Thinking about buying a franchise? Then you’re probably facing a lot of questions. When is the right timing? Is it the best path? You want to diversify and grow your business, but is this the best way to do it? Though there’s no question franchising can be a successful way to expand, it’s not right for everyone. Here’s some advice, as well as pros and cons.
Eric Martin, vice president of franchise development for Lawn Doctor, says that before buying a franchise, you have to consider where you are in life, including where you stand financially.
“In order to be successful, you want to make sure that this is the right time for you to make this decision. What are your income goals, and what savings do you have? It takes some time to become profitable and build revenue,” says Martin. Though he adds, “…But it happens a lot faster when you’re not doing it all on your own—when you have the support of a system behind you.”
“If you’re looking for ways to add more cash flow, then it’s a good time to explore your options,” says Jennifer Lemcke, chief operating officer of Weed Man Lawn Care. “You might be thinking about adding a new division and weighing what you gain by joining a franchise system rather than expanding on your own.”
Lemcke says many business owners contemplate diversification to compete with competition, meet more customers’ needs, and encourage both employee and client retention. More reasons for diversification include stagnant growth, a lack of a long-term growth strategy, and lack of overall volume.
If an existing landscaping business is looking to add lawn care accounts, for example, Lemcke says franchising can remove the guesswork. Rather than “reinvent the wheel,” you are purchasing a “proven system.”
That was the case for Arnie Arsenault, owner of A. Arsenault & Sons Landscaping in Spencer, MA. Prior to getting involved with Weed Man, Arsenault already had experience in franchising as he had purchased a Christmas Decor franchise in 1998 as a way to provide his staff work in the off-season beyond snow plowing.
In 2013, Arsenault purchased two Weed Man territories—a number that made financial sense and allowed him to test the waters. A year later, he purchased four more. In five and a half years, the lawn care portion of his business became a million-dollar division.
“We left the Weed Man training with a business plan and knew exactly how we were going to roll this out,” Arsenault recalls. “We’d built a landscape business from the ground up, but we never had a business plan—certainly not something that had already been proven to work—so having a system that could be put into place was huge for us. It simplified the process.”
While big picture timing may be about you and your financials, seasonal timing is also important to consider, says Blaine Young, VP of franchise and business development for NaturaLawn of America. “We don’t bring on any new franchisees until we start new training in September or October to prepare them for a full year,” he says. “We want them to go through all of the training and to get ramped up for a full sales cycle.”
There’s no doubt—across all different brands—the single most-echoed reason for franchising is the “systems and support.” Rather than starting from scratch, you’re instantly aligned with a well-known name.
According to Lawn Doctor’s Martin, it’s about the replicability of success. “Franchising 101 is all about duplicating a system and its best practices,” he says. “There is so much that goes into being a business owner, and it can be really overwhelming. But you don’t have to do it all alone when you’re buying a franchise. We’re helping you do the marketing, the advertising, and just building the brand—so, what you can do is focus on the customer.”
Jordan Hines, who purchased the Lawn Doctor of Grand Rapids, MI franchise from his brother (who had purchased it from his father), says that being able to be a locally owned, family business—but with a national name—has been the best of both worlds.
“My dad started our franchise 20 years ago, and we’re truly a family business,” Hines says. “But you’re not out there totally on your own. You have national support—so anything that goes wrong, they’ve got your back.”
Mike Weiner, a NaturaLawn of America franchise owner in Pittsburgh says that he loved the idea of coming into a business where a system and a proven plan were already in place. Having come from outside of the industry, he says it drastically reduced the learning curve. Now 14 years later, Weiner says the support has remained invaluable.
“If I want to do a mailing, all I have to do is call up my marketing department and they provide me with exactly what I need,” Weiner says. “If I have a question about something I’m seeing on a leaf, there is an agronomist to call. If I have an accounting question, there are accountants. These are the reasons you pay that franchise fee. To me, it’s wholly worth it for all of that expertise and support.”
Weiner says he has even found lots of support from other NaturaLawn franchise owners. “It gives you a network—and that’s valuable when it comes to bouncing ideas off of people and getting advice,” Weiner says. “You’re not competing against them, instead, you all want to succeed.”
Young agrees. “The key component of joining a franchise system is that we have been through this many times over,” he says. “We have made sure the systems and the processes are correct. There are a lot of things you have to do when you are first starting out—but being part of a franchise system, many of those things are completely done for you. You’re set up for success.”
Of course, some franchisees want more support than others. Some come into the industry with previous experience, and others are brand new. “We hold a franchisee’s hand as much as they want or need it—everyone is on a different spectrum with that,” Young adds.
Beyond the proven name and support, franchisees also consider buying power to be a significant benefit. “The purchasing power that you get when working within a national franchise is something that just isn’t going to be achieved on your own,” says Arsenault.
While proven systems, networks, and bulk buying are great benefits, franchising isn’t for everyone. Lemcke is candid that “brand compliancy” is not something that suits all business owners. For those who like to constantly change or innovate, being part of a system could be considered a downside. After all, an owner is bound by the franchise’s rules.
“If you’re somebody who doesn’t like the idea of having to follow a set system, then franchising is not going to be the right fit,” Lemcke says. “With brand compliancy comes a uniform, certain equipment, and certain products… That’s not for everyone. Make sure that you are the type of person who can work within a system or you just won’t be happy.”
Of course, there is also the cost to consider, which can be the largest barrier to franchising. On top of the upfront expense, there’s also ongoing fees. Total investment costs for a Lawn Doctor single territory range from $101,890 to $115,940, according to its site. NaturaLawn investment ranges from $47,500 to $112,650 (from Entrepreneur).
Lemke breaks down the Weed Man cost exactly for a single (first number) or double territory:
Add $60,000 in operating costs, and total investment costs for Weed Man are $103,700 for a single territory or $118,450 for two territories.
Weiner says in the end, what’s right is highly individualized. “Franchising is not going to be the right path for everyone—there are going to be people who prefer to do things on their own,” he says. “There are certain products I can’t use and certain ways that I have to do things—but for me, that’s worked. Honestly, it’s been what makes it work. You have to figure out what’s right for you.”
Getz is an award-winning freelance writer based in Royersford, PA.
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