Brent Harl left the foodservice segment to join the nation’s largest franchised lawn-care brand
Since Brent Harl joined Lawn Doctor, he’s grown his business from a single territory in Denver to a small empire in the state of Colorado. Harl attributes much of his success with Lawn Doctor to the franchise’s operational model and strong brand, but there’s no question that Harl’s Lawn Doctor benefits from the varied and substantial business experience he brought to the franchise, including his work for two major foodservice franchises.
Harl’s first job out of college in 1979 was as an audit manager for Arthur Andersen, which at the time was one of the biggest accounting firms in the world. The work with Arthur Andersen elevated his application to Harvard Business School, where he was accepted and earned his MBA.
Harl continued working in finance throughout the ‘80s, including a stint at Lehman Brothers among other, smaller companies. Eventually, he was offered a role as division CFO at a large firm in Rochester, New York. That job proved ill-fated, but Harl’s time in Rochester sparked the second stage of his career: franchising.
“I was very proud of the work I was doing as CFO, and my division was doing well, but the company was not,” said Harl. “So I had to find something else. At the time, Bruegger’s Bagels was blowing up in New York, and I wanted to get involved while it was still growing.”
Harl secured the sole rights to Bruegger’s Bagels in the Colorado market and moved there to open his first store. Bruegger’s quickly caught on in Colorado, but it was an uphill battle against another growing bagel franchise, Einstein Bros. Bagels, which was headquartered in the state.
“We were growing quickly, but we were locked in this battle with Einstein Bros.,” said Harl. “That was a big battle in the franchise world, and I ended up meeting and working with a lot of important people in franchising.”
Through the contacts he’d made working with Bruegger’s and fighting for market share against Einstein Bros., Harl discovered a small but exciting foodservice franchise that he pegged as positioned for widespread growth. Chipotle had only 25 stores at the time, and Harl got on board just in time to help the soon-to-be-massive burrito concept spread throughout Colorado.
Harl was excited to see Chipotle growing quickly, but he wanted to grow his own portfolio, and the rights to Chipotle stores in the Colorado market were limited, so he began to look for something else he could own.
“I wanted to find something I could own and grow, not necessarily a franchise, just something that I thought I could take to the next level,” Harl said. “I knew I wanted to stay in Colorado, and I wanted to find something that allowed me to spend more time with my sons. I was looking for businesses in town, something flexible and scalable, and Lawn Doctor quickly stood out.”
Harl’s interest in Lawn Doctor largely came down to the business model, which Harl saw as one that facilitated recurring revenue.
“The first thing I noticed was that it seemed like a very well-run company, but what really captured my interest was the recurring revenue model. 85 percent of customers are repeat customers. And that’s by design. Lawn Doctor services customers over and over again. Plus, lawn care is a service that appeals to an aging demographic, so we can keep customers for a very long time.”
Harl bought his first Lawn Doctor territory in Denver in 1998 and has since expanded into a number of territories throughout Colorado. In his first years with Lawn Doctor, Harl ran the business mostly by himself, servicing customers in the field and managing high-level operations. Now, Harl leaves the day-to-day operations to his general managers so he can focus on marketing.
“My two general managers have been around for a while, and they do a better job with the on-the-ground stuff than I ever could,” Harl said. “My son now works as a manager as well. He loves it and he’s doing great work. These days, most of my work is focused on consumer marketing and local marketing campaigns. That keeps me on the ground in the neighborhoods we service so I can get to know our customers, see the lawns, and generally keep my finger on the pulse of what’s going on with our clients.”
In the past two years, Harl’s Lawn Doctor has made a number of product and marketing upgrades that have increased his operation’s revenue significantly, catching the eye of Lawn Doctor’s corporate team.
“Lawn Doctor has always given us a certain amount of freedom in terms of the products we use,” said Harl. “We’ve built up a lot of trust with the corporate team. They know we are trying to innovate, and they are open to that. When we can find a new way to grow, they want to see if it’s something that can be applied system-wide.”
Harl said the trust provided by Lawn Doctor’s corporate team is indicative of the strong partnership he has built with the franchise, which extends from the people to the brand itself.
“Anytime you are getting involved with a franchise operation, you have to ask yourself if the brand is worth it,” Harl said. “Do you want to tie your professional reputation to this brand? Is the brand recognition worth the franchise fee? With Lawn Doctor, the answer is an unequivocal Yes. Customers love this brand. They see the trucks and the technicians, and they trust us. There’s a safety in recognizing the brand behind the people coming to your home and working on your lawn. Lawn Doctor has been around for 50 years. The brand is as sturdy as anything, and it’s probably the biggest reason I’ve been able to find so much success in this business. Anyone who is a decent manager can really go far with Lawn Doctor."
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