yards taught us that there was a great opportunity to build a national brand around the combination of landscape materials, small batches of ready-mix concrete and small tool rentals. We have seen hundreds of locations use parts of this formula successfully and we have packaged it all into a franchise system. Manufacturers like Cart-Away (Cart-Away Supply), Volvo (Volvo Rents) and Wacker (Equipro) are entering the franchise business because we have a support structure already in place to assist the new operator to hit the ground running. Our team has successfully operated landscape material yards and small batch concrete systems for many years and we are willing to share that knowledge and support to build a national network of retail material yards. Some franchises are restrictive in what you can do within their set system. Others are more flexible and open to others ideas. You will need to visit personally with the franchisor to see if you could feel comfortable with their system. Franchising can be a great support to individuals who are just starting out, but you need to do your research before you sign on the dotted line. I hope that this helps, good luck with your search.
  8. browningv308

    browningv308 LawnSite Member
    Messages: 160

    could you start a franchise and learn the ropes using their proven system and build up a good account list then quit the franchise and take all the customers for your self i know this is dirty or unethical but is it even legal when i was a service tech in the heating and air world i've seen many a successful business get started that way
  9. larryinalabama

    larryinalabama LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 19,648

    The start up fee is too high to make that practicle
  10. Zimbo

    Zimbo LawnSite Member
    from La.
    Messages: 7


    Do you think under different circumstances that the franchise opportunity you were part of could have worked? Meaning, if you were new to the business and had limited experience, No established accounts, No equipment, Etc. would the US Lawns deal, be more enticing?

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