Almost as soon as Ted Kramer graduated from SUNY Buffalo in 1989, he began a fast-paced career that took him to some of the biggest companies in a variety of sectors. Kramer started as an accountant at Ernst & Young before transitioning into media and entertainment at Time Warner before transitioning back into finance at the Young & Rubicon Group. By the time Kramer decided to leave the corporate world in 2007, he was the chief financial officer for a 1,000-employee staffing company called Forrest Solutions.
Despite his success, the work was taking a toll on Kramer, who says his priorities started to change as he began to build a family with his wife.
“We were about to have our second child, and I already had a one-year-old at home who barely recognized me,” he said. “I was on the 6 a.m. train to Manhattan every day and the 8 p.m. train home every night. I didn’t want to live that way anymore. I wasn’t interested in the biggest salary and the biggest office and the most assistants. It was much more important to me to be at my kids’ soccer games.”
With nearly two decades of high-level business experience under his belt, Kramer knew starting his own business from scratch would prohibit the lifestyle he wanted to maintain, so he turned to franchising, which he reasoned would allow him to hit the ground running with a proven business model and established branding.
Though Kramer was determined to invest in a franchise, he was not immediately sure what kind of concept he was looking for, so he worked with a broker to find an opportunity that met his essential requirements.
“I had a number of boxes that I needed checked,” Kramer said. “I wanted something that was nationally known but had room for growth in my market; the dollar investment had to work; it couldn’t be brick-and-mortar; it had to be service-oriented; I wanted to avoid skilled labor, which can cause major staffing issues; and I wanted something that was predominantly Monday-through-Friday, so that I could spend nights and weekends with my family.”
Kramer and his broker spent about three months ironing out those criteria before spending six months to investigate brands. Ultimately, only one brand fell right in line with Kramer’s core requirements: lawn-care franchise Lawn Doctor.
Once he determined that Lawn Doctor was the right fit, Kramer worked with the development team to determine a growth strategy that would take advantage of the brand’s room for expansion in Kramer’s hometown on Long Island, where he still lives with his family.
“I started with one territory and quickly expanded into my second. My plan after a couple of years was to assess where I was at and begin ramping up other neighboring areas as it made sense to do so,” Kramer said. “This strategy isn’t for everyone, but it has certainly paid off for me.”
Growth strategies vary by owner, but Lawn Doctor’s vice president of franchise development, Eric Martin, says the concept is built to accommodate an aggressive plan for the right investors.
“Our owners have come to us for a variety of different reasons,” Martin said. “Many want to find something that they can own for themselves for a minimal investment, some people are looking for a business they can run with their family, some people are just looking for an opportunity that will let them work outdoors and from a home office. Ted is an owner who came to us because he wanted to build something big that would support his family and that he could manage on his own terms. Lawn Doctor is a great opportunity for an investor like Ted. Because of our minimal infrastructure and the way our territories are laid out, the most ambitious owners can scale up relatively quickly and very successfully. Ted is a perfect example of that.”
Kramer has continued to build out his operation, which is on track to hit $1.6 million in revenue this year. Kramer says he plans to continue growing for the next few years, but not forever.
“My goal right now is to hit $2 million in revenue,” he said. “That puts me, my family and my team where we want to be. At this stage, I don’t intend to grow much more than $2 million because I don’t want to hire additional employees and keep growing the business just for the sake of growth. I believe that $2 million puts us in a perfect spot, but who knows, I could change my thoughts down the road.”
As Kramer nears that goal, he says he continues to rely on the strengths of the Lawn Doctor system as much as his own business savvy.
“The key benefit of working with Lawn Doctor, which is exactly what I was looking for from a franchise in the first place, is that they give you a playbook that covers A–Z,” he said. “It is completely comprehensive. Whatever aspects of the business are not your strengths, you just defer to the playbook. I have a strong advertising and business background, but I knew nothing about lawns coming into this. So I focused myself on sales and marketing a bit more than the average franchisee, and when it came to lawns, I just followed the model to a T. That strategy has moved the operation from a small home office to an enormous facility with a warehouse. It’s been immensely satisfying to watch that happen."