‘The industry has changed’ – Why one lawn care business veteran is turning to organic methods

Phil Drake is embarking on a new career at the age of 61. Sort of.

He’s the first local franchisee of Fort Collins, Colorado-based Clean Air Lawn Care. It’s a new twist for him in an industry he got his start in after graduating from Ohio State University with a landscape horticulture degree.

Clean Air is a full-service lawn care business that was founded in 2006 and has more than 60 franchisees. It uses solar panels to power its equipment and dispenses organic treatments and fertilizers.

It makes its pitch to consumers with a host of facts about how bad gas-powered equipment is for the environment, including how mowers consumer 580 million gallons of the fuel each year. Up to 35 percent of that fuel escapes unburned.

Columbus Business First recently got a chance to talk to Drake about transitioning from a traditional lawn care business to this new model.

What prompted you to start advocating for organic lawn care? I wanted to get back to landscaping. After Ohio State, I did what everybody does and got a pickup, a shovel and started digging holes.

I worked for a restaurant chain after that for a long time but I wanted to come back and do this a little differently.

There are a lot of guys now and it’s very competitive. There are good and better ways to do things and one is using organic.

Your research led you to Clean Air. What’s it been like working with a franchise group? After I contacted them, we talked for a year.

I decided these guys know what they’re doing and they are a source of knowledge if I don’t know something. They have products that are proven and a good marketing systems so it just made sense to me.

It’s not just spreading fertilizer. They have the tools to help you run the business so I can spend more time with customers out in the field as opposed to invoicing and being on the computer.

How else do they help? They know about industry marketing. They have a guy in-house that builds your website, takes care of search engine optimization so you are ranked highly and they have email campaigns and other ways to direct your marketing dollars.

Where does the industry stand on embracing organic? Organics have actually been around for a long time. The problem is it had been expensive and often didn’t get results synthetic fertilizers gave you.

Once those synthetics wear off, the soil is not as good as it should be. The organic process is trying to improve the soil fertility and improve health of the plant. It’s like if you eat healthy you can get through a sickness quicker. It’s the same thing with soil, like probiotics for your gut.

What happens to your company M&I Landscapes? I’ll take the name off the truck I have now as soon as I get my graphics package. I’ll be bringing my existing customers along. We’ll have two employees.

What do you expect in terms of market adoption? There’s a lot of confusion as to what organics actually means (it means derived from animal matter or manure, for example).

We want people to feel comfortable so they know their kids and pets won’t be affected by a product. More people ask about it now and they’re definitely more interested.

Once you start talking to people about the differences, they’d much prefer organic over synthetic. The industry has changed.

What’s next for your business? To start marketing. Going to market over the winter and get our name on the first page of Google and start creating estimate requests and start to educate more people and get them interested.

What’s cool about this opportunity? We don’t use gas mowers or trimmers or any of that kind of that stuff. Clean Air uses battery-powered lawn tools. There’s a solar panel on my truck that will recharge batteries so I don’t have to use gas. Using a lawn mower for one hour is the same as driving your SUV 23,600 miles as far as impact on environment.

Are you excited? This is the last chapter. I’ve been doing this for a long time so I’m where I want to be and have found the tool to get to where I want to get to.

It’s good for people, the environment and has a lot going for it. I feel good.

Columbus Business First
October 31, 2017

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