Note: In the 7 short years since this article, P.I.E. has expanded to service more than 10,000 customers from Florida to North Carolina, and is recognized as one of the top 100 Lawn Care companies in the U.S. with more than $6 Million in annual revenue.

Punchy logos and eye-catching equipment touch only the surface of Brett Melanson’s plan to turn his third business into a charm.

Plant It Earth article from John Deere Landscapes Lesco News Vol.43 No.1

Red lights don’t stall Brett Melanson – he never comes to a complete stop. These 45-second pauses are prime time for business: Plant It Earth’s service trucks double as marketing vehicles. Eye-catching logos dance off the doors, painted turf designs grow from truck bodies and American flags fly from antennas.

The loudly-decorated transportation meshes with his Orlando market, and Melanson generally entertains a captive audience, wins a few nods of approval and pulls away with a potential customer.

“ With all of Orlando’s theme parks and all of the glamour and fun, I’ve heard so many customers say, ‘You fit into this city – you look like a festive company,’” remarks Melanson, president of the year-old lawn care business.

“ You can see us a mile away,” he adds, noting his favorite truck design: an army fatigue paint job with patriotic stars-and-stripes detail work. “Our trucks are inviting – people gaze at them.”

Drivers react with calls for Melanson’s service, evident from Plant It Earth’s start-up success – $600,000 in revenue in 11 months. With 900 residential, 60 commercial customers, and plans to purchase four more trucks this year, Melanson and his crews are cruising through a profitable season. The company generates $30,000 to $40,000 per month in sales and secures an average 28-percent profit margin on its services, he says.

The fuel that powers Melanson’s young business: product placement, quality control and good, old-fashioned teamwork. 

Selling out, starting up

Melanson entertains questions from peers who wonder how he sprinted from spray technician to CEO before his thirtieth birthday. “I learned at an early age how not to do business,” he says simply.

Melanson’s green industry career is punctuated with a series of lawn care gigs – start-ups and buyouts – including sales positions at All Green and then TruGreen – ChemLawn, when it acquired a number of Florida’s independent leading operations. He worked for smaller companies, one-man shows with small-time sales, and in 1998, he launched his own business, ProTurf Lawn Care. “It started with a truck, and a spray rig and a 200-gallon spray tank from LESCO,” Melanson describes.

The business lasted two and a half years before he sold it to TruGreen. Melanson assumed a managerial position at the branch before the business bug bit him again. 
He recruited his brother, and b-green Lawn Care was born. Revenues climbed to $2.9 million in two years. Scotts LawnService, too, was impressed by Melanson’s second stab at entrepreneurship. They purchased the business and Melanson opened up a Florida map. “I circled an area and said, ‘That’s where I want to start my business,” he says. “It’s one of the fastest growing cities in the nation, one of the top three growing cities in Florida – I knew that’s where I needed to go.

Orlando shined with potential for a budding lawn care company, Melanson figured. He moved 84 miles northeast and staked Plant It Earth “coming soon” signs on busy intersections in the lucrative, expanding market. “Third time’s a charm,” he chimes.
“ All of these experiences have pretty much built a machine out of me,” Melanson adds. “I know what it takes to be successful in this business.”

Prescribing results

Success starts with first impressions. Melanson says product placement ultimately wins clients’ attention, so Plant It Earth’s lawn care program prescribes heavy turf medicine for fast results. “You have to spend money in the beginning to show customers what you’re made of,” Melanson says.

“ They key is timing the applications,” adds Bill Rose, general manager. “When we start servicing a property, we apply a lot of product. We about break even on the lawn a lot of time, but proper product placement is important.”
A hard product hit the first few applications spikes properties with green and new growth, pleasing customers and drawing neighbors’ attention, Rose points out. “Not only is proper product placement good for overall turf health, it opens people’s eyes so they can see what we are doing,” he says.

Rose attributes this show-me factor to Plant It Earth’s growth spurt. Customers who subscribe to the company’s services saw results immediately. “When we service a lawn for the first time, two weeks later, that lawn is growing like crazy, it’s wickedly green and it just looks beautiful,” he describes.

Melanson adds that spreading a higher concentration of product at first isn’t a bargain for the business, but once properties are healthy, maintenance costs less. “What makes you successful financially is not getting customers, but keeping them,” he points out. “Once clients’ properties are healthy, we can maintain the turf more easily and we can decrease the pounds of product per square foot because the soil has a more balanced pH.”

Applications depend on turf needs, and Melanson says his spray truck set-up compartmentalizes products so technicians can select appropriate proportions for each property. “There are seven different varieties of St. Augstinegrass,” Melanson points out. “Each needs a different balance of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. We pull up to a resident’s home, determine the turf variety and then balance the nitrogen for that lawn.”

Tanks with insecticide and tree and shrub treatments provide a full-range product portfolio for technicians to deliver quality service, Melanson notes. Additionally, he provides crews with self-propelled hydroseeders, considering creature comfort. “I spend the extra money to ensure my technicians have the best equipment,” he says, adding that these capital investments come with strings attached. “I give a lot because I expect a lot.”

But Melanson doesn’t set unattainable service goals for employees. He avoids commission-base pay, commenting that this incentive motivates technicians’ speed, not their performance. “Some companies say, ‘I will give you a minimal base pay, and after you produce $800 for us today, anything over that figure, I will give you 10 percent,’” he explains. “If technicians do $2,000, they make an extra $200. That motivates those guys to get to the property, get out of the property and go to the next customer so they can build their revenue.”

Essentially, this pay plan produces shoddy results, he remarks. That’s why Melanson assigns two crew members per truck – one trainee and one experienced worker – and he doesn’t pressure technicians to turn out the numbers and sacrifice quality. “It’s raising the bar,” he says simply.

Caught on tape

Consistency seals repeat business, and Melanson tunes into technicians’ performance – literally. Trucks equipped with recording devices capture every move. Melanson feeds each vehicle with a VHS tape in the morning, and informs customers that their properties are on candid camera.

“ When we pull up to a customer’s house, the tape captures the majority of the front yard and side yard on camera,” he says, quickly adding that he doesn’t tape because he doubts employees’ skills, but rather to control quality because the company is growing so quickly. “It’s not a trust factor, but when you start growing, it sets a tone so customers realize our company is well managed.”

The tapes serve as training tools, as well. “It’s innovative,” Melanson says proudly. “I can flip though a video tape and evaluate performance. One technician was wearing tennis shoes rather than boots, and I caught it on tape. It’s like Reagan said, ‘Trust but verify.’ Part of managing is following up and seeing that technicians do the job you pay them to do, and if they do, we reward them for that.”

Melanson doesn’t devote an unreasonable amount of time to viewing tape, but he spends a couple of hours each week skimming recordings, which he chooses randomly. These backup tapes create a service log; Plant It Earth references material if customers complain. Melanson archives tapes for one year.

“ If a customer says, ‘You didn’t treat my yard, I’m not paying for it,’” he recalls. “I can say, ‘Well, Mrs. Jones, we videotape our performance and we can give you a copy of that tape.’ Then, she will see two technicians on her property – and what can she say about that?”

Melanson says this scenario is not make-believe. He has referenced tapes and pressed play for clients. Now, he tells customers about the tapes during the sale, and they are impressed with Plant It Earth’s checks and balances, he says. 

Leading sales

Rose is Melanson’s right-hand man, and the general manager says he admires Melanson’s industry resume. Though Rose is the license carrier of the clan, Melanson’s in-field know-how balances management’s strengths, he points out.
“ While I was working at LESCO in Kissimmee, Brett came down here to open a branch because of the b-green Lawn Care buy-out,” he says, recalling when he first met Melanson. The young owner was a regular LESCO customer, and he offered Rose an opportunity to join him on a route. “I went out while they did what they do,” he describes. “By the end of the day, I went back to Brett and said, ‘It just can’t be done any better.’ Proper product placement is how we do things and make sure the customer is happy.”

Rose is a self-described sponge. He always wanted his own lawn care business, but had never managed people, worked in the field or sold services to customers. His expertise stems from training at LESCO, where he learned to diagnose disease, identify turf pests, recommend product solutions and advise customers on proper cultural practices. Rose is a label guy. 

“ I learned from Brett that there are two different ways to do business: the technical way and the technician’s way,” Rose notes. “Customers want to feel like you are on the same level as them. They want to hear that you will fix the problem, and that is what I try to incorporate into my sales approach.”

Plant It Earth targets high-end residential customers, selling them curb appeal insurance, Melanson relates. “We keep their lawns beautiful and protect their properties from damage and loss,” he explains. “Fifteen to 20 percent of the cost of your home is landscape, and we protect that. We are the cheapest bill in the house, yet we are a homeowner’s main investment – that is my favorite line to tell a customer. We are cheaper than most people’s cable bills, at $50 per month.”
Still, Melanson doesn’t target customers who won’t invest in exterior upkeep. When Plant It Earth scouts out prospects, technicians look for neighborhoods with homes priced at $200,000-plus. “We pick streets based on appearance,” he says. 
Accordingly, Plant It Earth technicians are dressed to impress. They wear logo shirts and appropriate safety gear, such as boots; they leave their mark by fixing tidy, 

Plant It Earth flags on property perimeters, required by law. 
Presentation wins repeat customers and new accounts, Melanson notes. “Also, we do something that 90 percent of other companies don’t do,” he adds. “We spray wasp nests, we take empty trash cans at the curb to the garage, we move toys in the back yard and we blow off sidewalks.”

Brett is persistent. His theory: “Buy now or buy later,” he asserts. “Eventually, people will end up buying from us. We will get your neighbor and his yard will look better. After time, you will hear the neighbors and see our trucks, and we will weigh on you. And then we will contact you and do the little things that are important.”
Melanson says he never sells, per se. Rather than Yellow Pages or print advertising, Plant It Earth drives business by delivering hand-written estimates on potential customers’ doors. The company also drafts new accounts from landscape maintenance companies that don’t offer treatment services. 

“ Other than fliers on doors, we’ve never gone out of our way to sell,” Melanson remarks. Still, Plant It Earth generates $30,000 to $40,000 in sales per month, and Melanson only accepts customers who sign full year contracts. “There is no way we can maintain properties for $50 per month for only three months,” he explains. If clients aren’t willing to commit to year-round results, he doesn’t want to plant Plant It Earth flags in front of their homes.

After all, Melanson says his best salespeople are customers. “Those are 960 advocates for my company,” he relates. “Those are my salespeople.”
Word of mouth is spreading – people talk, potential customers sign on for services, and Melanson sees more trucks in his future. A five-year contract on a 600-home account in Daytona Beach will spark a satellite office. “At the end of next year, I’d like to be at $2 million in revenues,” he says, commenting that this lofty goal is part of a multi-branch plan. 

Spirit fuels his growth strategy. Melanson wants to stop traffic state-wide, and this time, he’s not settling. “This is the third time and I have it right,” Melanson confirms, pausing. “I have nothing stopping me.”




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