SOUTH FEATURES


New Plan, New Optimism

Veteran North Carolina landscape pro says becoming a franchisee is helping him get his firm in order and grow
By Ron Hall


The Grounds Guys Greenville


Founder: Brent Creech
Headquarters: Greenville, N.C.
Founded:1993 as Creech's Landscaping & Lawn, became Grounds Guys, Greenville, N.C. in 2011
Services: Lawn maintenance, lawn care, design/build, construction, irrigation, landscape installation, water features, and retail garden center
Employees: 10 peak season
Website: www.greenville.groundsguys.com

Buying a franchise or joining a franchise system is obviously not for everyone. This is perhaps more true for someone with an established, functioning business.

But, that's not always the case.

Brent Creech, who founded Creech's Landscaping and Lawn Care Services in 1993 near Greenville, N.C., weighed the pros and cons of becoming a franchisee in 2011. He decided it was a good move for him and his company, so he joined The Grounds Guys network in May 2011.

Now, a year later, Creech reflects on the decision. Admitting that the transition hasn't been as seamless as he would have liked, he remains convinced it was the right move to make. He says joining The Grounds Guys is providing him with the knowledge and support that is allowing him to build and grow his company with a stronger foundation. And keep him from burning out, he says convincingly.


Brent Creech (standing) became a part of The Grounds Guys in 2011, almost 18 years after getting into the business. Shown with him, l. to r., are Zachary Sharpe, Howard Bellah Jr., Dustin Draughty and Camron Allsbrook, foreman.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GROUNDS GUYS GREENVILLE.

"I used to be out in my shop every night going over everything, sometimes until 9 o'clock. My shop was in my backyard. I was out there so late at night that after my wife got the kids to bed she would come out to be with me," he recalls. "Now we have systems for the guys. It's making everything easier."

Yes, life's easier and his company's future looks more secure, but not everything's been as smooth as he would have preferred. More on that later.

Creech started mowing lawns and doing light landscaping while he was in college. Even after graduating, earning his police certification and serving on several local police departments, he kept his small landscape and lawn care business going. His police schedule (two days on and two days off) left him time to mow clients' lawns and do installations, but not enough time to take his business to the level that he wanted to.

Ultimately he felt he had to make a choice: law enforcement or landscape company owner. He chose the latter.

"The landscape business kept growing so I went part time as a policeman for a few years. Finally, I let the certification go," Creech says.

Creech loves owning and running a landscape company and he never shirked putting in the hours in his business, even when it meant time away from his family. But he also admits he couldn't get it to run as efficiently as he knew it should. Or to generate the revenues and profits that his hard work suggested it should.

Attempting to fix that, Creech spent the years just prior to the 2008-09 recession transitioning the company out of lawn maintenance to devote more time to designing and installing landscapes, particularly those involving hardscapes. For a few years that seemed to be the right call. Creech, who holds a certification from the Interlocking Concrete Paver Institute and is an expert at installing Belgard products, liked the direction the company was headed.

"I love that creative part of the business. I love being able to give customers beautiful, unique hardscapes," says Creech. "We're good at it. We're so confident of our work we guarantee it."

Change of heart

The recession caused him to rethink his strategy, especially after the hardscape business started to fall. His feelings about landscape maintenance softened as a result, and he began ramping up that part of his business again.

While he says getting back into maintenance was the right move at the right time, he's learned that making money cutting grass - especially competing against a slew of lower-priced operators - isn't an easy task. It requires business and marketing systems. It also requires operating systems that drives efficiency and delivers service that meets clients' expectations.

"I didn't think we were big enough to have systems. I didn't realize that we needed them," says Creech frankly. That was, until he was "educated" to what they could mean for the survival and growth of his company.

"After chatting with The Dwyer Group, I began to realize what I was lacking in terms of business knowledge," says Creech. "I studied psychology in college and I had been a policeman. I had never really gone to school to learn about business or become a businessman."

The Dwyer Group is a Waco, Texas-headquartered company, which heads seven service-based franchise companies, including The Grounds Guys in the United States.

"The people at The Dwyer Group told me they could help me with the business part of my company," says Creech. "I recognized that I needed help, especially in implementing systems, many of which I'd never thought of before, and making the numbers work."

After agreeing to join The Grounds Guys system, Creech and a key employee went to the headquarters where The Grounds Guys franchise system was born.

The Grounds Guys owes its existence to Tim van Stralen, who, in 1987, founded Sunshine Grounds Care, Orangeville, Ont., Canada. By 2004, the grounds care division of Sunshine began franchising. As of last count and from the company's website, it listed 37 locations in Canada.

In 2009, the van Stralen family (there are 10 van Stralen brothers) met with The Dwyer Group. In 2010, the two companies entered into an agreement for The Dwyer Group to sell franchises in the United States.

The Dwyer Group, founded in 1981 by the late Don Dwyer Sr., added the grounds care franchise to its other service brands, which include Aire Serve, Glass Doctor, Mr. Appliance, Mr. Electric, Mr. Rooter and Rainbow International. CEO and Chairwoman Dina Dwyer-Owners, daughter of its founder, now manages the company.

Creech credits the training he received and the systems he implemented this past season as making a big difference in his firm's operation.

"Now, I go out and have a morning huddle with the guys and we go over everything that we're going to do for the day. I come back into my house and help get my girls ready for school, and then I can start my day," says Creech.

The schedule at the end of each workday is much smoother, too, he says.

"At the end of the day our guys come in, wash their trucks and trailers, and sharpen the blades on their mowers. We have check-off sheets to make sure everything is serviced and ready to go for the next day," says Creech.

Needed: a few good men

Not everything is sunshine and bluebirds for The Grounds Guys, Greenville, N.C., even with all of the positive changes.

Creech says he suffers the challenges of almost every small company seeking to grow. The most daunting is finding good, loyal employees. They're few and far between, but at least he now has a better process for identifying and training the better ones, thanks to the training he got from The Grounds Guys.

"We've had some good employees come onboard. I hope they can see the opportunity they have to make good money and, hopefully, make careers for themselves," he says.

But, perhaps the biggest challenge with the changeover from being Creech's Landscaping and Lawn Care Services to being The Grounds Guys Greenville is name recognition.

"We're probably losing some customers because they may not understand that we're the same company, but only better," says Creech. "Somehow we have to do a better job of educating that we're still here.

"Fortunately, we're getting a lot of customer requests and, in some of the smaller jobs, having to turn some people away, especially if they want it done yesterday."

Now more confident in the business aspects of running a landscape company and running his company with systems, Creech says the lessons from the "19 years of mistakes" in the industry will help him build one of the best landscape companies in his part of North Carolina.

To read a full account of The Grounds Guys and its parent company, The Dwyer Group, check out our April issue at www.turfmagazine.com.

Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. He has been reporting on service industries, including the landscape/lawn service industry, for the past 28 years. Contact him at rhall@mooserivermedia.com.