After multiple disappointments trying to find good lawn-care help, Chris Faller took matters into his own hands
Chris Faller has always worked close to the ground. The North Dakota native grew up on a sheep research farm, where he worked from 8 years old until he left for college at North Dakota State University. Faller graduated with a degree in animal science and moved south to manage South Dakota State University’s research farm. After a few years, he received an offer to work for the Iowa Department of Agriculture, where he worked until he moved to Illinois for his wife’s job. In Illinois, Faller found a job with a large manufacturing company. Even there, in his first job outside of the farming industry, he was overseeing the production of tractor equipment.
For all his experience in farming and agriculture, it wasn’t until Faller and his wife purchased their first house and he had a yard to maintain that he saw a gap in the industry.
“I was trying to put together the lawn, but it was a big job, and I wanted help,” Faller said. “I looked around, and I ended up hiring the biggest lawn-care company around. They didn’t know what they were doing, it was a mess. I fired them and went with the second largest company, but they were just as bad. Eventually I found a much smaller company and finally got some proper help.”
Faller, who had experience seeding and maintaining grass, knew that the job could be harder than it seemed, but he never expected to find so much trouble finding capable professionals.
“I was very surprised by the experience,” Faller said. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be a fluke. Not long after he got his first lawn fixed up, his wife was recruited by a company in Cincinnati, so they sold their house and moved. Again, Faller found himself with a fixer-upper of a yard, and again, he struggled to find capable help.
“Maybe I didn’t learn from my mistakes, but I hired a big company again, and they couldn’t get the job done. Then I hired a smaller company, and they weren’t getting it done either.”
At that point, Faller gave up on finding outside help and decided to finish the lawn himself.
“I had found some work with a contractor, so I was getting more experience with lawn care,” he said. “So, I took care of the lawn myself.”
The experience of doing what the professionals couldn’t and fixing up his lawn by himself was satisfying and encouraging for Faller, who was not feeling satisfied or encouraged with his contracting work.
“I was getting tired of contracting, and I decided that after my current job was finished, I’d quit,” said Faller. “So my wife and I began looking for the next thing.”
Faller’s wife, Ginnie, received a degree in Animal Science along with an MBA from Penn State University, and serves as a Small Business Development Advisor. She recommended he look into franchising, reasoning that he’d be happiest if he found something he could run himself, but was an already proven model. She found a website that helps match franchisors with prospective franchisees, and she signed her husband up.
“I put together a profile, and a couple of days later I got a call from a consultant,” Faller said. “We discussed my skillsets and my interests, and after a couple more days, he got back to me with a list of four companies he thought might work for me.”
One of the four companies Faller was recommended was Lawn Doctor, and as he researched each company, the lawn-care brand quickly began to stand out.
“By this point, I’d had plenty of experience with lawn care, and I knew firsthand the difficulty in finding reliable help for residential lawn services,” Faller said. “Besides that, the investment requirement was much more reasonable than the other concepts I looked at; it looked like something I could manage.”
After deciding to focus on Lawn Doctor, Faller got in touch with the franchise’s development team to learn more about the background of the company and the day-to-day operations. Impressed with Faller’s background and resume, Lawn Doctor invited him out to attend Discover Day, a semi-regular event at which franchisee prospects can meet with the corporate executive team to learn about the brand. But while Faller was interested in learning more about Lawn Doctor, he found himself with cold feet about making a commitment.
“I kept putting off going to a Discover Day. I was nervous about putting the time and effort in and then finding out there wasn’t much to it. So, they kept calling me out, and I kept putting it off.”
Eventually, Faller gave in and attended a Discover Day, and any hesitation about joining the brand quickly disappeared.
“I was so impressed by every detail,” Faller said. “It was clear to me that every consideration was oriented around supporting the owners. In my career in both corporate and college settings, I’d seen so many elaborate corporate facilities, and you wonder what these places are spending all their money on and what their priorities are. At Lawn Doctor, everything was focused, they weren’t trying to put on a big show to impress anyone, they were just working very closely with every owner, whether they had been there for 16 days or 16 years.”
Then Faller visited Lawn Doctor’s manufacturing facilities, where a growing respect for the brand turned into adoration.
“That’s where I fell in love with Lawn Doctor. I’d heard about all this proprietary equipment, and I assumed they had good but fairly standard equipment with their branding on it. I was wrong. I was amazed by the machinery they had. I still am. The equipment is so simple to use and so effective. All you have to do is teach a technician how to steer, and the machines do the rest.”
After receiving corporate approval and joining the Lawn Doctor system, Faller began working with Lawn Doctor’s support coaches on how to best optimize his own operations with the brand.
“I had done some earlier projections, and I realized that in my area, it’d be most profitable and manageable to service three territories, so I invested in three right off the bat. That’s certainly not for everyone, but for me, it made sense. After I was up and running, I attended my first Lawn Doctor convention, and I was hearing from a lot of other owners that the best thing they did to grow their business early on was to hire technicians, so I hired some help, and we quickly started to grow.”
Four years later, Faller’s business has continued to grow, and he hasn't had any problem managing that growth with a small team of technicians.
“We went from 0 to 200 customers pretty quickly. It was just a couple of us running the day-to-day, but we never felt stretched too thin. The equipment is so reliable that it makes every service a one-man job. With our machines, one person can easily service 300 plus customers. Typically, you do about six to eight applications per customer, per year, so if you schedule those applications out correctly, you can manage a huge customer base without much help.”
After a long career moving from industry to industry and city to city, Faller feels at home with Lawn Doctor, and he doesn’t plan to move on from the business anytime soon.
“I fully envision myself running this business through my 70s. It’s not just a young person’s game, though it is nice to have that energy around. I’ve seeded grass for years, either for farming or in my own yards, so I knew the work involved before I found Lawn Doctor. I just never imagined how easily and effectively it could be done with the right equipment, not to mention the training, marketing, and support programs Lawn Doctor provides. Even after four years in business, I’m still blown away by what we can do.”