How Dave Koone Applies His Servant Leadership Philosophy to Lawn Doctor Ownership
How Dave Koone Applies His Servant Leadership Philosophy to Lawn Doctor Ownership

The Indianapolis, Indiana franchisee has combined his education, 15 years in nonprofit youth development and restaurant ownership experience to lead his Lawn Doctor team by example.

Not every Lawn Doctor franchisee holds a master’s degree in philosophy. In fact, that may just be Dave Koone.

Koone studied theology, philosophy and adolescent psychology at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. After graduation, he began working with the Christian youth organization Young Life, establishing new chapters in various parts of the county and even working with expatriate kids in Singapore for four years.

“In the beginning, I just wanted to impact kids’ lives,” said Koone. “Over the years, I grew to love training and leading others, investing in people’s lives and helping them develop both personally and professionally.”

After he got back from Singapore, Koone headed to Northwestern University in Illinois to gain his Master’s degree in philosophy and theological studies. He also continued to work with Young Life on the North Shore of Chicago, rounding out a total of 15 years with the organization. 

In 2007, a Young Life member’s father who was a multi-unit Little Caesars franchisee invited Koone to partner with him to seize on a new opportunity. “He saw what I’d done professionally, and he thought that my strengths and experience would translate well to building and operating restaurants,” said Koone. 

Over the span of four years, the business partners built 10 new Little Caesars stores around central Indiana. This was Koone’s first taste of franchise success, as three of their stores generated the highest-volume grand opening sales in the history of the brand. As planned, the partners sold the stores in a multi-million dollar deal after five years.

Koone was financially comfortable enough from the sale that he took his time exploring options for his next venture. Now a big fan of the franchise business model, he looked into more than 100 different brands across various industries, made phone calls to franchisees, attended discovery days and met with corporate teams.

After some research, he set his sights on the service industry. “I loved the service industry because I could acquire and protect large enough territories that I would not have to be concerned about competitors at all,” Koone explained. “When you have a brick and mortar business, you are bound by that building and the length of the lease—for better or worse. This is the main reason we moved away from restaurants.”

Koone found Lawn Doctor through a franchise consultant. He was particularly attracted to the brand’s low investment of $100,015 to $116,065, so he headed to Discovery Day in New Jersey. Impressed by his interactions with the leadership team, he went on to visit a number of Lawn Doctor franchisees, including top performers in the system, and had several phone conversations with various owners.

“Shortly before deciding to invest in Lawn Doctor, I nearly spent $1.5 million on a group of restaurants. I’ve since seen those locations bought and sold for less than half of that valuation,” said Koone. “It only cost me around $150,000 for my Lawn Doctor territories. You can’t do much better than that when starting a business. Plus, Lawn Doctor is a strong, national brand.”

As a service provider, Koone loves the flexibility that his three Indianapolis-area Lawn Doctor territories and multiple vehicles afford. “There can be 50 more lawn care companies around here and it wouldn't hurt us,” he said. “If someone were beating us with marketing dollars in one town, we would target our marketing somewhere else. We’d spend the money on pay-per-click and other marketing and target the areas we want.”

Now in his fifth year of Lawn Doctor ownership, Koone has watched his business’s revenue nearly double every year—a welcome development compared to his restaurant experience, where he’d see sales decline drastically after a grand opening. “We could lose 15% of our Lawn Doctor customers and still sell five times that in new business every year,” he said. “You just have to be someone who has grit and can grind it out. But for the return on investment, it’s certainly worth it.”

As a natural people person, Koone enjoys the community of franchisees he has found in Lawn Doctor. “One thing I really appreciate is that there is a great group of franchisees willing to share ideas and root for the success of others,” he said. “I’m on the phone with a franchisee friend to share best practices every few days. I’ve found that with other businesses, there's a competitive feel among owners, but with Lawn Doctor, there are so many franchisees willing to do whatever they can to help each other to be successful.”

Lawn Doctor has also presented Koone with the opportunity to reconnect with the dedicated leadership philosophy he practiced at Young Life. “It’s not just, ‘Here’s how to spray weeds’—it’s also, ‘Let’s read a book about leadership together,’ so that they’re growing personally and feel that there’s a career path and opportunity to become better,” he said. “Someone who gets that next-level state certification can both earn more money and be ‘the Lawn Doctor.’ When you master something, there’s a great sense of accomplishment. I love to invest in people and help them reach their goals.”

Ultimately, the values Koone developed through studying philosophy and working in youth development have directly translated to his work with Lawn Doctor. “I recently spent an entire day power-washing vans and equipment. I could have said, ‘Hey man, you know what to do, I’ll be in my air-conditioned office doing my thing.’ But instead, I often choose to spend time on properties or getting dirty in the shop with the guys. I believe in servant leadership—not only in serving my team, but also helping them see that this is how we serve our clients. We serve them with a commitment to excellence, and it’s made all the difference.”