SOUTH FEATURES


Southern Pride

Freedom Lawns USA takes organic-based approach to treating lawns in the U.S. Southeast
By Mike Ingles




Freedom Lawns USA earned Entrepreneur of the Year honors in the service category by the University of North Carolina Cameron School of Business. The School praised the firm for outstanding detail to service.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF FREEDOM LAWNS USA, INC.

Mark Tamn, founder of Freedom Lawns USA, Inc., has found a niche market within a growing niche market - and business is good. Tamn, began operations in 1999 offering a more environmentally friendly lawn maintenance company in Hampstead, N.C., an area known for its pristine coastal locations. Steady growth has allowed Tamn, and his wife Lynn, to become the largest lawn care providers in the region with nine full-time employees. In 2006, the couple began franchising its unique services throughout the Carolinas.

"Freedom Lawn service is solely dedicated to warm-season lawns in the southeastern United States," says Tamn. "This means we are the regional experts who will improve and maintain clients' centipede, St. Augustine, zoysia or bermuda lawns in an environmentally responsible way."

Freedom Lawns USA, Inc.

Owners: Mark and Lynn Tamn
Founded: 1999
Began Franchising: 2006 in the U.S. Southeast Headquarters: Hampstead, N.C.
Markets: Southeastern N.C.
Services: Organic-based lawn care services for warm-season lawns in the U.S. Southeast
Employees: 9
Website: www.freedomlawnsnc.com

Tamn, a 33-year veteran of the lawn care business, is an agronomist and certified turfgrass professional, and has developed his own brand of lawn care products tailored for warm-weather grasses. His nine independent franchisees all utilize these products.

Tailored programs

"Each turf type has specific nutrient requirements," says Tamn. "Our franchise owners have four different Freedom Lawns organically fortified fertilizers that they can choose to use. They must learn which one of these fertilizers should be used on a certain turf type, the rate of application and the ideal timing for applying each. This means that a franchisee must be thoroughly trained to properly identify the grass species and have a good understanding as to the specific nutritional requirements in order to make sound decisions. Additionally, many of these different turfgrass species have specific cultural requirements such as various mowing heights, irrigation needs, ideal soil pH factors and core aeration performed primarily in the spring on warm-season turfgrass."

Freedom Lawns provides their potential customers a free lawn care analysis, including taking a soil sample, and a free plant analysis before developing a plan of action to ensure lawns grows thicker, greener and healthier. "We are a Platinum Green certified franchise having won awards for customer service, environmental stewardship and we provide our franchise offices with their own organically fortified line of products," says Tamn.

"Freedom Lawns was honored with the 'Entrepreneur of the Year' award in the business service category for outstanding detail to customer service by The University of North Carolina Cameron School of Business," he adds.

In addition to providing turf and soil analysis, Freedom Lawn franchisees are also taught how to control pests that damage lawns in the U.S. Southeast, including mole crickets, two-lined spittle bugs, chinch bugs, fall armyworms, ground pearls, plant parasitic nematodes and white grubs and billbugs. In addition to insect control, franchisees must also be trained to identify and know which turf types are susceptible to various fungal diseases and the optimum conditions for those diseases to become active.

"Our more moderate soil and air temperatures also provide more weed pressures and weed types on a year-round basis," claims Tamn. "As our philosophy is to use the least amount of pesticides possible while attaining positive results, our franchise owners must be trained to determine the ideal timing of treatments, whether or not to apply certain herbicides and other pesticides - and to understand the spectrum of control offered by these products."

Special attention

Tamn doesn't believe in a one-size-fits-all approach to quality lawn services, noting that his region of the country is a unique environment, just as is the upper-Midwest or Southwest.

"Each region has its own set of turfgrass issues. We think we have a pretty good handle on ours. The proof is that, unlike larger lawn care franchises, we've never had a franchisee fail. We are a regional chain, so our smaller size is somewhat by design. Bigger may not always exemplify better in the world of franchising or in the lawn care industry. In fact, we have as large or larger customer base than our competitors in many of the markets that we serve."

Because the growing season in the South lasts much longer, more treatments are required to monitor and rectify ongoing pest problems, and fertilizing is done using smaller quantities in shorter intervals. Tamn says his franchisees are trained in the latest agronomic research.

"The coastal areas of the Southeast are very low in organic matter. Therefore, we apply humates and other organic materials on a regular basis. Some of our sandier soils are also hydrophobic, causing drought stress and in some cases, turfgrass desiccation. Our franchise owners must possess good turfgrass knowledge, so that they can advise their clients with thoughtful, sound guidance and suggestions concerning things that a homeowner or property manager can do to improve the good health and appearance of their lawn."

Joe Grady and Kathleen Smith, franchise owners in Charleston, S.C., are certain they made the right choice in partnering with Freedom Lawns. "We wanted to offer a service that would be environmentally beneficial to our community, something on the cutting edge, but keeping the personal touch that you could find back in the day."

Another franchise owner, Watson Barnes in Wilmington, N.C., said that choosing Freedom Lawns was an easy decision. "We felt like the Freedom Lawn technicians were a cut above the competition and this enabled Freedom to take a custom approach to treating each lawn, rather than one treatment fits all. As a result, we found all the customers we surveyed to be extremely satisfied. We also liked the company's organic-based fertilizer offerings, and the fact that the program is kinder to the environment. Of course, these factors contributed to the growth and profitability potential that we saw, as did the proven marketing programs available to the franchisee."

The investment

Freedom Lawns, like most lawn franchisers, sets their fees according to the individual market area. The organic lawn care company offers basic franchise fees ranging from $10,000 to $25,000, with total startup costs from $45,000 to $75,000. Freedom Lawn requires an annual 6 percent royalty fee of gross sales, however, offers their franchisees a referral fee of $2,000 per referral. In addition to the franchise fees and startup, the franchisees must obtain additional equipment such as a 1-ton van with customized wrap, customized spray unit, specific software and soil computers.

"We welcome experienced candidates who are looking to own their own company, small existing companies looking to reach a higher level and novices who are looking for a residual income business that is very predictable," adds Tamn. "We work with non-experienced franchise owners very closely their first year in business."

Franchisee support is central to everyone's success, admits Tamn. "We have the franchisee spend two weeks at one of our locations for technical training, customer service, sales and computer training. This includes videos, technical educational books and a series of company manuals that include marketing options, company policy manuals, accounting chart of accounts and website design for their market."

In addition, the company sends a corporate representative to the new franchisee's business for a week to set-up sales and field training procedures. Each five to six weeks thereafter, for the first year, they return for updates and follow-up and support.

Tamn continues, "We perform field training with all new owners at the start of each treatment cycle, as we want them to be 'lawn experts' in their particular market. We believe that most folks buy professional lawn care services from companies that they believe employ knowledgeable turfgrass experts who care, not necessarily great sales people. We also work with them on year-round marketing plans."

Freedom Lawns also offers a six-treatment plant healthcare program and plans to offer additional pest care programs in the near future. Tamn says plans are in the works to expand franchise operations into coastal Georgia, including Savannah, as well as establishing additional operations in the Hilton Head, N.C., vicinity.

Mike Ingles is a writer and researcher that lives and works in Columbus, Ohio. Contact him at duckrun22@gmail.com.