Working together to grow a healthy work culture
Both Michelle and Peter Lewis come from an IT management background. Neither thought they would find themselves doing the job that they are now. Though both were keen gardeners, neither were lawn specialists. Both used to work for Lloyds Bank, with Peter running credit card systems and Michelle working in the insurance end. This had them based in Cheshire, London and Scotland predominantly. “So, we never saw each other,” Peter says. Now, as the owners of TruGreen Cardiff, The Vale and Bridgend, the couple live and work in the middle of their TruGreen territory, offering professional lawncare services within a localised area.
Motivated to do something together, Michelle and Peter bought their business in early 2020 a week before the first lockdown. Though challenging, they were supported through the purchasing by ServiceMaster Ltd, who owns TruGreen. “We were looking for something we could do in partnership, and be our own bosses. You know, jump off the corporate hamster wheel. And you get to do all aspects of the job. Rather than being a cog in a huge machine, you own the machine. You run the machine,” Michelle says.
She says they looked at other franchises before settling on TruGreen. “We felt that the they [TruGreen] offered the best support, the best people, the most enthusiasm. The technical support, the financial support, the legal support: all the boxes were ticked. This offered us the chance to retrain, get qualified, and do something really fun together. So, we spend all day every day now working.”
Peter chimes in: “Not all day every day working. All day, every day together.”
“All day together,” Michelle grins. “Yeah, together.”
COVID, Michelle says, brought home the reality of both having elderly parents and being away from their family. Though they live nearby, Peter and Michelle had felt unable to help when they were needed, due to working away often. Now, working within their local area, all of Michelle and Peter’s customers are within 5-10 minutes of their parent’s homes. They can be where they are needed, when they are needed. This community and connected feel are mirrored, Michelle says, both in their customer base, and at a network level.
“Before, many of our customers were faceless, the other side of IT systems,” Michelle says. “Now we’ve really got to know our customers. During COVID we were able to help – particularly our elderly customers – in getting bits and pieces if they couldn’t get to the shops or that sort of thing. And that was incredibly rewarding because you’re being seen as more than just the lawn keeper, but as a trusted professional. There are lots of mental health benefits. We get to own a dog! We’re able to balance our work life, and be here for the kids, even though they’re grown up now, or our parents and neighbours. We just didn’t realise how often we had to say no in our old jobs.”
Peter seconds, this. He says the mental health benefits of this flexibility has been the biggest benefit to him in parenting his sons. He is now available to help with DIY or aiding his eldest in moving into a new home for example. “I’ve been able to do so much, and we’ve become a lot closer over the last couple of years,” he says. Peter tells me more about how he came to the business. Whilst being made redundant, his voluntary leave was pushed back for around a year-long period. Though he knew he wanted to buy a franchise, this constant change in date made it difficult for Peter to pin down a sale. “ServiceMaster showed me a great deal of flexibility in that,” he says. “They could’ve easily sold it to somebody else who could’ve paid them a lot quicker. But they had spoken to us, and they kept on pushing the date on until I finally got my redundancy check.”
“It never felt like a hard sell,” Michelle adds. “[ServiceMaster] recognised that we were making a massive career decision and they were really supportive.” Especially during the pandemic, Michelle notes they owe a lot to the support of TruGreen’s franchise network. “We can ring up at any time, day or night, on any kind of problem. We couldn’t have done that running our own company, we wouldn’t have had that expertise backing us,” she says. “Everybody just wants you to be successful, and that’s a lovely culture. Everybody is in it together.”
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