James Young identified a company that was successful but tired when he arrived as president at Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp. more than seven years ago.
“The business was actually very successful and profitable,” Young says of the family-owned tree and lawn care company. “But the first-generation energy and appetite had brought it to a point where they had achieved their success and ultimately had exhausted themselves to get the business there.”
Young needed to find a way to re-energize the business, which has 75 independent franchise owners and does business in 27 states. His goal was to do it without destroying the cultural foundation that had been nurtured so meticulously by the founding family over the years.
At the same time, these changes would need to be purposeful and bring real value to the business.
“If it’s not going to move the corporation forward, why are we doing it?” Young says. “Because it’s a better way to do it? Well, that’s probably going to be met with the most resistance.”
When considering change, you need to identify areas where that change will make a visible and positive difference in the organization. You then need to illustrate those differences and demonstrate why they are good for both the business and the employees themselves.
“It’s easy for the new guy to say, ‘We can be a $100 million organization, and we can do it in the next 10 years,’” Young says. “I have to figure out how to grow their business and put money in their pocket and any change I want is going to occur much easier.”
Young quickly identified consumer marketing as the area of greatest need. Spring-Green was still doing most of its marketing by telephone and Young decided it was time to incorporate some new technology into the mix.
“What I saw was a very dismal future for growing our organization with the current marketing methods,” Young says. “We had to really change our thinking in how we were going to acquire customers and we needed to not skip a beat. We needed to become great right out of the gate.”
Young wanted to use technology to stay in touch with consumers and more quickly advise them of new products and services to drive both satisfaction and revenue for Spring-Green.
“The difficulty in any business is staying in tune with all these up-and-coming changes and trying to be receptive to them,” Young says. “We wanted to have an integrated approach to become more effective and efficient with what we did.”
One of the keys to making sweeping changes is the inclusion of your people who are out in the field interacting with your customers. Don’t let them feel as though they aren’t vital to the success of your plan.
“Everybody needs to be included,” Young says. “You need to find relevancy and meaning for all your people, regardless of the company’s changes. You can go out and champion it, but it needs to be echoed through all the channels.”
Keep those channels open so that your people feel part of the change but also comfortable offering their input about what’s happening with the business. When you’re taking over a business that has a great deal of history and still has involvement from the founders, you need to keep them apprised of what you’re doing too.
“Make sure your core values align,” Young says. “I was fortunate to come in and say, ‘You’ve got this great core structure, but what it needs is some new energy and an updated vision of where it can go and maybe some updated thinking when it comes to marketing and technology.’”
Of course, success is ultimately the best way to earn support, whether it’s a founder you work for, your board or one of your franchisees. Spring-Green’s revenue grew from $32 million in 2009 to $34.2 million in 2010 and a projected $36.5 million in 2011.
“The statement I’ve made publicly is lead a franchise owner to profitability and their trust will follow,” Young says.
How to reach: Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp., (800) 777-8608 or www.spring-green.com
Set the ground rules
When James Young arrived as president of Spring-Green Lawn Care Corp., he wanted to know the ground rules for what he could and couldn’t do in leading the business. He didn’t have a board to report to, but he did need to work with the family that had launched the business back in 1977 and built it into a success.
“Define your authority,” Young says, identifying the first key to success in this situation. “Is there anything you don’t have authority to do? That’s pretty much for any executive leader. Is there anything I don’t have the authority to do? What are the things the founder or ownership would like to have influence on?
“What are the areas of the business they want to have some influence on? If you have that, you can develop a communication style and a working relationship under that context. Without that, it’s hit and miss and you’re learning as you go.”
Young was able to build a positive working relationship with the company founders, and it has resulted in success for the business. Revenue is up more than 70 percent since 2004.
“It took us several meetings to establish what those boundaries were going to be,” Young says. “Looking back now seven years ago, it was probably some of the best conversations we ever had.”