Weed Man: The franchise opportunity

Startups talks to Chris Dunton, UK chairman of Weed Man, about their UK expansion and start-up package for franchisees

Franchise: Weed Man Limited
Description: Weed Man offers householders and businesses best available professional lawn care with unbeatable service. Franchisees run profitable businesses ‘like clockwork’ based on unique branding, sales methods and Weed Man software.
Started in:
1970
Founders: Des and Brenda Rice
No. of franchises: Approaching 500
Coverage: International, Europe-wide, Canada, USA, UK, Australia
Average cost per franchise: £10,000 – £20,000 (plus vehicle costs and working capital)
Website: www.weed-man-lawn-services.co.uk/lawncare/

After initially launching in Canada and the US, Weed Man now operates independently in the UK and offers two distinctive types of franchise: one aimed at offering a local operator unrivalled earnings from one or two vans: the other aimed at the investor/manager wanting to focus on building a whole area network. So whether you’re looking for a sustainable lifestyle business or a lawn care empire, Weed Man has an offering for everyone. Now with nearly 500 franchises in operation in the UK and around the globe, Des Rice’s humble garden services have grown beyond anything he could have imagined. After leaving his tyre industry job in 1968 and finding work in the fast developing garden services industry, Rice quickly realised that it paid to specialise. His integrated approach to turf nutrition and weed control caught on fast. Realising that his customers were calling him the ‘Weed Man’, he registered that brand, formalised his business procedures and set about recruiting others to work alongside him and his wife Brenda, in his fledgling business. Encouraged by the business’ growing success, in 1976 Rice branched out in to franchising, initially in Ontario, and then nationwide throughout Canada. 25 years later, having sold out coast to coast, he set up and then sold the USA master franchise to his most successful franchisee. In 2006, Chris Dunton persuaded Rice to support his idea to introduce Weed Man’s high quality lawn care service into the fast developing UK lawn care market. Here, Dunton talks to Startups.co.uk about the complete start-up package that Weed Man can offer franchises in the UK, what makes them unique and what the company is looking for in its perfect franchisee.

Moving into franchising

So how did Weed Man move into franchising?

In 1976, Des Rice decided to take the already successful business to the next level. He redefined his business plan more precisely and began to sell franchises based on that format, initially in Ontario, and then nationwide throughout Canada.

Where did the business open its first franchises?

In Canada, the first franchise was in Ontario, in the USA, we opened in New York, Michigan and Washington and in Australia our first franchise was set-up near Sydney. In the UK we opened in a number of locations: Bromley, Kent; Wimborne, Dorset; Blandford, Dorset; Eversley, Hampshire; Wokingham, Berkshire; Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire; Chichester, West Sussex and St. Albans, Hertfordshire.

How successful were those original franchisees?

We think successful. Prospective franchisees are encouraged to find out for themselves by speaking to existing franchisees directly before agreeing to join the franchise network. Before starting, they are also asked to set out their personal criteria for ‘business success’. Weed Man ensure that all new franchisees operate to best practice professional lawn care and business management standards, as well as enjoy their work. In addition, Weed Man do their best to help all recruits realise their personal potential. Weed Man wants everyone they appoint to do much more than simply ‘make a living’ and will always ‘go the extra mile’ to support slow-starters. The Weed Man lawn care service is based upon a network (some might say a ‘club’) of self- motivated, experienced professional colleagues who consistently provide dependable service and produce reliable results. Our franchisees are always willing to help each other, especially those less experienced than themselves.   One franchise is currently for sale, our newly appointed franchisor having been offered and accepted a lucrative banking consultancy through his former employer before he got going. Weed Man is also organised to help franchisees who need to retire or leave for other reasons to exit the network and realise the full value of their business.

The franchise opportunity

What makes the franchise different / unique?

The principal differences are: presence and recognition of the branding; repeatability and cost effectiveness of the sales methods used; controllability of the back-office systems; safeguards built in to supervisory procedures and scalability of the overall business format. Uniquely, Weed Man offers successful franchisees the prospect of the lowest royalties found in the industry together with, what we believe to be, the fairest franchise agreement. Together these advantages equip franchisees to ‘gear-up’, leading to exceptionally high levels of sales, profitability and cash generation. These form the basis for long-term growth in the value of their franchises.

What services do you offer?

All franchisees offer an annual programme of systematic lawn care comprising, turf nutrition, preventive weed control, moss removal and containment, backed up with occasional control treatments for all commonly encountered grass diseases, troublesome (‘hard to treat’) weeds, lawn pests, fungal and insect infestations. Many elect to provide ancillary services such as aeration (hollow core and/or solid tine), scarification, re-seeding, worm management, top dressing green waste removal, leaf removal, hard surface weed control, patio cleaning, green slime removal, etc. Some add winter and/or summer specific horticultural services to balance out workloads out of season.

How big is the market opportunity?

As big as you want it to be, wherever you want it to be. A single unit of Weed Man territory will consist of, on average, 25,000 houses with accessible lawns, in the private ownership of those having the ability to spend a reasonable sum on their annual lawn care. At the request of a prospective franchisee, adjacent territorial units can be aggregated to create areas or regions on favourable financial terms. Weed Man is able to reserve adjacent territory, for an agreed option period, for ambitious new franchisees unable to pay for this at the outset.

How many franchisees does Weed Man have today?

Approaching 500, including pilot UK franchisees.

How is the brand marketed?

Locally to households, and perhaps to businesses, using the most cost-effective channels available. The brand is highly visible, being evident from all production vehicles, uniformed lawn technicians, brochures, local media advertising, websites, etc.

How do you divide the regions?

On the basis of households having accessible lawns that are within the current or planned future economic operating area determined by either the franchisee’s home(s) or planned workplace(s).

The perfect franchisee

What does Weed Man look for in potential franchisees?

Self-motivated, can-do attitude, business savvy, customer-centred, teachable individuals, preferably having a track record of some past business success, a work ethic, a clean driver’s licence, an acceptable credit record and some available cash.

So do franchisees work from an office, or are they home-based? Is it part-time or full-time?

Very much full-time.

How are franchisees vetted?

Franchisees are systematically assessed and profiled as ‘suited to run a business’ by a specialist business recruitment professional prior to formal franchise application.

What do you offer franchisees that sign-up?

Full horticultural, marketing, sales and lawn care business and management training; exclusive territory; Weed Man branding for vehicle; comprehensive lawn care management software for approved computer; website presence; initial market entry support; appropriate first year mentoring/on-the-job support; plus a royalty-free first trading year.

How much do franchisees pay and what are the ongoing franchise fees?

Weed Man related – franchise fee £7,500: territory £2,500 (single unit); additional territory, if required; Weed Man approved vehicle upgrade £5,000. Transport and equipment – second hand vehicle £7,500 – £12,500 (or new £16,000); lawn care tools, equipment and clothing £2,500 – £5,000; top-up IT, if required. Working capital – required to fund the start-up of the business, plus any funding necessary to ‘top up’ first year drawings to match franchise’s required drawings. Production vehicle-based royalty – £300-£500 per vehicle per month from the second year with discounts related to fleet size.

How do franchisees finance the purchase – what arrangements does Weed Man have in place with banks?

Typically from personal savings/redundancy money, usually supplemented by asset finance for vehicle and equipment purchase or exceptionally by a business development loan (all major UK banks and finance houses are aware of Weed Man). If asked, Weed Man is able to introduce an independent specialist finance broker who will tailor a financial package exactly to match personal circumstances.

Success and growth

How successful are some of the franchisees today?

The largest Weed Man franchisee manager runs over 50 production vehicles directly and services over 100,000 customers. The happiest Weed Man franchisee has set both his son and his daughter up as franchisees and, after 30 years, retains a profitable four vehicle business which, if they don’t want it, he will sell on retirement. Once established, Weed Man franchisees tend to stay in the network because they are left to manage their own preferred work/life balance. Thus the average franchisee has been with us for over 15 years, which gives our customers consistency of service, and sets Weed Man apart in the lawn care industry.

How is the brand looking to grow?

In the UK Weed Man plans to be number two in size and number one in quality and professionalism before 2020. The UK lawn care market is potentially twice the size of that in Canada where Weed Man has a 35% plus share and has been number for 20 years.

What is the potential of the business?

Weed Man has nearly 500 of its 25,000 household territories available and plans to allocate these on a first come first served basis to 25 new franchisees per year over the period 2013-2015.This gives prospective business builders, with the right credentials, a unique set of lawn care opportunities here and now.

To what extent are the founders involved today?

Weed Man remains a Rice family controlled business under the guidance of Brenda Rice, supported by a world-class team of business managers and lawn care specialists. Its UK operation is chaired by Chris Dunton who is mentored by CEO Mike Kernaghan. Kernaghan is also responsible for Weed Man operations in Canada, the US and Australia.

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