PDA

View Full Version : UK lawncare business franchise disaster


lesley
02-13-2011, 02:19 PM
Hi guys,

My name is Lesley and I am based in the UK. I have been a member here for a while but have not posted before for reasons I will now reveal. I purchased a franchise here in the UK a few years ago and things went wrong from the start and the business failed.

After a prolonged legal battle I am now free of the restrictions imposed on me by the franchise owner and am now starting out out on my own.Most of the franchises over here are based on the American business model for lawn franchises and I was wondering how do you guys fare against the big boys that cover the same areas as yourselves.

Steve
02-14-2011, 10:27 AM
Hi Lesley,

Welcome to our forum!

I purchased a franchise here in the UK a few years ago and things went wrong from the start and the business failed.

Can you share with us some of your insights into this experience? There are plenty of members on here that look for franchises to get into. What advice do you have for them when it comes to this and what should they be looking out for?

I was wondering how do you guys fare against the big boys that cover the same areas as yourselves.

I would think you could run circles around them with the right marketing angle. There is no way they can compete with you when it comes to personalized service. If that is played up, that is your advantage to their disadvantage.

What's your thoughts on that or are you looking at working on another marketing angle?

lesley
02-15-2011, 03:22 PM
Hi Steve,

Met with five franchises before making a decision on which company to take a more serious look at. First major meeting took place with the owner quite a distance from my home, it was here that the franchise was outlined very vaguely and some what turned out to be unachievable promises made. I was in a dead end job and the guy had me hooked.

The company is one of the biggest in the uk though not the biggest. Anyway after a few emails and phone calls and another meeting I signed up to what I thought was a wonderful company. Must admit to a few alarm bells going off in one of our meetings about some of the work carried out in the winter but chose to ignore them.

Travelled to the owners depot for a 5 day training course with 4 other people 2 of which knew nothing about lawncare but were given 2 books and told they would pick it up in a week. Again this should have told me all I needed to know about the company.

After 2 days of telling us how great working with them was and taking off us the franchise fee and told the cost of the van lease hire and gone up and there was a software license to pay I was still raring to go. The increase in revenue we had to pay was another warning sign wasn't it?

Rest of the week was learning how to use the software so these new guys to the industry had 2 days training.

Sent on our way and sat waiting at home for my new uniform and the rest of the kit. There was another expense to come that I was not told about.There was a leaflet drop with Royal Mail booked in my name but I had to to pay for this on top of the fees and arrange for the leaflets to get to the mail depot.

Still I was blind to what was going on.

The kit arrived, the leaflets went out, got my new phone number and got my first customer. Started trading and things started to move but not very quickly. Head office phoned up and said I should be getting more work. How? I replied, go and knock on peoples doors I was told.

I am not a door to door salesman, never have been, never will be. I am a confident guy but having the door slammed in your face umpteen days a day is not for me. This finally got me wondering about things a little but I plugged on. It was right in the middle of the summer but I had very little work.

What happened next made my mind up for me.

Part 2 to folllow

Steve
02-16-2011, 12:11 PM
What happened next made my mind up for me.

Part 2 to folllow

I am looking forwards to hearing it!

lesley
02-17-2011, 02:32 PM
So here we were coming to the end of the summer, the franchise head office are not happy with my customer numbers and the sales associated with those customers. At one of the meetings before I bought the franchise the MD met with me and rubbished every other lawncare company out there.
One of these companies were guaranteeing start up businesses a minimum of 40 customers when they joined up and I believe his words were "I'll **** all over them, if I can't give you 100 customers with my marketing I may as well as give up now" Well his marketing involved over 100,000 glossy brochures delivered to specifically targeted households and guess what I got just over 40 customers. Another warning signal.

So head office send down someone to help me out. We meet up and he tells me I have to learn the company rhyme. Moss and Weed, Scarify and Seed. So I ask what if its a moss free lawn and the weather is against scarifying and if you look at some of these weedkillers they will not work below certain temps and then its too cold to seed.

The guy says you will always find moss in a lawn and if you can't its always a good idea to take a small plastic bag with some in that you can show the customer. You can scarify whatever the weather it even helps get rid of a light frost, if the weedkiller does not work you can always sell another treatment that will and the seed will sit there until it germinates when the weather gets warmer. So basically lie through your teeth and go against everything I learnt in college and on the job.

I am now finally starting to realise the $38,000 I have paid is all but lost with this bunch of clowns.

The guy then starts to tell me about the winter treatments and how I should have been telling every customer their lawn needs either a hollow tining or scarifying in the winter months regardless of the weather. Then the motivational speech, "you currently run the worst performing franchise in the company" Really made me feel good I can tell you but by then I had made my mind up to leave.

So that was a few years ago now and after much legal wrangling I am free of them, they have someone covering my old area and I really do feel sorry for the guy because I doubt anything has changed. I am now starting back up and already have a small loyal group of customers but always open to suggestions how to increase my numbers but I wont go back to the franchise methods

Steve
02-18-2011, 01:28 PM
This is a very interesting story and I guarantee you that there are entrepreneurs reading this right now who are in the same spot you were and wondering what to do.

First major meeting took place with the owner quite a distance from my home, it was here that the franchise was outlined very vaguely and some what turned out to be unachievable promises made. I was in a dead end job and the guy had me hooked.

Looking back now, what do you feel were some of the unachievable promises that were made? What should a potential new franchisee be on the look out for when it comes to this?

Must admit to a few alarm bells going off in one of our meetings about some of the work carried out in the winter but chose to ignore them.

What stood out to you at this time as to things just weren't looking right?

Travelled to the owners depot for a 5 day training course with 4 other people 2 of which knew nothing about lawncare but were given 2 books and told they would pick it up in a week. Again this should have told me all I needed to know about the company.

What is your view on how this should have been handled? What would have been the ideal situation? How do you feel they dropped the ball here?

lesley
02-20-2011, 12:55 PM
The ammount of money I could earn was repeatedly mentioned in that initial meeting. It was almost treble the wage I was earning back then but thinking about it now I would have to be working over 20 hours a day and 7 days a week to get anywhere near it. Even their top earning franchise was not hitting those heights.

Another figure bought up was the ammount of customers I would have in the first year after an extensive advertising campaign. Over 100,000 brochures went out but I never got the kind of numbers promised.

If I were doing it all again I would ignore any figures about projected profits and how many customers I would have, I know you need a business plan but at the end of the day they are guesses on what you may earn and looking back now I just cannot see on what these figures were based.

My background is after doing 3 years in college studying horticulture, Turf Science and sportsground construction and management I got a job looking after bowling greens and cricket pitches so I do know a tiny bit about turf and how to look after it. The guys at this company were telling me the winter were their best months, as this was the time of the year when they carried out all their machine based operations. Regardless of the weather hollow tining and scarification would be carried out. The hollow tining could be done as long as there was no snow on the ground and the same for scarification and if it caused any damage throw some feed around to try and hide it.

As far as I am aware the franchisees with no experience finished their training and that was it. Off they went and started assesing lawns with their little handbooks, I know one has failed and is no longer trading but dont know how the others fared. One of the others with me on the course ran his own business so I think his shortcomings(turf knowledge) should have been addressed, my shortcomings were no business knowledge so this is where I should have had more training.

Steve
02-21-2011, 05:56 PM
Very interesting!

Now for all the readers that are sitting here thinking about starting their own business and considering going the franchise route, what advise do you have for them?

Is it better to go and just create your own business on your own or is it still worthwhile investigating a franchise?

Would the money that a person might spend on buying into a franchise be spent much more wisely other ways?

lesley
02-21-2011, 11:47 PM
Looking back I made so many mistakes which is only natural for someone so inexperienced in business, but these were compounded by a lack of support from the franchise owners, I am not perfect and hold my hand up to that.

One of the major problems I had was cash flow. You do the work and for whatever reason you don't get paid straight away. If you are in a franchise you have to pay the royalties due every month whether you are paid or not so that drains your finances straight away.

You have to order your goods from the franchise so whatever they charge you have to pay even if you can get it cheaper elsewhere and the franchise I was with was based a distance away from me and so there was always delivery charges, to make matters worse there is a company who I now deal with who are based 2 miles down the road so no more delivery charges, but at the time I was prevented by the franchise agreement I had signed from using them.

Perhaps I just picked a shocking franchise to sign up with, they can't all be that bad can they? As soon as this company had my money their interest in me faded and the support was never really there.

My reasons for buying the franchise was that I was buying a brand name, would get support with running the business, had a proven marketing model to follow and access to the fellow franchises if anything came up I did not know how to deal with.

I then found out the brand name meant nothing to potential new customers, I got very little support with actually running the business side of things, the marketing model failed big time, and the so called experts running the other franchises were shopkeepers and salesmen with no turf experience between them.

If I sound bitter about the whole thing then yes I probably am, one of the hardest decisions I had to make was to stop trading, I was down $38,000 and not making any money but sometimes you have to walk away and hope you come back a stronger person.

I would say DO NOT buy a franchise, what can they give to you that you cannot get from somewhere else for a fraction of the price. Just take a look at the advice and help you get on this forum, I use another forum in the UK where if you can post a picture up some turf that you are not sure how to deal with these professionals will gladly give you their expert opinion on it and it costs nothing.

By all means take sometime investigating a franchise if thats what interests you but just dont listen to the employees of that franchise, look for info from sources not linked to them. Dont get taken in by the franchise publicity machine like I did, it is there to part you with your money and nothing else.

As I have said I paid $38,000 or the franchise, wish I had that budget now to spend on starting up again as I could spend it more wisely on the things I actually needed and when I needed them. When I started I was sent 1 tonne of winter fertiliser even though there was 6 months to go before the winter started. The money I paid here could have been spent on something more useful and also freed up some storage space for me.

Hope this is of some help to some people and hopefully it will stop someone making the mistakes I did, I am happy to share my experiences with anybody who wants to ask.

nnyparts
02-22-2011, 03:22 AM
Your not the first nor will you be the last person to sink a lot of hard earned monies into something that didn't pan out. Call it the expense of an education of what not to do in the future and move forward. I am always telling myself that the only reason to look back is to correct something or to learn from it. Don't get stuck in the trap of having this ill fated endevor hold you back now!

lesley
02-22-2011, 01:22 PM
Thanks mate,


I am only looking forward now, new start, new life, just wanted to share my experiences with other people who may be thinking of doing the same as me a few years ago.

Steve
02-23-2011, 02:31 PM
As I have said I paid $38,000 or the franchise, wish I had that budget now to spend on starting up again as I could spend it more wisely on the things I actually needed and when I needed them.

This is a very good point and I think it's what many new entrepreneurs think about. Which way would there money be better spent.

Now that you have gone through this, you have a clearer perspective on this than most do.

What do you feel now, if you could start all over and had $38,000, would you spend the money on? How would you make it work for you now?

lesley
02-24-2011, 11:49 AM
One thing I do know from all this is that you can have all the best lawn mower, the most eye catching vehicle and all the technical knowledge going, but it all counts for nothing if you don't have the customer base to use them on. How you go about getting the customers is a matter of choice for the individual and what may work for us over here may not work for you guys over there.

I am reading this forum with a view to trying out some of the marketing ideas on the British public.

Ducke
02-25-2011, 07:32 AM
Honesty
Integrity
Quality
Reliability
These are the most important parts of your company.
All the fancy logos, Mowers or uniforms can not ever sell or keep customer like the list above.

Good luck on your New Business.

Graham

Steve
02-25-2011, 04:36 PM
all counts for nothing if you don't have the customer base to use them on. How you go about getting the customers is a matter of choice for the individual and what may work for us over here may not work for you guys over there.

Isn't it amazing how most people look at franchises as these business families? Where once you buy in, they will guide you all the way and their system will take care of everything?

When in reality, as we see here through your experience, in the end, the advise they offered to get customers was to go door to door.

I am not a door to door salesman, never have been, never will be. I am a confident guy but having the door slammed in your face umpteen days a day is not for me

Have you found this to effect your view on sales? You are not alone when it comes to this view point on door to door sales. But what is a business owner to do?

lesley
02-26-2011, 02:54 AM
Don't really know the answer to that one, there are hundreds of marketing ideas out there and the only way to see what works is either to ask questions on forums like this or go out and try them for yourself.

I had an incredibly professional looking brochure delivered to over 100,000 specifically targeted addresses, it cost $7,200 and got 40 customers. the profit margin from an average customer was around of $80 and I had these customers for 2 years so roughly that works out at a loss of $800. I know the profit margin sounds small but this is not mowing its applying weedkillers, feeds and reseeding (price of fertiliser has skyrocketed here plus there were royalties, delivery charges to the franchise etc)

I took what is known as a trade stall at 3 local horticultal shows/county fairs at a cost of $990 and picked up 51 new customers, that is an area I will be revisiting this year.

Going back to the door to door method, whilst doing it and having a morning with zero response somebody actually agreed for me to look at their lawn but I was in such a complete downbeat mood I completely mucked up my sales pitch and didn't get the customer.

What works best for you guys over there? I am about to advertise in a local quaterly parish magazine, the cost is really low and it is delivered to 2000 homes and the info it contains means that a lot of them will be kept for future reference.

cruzgardening
02-26-2011, 03:45 AM
What works best for you guys over there? I am about to advertise in a local quaterly parish magazine, the cost is really low and it is delivered to 2000 homes and the info it contains means that a lot of them will be kept for future reference.

hi the following link talks about this in short it might help
http://www.gopherforum.com/showthread.php?t=13544


also last year when i started i wanted to create a well established image around the Jewish community about 10-15 miles from where i live since this area is a bit more wealthy and i thought investing on a magazine that cater to this community of about 100,000 people would be great. I invested $4,000 and until right now since August when i placed the ad, the ad runs for one whole year, i have only received 3 calls from that magazine it might be the wrong magazine but i had bad luck.

on the other hand i don't pay anything for my craigslist ads here is the link to one of them http://losangeles.craigslist.org/sgv/fgs/2230480972.html

and they give me lots of calls also lots of flyers around the neighborhoods i service good luck

Steve
02-27-2011, 07:39 PM
I took what is known as a trade stall at 3 local horticultal shows/county fairs at a cost of $990 and picked up 51 new customers, that is an area I will be revisiting this year.

Going back to the door to door method, whilst doing it and having a morning with zero response somebody actually agreed for me to look at their lawn but I was in such a complete downbeat mood I completely mucked up my sales pitch and didn't get the customer.

Have you found that you much prefer advertising in a way where potential customers come to you, such as with the horticulture shows, versus you going out to find them?

Do you think that business owners need to find ways to market their businesses in manners they can work with?

Are some people just better at sales than other because some are more extroverted rather than introverted?

Maybe even with franchises, extroverted personalities tend to get better results?

It seems at times, we see many members on the forum that can do the job they want to sell, but selling it is the hard part.

lesley
02-28-2011, 12:15 PM
What I find works in tight knit communities such as Jewish, Muslim or whatever else is referrals. I know of one company who advertised, knocked on doors, did whatever else they could think of on this little island off the mainland but all to no avail. This community did not like outsiders doing their work and it wasn't until this company got a local doctor as a customer that their fortunes changed.

When I took the trade stalls I felt more comfortable with the idea of people approaching me and I felt more confident in dealing with the queries and selling my services.

As much as I enjoy being in this industry I realise that to succeed I have to be a salesman as well and it is something I have to improve upon. My sales skills are very poor and need work and was probably another reason the franchise did not work out.

Steve
03-01-2011, 06:13 PM
As much as I enjoy being in this industry I realise that to succeed I have to be a salesman as well and it is something I have to improve upon. My sales skills are very poor and need work and was probably another reason the franchise did not work out.

I think that is a very important issue to point out.

We all have different types of personalities and to be successful, it seems we need to play to our advantages. Set up infrastructure that allows us to be comfortable and work within our areas of strength.

There are many people that can do a job. They know the job, inside and out, but when it comes to running a business that sells that job, it requires a whole new set of tools, talents, and abilities.

Knowing how to do the job is one thing, but owning a business that sells that service is a totally different animal.

This seems to be where most new business owners fail. I don't know the percentages, but I would venture to guess more often than not, entrepreneurs who get involved with franchises do it because they want to walk into a ready made, turn key operation. They know how to do the job, but don't want to have to go through the enormous process of developing the infrastructure to operate and sell it.

If you have trouble being a salesperson, a turnkey operation may be ideal when you won't have to personally push it. Like for instance a fast food restaurant with a name that everyone knows, so the need for you to personally sell it, will be at a bare minimum.

However, with something that is service oriented, such as lawn care, this is a very person to person type business which requires good people skills.

If you find that you are not comfortable with the door to door sales process, there are plenty of ways you can market your business and not have to be cold calling people.

You pointed out a great option with your stall renting at the local horticulture show. That allows you to set the stage and the people come to you. If you are comfortable with this kind of sales, you should develop more ways to do this.

Can you give more local speeches or seminars on lawn care or property care? Can you put information on your site that explains different issues your local community members face?

Can you get more media attention by doing some volunteer work in your community? Are there other shows you can attend? Can you write a monthly article for your local paper?

As you sit there and think about it, you will start finding there are many ways to promote yourself and draw local customers in, without having to go out and do the door to door marketing.

lesley
03-27-2011, 11:27 AM
Have just got back from visiting a few of my major customers, its something I do from time time to make sure I don't lose them and have been given a fair bit of advice from them.

Apparently I am not proactive enough, the majority of them are time poor, cash rich people who depend on my expertise to keep their properties looking good. I have their trust but do not go in there and say to them this month I will be doing this, this and this, instead I wait for them to notice things need doing.

Its another fault to deal with in my struggle with getting a profitable lawn care business up and running

Steve
03-28-2011, 08:11 AM
For those that are similar to you in such situations, what should they be doing instead? What is the ideal way to go about this?

lesley
03-30-2011, 04:08 PM
Have taken on board what I have been told and spent the day telling customers what I will do for them. Ten customers, one definite, 2 maybe's and one new one, been a most profitable day, cost my fuel and time but that will be covered by new work. Am learning all the time and slowly getting better.

Steve
03-31-2011, 10:47 AM
It sounds like things are steadily improving! That is great news!