A look inside the operations of Australia’s largest franchise
Founder, owner and CEO of Australia’s largest franchisee chain Jim’s Group, spoke to PEA reporter Lauren Butler about the roots of the company, the secrets to its success and the outdoor power equipment at the core of its operations.
Jim Penman runs arguably one of Australia’s best known and most successful turf care business, yet he never studied horticulture or business.
“I started doing gardening work for a neighbour at the age of eight, and had a part-time business while I was doing my B.A and PhD in history at LaTrobe University. I then went full time as a mowing contractor, gradually building up until launching as a franchise in 1989,” Jim said.
While Jim’s Group started as a small mowing business, the company’s services and uses for OPE now include mowing, building maintenance, fencing, car detailing, concrete cutting, digging, pressure cleaning, roofing and tree removal. Many jobs are domestic, but the company maintains a number of commercial contracts.
Jim’s Mowing uses a number of brands and models in order to complete various jobs to a high standard, and not every franchisee uses the same equipment. According to Jim, finding the right equipment is largely based on trial and error, as well as communication between franchisees. “Recommendations depend heavily on experience. Franchisees will share with each other their successes and failures. For example, more than a decade ago there was a huge move in the mowing division to zero turn ride-ons, notably Walkers, even though they were far more expensive. This was purely driven by feedback from users,” he said. Jim also said that Jim’s Group’s national office do not stipulate what equipment a franchisee will operate, and focuses on the acquisition of the equipment rather than use.
“Divisions and franchisers may recommend certain brands but we’re not restrictive over what they use. Our main job at national office is to try and secure special offers on price. We have a strict policy of taking no margins or kick-backs from suppliers,” Jim said.
Jim’s Group offers some training to franchisees as well as mandatory induction training. Further training is taken out by franchisees and employees; however, many have industry experience prior to joining the company.
“Each division has separate manuals, training and conferences, and often different ownership. Owners normally have considerable experience in their industry,” he said.
“Every franchisee goes through a generic training course of three days, and then a divisional training course which can be anything from two days to eight weeks.”
SUCCESSFUL OPERATIONS AND SERVICE
Jim’s Group operates within Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the UK and has just reached 3,500 franchisees across these countries. Though it successfully services thousands of customers throughout these countries every year, franchisees and employees are always striving to better their level of service by conducting operations as efficiently and effectively as possible. The national office fosters the same attitude towards both customers and its franchisees.
“Our toughest struggle is to continuously improve standards of service, to customers and to our franchisees. Our biggest struggle is to attract and keep franchisees. We are knocking back around 90,000 leads a year because of a lack of people,” Jim said.
“Service to franchisees and to clients comes ahead of every other consideration, including company profit.”
Jim also stated that the company only takes on franchisees that they are convinced will excel in the industry.
Jim’s Group will continue building the franchise, investing in franchisees and operating OPE to get the job done.
“I believe in our mission, which above all else is to make our franchisees successful. Business is exciting, fascinating and rewarding, and I go stir crazy from taking more than a day or two off. I’m fit, energetic and happy, and I hope to live and work at least until my late 80’s. I expect to attend my retirement ceremony in a box.”
John Wildes is a franchisee of Jim’s Mowing with a long term interest in gardening and a small team of employees. He spoke with Lauren Butler about his operations, equipment and supplier of choice, as well as his reasons for joining the franchise.
For John, the industry is still relatively new, yet with a keen interest in gardening at home, he has picked up a substantial amount of industry knowledge along the way. “I worked for a family business for 30 years, basically in sales. I’m a franchisee now and I’ve been doing it for about two and a half years. I saw Jim on TV back in the 90’s and Jim always resonated with me. I’ve wanted to be a gardener since I was 18 and I’m now 50,” John said.
EQUIPMENT AND OPERATIONS
Reliability is at the forefront of successful operations for John, alongside knowledge and appropriate use of equipment.
“We use Honda mowers, Honda brush cutters or whipper-snippers, Shindaiwa hedge cutters, Shindaiwa blowers, and we also have a Toro ride-on mower. Shindaiwa and Honda are the two brands we really use. They’re just reliable,” John said.
Through trial and error, he has built a small fleet of outdoor power equipment that he and his team have confidence in to complete jobs to a high standard.
“We’ve always had Honda mowers. We started with a couple of other brands and we shifted to Shindaiwa because we have a couple of great pieces of equipment.”
John particularly appreciates his Shindaiwa backpack blower and the results he can achieve with it.
“I find them fantastic, because they’re incredibly clean. They clean 50 per cent better than a handheld blower. The way they described it to me when I bought it was that the handheld is ‘a boy doing a man’s job’, and the backpack is ‘a man doing a man’s job’. The hand ones still work well, but give a completely different finish.”
A buying relationship with a local dealer has been beneficial to the franchise in product selection as well as education.
“We have a relationship with the Mower Power in Mount Waverley. They’re fantastic and we rely on them heavily. Their service is great and their recommendations are great when we’re not quite sure. They’re very good.”
When it comes to maintaining equipment, John said that keeping on top of servicing is important in running smooth operations.
“We do the basic maintenance. I probably do basic maintenance on a weekly basis. Any major servicing or major breakdowns we send off to our mower shop, Mower Power. Basic things like oil changes, cleaning of filters and all that lighter stuff, we do ourselves.”
STAFF AND TRAINING
John has completed company-run training, and has employees with prior training who have a great deal of industry experience.
“We currently employ one full time employee and we’re just about to have a second one start. We’ve had one full time employee and one part time, and now we’ll go to two full timers and myself,” John said.
He plans to train future staff himself.
“The employee I have now has 30 years’ experience on golf courses so he was trained when he came to me. The next one to come along, we’ll train them in the usage of the equipment and everything else they need to know.”
FRANCHISEES AND CUSTOMER SERVICE
According to John, Jim’s franchisees are a varied group with mixed levels of industry experience.
“There are financial guys; there are guys who are blue-collar workers, white-collar workers and just people who are looking for more flexibility. People with young families buy franchises so they can do things like picking their kids up from school. It’s a varied cross section.”
For John, taking on another full time worker is an exciting advancement in business.
“Another employee is a massive step for us. It will free us up to offer better customer service, and allow us to turn jobs around a lot quicker and do more for them that need to be done,” John said.
Having the right equipment is a large part of effective execution of operations, which John said can be more varied than some may think.
“We do a lot of general mowing, but also cleaning of properties, a lot of gardening, soft landscaping and even general handiwork around the house, to a limit. Whatever we can do – it might be cleaning windows, changing smoke detector batteries for older people, and all those little things that people just can’t do.”
In terms of his franchise, about 10 per cent of John’s operations are also commercial, requiring larger equipment such as the Toro ride-on mower.