Turf Magazine - March, 2012

DEPARTMENTS

Keeping It Green: Some Things Change, Some Don't

By Ron Hall

There was a time when a homeowner, envious of a neighbor's green, weed-free lawn, would dash out their front door, flag down a lawn spray truck and sign up for service on the spot.

That's how some of the first ChemLawn spray technicians tell it. They swear it's true.

A lot has changed since the early 1970s when millions of North American home- owners began embracing professional lawn care thanks to ChemLawn's success in giving them uniformly green, beautiful turfgrass. But, it's also true that aggressive marketing contributed to professional lawn care's growth and to ChemLawn's amazing success as a brand, which lasted through the mid-1980s.

ChemLawn wasn't the country's first lawn application company, not by at least a decade, but its name became synonymous with the service. Go ahead, ask a friend to name a lawn care company. My guess is that, more often than not, their response will be ChemLawn. Remarkably, that's even though the company disappeared as a separate brand 20 years ago.

Obviously, a lot has changed from lawn care's infancy to today, including ChemLawn's exit from the industry, even after being the industry leader for almost two decades.

Changes?

Those of us that were around when ChemLawn was ramping into full mojo almost 40 years ago have experienced some remarkable advances in technology. Who among us then imagined hybrid cars, smartphones, the Internet, Netflix?

But, some of the changes haven't been quite so good. For instance, back then when we handed a gas station attendant (gas station attendant?) a dollar, he would pump three gallons of gas into our V-8s, and then promptly squeegee the bugs off our car's windshield. That was pre-OPEC oil embargo, of course. Then there's the absurdity of paying as much for a bottle of water as for a Budweiser.

What hasn't changed much the past 40 years is homeowners' appreciation for professional lawn care. Some of the same marketing strategies to sell lawn care have remained constant, as well. The ongoing popularity of service, even through the confidence-shaking 2008 recession, is evidence that these strategies (direct-mail, door-to-door canvasing) continue to deliver results, at least to one degree or another.

While no lawn care company can survive without delivering green and weed-free lawns, marketing that leads to customers signing their names on contracts is equally vital to every company's survival and success.

There's likely no better example of that than the rise of TruGreen, which started in the mid-1970s as an impudent upstart to ChemLawn. Indeed, from its founding in central Michigan through its rise becoming the biggest lawn care company in the world in the 1990s, competitors often half mockingly referred to it as a marketing company that just happened to do lawn care. They were obviously reacting to the company's success in selling its services, especially its proficiency in using telemarketing to acquire clients.

The company realized, probably better than most of its competitors, that marketing is as vital to gaining market share as is a company's ability to green homeowners' lawns.

In 1990, ServiceMaster acquired rapidly growing TruGreen. Two years later, ServiceMaster and its TruGreen division gobbled up ChemLawn. In final analysis, TruGreen survived because it evolved into a better and more-aggressive marketer than ChemLawn.

Don't get gobbled up yourself. Check out the great lawn care marketing tips we share in our feature article starting on page A8.

Hildebolt's Book: Get It, Read It, Share It

Taking advantage of a lazy, winter day, I polished off a book I've been meaning to read since acquiring it at the 2011 Green Industry Expo. If you haven't read the book, add it to your library and read it when you get a chance. It'll tell you, sharing the stories of top industry company owners, what you need to do to be a success in the landscape/lawn service industry.

The book is "The Professional Entrepreneur, When Cowboys Grow Up" by William "Bill" Hildebolt, owner of Nature's Select Premium Turf Services. Nature's Select is a company that offers high-end, lawn care services in Winston-Salem, N.C. His 18-year-old company uses proprietary agronomic principles that he and his family developed years ago on their farm in southwest Ohio.

Bill draws upon all of his experiences and those of other successful land care company owners to share valuable and, sometimes, personal insights on professionalism and entrepreneurship. He obviously put an incredible amount of thought and effort in writing this book, and it shows because of the great amount of practical information it contains. It's a fun read, too.

Hildebolt, a past president of PLANET, has been generous to our industry, and this book, available by going to the bookstore at the PLANET website (www.landcarenetworkstore.org) may be his most lasting contribution.

By the way, all proceeds from the sale of "The Professional Entrepreneur" go directly to the PLANET Academic Excellence Foundation. Buy it. Read it. Share it.

Ron Hall
Editor-in-Chief
To comment, contact Ron at rhall@mooserivermedia.com