May 15 2009 12:00 AM

IT ISN’T TOO OFTEN THAT WE COME across an individual like Ken Hutcheson. On the outside he is warm, engaging and charming. However, under his skin lies a savvy, dedicated businessperson. As you spend a few moments with him, you begin to realize how deeply concerned he is with your success and how he can in some way help you achieve your dreams.

Ken Hutcheson is president of U.S. Lawns. Much of the company’s success can be attributed directly to him. His ability to combine solid business practices with the personal touch has made U.S. Lawns one of the top franchises in the country and the envy of the franchising industry. However, it wasn’t always that way. . . .

Hutcheson was born and grew up in central Florida. He married, raised a family, and still lives there with his wife and youngest child. Two of his four children are university students and his oldest child is a recent college graduate.

As one of four brothers, Hutcheson grew up in a very competitive environment. This has resulted in a spirit that remains with him in his business and personal life to this day. He often says, “You can win, you can make money and you can do it the right way. We don’t fail.” At the tender age of 13, Hutcheson got his first job. He worked on a nearby farm where they raised cattle and also had a nursery. Since he wasn’t old enough to drive, another employee picked him up and dropped him off every day. “But that’s what was expected,” Hutcheson would say. This was just one of the steps that helped him develop a strong work ethic. He attended the University of Florida, graduating at the age of 20 with a degree in ornamental horticulture. As Hutcheson says, “I didn’t take a job, I began a career.”

A new fledgling market niche, interior plants, was being created and he went to work for this new company as a manager. The company sold plant design, service and installation to commercial and office accounts, and grew its own plant material. As the company continued to grow, Hutcheson eventually became general manager and then vice president. When the company began to franchise the concept in other parts of the country, “I ended up working in approximately 60 cities,” Hutcheson said. “That gave me the exposure and the experience of working not just in one place, but in multiple areas.” In addition to running the company units, Hutcheson ran the franchise division of the company as well. Little did he realize how much he would learn about franchising, and how that would help shape his future career.

“Franchising is an industry all by itself,” Hutcheson explains. “You need to be aware of the federal and state laws that regulate it, but you also need to be sensitive to the fact that even though you’re dealing with sophisticated people, you’re still obligated to invest their money like it’s your own. You’re also impacting every area of a franchisee’s life—his family, his self image, and his financial well-being.” Hutcheson loved bringing in new franchisees and training them. As he watched these guys become successful, an idea came to his mind. He should do this for his family—he should buy a franchise. And that’s exactly what he did. He became a part-time consultant for the company and purchased his own franchise.

That was in 1985, a special year for Hutcheson. It was his year to face reality and make a heavy-duty commitment. He moved his family, he and his wife had their first child, he started a new venture when he became a franchisee, and since he didn’t have the money he had to sign a personal note. This all transpired in a period of one month. He promised himself that he would dedicate his time to making the franchise a success. In a short period of time, he was a multi-unit owner. Not one to let any grass grow under his feet—no pun intended—Hutcheson, in addition to running his own business, continued to consult on the side. With his franchising experience, he was asked by franchise companies in other industries to consult with them.

One of those who contacted him in 1986 was Tom Oyler. Oyler and his two partners had a landscape business in the Orlando, Florida market. As their reputation grew, they received calls from outside their working area. Realizing that they couldn’t effectively handle those areas, they would create routes and sell them off. They soon learned that what they were doing just created more competition for themselves, as these new companies grew and began to expand their territories. As they continued to receive calls for service in other areas, they felt that they could develop a business model for a sustainable landscape business by franchising. “They were familiar with the success of our franchising the interior plant business,” said Hutcheson. “They knew I was involved with that and they called me in for a consultation. This was before U.S. Lawns even had a name.”

“Along with a partner, we created the first operating manual, sales manual, legal documents and, at the end of the day, we helped create the name,” said Hutcheson. This was the beginning of U.S. Lawns. As a student of business, Hutcheson stayed in touch with these companies to see how they were progressing, while still keeping his day jobs.

In February 1995, the Hutchesons sold their franchises, had their fourth child and began to explore other opportunities. Very shortly thereafter, he received a call from Todd Moerchen, who was a franchisee and part-time executive of U.S. Lawns. “Moerchen told me the company was looking for a parttime person, and since I knew many people in the franchise industry, he asked who I could recommend.”

“That conversation led to a meeting and l found myself, once again, consulting for U.S. Lawns,” Hutcheson recalled. “That lasted a week. We both realized we couldn’t grow the business with part-time people, so I joined U.S. Lawns on a full-time basis.” One year later, in 1996, Oyler sold U.S. Lawns to Environmental Industries, now ValleyCrest Companies. At that point in time, they had a couple of part-time people and about 15 franchisees. Hutcheson spent the next two years Circle 231 on Reader Response Card crafting the business and fine tuning it, until he was confident that potential franchisees, if they followed the manuals, would be successful. In 2001, he became president. The company then had about 65 franchisees. Today, there are more than 200 franchisees in 32 states, and they’re growing by two to four franchises per month.

Over the years, Ken Hutcheson has learned and polished his skills, not only in franchising, but in the landscape maintenance business as well. But there is more to this story than just another success. There is a devout, dedicated individual who feels it is his duty to see that his franchisees succeed. There are still lots of opportunities out there, lots of territories that are still available. “After all,” he says, “this is a big country.” It is Ken Hutcheson’s dream to fill these spaces with happy, successful entrepreneurs, and his enthusiasm is contagious.