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Company Culture and Giving Back

How Phil Fogarty and the Weed Man Organization Contribute to Community Events

Podcast Transcript

Cindy: Welcome to Weed Man Business Insights. This podcast series strives to bring you practical and actionable business practices that have resulted in tremendous business success throughout the Weed Man system. These podcasts share the challenges and insights of Weed Man business owners and managers through interviews on a variety of subjects. I’m Cindy Code, and today it’s my pleasure to be here with Phil Fogarty, Weed Man sub franchisor in Ohio, Pennsylvania and upstate New York, and long time lawn and landscape industry spokesman and advocate. Welcome Phil!

Phil: Hey, thanks Cindy! Great to be here.

Cindy: Today we’re talking about a social event that takes place annually at Arlington National Cemetery and that many landscape professionals hold near and dear to their hearts. That event is Renewal and Remembrance sponsored by the Professional Landcare Network. Now in its 18th year, Renewal and Remembrance brings together lawn and landscape professionals from across the country to renew and renovate the grounds at this historic cemetery. This year pros came from over thirty states to give up their time and talents. So Phil, you’ve been involved for I believe nearly 18 years – since the very first one. Explain to us what Renewal and Remembrance is and what it means to you personally.

Phil: I’d love to, Cindy. Like you said, it’s near and dear to a lot of people’s hearts, including mine. The initial idea for Renewal and Remembrance came from when the tree care industry – maybe now 25 years ago almost – did an event at Arlington where they brought people in from all over the country to provide a gift to the American people by sprucing up the trees at Arlington. A local friend of ours here was one of the spearheads of that event and the president of TCA at the time. So after networking with him about that and how meaningful it was for everyone at that event for everyone in the tree care group, we made some phone calls to Arlington and asked permission to do something for the lawns there. And I really didn’t have any idea of the experience I was in for – to see the inner workings of Arlington and the staff there and see what an incredible job they do to maintain the most important square mile of real estate to anyone in this country. Arlington is the final resting place for hundreds of thousands of veterans and it’s running out of space…and they’re running out of money. The budget there is always being squeezed. We found that we would be able to do something that would be a gap filler for them. Giving that to Arlington and helping to maintain the grounds to an extremely high standard, we really quickly found that we were the ones receiving the gift. Having the chance to work at Arlington, be around it, see it operating on a day to day basis where they put 30 people on the ground, on average, and many of those coming back from active conflicts…it gave us a chance to demonstrate something that I think every American feels when they hear about something happening over in Iraq or Afghanistan and they want to say thanks. It’s a natural thing when anyone feels like they’re really fortunate because of something someone else did, to find a way to say thank you. We found a very unique one with our industry being able to provide our time and talent and equipment and materials. Even though it’s only one day a year, everyone who attends walks away feeling much better about our country and ourselves and our ability to at least give back to those people who have given so much for that event and for another year.

Cindy: So 18 years in the landscape industry. That’s a long time, especially since most of the landscape industry are small business owners. How does it manage to sustain itself year after year?

Phil: It’s amazing! Every year I stand there at the ceremony, which started with 40 people in the middle of February (this was our first event – we quickly moved it to the summer. The following years – years two through eighteen – have been summertime events). You stand there at the ceremony and you look and you see people from year one. There are still people that have been coming every single year; they come back every year and tell more people about it, bring more staff or they bring their families, or another company hears about it and they bring their staff and their families. It’s a little bit of a reunion every year now. People come back and we look at each other and we know that we wouldn’t miss this event for anything. A couple of times in the middle of years, they’ve needed us to do something at the cemetery for a particular purpose. One time sodding the hillside between Lee Mansion and JFK.  Another time creating a space for them to put the first ever planted veteran’s pride roses on a Memorial Day. So we’ve actually done 20 events, and we never have a problem staffing and event, because as soon as the word is out that we’re either doing our annual again or need some help to have a chance to give back something to Arlington and to our nation’s veterans. It’s just deeply ingrained I think in our industry especially that when you have an opportunity to help someone and help a cause, it’s an opportunity for you to grow personally and to help yourself as well.

Cindy: And the attendees at Arlington, at the event, Renewal and Remembrance, they don’t do it for the recognition. But how can we quantify the value of their time, the equipment and the materials and traveling to the site. How do we quantify that?

Phil: That’s a great question! Two ways. First, we always put a value on the services that were rendered, so that Arlington knows for their own budgeting and their own planning processes. And also so that we can make sure we give an accurate assessment of what we’ve done so that the public understands our commitment to this and the value that we bring really in everyday services. So that they see the investment that’s necessary to maintain that. It’s fairly easy – we can put a fair market value on what work was accomplished. Typically in a 4-5 hour time frame, we might provide anything from between $150,000 to $250,000 worth of services to Arlington in any given year. The other thing that we don’t really put a big value on, but that is definitely a part of the sacrifice, is that these companies are small, like you mentioned, and they have to shut down their operations for the day. Then, at their own expense, they have to travel to Washington, D.C., some of them carrying and trailering equipment. Others fly in from other places and bring staff members and family members, and then have to provide themselves with a hotel and some of the meals and all of that and other transportation expenses. That’s something we’ve never really quantified, but that’s the part of the sacrifice to come out to Arlington that everyone seems glad to do because they know they’re going to receive much more in value than any expense they go through to be there for the event.

Cindy: Lawn and landscape professionals, as an industry, have an amazing passion for the work that they do and they enjoy sharing it with others. How do you explain the entrepreneurialship and the love of the industry that business owners have?

Phil: I grew up being allergic to grass. Now I’m in the lawn business. Not until I got into the business did I realize how salt of the earth and passionate the people are who work in this industry. I just feel really fortunate to have sort of backed into the industry even though I had these allergies and aversions to being out in nature. Having a business that involved me in that has helped me to see how important nature is to our quality of life and our happiness and our health. I marvel at when I get to work outside – which is not very often anymore – how much better I feel at the end of the day. You’re involved in green spaces. The way that we live now is to not go to the park…we want to have a park in our own backyard. We build retirement communities and rehab facilities and hospitals and all communities with tons and tons of green space. I think the people in this industry love to share that because they see how it improves everyone’s quality of life. The best part of Renewal and Remembrance, really, is the children’s  program. We have now more kids coming for a children’s program than we had volunteers the entire first year we did the event. These kids are taught how to plant things, the value of that plant, whether it attracts butterflies or it’s going to hold the hillside or it’s going to provide something, an aesthetic value, for that area. They’re also taught the significance about what they’re planting and where they’re planting it at Arlington. The professionals in that group who run that program are so excited to pass on that passion for green and plants and growing things and nature to these kids. You see what a labor of love it is and the connection that they make with the kids, and the connection that the kids make with this plant will be there when they come back the next year. And they’ll watch it grow as they grow. It’s really a significant part of the event and it’s what the media likes to cover most about the event, because it is something so hopeful. Kids and nature and green spaces and gardening. It just lightens up everyone’s spirit and everyone’s heart. Even the executive director of Arlington always comes down and works with the kids at the children’s program at Arlington. Takes a moment out of their busy day to have a chance to dig in the earth and do something with nature. We get to do this every single day as part of our job! We do this for our customers and our communities day in and day out, and it’s such a great part of what we do. To share it makes it even better.

Cindy: Weed Man’s culture encourages community involvement and volunteerism. How does this benefit Weed Man as an organization?

Phil: We have an incredible culture at Weed Man. It’s something you can’t articulate very well because it has to be experienced. Our leadership has always wanted everyone involved to help each other, and we don’t really adhere to what an agreement says. If someone needs something more to help them be successful, we do it. That’s just part of how we are and how we operate. Each other’s success is more important in some ways than our own. I think that bleeds through to how our companies and our franchises operate in the community itself. When we have a territory, we are the local lawn care expert now. If we have a chance to do something at a local level – maybe it’s part of PLANET’s Day of Service in April, maybe it’s just we hear about a church that needs to have a lawn area cleaned up for some kids and a daycare, or it’s a veteran’s home. It might be a GreenCare for Troops family. We want our employees and our customers to know that we’re there for the community as well. We serve the community  and we earn our living through the community. We want to make sure we’re always giving back and always looking at it as a partnership. That we’re part and parcel of that community, and it’s always a privilege to be able to give something back. It makes us stronger as a company, and it makes our brand stronger, it makes us personally better to serve someone, whether we’re being paid or not.

Cindy: Do you think your customers and the community recognize and value this involvement?

Phil: I think we’re recognized for it more than we actually want the recognition. If we get someone saying thanks, that’s wonderful. The sharing of it is usually great enough. It’s a team-building thing for us – we’re not out for the fact that we did this and don’t necessarily want to have recognition for it, especially when we’re doing it as a thanks to a veteran organization. I think that the community at large sees what companies give back to the community and which companies don’t. And they base their decision about what brand to be involved with on how they view that brand and how they see it operating as a company throughout its day to day operations. If we get some value out of it, we’re pleased, but that’s not why we do these things. I think the customer in the end recognizes what companies add value and which ones don’t.

Cindy: What message do you have for someone who has never attended renewal and remembrance at Arlington Cemetery?

Phil: I don’t know of a single person who has attended the event that has not returned to another event at some point, and/or sent someone else to represent them. It’s always an enriching experience, and it’s something that is possibly an opportunity for someone that no one else may get. When I tell people that we go to Arlington every year and do work at the cemetery, they are so jealous that our industry gets to do this. Of all of the industry that have done projects, like the tree care industry and other industries that have done volunteer work, we’re the only industry that has a permanent marker at Arlington signifying our involvement and our relationship with Arlington. So if you have the opportunity to, some July, bring yourself, your family or your kids, or your employees and their kids to it, I can guarantee you that you as a company and a person will never be the same gain.

Cindy: Truly incredible. Thanks so much Phil for everything you do for Weed Man and for the industry, and thanks for joining us for Weed Man Business Insights. Have a great day!

To listen to the original podcast recording, visit Weed Man’s SoundCloud page HERE.

Brought to you by Weed Man Lawn Care. For franchise opportunity information, call 1-888-321-9333