An interview with Randy DeVries owner of Lawn Doctor of Hudsonville-Grandville
Since its first franchise in 1967, Lawn Doctor has established itself as a leader in the lawn care industry through innovative technology, its ability to satisfy the needs of consumers on a national level, and its development and expansion within the industry. Randy DeVries opened his franchise in Hudsonville because he wanted the freedom, security and control of his destiny. He is a husband and father who dedicates his life to his personal growth and helping others to grow. Randy is authentic, personal and caring. He was generous enough to open his doors and share with us his thoughts on leadership, business ownership and life lessons about who he is and how he is wired.
Getting to know Randy as a leader
how did you become the owner of Lawn Doctor?
I've always wanted to own my own business. I go back to a statement my dad said when I was working with him, “You're never going to be able to work for somebody”.
I think that this reflected sometimes, the frustration that my dad and I would have working together. I have this independent spirit. Not that I couldn't follow directions. Part of it was the way that my dad would try to bring me along on his jobs. I think the way that he tried to lead me, I didn't like. So we butted heads a lot. I think it was instilled in me early on that I wanted to control my own destiny.
That's what happened at my previous employer Pfizer. Patented drugs would go off patent and we would have to reduce our sales force. So, we had to sit annually by our phone and our manager would call us to determine whether we had made the cut or not. We did that for 5 years in a row. It got to the point where it was just not a good way to work anymore. So I figured now would be a good time to maybe start a business and I could do it while I was still working at Pfizer. I looked around and met with a franchise broker. Based on my personality and the things that I was looking for, he offered four or five different businesses. I selected Lawn Doctor because I could do it in my spare time and I had an interest in lawn care. I felt like I could be good at it.
How long have you owned your business?
I signed on in June of 2014, I went to training, and then I opened up the franchise a month later, July of 2014. It was basically that last half of the season when I got my first set of customers on board. Then the following year, the spring of 2015 was our first full year.
It was good because I had the fall to acclimate when it wasn't as busy. It gave me an opportunity to take what I had learned in a not so busy time and get all the processes in place. When it was really busy the following spring we shot out and ended up being the fastest growing new franchise in 2015. I won a little award for that, it was called the Fireball award.
What do you think makes you a good leader?
I'm not sure I am a good leader yet honestly. This is the first time that I've had to lead a team.
I think being a leader is more than just going out there and outworking your employees. You can weather all kinds of crazy storms, but you’ve got to be able to lead a team. The best way to lead a team is when the people following you have picked up on your vision. I think creating that vision and creating that culture is really the focus of where I'm going in the next couple of years.
Why are you able to succeed in business?
I think having a “burn the bridges attitude”, is important in business. I think you need to be able to look beyond where you’ve been and say “If I'm going to succeed, I've got to be willing to burn the bridges that I just crossed”. That is - It may not have to be my sole source of income but I better be prepared to do that. I think as a business owner you have to have that mentality going in. You might not have to give it your all, but you better be ready to give it your all. Because if it comes down to where that is needed you better be in the right mindset to be able to do that. It’s worked. It's been stressful but it’s also worked so far.
Is there a particular situation that you reflect back on where you think “I wasn't a very good leader in that circumstance”?
This last year in business, I had a lot of new employees. Training new employees and preparing each of them for the day’s tasks took its toll on me. There were a number of times where I just wasn't prepared.
I think the lesson learned was I can be stressed out, but I can't let the stress of running a business show to my employees if I'm going to be a good leader. I've got to be in control as much as possible. I think there were a couple of days I just let my emotions get the best of me.
Progress or Perfection?
In the past, I’ve probably focused more on perfection. But now I feel like I'm trying to be more progressive about how I think things through. I don't think I'm ever going to lose that perfection approach but I find as I grow, perfection is harder and harder to accept. I think you have to be progress oriented and process-oriented.
Do you have a core value that's not negotiable?
I would say probably integrity. I would say integrity maybe follow closely by accountability. I think both of those speak to just doing things right and not coming up with excuses why you didn't do it. Being accountable every time. If you say you're going to do something and give your word to somebody follow through on it.
How do those values appear in your business?
I think lawn care solutions are fairly predictable based upon what we as a company have developed over the last 40-50 years in terms of processes. There's a lot of times where you can convey to a customer what you expect to happen, but if that doesn't happen, you have to be willing to try different things. If you give your word that you're going to complete the job, it's important to define what good is going to look like, what the finished result is going to look like and if you don't feel like it's there, the customer might not feel like it's there. That's where the owner of the company needs to step up and make it right for the customer.
There have been a couple of times where I've gone above and beyond and used techniques that I've never used before and never charged the customer. I just felt like I needed to follow through on what I told this customer that I was going to do. There's a great deal of fulfillment and satisfaction that comes out of that. I tried to instill that in my culture too, to the employees, that when you're on a customer’s lawn just do the right thing, each time.
If I wanted to start a business, what advice would you give?
You have to go into starting a business knowing that you have to give it your all.
If you're not willing to give it your all to the point where, as I talked about earlier, burning the bridges that give you a safety net. I think you have to be willing to do that. If you're not willing to do that, I don't think you have the commitment to be successful in business. Sometimes you have to go above and beyond what you've ever expected and what you've ever done in the past. So I think the only preparation that you can give yourself is you better have had a couple of situations that you can site in your past experience where you burned a bridge. You've sunk the boat if you will. You put yourself in a position where if it's going to be, it's up to me.
Getting to know Randy personally
Who are your greatest influences?
I would say pastors in the past from a couple of the different churches that I've been to, professors at college, business leaders like John Spoelhof and Rich DeVos. People who did it right. People who not only collectively built a business but they also were successful in other areas of their lives, like their marriage and who they were as a parent. That kind of a thing, who they were recognized in the community. Those kinds of people. Rich DeVos, and John Spoelhof, Ed Prince, these were business leaders in my small hometown, Zeeland and Holland where I grew up, in West Michigan, just good people to pattern your life after.
What's your favorite Business book now?
It's called traction, by Gino Wickman. It's very practical in terms of delivery of a message. It has templates in it that you can follow so I would say anything that's process-oriented, anything that has "how to" in it, to build a business from the ground up without having to make a lot of mistakes. I'm finding that book just has a lot of little pearls in it.
what technology are you considering in your business right now?
I would say probably what's intriguing is texting. I think our business is evolving with the Millennials. They want instant results and instant feedback. I think it's going to make a difference in how quickly we can close sales. Texting has merit in the sense that if a customer is on a sunny day wanting to make a decision about lawn care, he makes one phone call and you can get him the information as quick as possible. In the form of a text, you stand a better chance of getting that customer's business and the subsequent services that are to follow for the remainder of the season, if you can turn that customer into a sale by providing the right information as quick as possible. Texting I think is that Technology.
What is your disc profile?
I think it's an "S" and "C".
I'm not a person who makes quick decisions. I tend to be conscientious about thinking a decision through. The S stands for Steady; the C for Conscientious. I don't tend to have the up or down swings in how I manage things. I like to have another set of eyeballs take a look at things. I always feel like that's good way to move forward.
What do you think the best advice is you've received?
Be confident but stay humble. There's a fine line when you're a leader. You've got to be confident. I think that also remaining humble and not letting pride get in the way, gives me a piece of mind that I can lay my head down every night and feel good about the decisions that I've made and how I represented myself.
What hobbies do you have?
I enjoy, golf, hiking, biking, any sport. I enjoy football, college football, pro football. I love music. I've been working out at the gym, incorporating that into a daily routine. My health is really important. I'm finding as I get older, it's harder to do some of the things physically that I used to be able to do. I want to make sure I'm in shape to do so. Joining the gym and keeping myself active has been the priority.
What do you think makes you different or unique?
I've played the role of a mediator pretty well. If I think back to teams that I've been on, I find that sometimes being steady, being this conscientious person in the disc profile suits me well. To take people's extremes, the far right or far left or the people who have a dynamic personality or the people who are quieter - being able to integrate everybody who's on a team and recognize the strengths that people have, those are things that I try to pride myself on. Trying to be open-minded about people's different perspectives and trying to always keep those in the forefront, in the midst sometimes of chaos, where everybody's contribution is important.
Being steady and being conscientious, being that mediator - I think has served me well. Those are things that help me to be unique, both in the workplace and a family environment.
Just last night there's been some conflict with one of my daughters in a relationship and I was able to talk through some of the things and listen carefully and ask pointed questions to her. To get her to articulate what she felt was her role in the conflict and then what her boyfriend's role was in the conflict. Being able to disseminate different people's opinion and articulate those in a manner that people can understand and solve dilemmas. I feel like solving dilemmas and solving problems is something that we must do on a day to day basis. The better we become at that the better we will be at life in general.
What are you known for?
My passion, my intensity, my integrity.
I think people know they can count on me. That was how my dad raised me. My mom and dad were people that gave their word, shook hands and what you said you were going to do, you followed up and you did it. I think it is as simple as what it is. I think that's what it comes down to. I try to keep it simple in that regard.
What are you trying to achieve?
I want to be deeper into some of the things that are very meaningful to my wife and I, to our business, to my employees. I want to take that caring aspect maybe a little bit deeper over the next couple of years and see if I can develop more of a patient, compassionate leadership style, whether it's as a father, as a husband, or as a business owner.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I don't know if I have a favorite quote. On my Facebook page I have something like "I live life, work hard and rest when the work is done" and I think that kind of sums up who I am as a person.
do you have a soapbox topic?
I find it hard to tolerate people who blame others for their circumstances. I feel like people are too quick to make excuses. "We're all in life where we’ve chosen to be." That's a great quote somebody said one time. We're all in our chosen spot in life because of choices that we made in the past. Every decision or every choice that we make has consequences. If you fail to recognize that the decisions you're making are having poor consequences and you fail to make modification to those, you don't have anybody to blame but yourself to a large degree.
In this country I think more people are becoming dependent upon other people for their success rather than determining their own. Overcoming obstacles, that's what gives you fulfillment and at the end of the day gives you a sense of accomplishment in life. If you never had very many experiences where that's happened I think it's hard for you to relate. As I build the team I want each person to have an opportunity to fail but I also want to give them unlimited opportunity to succeed. You can't put a floor or ceiling in for people, and expect them to become all they are all capable of becoming. Failure is a necessary part of people being able to overcome and to pick themselves up and try all over again with the new knowledge that they have to do better. I love people who overcome things.
Not all people are wired like me. I think people can follow leaders that are willing to put themselves out and learn new things. That's where we have to set the example as a leader. To show people that it can be done and it can be pretty fulfilling. When you can show someone that they did something good because of their own efforts, that's the first step in recognizing you have potential to do great things.