As with many corporate executives, Roger Mongeon, a chemical engineer who worked for Union Carbide, found himself being transferred around the provinces of Canada. His children were growing up, and moving from city to city, changing schools frequently, was getting a bit trying.
Mongeon started thinking about going into business for himself, and getting out of the corporate world. By the mid-1980s, he found himself in Ajax, Canada, a small suburb of Toronto. He looked at a number of different retail stores and other opportunities. While there, he befriended his nextdoor neighbor, who owned a Weed Man franchise.
Still looking to make a career change, Mongeon showed some interest in Weed Man. After his neighbor opened his books to him, Mongeon was impressed by what he saw, and in 1986 he purchased a Weed Man franchise for Hull, Quebec, Canada. Weed Man is a lawn care franchise that applies fertilizer, weed control and insect control on clients' lawns.
Once again the family moved, this time to Hull. His daughter, Jennifer, was 15 years old then and still in high school. In her spare time, she would help out doing some telemarketing and office work. The business took off, and a few years later Mongeon bought seven territories in Montreal. Jennifer, who was now out of high school, decided not to follow the family to Montreal. She enrolled at the University of Ottawa, where she met Chris Lemcke. He too was a student at the university, earning his degree in criminal justice; he wanted to become a police officer.
Jennifer, in her last year of college, decided to take some time off and went to work for the university. She worked in the telecommunications area for two years, sending college courses to the remote campuses in Northern Canada. It was at this time that Jennifer and Chris were married.
By 1992, Mongeon owned the Hull, Quebec franchise, as well as those in Montreal. Business was flourishing. He called Jennifer and Chris, inviting them to join the business, and they did. During that first year, Jennifer polished her telemarketing skills, worked in the office, made door-to-door sales calls, worked on a truck applying the materials, etc. She learned the business from every aspect, and did it all.
Just a year later, a small group of individuals, comprised of their family and friends, joined forces to open multiple franchises across Canada. Then, Jennifer and Chris took over the rights to run the Weed Man Ottawa franchise. This group encountered major success in several markets, and went on to turn their attention to the U.S. In 1996, they purchased the rights from Des Rice, the founder of Weed Man, to sell franchises in the United States, and Turf Holdings, Inc., was created for this purpose.
In 2000, Jennifer was asked to join the existing Turf Holdings team, where she currently holds the title of chief operating officer.
It was felt that selling franchises in the United States required a different strategy. Roger Mongeon embraced some members of the old Professional Lawn Care Association of America (PLCAA) and presented a plan for opening the states: have sub-franchisees purchase large areas of the U.S. and sell franchises within their territory. In that way, they could be closer to their franchisees and be of more help to them.
The original projection was to sign up three sub-franchisees and three franchises. At the roll-out, they sold seven sub-franchisees and 28 franchises. Today, there are 14 sub-franchisees and 100 franchises in the U.S., and Weed Man is growing at approximately 15% annually.
"Everyone who goes into business is challenged," remarks Jennifer. "They are challenged to succeed; they are challenged to grow, etc. I believe our greatest challenges lie ahead of us. We are already experiencing regulatory restraints, some insecticides and herbicides have already been banned in 12 municipalities, and 100 or so municipalities in Canada have some regulations already in place."
"Our major challenge is to develop material that will give the homeowner the desired results of a nice green turf while still working within the regulatory boundaries. We believe that within the next ten years, there will be a huge push in the lawn care market toward organic material."
"We're experimenting using biological controls for insects and beet juice for control of some weeds and fertilizing the lawns. Although there have been some successes, we still have a long way to go. More importantly, we're going to have to educate our customers that they should not expect a weed-free lawn in the future as organic controls go only so far," explained Jennifer.
However, as exciting as it is to be on the cutting edge, the transition from chemicals to organic and biological materials offers a challenge for the entire lawn care market. Because it seems that Canada has more regulations in place and because of their strong position in the Canadian market, Weed Man might pave the way for the lawn care market of the future.
Jennifer is very active with the Professional Land Care Network (PLANET). She sits on its board of directors, and is secretary of the organization. "Growing a company is a lot of fun, but make no mistake, it requires a major commitment of time," says Jennifer. "It's great to love what you're doing."
So, what do Chris and Jennifer do in their off-time? "Our kids are very active in sports; we're busy going from one arena to another to cheer them on," Jennifer says. "With all the traveling we do, spending time with the family is always something we look forward to." The Lemckes have three children, Jessica, 11, Justin, 10, and Joshua, 8.
"These are exciting times," muses Jennifer. Though raising a family and having such an active career is a challenge, Jennifer truly 'loves what she is doing.'