U.S. Lawns takes immense pride in being one of the biggest and most successful franchise models in the landscaping industry. Michael Wood, the Senior Director of Franchise Operations at U.S. Lawns, has been a part of the landscaping industry since the early nineties. But only after joining U.S. Lawns in 2017 is when he was exposed to the franchise model.
During our interview with Michael, we spoke extensively about using technology and its benefits for this business model. Let’s explore Michael’s views on technology in the landscaping industry.
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Why the franchise model?
U.S. Lawns has now expanded to over 200 locations all over the States and this was possible with the franchise model. Michael mentions, “It’s a great concept. You can utilize the franchise model, which is putting a local owner, a true owner of that local franchise, someone that lives in the community, someone that is invested in the community and has to really run it as if it is his own. So we support him with our systems and tools and branding and have consistency throughout the brand. We always ask our team to act as owners.”
Technology & the Franchise Model
Before heading the franchise operations at US Lawns, Michael was in charge of the project which involved a rebuild of their proprietary proposal system. It is during this time that Michael also integrated Attentive.ai AutoMeasure with their proposal system.
Having had the technology to lean on, U.S. Lawns could maintain its systems and a consistent performance throughout its 200+ franchisees. When asked about technology’s role in U.S. lawns’ journey, Michael said, “There’s just so much great data out there with over 200 locations spread out throughout the country. Our goal was to get new franchisees out of the box quickly. Our goal is to allow our existing franchisees to grow with confidence. And so having access to that data is just so important for us. Also being able to give a consistent product to our customers. We’ve got a lot of customers. There are servers by multiple locations, whether it’s contiguous locations that are connected to each other, they’re sharing customers, or they might be customers that are throughout the country, like a Jones Lang LaSalle or CB Richard Ellis. The technology is just a huge force.”
Technology’s role in onboarding New Franchisees
Michael says, “Data is powerful.” The U.S. Lawns proposal system is the one-stop for all the needed information that a new franchisee needs to set up their shop. He adds, “The information that the U.S. lawns proposal system provides, showing what market verticals are accepting bids, what time of year, what the sale price is, what the close rates are. It’s just so important for us when someone’s coming in.”
Michael had a real-time example to share. He adds, “We just onboarded two new franchisees last week. And so we’ve got boots on the ground in New Jersey and Arkansas, helping them close work. They’re actually meeting with customers today, presenting proposals, one week after opening, but it’s just great for us to be able to feed that data of huge market verticals that are purchasing now. Historically this has been a good time.”
Landscaping industry’s biggest challenge
Labor shortage, inflation, and cost fluctuation have been obstacles that the green industry continues to face. However, one big challenge that needs to be addressed by this industry is its apprehension to change.
Michael says, “I think historically we’ve been slow to change. The construction industry has been open to technology for a long time now. They’re trying to do more with fewer employees. We have a lot we can learn from that industry as we move forward. So I think just one of the biggest challenges we’ve historically had is just not being open to change.”
He further says, “I think that’s important continuing to invest in technology, certainly
to support every area of our business.” He further elaborates, “Just utilizing technology and not having someone manually entering job hours. Once it’s done they can turn that into useful information on an Excel spreadsheet for the owner to make decisions. This is all done instantly. They’ve got access to all the information they need right on their phone. So certainly investing in technology is something we’re doing.”
Technology in the landscaping industry
Our dependence on technology has grown tremendously over the last few decades. Bringing technology into the landscaping industry was long overdue. Michael says, “I use technology in my home life, right? We bank online, we stream on TV. I don’t have cable anymore. I’m using technology every day. It just does not feel good to go to work and not have that same feeling. So we want to continue to attract new talents if we want our customers to feel comfortable with our process and practice. It’s just super important for us to adopt technology.”
In today’s time, having to deal with mountains of paperwork and doing tasks manually is counterproductive. He adds, “Our expectations are not to deal with a lot of paperwork right now. Our expectations are to have instant access to communication. Why would we not think that our employees and our customers expect the same thing?”
Key technological innovations
The green industry has long needed an innovation to revolutionize the labor-intensive sales process that all landscaping companies have had to deal with. Starting from the manual takeoffs to finally submitting bids could use some tweaks.
Michael was all praises about Attentive.ai automated takeoff software that helped them simplify and save countless hours on manual property takeoffs. He states, “Certainly you guys [at Attentive.ai] are helping out with the measuring aspect. Manually measuring sites. It was a huge step just being able to use Google Earth. And now you guys are just taking that next level of where you guys are running that out for us. I think you guys have really helped us create timely and accurate proposals. I think we’re getting some really good information from utilizing Attentive.ai. Having that integrated with our proposal system we’re able to really shrink that time it takes to get a proposal into a customer’s hands.”
Benefits of technology
The crucial time saved with technology can now be spent on tasks like making more and better quality bids, developing customer relationships, generating leads, upselling enhancements, etc. while software like Attentive.ai does the boring, time-consuming tasks for you.
Michael says, “The folks that are using Attentive.ai are spending time with customers. They are spending more time reviewing their estimates and massaging their estimates. I think we all know estimating is an art form. Certainly, a proposal system can kick out a number. But there is still that little bit of artwork that’s involved to actually sell a job. So they’re able to spend more time with that. They are able to spend more time prospecting versus manually measuring properties. So that’s a great thing.”
Talking about autonomous mowers, technology here can make multi-tasking easier for landscapers. Michael suggests, “There’s plenty to do. Let the mower cut the grass and go sell some enhancements, some high-margin enhancements while the autonomous mower is cutting the yard. You can expand your service, go find other things to offer the customer.”
These points can be used to make the integration of technology smoother in this industry. As per Michael, it’s about painting a picture and showing them the opportunities.
Is everyone embracing technology?
Since technology is gradually replacing the tedious tasks needing manual effort, this can easily be misconstrued as a threat to existing jobs, like those of estimators and lawnmowers. When asked about how is U.S. Lawns managing pushback against technology, if any, this is what Michael had to say, “I think in these current days, it’s not an issue because there are other open positions.”
Assigning better, more challenging tasks to people who previously did the mundane data entry work makes the adaptation of technology more feasible. He adds, “It was quite cumbersome every day to collect data, compile it and send it out to people, who could make timely business decisions with the data. So they really just redeployed that employee to another area. So that was great. Let the technology, do what it does. Right. So I think there are so many open positions now that I don’t see that being a factor right now.”
The new-age tech based solutions are the need of the hour in the landscaping industry. Their evident positive effects need to be acknowledged by landscaping professionals. But as Michael mentioned, the biggest challenge we face is this industry’s mindset and it being slow to accept change and move on from manually operative tasks.
Michael mentions, “Just finding ways that we can. I think really shrink the calendar for the sales process, make sure that we’re selling the way people want to buy today, which is always changing. Look at the way we purchase cars now, or really anything. We’re really buying the product before we even get in contact with a salesperson. I think our industry needs to move in that direction.” Technology is the answer, and we as an industry must embrace it.