After a 40-year career running businesses ranging from insurance sales to restaurants, the Cuban-born entrepreneur postponed retirement for a new venture with the lawn-care brand.
Gus Sardina has been self-employed since he was 21 years old. After moving from Havana, Cuba to Miami, Florida in the early 1960s, Sardina was eager to establish a career for himself. It wasn’t long before he proved to be a consummate entrepreneur, building and operating businesses in a variety of industries, including finance, foodservice, and retail. Now, as Sardina enters his 60s, he’s putting off retirement to try to open a business in another industry: lawn care.
The thread connecting all of Sardina’s various business ventures is service. Sardina says he has always been a service-oriented entrepreneur, and he’s selected his businesses accordingly.
“I’ve owned a variety of businesses, and nearly every one of them has been a service business,” Sardina said. “I had an insurance business for 25 years, and in that time, I built partnerships with professionals in a number of different industries. With those relationships, I found so many business opportunities. I opened franchise restaurants, a construction company, a shoe store, even a bottled water company.”
Sardina took his first shot at retirement about a decade ago, selling his insurance company and letting a manager run the day-to-day work of a real estate business he owned. It wasn’t long before Sardina got bored not working and decided to open up another financial-services business, this time working as a public adjuster in South Florida. Five years later, Sardina decided to slow down again. He left his public adjustment work and started spending more time on the golf course. Again, Sardina quickly became restless.
“I was playing a lot of golf, and I just wasn’t feeling satisfied,” Sardina said. “I still had the real estate businesses, but the market wasn’t great, so I started looking for something else to do.”
As Sardina started to consider his next business, he decided to reach out to a friend who had recently started his own business with the lawn-care franchise Lawn Doctor.
“My friend Steve had gotten into Lawn Doctor about two years ago,” Sardina said. “I’d catch up with him at family get-togethers and learn how he and the business were doing, and I became intrigued by the Lawn Doctor model.”
Sardina says he had always appreciated the franchise industry for its simplicity, but Lawn Doctor took that simplicity a step further than most other concepts by reducing inventory and infrastructure.
“When I was a kid I had a boss at one of my first jobs who would say, ‘keep it simple, stupid,’ and I’ve always subscribed to that,” Sardina said. “If someone else is doing something, and it’s working, follow that model. That’s why I like franchising; the idea has been built, you just have to put a little effort into it. Lawn Doctor is not only an established business model, but it’s one that requires very little overhead. For so many businesses, your costs are tied up in inventory and rent, but for Lawn Doctor, you can essentially run the business from your office and truck, and you don’t have to keep a ton of product in stock, just the materials you need to service your customers.”
After learning the basics of the Lawn Care business from his friend, Sardina and his wife got in touch with the brand’s corporate team and attended a discovery day to find out more. Sardina says what he saw and heard at the discovery day convinced him that Lawn Doctor was a perfect business for him.
“Everything we learned was right in line with what we were looking for,” Sardina said. “I’ve worked with so many businesses, and Lawn Doctor was clearly ahead of the curve in how they operate. We became really excited about getting involved.”
Eric Martin, Lawn Doctor’s vice president of franchise development, said Sardina’s quick alignment with the brand is not unusual for a certain type of entrepreneur.
“We work with a lot of prospective franchisees who have never owned a business before, and they are not sure what they are capable of,” Martin said. “For those candidates, you have to explain not just how the system works, but why it’s so lucrative and what kind of lifestyle it complements. Then there are the more experienced entrepreneurs who learn a little bit about our model, and they see the value right away. Gus is in that category. He took a look at the system and he knew right away it was going to work for him.”
The discovery day Sardina attended was in November. In January, he and his wife received their first Lawn Doctor truck. Sardina plans to be out servicing clients in the coming weeks, after his field manager makes sure he has everything he needs to start. In the meantime, Sardina is focused on building a client base.
“When I first started in the insurance business, we did a lot of direct mail and door-to-door selling,” Sardina said. “Marketing has changed a lot since then, but referrals are still essential, and that’s a part of the business I’m very focused on. We’re calling everyone we know in the area, trying to get the word out and asking for referrals. Once we have a bit of a network established from word-of-mouth referrals, we’ll start bolstering our social media and SEO platforms.”
Because Sardina’s Lawn Doctor will service the persistently warm and sunny Miami area, he won’t have to wait for the Spring to begin servicing clients.
“We’re excited to get started right away,” Sardina said. “We plan to hire a technician after a few months, but for the winter, my wife and I will be on the truck servicing clients ourselves. The model seems to work best when you have at least one technician and the owner can shift their focus to sales, but we want to make sure we know the businesses inside and out before we bring anyone else on board.”
Martin said Sardina’s business experience will likely allow his Lawn Doctor business to grow quickly.
“Anyone who comes to our system with a wealth of business experience is likely to do well,” Martin said. “It’s not a very complicated machine, you just have to learn the model and apply it. Not only does Gus have the business experience to recognize the value of our operation, but he comes from a service background, which makes his especially well-suited to find new customers and more importantly, keep them.”
Sardina says that not only has his business experience prepared him to grow an operation like Lawn Doctor quickly, it’s also taught him to expect to get out only as much as he puts in.
“There are no silver bullets in the business world,” Sardina said. “Every business requires dedication, time and hard work, but Lawn Doctor is a model that works well for me. I always say, plan your work, and work your plan. Lawn Doctor has a great plan, and we’re excited to work it.”