Growth spurt Featured

8:00pm EDT September 18, 2006

In 1977, Tom Hofer was Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp.’s third franchisee. Ten years later, as the company grew, he was named its CEO, and today serves as both CEO and executive vice president.

Today, Spring-Green is growing faster than ever, opening 13 franchises in 2005 for a total of 63 and hitting systemwide revenue of more than $23 million. And Hofer believes that the best is still to come.

“Our long-term vision is to someday become a $100 million organization,” Hofer says. “In the short run, we are looking at 10 to 20 percent annual growth for the next several years.”

Smart Business spoke with Hofer about putting the right people in the right places and getting employees to buy into his vision.

What challenges come with fast growth?

It’s critical to have the right kind of people in the right positions. When the organization is small, people often wear multiple hats. They do more than one thing. Then, as the organization grows, they tend to specialize more.

Making those moves at the right time, putting the right people in the right positions with the right talent is always critical, but more so when you are in a growth mode than when you’re in a maintenance mode.

How do you make sure the right people are in the right place?

I don’t think you can make sure. You use your best judgment with people. You look at what the position requires, and you interview and talk with people and try to figure out whether that person’s talents are a fit with what is necessary to be successful in that position.

Hopefully, you are right, but nobody is ever 100 percent right. You do the best you can. If the person is not right for the job, then you have to get someone in the position that is.

How have you managed to retain more than 80 percent of your customers?

You do a good job for your customers and you end up with these kinds of renewal rates. Our franchises are locally owned and operated. They’re not big organizations with several different layers of management.

Often the owner knows the customers. If there is a problem, usually the owner of the business is dealing with it himself.

What are the key skills any leader needs to survive?

He has to be able to look into the future and set a goal for what he wants his organization to become. Everything starts with a vision to be working toward.

Once that vision is in place, he needs to be able to communicate that and inspire his people with that vision so that they buy into it and they believe that it can be done. And then you start establishing that track record that builds confidence within the organization.

There are different personality styles. People approach things differently. I think different approaches can be successful. There’s not a one-size-fits-all leadership style.

How do you inspire employees and get them to buy into your vision?

We don’t have an organization where everything comes down from the top. We include people in the process of setting those goals.

Hopefully, we make our team feel that they are included in the process. They’re not just dictated to as to what they have to do.

When people are included, they tend to assume more ownership of that goal, feel more responsible for that goal and are probably more committed to achieving that goal.

What advice would you give brand-new CEOs if they want to have the same kind of success you have had?

It won’t be a straight line to the top. There will be ups and downs in the road along that path of where you want to go.

Some of those downs can be pretty bad. There will be some challenges and obstacles to overcome. Stick with it, don’t give up, find a way, stay resourceful and eventually it will happen.

One of the problems with a lot of people today is they might be too impatient. People think, ‘Well, I’m going to start a business, and pretty soon I’m going to have this unbelievable lifestyle.’ They might eventually end up with that unbelievable lifestyle, but it certainly doesn’t happen right away.

You have to work toward that and make it happen in the long-run. People who do that, I think, can ultimately achieve way beyond what their initial goals might have been.

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