Oct. 15 2015 01:07 PM
What makes Ken Hutchenson run? A work ethic, a passion... or maybe it's satisfaction-the satisfaction of knowing he's making a difference in someone else's life. Or maybe in many lives.

Hutcheson does not have an easy job, but then again, ‘easy’ is not in his vocabulary. Hutcheson is the president of U.S. Lawns; he’s held that position for the past 14 years. Trying to satisfy 270 bosses— the owners of U.S. Lawns franchises—is a Herculean task. These franchisees provide hometown services to their local communities, and Hutcheson has the colossal task of providing strong support to all 270.

He was born in Orlando, Florida; is dad was a business owner in the electronics field. Most probably, it was from his family culture that he learned good ethics, drive, passion, integrity and the other attributes that make him the person he is today.

Like many other kids, during his time in high school, he had a parttime job. Hutcheson worked for a guy who owned a nursery, with fields and greenhouses. “I became fascinated with the idea of growing things,” he said. Due to this job experience, when he graduated high school, he attended the University of Florida and received his degree in horticulture in 1981. Upon graduation, he started working for a company that was in the interior plant business.

While he was working for the interior plant company, they decided to explore franchising as a way to grow the business. Hutcheson not only continued working at their corporate offices, he was also a multi-unit franchisee.

It was there that he began to learn about the franchise business. As his interest grew, he wanted to learn all he could about franchising. It wasn’t long before emerging franchises approached him and asked him to consult with them. That was how he got involved with U.S. Lawns.

The founders of U.S. Lawns had a successful landscape company in Orlando, Florida. As they looked to the future, they were concerned about whether they’d be able to maintain the relationship and keep the business if one of their clients opened another facility in another city a few hundred miles away. They retained Hutcheson to explore the possibilities of franchising. This was in 1986 and U.S. Lawns was established.

In 1995, the founders hired Hutcheson on a full-time basis, to develop a program for their franchisees. By 1998, Hutcheson was concentrating his efforts on franchise support and franchisee sales. Then U.S. Lawns was sold and in 2001, Hutcheson was named president of the company.

Under his leadership, the franchisees have grown from 15 to 270.

One of the keys to the success of U.S. Lawns is local ownership; another is an in-house manual that establishes a road map to success. “The brand DNA remains true to its core,” said Hutcheson. “If the franchisees follow the road map exceptionally well, they will do exceptionally well.” The program developed for the franchisees then is still in place to this day, as the model continues to be refined.

When asked how they compete with independent competitors, Hutcheson answers, “Good systems, good processes and tools, coupled with the personal approach of our local owner, make them formidable competitors. But what really sets us apart is that we layer on top of that what we call Radical Personalization. Our owners run their own companies; they offer grounds care for local businesses.”

The owners take care of the exterior of the properties, the landscape maintenance, the enhancements, etc. In the colder climates, snow removal is offered as well. “It’s a tricky business and not everyone has systemized it. We just finished visiting these areas, discussing with our franchisees the business of snow removal,” said Hutcheson. “We review what we’ve done in the past and add any new refinements to it. It’s good for the customers, because they can depend on U.S. Lawns to take good care of them.”

So what makes Ken Hutcheson run? One thing’s for sure—motivation. He is motivated by seeing things grow. “I guess that’s why I got into the horticultural business in the first place,” said Hutcheson. “It’s exciting to see businesses and organizations grow. I love watching U.S. Lawns grow.”

When asked what will happen when they run out of territories to sell, Hutcheson doesn’t see that happening. “There is so much to do in our future. I don’t think this brand has even scratched the surface. If I told you all the opportunities I see for our owners and U.S. Lawns, you’d be amazed.”

Deepening and broadening the customer service line is something that is constantly being addressed. “Prospective customers want more services than in the past,” said Hutcheson. The possibility of taking the concept outside the borders of this country is another area they are looking into. “We have to make sure our owners are incredibly successful. Our focus today is to be the best place to work. We want to be the employer of choice.”

Ken Hutcheson and his wife Arlene have been married for more than 30 years. They’ve raised four children, ranging in age from 20 to 29. He is a runner, and at the age of 56, still runs marathons competitively; he will be running in the Chicago Marathon this month. All of his children are athletes and were on rowing teams. Hutcheson himself coached crews for both youths and adults for a number of years.

Over the years, people change. There’s been a time in everybody’s life when they were a little complacent, a little confused—and then comes a time when you’re satisfied with what you’ve accomplished. When that was mentioned to Hutcheson, he commented, “I’m happy, but I will never be satisfied.”

Maybe it’s that special ingredient that makes Ken Hutcheson run.