Thinking outside the box; that is what a lot of business owners in the landscape and irrigation industries are doing as they look to capitalize on their current client database, while also appealing to a whole new group of potential customers. For many, that means expanding beyond their traditional offerings to provide their clients additional products and services.
Break out of the Box with Bolt-on Business
By John Kmitta
Thinking outside the box; that is what a lot of business owners in the landscape and irrigation industries are doing as they look to capitalize on their current client database, while also appealing to a whole new group of potential customers. For many, that means expanding beyond their traditional offerings to provide their clients additional products and services. As a result, franchise and dealership opportunities are presenting landscape and irrigation professionals with bolt-on business potential based on established business models. A few of the franchise and dealership opportunities that are gaining ground in the landscape and irrigation markets are as follows:
We Do Lines
In 2008, Chris Couri, Tom Darrow and Dan Rella were sitting around trying to come up with a new idea. Each had a landscape and irrigation businesses, a lot of commercial accounts and contacts, and wanted to do something together. Darrow suggested parking lot line striping.
“It was one of those off-the-radar items,” said Couri, president, CEO and co-founder of We Do Lines. “Embracing the entrepreneurial spirit, we bought a machine, learned how to stripe, and started plugging it into our existing business. We were already in the parking lots, plowing and sweeping; this was just another service.”
We Do Lines created a website, commanded a big online presence, and ended up getting inquiries from across the United States in its first year.
“We would do our day jobs in landscape and irrigation, and then take a break, wait until it got dark and places closed, and then go back out at night and stripe lines,” said Couri. “We did that part time the first full year, and ended up doing well and making money. As such, we said it could be done on a full-time basis. We felt we had something really special.”
By their second year of line striping, the owners of We Do Lines felt that they could look at the business model as something that could be franchised.
“I had taken franchising in college, and one of my professors was one of the people who started Jiffy Lube,” said Couri. “That was something that had always resonated in the back of my mind as an interesting model. So we met with some consultants, and they said it sounded like we had an interesting concept — business in a box, in the service industry, demand based, relatively low start-up cost, and something that we knew we could replicate.”
We Do Lines went through the legal process, got registered with the FTC in 2009, and sold its first franchise in April, 2010. The company just sold its 17th unit at the end of March.
“The line striping business outpaced everything else we had been working on with our respective businesses, so we made that leap, jumped in head first,” Couri added. “We would love to be at 30 units by the end of this year.”
In northern climates, line striping is not necessarily year-round, due to weather. But Couri points out that there are indoor parking garages and indoor warehouses than can be striped, as well as other opportunities to limit seasonality. Also, there are pros to being in northern climates where snow, ice and, of course, snow plows destroy parking lot lines more quickly.
“It’s a recurring form of revenue,” said Couri. “It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when it needs to be done.”
Every year and a half is a good average for re-striping a parking lot, Couri added. But a lot depends on traffic. Some clients require striping twice per year, some three times per year, some every other year, and everything in between. High-traffic areas such as grocery stores, banks and coffee shops need striping more frequently.
“We take it very seriously and attack it from a professional angle, knowing that we can execute any and all of what they need,” said Couri. “If it’s paint on pavement, we do it. That’s what we’re good at. We try to be the solution provider when it comes to a parking lot.”
The current We Do Lines franchisees are all stand-alone franchisees, but Couri said that he and his We Do Lines co-founders feel that the business would be a perfect fit for landscaping companies.
“Based on the fact that the line striping is done at night, it’s a good complement since you’re typically doing your landscaping and irrigation work during the day,” said Couri. According to Couri, as a bolt-on business opportunity, line striping helps generating more business for the current businesses, because, with line striping, you are not competing with as many companies as you are in the landscape and/or irrigation fields.
“It’s a good fit — especially if you have a good foreman, because you need someone to run it,” said Couri. “A lot of the people love the idea, but not everybody has a readily accessible labor force. A lot of companies are looking at decreased margins — this is a way to increase and supplement and hopefully outpace as it did with ours — but at least capitalize on your current database and who you’ve worked hard to get already.”
According to Couri, franchisees have to be business people, and they have to be self-motivated.
“We’re in a world of 100-percent accountability,” he said. “Being in business for yourself means being in business for yourself — and all of the rights and responsibilities that come with it.
“It’s about sharp business skills, sales and marketing, and the ability to make sure that everybody in town knows who you are and what your business is,” he added. “You’re buying into a system, you’re buying into knowledge, you’re buying into experience, you’re buying a franchise because you don’t have the time, or the interest, or potentially the funds to do it on your own.”
We Do Lines defines its territories based on total number of parking spaces, with anywhere from 350,000 to 400,000 parking spaces in one territory. It may be one county, five counties, or portions of two adjoining states — it all depends on density. We Do Lines can get a new franchisee up and running in 45 days from the time the contract is signed.
“Our job is to build the brand, package the brand, and implement the system so that our franchisees can be supported,” said Couri. “We require potential franchisees to fly out and meet us at our home office in Connecticut. If we like what we see, it’s an award of a franchise — we’re not selling franchises. We take that very seriously. That’s our oath and pledge to our franchisees that we’re only going to bring in the best and the brightest.”
Once a new franchisee signs on, they attend one week of We Do Lines University in Connecticut or Florida. Half of it is classroom and academic and the other half is outside field and operational training. Franchisees also learn how to use We Do Lines’ proprietary Intranet system, called StripeNet, which handles everything from inputting to closing jobs to buying materials.
“From IT training to marketing information to national supplier relationships, you get access to all of that by being a franchisee,” said Couri. “Most prominently, it would be our national supplier relationship with Sherwin Williams, which gives you access to every single [Sherwin Williams] store. We have one account for the entire country. By buying in mass quantity, we’re going to get sharper pricing, we’re going to get field support. Sherwin Williams is open seven days a week — it’s a contractor store, and we’re professional contractors. They are able to fix the machines that we use as well. They are able to deliver paint to job site in some circumstances. They are a great piece of our field support team, in addition to being our preferred supplier.”
For more information about becoming a We Do Lines franchisee, visit www.wedolines.com, and mouse over “Own a We Do Lines” and select “Quick Info/Form” or “Ownership Inquiry Form.”
“Guier Fence was started in 1979 by my father-in-law, Kelly Guier. in the basement of his home in Blue Springs, Missouri,” said Lea Bailes, CEO of Guier Fence. “He continued to grow the business for the 30 years that he owned it.”
Kelly Guier sold the company to his daughter and son-in-law in 2009, and the new owners started looking at franchise possibilities.
“The question was could we take all of the advantages we had built up by being one of the larger fence companies — including our business model, purchasing power, distribution network, marketing approach, sales approach, etc. — and boil it down into a program where we could give new business owners or existing business owners a platform to either start their own business or expand,” said Bailes.
According to Bailes, fence installation is an industry that is fragmented with no nationwide brand presence, because of the high amount of small operators and a lack of barriers to entry into the market.
“We wanted to bring a professional model to those types of businesses so they could have a successful business,” Bailes added.
Guier Fence has sold six franchise territories. Territories are defined by demographics based on market potential, and a metro area can have more than one territory. Territories are determined by a matrix of data, based on demographics. “It makes it easy for us to distribute leads, because it is based on ZIP codes and not on some other boundary that is more difficult to define,” said Bailes.
According to Bailes, adding a Guier fence franchise territory can fit well into a landscape contractor’s existing business.
“A lot of landscape companies are already doing fencing on the side or subcontract it out or refer it out to a fence company,” said Bailes. “Fencing is often a part of a landscape project, but it is a different discipline than landscaping.”
Adding a Guier fence franchise territory allows landscape companies to brand the services under the Guier brand name. The marketing materials, website and price list are already set up with Guier Fence branding.
“They would still operate their landscape company, but they would operate the franchise under our name, as another business that is owned by them,” said Bailes. “They can market it to their existing database of clients to start. That’s a huge advantage to landscapers, because they have that existing database.”
In the case of landscaping companies, Guier Fence is seeking companies that are looking for an additional revenue stream and also have a really strong sales staff that can be trained on the Guier Fence business model.
“Marketing is a very heavy part of our business, so we want someone who is willing to follow the structure we have in place,” said Bailes. “We know what works, and we want them to follow the system.”
Franchisees should have at least one salesperson and one installer dedicated to the Guier Fence business model (which uses just one person per installation crew). They should have a truck with a flatbed or trailer, and would have to purchase equipment that is specific to fence installation, such as post hole diggers, augers, basic construction tools, etc. (unless they already own such equipment).
“The initial investment for one franchise territory is $25,000, and that includes all of the training and set-up and the costs on our end,” said Bailes. “There are equipment costs if they need to purchase different equipment. And there is marketing expense as well. A landscape contractor who is looking to buy one territory is going to look at initial expenditures over the first three months of $55,000.”
Guier Fence trains the franchisee on both the business model portion of the business as well as the actual how-to. This includes the business processes, marketing, sales processes, and installation processes. Owners are trained on all aspects of the business, and staff members are trained on the specific area that they will fulfill.
“Our support is provided to the owner or ownership group,” said Bailes. “We have structured meetings, conference calls, webinars, quarterly site visits, and annual meetings. All of that is designed for the owners.”
Guier fence also provides franchisees with the benefits that come from Guier’s relationships with manufacturers and wholesalers.
“There are wholesalers nationwide that have footprints in almost every major metropolitan area in the country,” said Bailes. “We have set up relationships with these wholesalers so that contractors can purchase at favorable pricing and in job lot type quantities. We also have relationships with manufacturers through which the contractor can buy from the manufacturer, but the quantities that are purchased are typically greater than job lot quantity; so you have to have a place to store material. When a contractor is starting up, they are likely going to want to go the wholesale-job-lot-quantity route versus the buying-direct-from-the-manufacturer route. As they grow, they can grow into buying greater quantities at better prices.
“Material is a huge part of our business,” Bailes added. “Each manufacturer and wholesaler has its differences, so we work to narrow down the approved products that we want our franchisees to use. So a lot of our role is the manufacturer and wholesaler relationship side, and we give the franchisee the access to the supplier. It is a big benefit.”
MosquitoNix, in business since 2003, is a provider of mosquito control systems and services. Members of the MosquitoNix network have installed thousands of misting systems in more than 100 cities nationwide. MosquitoNix custom-designed mosquito spray systems provide insect control that’s safe and effective. Nozzles for this mosquito-killing system are placed every 10 to 12 feet around the perimeter of the property, and can be concealed using a fence line, eaves, trees or other landscape elements.
According to Paul Gambrell, MosquitoNix director of partner relations, MosquitoNix offers two dealership options: branded dealers and non-branded dealers. Branded dealers receive technical and marketing support, promotional materials, and logos on the equipment, as well as two days of training. Non-branded dealers receive all of the same equipment components, but the equipment is plain (although they can put their own company name on it). Branded dealers must make a $5,000 annual investment in the product and must be licensed in pest control. Non-branded dealers can invest on an as-needed basis. For both types of dealers, in-stock equipment is shipped same day, so the turn-around is extremely fast.
MosquitoNix recently switched from a franchise model to a dealer model because it was hard for companies to invest in a franchise, Gambrell added. The dealer system works much better because dealers do not pay royalties. It is a win-win for MosquitoNix and its dealer network.
“The professional landscaping market is an ideal industry for MosquitoNix dealers, because landscapers have a good client base and it is an easy add-on business,” said Paul Gambrell, director of partner relations, MosquitoNix. “Many landscapers are already doing pest control.”
The MosquitoNix system is a fully automated system that features a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC). The system offers automated mist cycles, manual mist cycles and can even be activated from hundreds of feet away. It features a reservoir/drum unit of pesticide — either pyrethrum, a natural mosquito killer made from chrysanthemums, or another environmentally friendly pesticide if the client so chooses, said Gambrell. The control portion of the system is typically located in an area such as behind a garage or shed or near the client’s air conditioning unit. Spray nozzles are located throughout the property. The system sprays approximately three times per day and provides 24/7 coverage.
“The system can be used in a wide range of applications and settings — from residential to commercial to resorts and golf courses,” said Gambrell. “Especially today, with so many communities cutting back on budgets for mosquito spraying, more clients are looking for mosquito control; and this is a good opportunity.”