In the end, we knew buying a franchise would get us to our goals so much faster than going it alone. It was a good way to go.
That said, when we joined The Grounds Guys, there were lots of franchisees in Ontario, but almost none in British Columbia—so while they could rely on each other’s help all of the time, we would be on our own. Fortunately, the franchisor provided a lot of technical assistance.
As mentioned, Chris had a lot to learn. How do you know how much a lawn of a certain size or shape will cost to mow? The franchisor supported him with feedback along the way.
We bought the franchise in January 2012. Interestingly, the night we joined was the same night the TV show Undercover Boss featured Dina Dwyer-Owens, co-chair of the Dwyer Group. I was in Ontario to sign the franchise agreement and The Grounds Guys were so excited to be on TV! As it turns out, that episode remains the most-watched—and most frequently rebroadcast—of the series to date.
We thought most of our new contracts would start around March of that year and I still had a full-time job with the nursery. I was able to succeed in those first few months because we were so blessed to have the opportunity not to rely solely on the franchise for our personal income. I ended up doing both jobs for the first 18 months and all of the money we earned stayed in the business. And our franchise was especially fortunate quite early on, when we stumbled upon a decent-sized maintenance contract for seven condominium buildings, which allowed me to begin hiring staff.
While I had a lot on my plate, the franchise and the nursery offered a lot of flexibility too, which is how I was able to handle both. And as for my worries about sales, the franchisor provided significant training in that area, as well as excellent marketing materials to get the word out. It took me a little while to truly feel like a salesperson, especially in terms of learning about our services, but I realized I was very good at it and it all came to me quite naturally.
We do lawn care, gardening, weed spraying, pruning, irrigation maintenance and landscape renovations and installations. We also have snow clearance contracts—and while we didn’t push any snow for nearly four years, this winter has certainly had plenty!
After starting out with residential work for condo rental buildings, I’ve found my niche in strata housing, which includes condos, townhouses, duplexes and single-family homes in subdivisions, where there is common property to be maintained. We set up maintenance contracts with them at the start of spring and many of those are currently for two to three years.
I have three crews of two to three people just to handle maintenance, plus a fourth team for full-day projects. The demand definitely goes up most in the spring and fall, so those are the times our workload is heaviest.
At the beginning, Chris was working 60- to 80-hour weeks. And that remained the case through the first and second year. Having five kids, I helped out where I could and whenever I had time.
We set up our home office for the franchise in our living room, with our desks, filing cabinets and bookcases. I took on duties like payroll, receivables, goods and services tax (GST) remittance and anything else relating to banking or government. We also outsourced bookkeeping to a Ledgers franchisee in Ontario; we like his work, so we’ve stayed on with him.
I also continued to handle similar work—especially payroll—for the nursery. The amount of time it takes varies a lot throughout the year, due to the seasonal nature of the business. The staff grows from 40 to 50 in the winter to 120 in the spring.
I’m usually at the nursery office on Mondays and Tuesdays for about four to five hours at a time, whereas my work for the franchise is less specifically scheduled. I can do it at 8 a.m. or 4 p.m. and no one cares. I can go over our receipts at 11 p.m. or 11 a.m. and it doesn’t matter. I love that flexibility.