Let's recognize that time, but we really need to give all our attention to the future.
Plainfield, IL (Vocus) April 30, 2007
Spring-Green Lawn Care CEO Tom Hofer grew up on a farm in Peoria county, Ill. Befitting his midwestern roots, he's a practical man. As the Plainfield, Ill.-based lawn care company celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, Hofer will take a moment to enjoy a slice of cake, but that's about it. There's too much work to be done.
That's because Spring-Green - one of the top five lawn and tree-care companies nationwide - has quietly been solidifying its reputation as America's neighborhood lawn-care provider.
In an industry where slow and steady growth is the norm, Spring-Green Lawn Franchises have been busier than a patch of backyard grass sprouting after a warm spring shower. The company has enjoyed an average of eight percent growth annually since its founding in 1977 - it was almost 11 percent in 2006 - and systemwide revenue has increased 45 percent during the last five years alone.
With systemwide sales of just over $26 million in 2006, Spring-Green is climbing toward the company's long-term goal of becoming a $100 million franchise system; a status Hofer says can be reached in about 15 years if the growth rate of the last several years is maintained.
"Homeowners are desperately seeking a professional, local alternative to large, national companies," Hofer said. "Spring-Green Lawn Care Services fill that niche and we believe our strength is that local connection to the communities we serve."
It's understandable that such a bright future has the 60-year-old Hofer anticipating tomorrow as much as he has enjoyed the past since joining Spring-Green as its third lawn care franchisee shortly after the company's founding. A former Navy pilot, Hofer was named company president in 1987.
"I don't want to dismiss the past, but I certainly don't want to be sitting around talking about the good old days," Hofer said. "Let's recognize that time, but we really need to give all our attention to the future."
Spring-Green has 114 lawn care franchises operating in 24 states. Eleven lawn franchises were added in 2006 and 15 more are expected to be added in 2007. The environment for growth couldn't be any better for Spring-Green, its franchisees and customers. Many homeowners are seeking professional, locally owned alternatives to national lawn care companies.
The market includes increasing numbers of aging Baby Boomers - who value the expertise and trust the local Spring-Green lawn care franchise owner -- but younger Gen Xers and Millennials who are drawn by the company's technological prowess that allows homeowners to purchase service programs online with the click of a mouse.
"We are really positioning ourselves to penetrate neighborhoods and markets deeper than we have in the past," Hofer said. "The overall aging population offers great opportunities for us while at the same time our technological advancements strike a chord with younger homeowners."
How Spring-Green reacts to change has been an instrumental reason behind its success the last 30 years. In the industry's boom years, from the late 1970s to about 1985, "we just got on board and rode along," Hofer recalled. But the business landscape quickly changed. Environmental pressures, industry consolidation and improved do-it-yourself products bolstered by aggressive marketing programs from national brands all served to challenge Spring-Green to look more closely at their strategy for growth.
"That started to separate the men from the boys," Hofer recalled. "We realized that if Spring-Green was going to be a long-term player, we couldn't just ride along with the trends. We had to swim upstream because the trend was going in the opposite direction."
Spring-Green aggressively stepped up its marketing campaigns but also relied on its backbone - its franchising network - to navigate the choppy waters. While Spring-Green lawn franchisees run sizable operations, they are still small-business owners who take great pride in the connection they have with their local communities. That has always proven an important asset.
"Maybe guys didn't grow as much as they could have when times were good, but they did better than our competitors who had big overhead and large customer bases that were being seriously eroded in some cases," Hofer said. "I think being a franchising organization helped us through those times."
While conceding that today's lawn-care industry has matured, Hofer sees plenty of opportunity for growth. "We're focusing on outpacing industry growth instead of just riding along with the trends," he said.
Spring-Green's sense of never being satisfied with the status quo extends to how it serves its franchisees. Taking into account the seasonality of its business, Spring-Green launched the innovative Flex Start Franchise Program in late 2004. Flex Start allows franchisees who start late in the lawn-care season to remain in their current jobs and operate in a part-time capacity until Jan. 1 of the following year, when they must make a full-time commitment.
About 75 percent of Spring-Green Lawn franchisees have taken advantage of Flex Start since its launch.
"It's a major life change to go into business for yourself. We need to make that as easy as possible," Hofer said. "Flex Start allows franchisees to keep their current job and learn, work and market their Spring-Green business part-time while getting some experience under their belt. When January comes around, they have a tremendous head start."
In addition to the Flex Start program, Spring-Green also launched the Veteran Franchise Military Assistance Program, or M.A.P. Hofer, a former Navy pilot, had aspirations of owning his own business when he left the service and knows many other people leaving the military share that same goal. In response to this overwhelming interest, Spring-Green started a grant program designed to help military veterans open a Spring-Green Lawn Care franchise.
Through Spring-Green's Military Assistance Program, the company will apply up to $15,000 of the initial franchise fee toward the start-up expense. "We want to make it easier for people who are returning from the war to get back into the business world," said Hofer. "We also recognize that many veterans who may have re-entered the corporate world, may be looking to transition to a more entrepreneurial situation. Spring-Green's business model allows a lot of flexibility and the freedom to be outdoors."
Flex Start and the Military Assistance Program are only two of several attractive benefits Spring-Green offers its lawn care franchisees, including a modest estimated initial investment cost of between $90,000 and $125,000. The benefits include:
- A web-based Customer Relationship Management (CRM) platform that provides myriad real-time services to both franchisees and customers.
- A call center for new franchisees that allows operators to answer phones for franchisees and make sales, schedule service and solve customer-service problems.
- A Start-Up Support program that provides unprecedented assistance to new franchisees in building their franchise during the first two years.
Before launching his business career, Hofer flew P-3 Orion Anti-Submarine aircraft during two tours in Vietnam while serving in the Navy from 1968 to 1973. He spent his final year in the service as the aircraft's commander in charge of a crew of 13. As he looked back on the experience, he was able to draw some corollaries to his role today.
"The aircraft commander was like the head of a small business," he said. "You've got a job to do, a mission to accomplish and a crew that needs to be trained and competent. When it's time to do what you have to do, you have to go out and execute. That's no different from everyday business."
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