Business has been good for St. Peter based Spring Touch Lawn and Pest Control. In fact, it’s been so good that the company is breaking ground this year on franchising at the national level. President and owner Marv Kottke says franchising has been on his radar for a long time. With the help of his daughter Jennifer and Vice President and son-in-law Nathan Newlands, the company was finally given the green light to launch the new expansion.
“It was a dream of mine,” Kottke said. “The last five years, the three of us have been working hard on franchising the business, putting in the systems procedures, writing the franchise disclosure document, and then operations manuals, training manuals; it’s a process.”
Kottke got his start in the business as a 10-year-old mowing neighbors’ lawns in the 1970s.
“My dad provided me a John Deere tractor and I had my little wagon behind it with my push mower and I went from yard to yard,” Kottke said. “Then in high school I got my applicators license, which meant I could now fertilize and spray lawns.”
Kottke always wanted to be his own boss and he had higher ambitions for his company.
He took business core classes at Minnesota State University. After that, he went to horticulture school at the University of Minnesota. Now the company’s workforce swells to 60 employees during the peak season and services 10,000 customers throughout south-central Minnesota.
“Basically we see ourselves as urban farmers, instead of a crop of soybeans it’s grass,” Kottke said. “You need the right environment for that turf to grow. You need good soil, sunlight and rain. Those are the three key ingredients.”
Kottke and his team help ensure that happens with the help of his science and a horticulture background.
Ninety five percent of their customers are residential, but they also treat the sprawling lawns of St. Olaf and Gustavus College, a relationship that has spanned 25 years.
They offer a variety of services ranging from pest and fungus control to maintaining sprinkler systems.
When they moved to their present location from North Mankato, the team became temporary construction workers to remodel the building. Now they even have a call center to expedite customer support.
Kottke says the choice to franchise stems from a policy of creating a win-win scenario for both franchiser and franchisee. A lot of companies grow and open branches in other cities and towns, creating a top-down approach. Franchising is different from the corporate model in that the franchisee is an owner.
“The franchise model is a bunch of mom and pop organizations working under one large brand — one umbrella. So it isn’t corporate America. What you’re doing is helping them grow their business and giving them the benefits of the national brand. So you join forces. You all have a vested interest in it. We don’t collect royalties unless they produce.”
Newlands, an Australia native who joined the family business when he moved to Minnesota, says franchisees also benefit from purchasing power.
“If you were to go to Menards and say ‘I’ve got a little lawn care company — I need to buy this fertilizer,’ you’d be paying whatever price. At our size for every area, we get a reduced discount which then we can pass on to the franchisees at a national level. They are saving a lot of money on product that we can help them with that would normally cost a lot more.”
Kottke and Newlands say their ultimate goal is to eventually have several hundred franchises across the nation. But they’re planning to take it slow. They spent most of last year travelling the country visiting different franchises and learning from them. What they’ve learned is that the best way to succeed is to start regionally and slowly expand out with a ripple effect, taking their time to develop relationships with new franchisees.
“We don’t need to sell franchises to keep the lights on,” Newlands said. “We are a successful business, we want to use that to help others. We are more after the right people. If it’s not a right fit we’ll part ways. It’s about awarding them, not selling the franchise.”
Spring Touch Lawn & Pest Control
430 West Ritt St., St. Peter