In Mike Mary’s 34-year career in the book-and-magazine business, he worked his way up from a truck driver to a supervisor to a sales manager to a VP of marketing. That path provided Mary a wealth of experience working with people in a wide range of professional relationships. When Mary finally left the book-and-magazine business nearly a decade ago, it was his experience working with people that he applied most effectively to his next businesses venture, Lawn Doctor.
“In my previous career, I traveled all over the country,” Mary said. “I worked with store managers and owners as a salesman, I trained, hired, and fired people as a manager, and I worked with just about every level of employee from hourly workers to executives. I saw a lot of things in the business world that I liked and a lot that I didn’t like, so I felt very well prepared to run my own business.”
Nine years ago, Mary found the perfect opportunity to run his own business when a friend of his offered to sell Mary his Lawn Doctor business.
“A friend of mine had owned a Lawn Doctor in Knoxville for years,” Mary said. “We’d always gone to church together, so I got to hear a lot about the business. I’d never considered franchising, nor had I ever really given lawn care much attention, but my friend loved the business and it seemed interesting. Unfortunately, my friend hit a rough patch in his personal life with a death in the family, and he was looking to get out of the business. The company I was working for was not doing great, and I was eager to find something new, so I decided to take a look at my friend’s Lawn Doctor business.”
Mary started going out with his friend on service calls, meeting clients and learning the business. It wasn’t long before Mary was sold on the opportunity.
“As I got out there and saw the business for myself, I became excited about it,” Mary said. “The work was interesting, and most importantly, I was meeting and talking to people, which I love. I saw a great opportunity for me to work closely with people and really take advantage of my sales background.”
Mary bought the Lawn Doctor business from his friend, including three territories and an existing staff, which Mary would eventually expand.
“I jumped right in,” Mary said. “There was a learning curve, but I tackled it quickly. I spent the first year listening, reading, and studying. One I felt I held a strong command of the operations, I started hiring people that I felt were well suited to run the business.”
Since Mary took over his three Lawn Doctor territories, he’s doubled both the employee headcount and the business’s sales volume. Mary attributes that growth to his leadership style, which prioritizes service and culture.
“One of the first things I did was put together a company policy manual,” Mary said. “That was essential in establishing the culture that our company has now, and it provided a set of guidelines that even I’m held accountable for, which helps me lead by example. My goal from day one was to create a place where my employees could be happy and thrive. I believe that’s my primary responsibility as a boss, to serve my staff.”
Mary says his experience in the business world helped him avoid some of the more common mistakes bosses make when taking on a new staff.
“I worked with so many people in so many different capacities in my previous career,” Mary said. “I know what works and what doesn’t. You can’t go into a situation beating your chest and talking about what a great boss you are because people won’t follow you. You’ve got to build trust and demonstrate that you know what you are doing. You’ve got to set goals and expectations and follow through on them so that your employees see that you are holding yourself to the same standards you’re holding them to. It comes down to trust, reliability, and team spirit. Those are the things I’m trying to build with my employees, and in that respect, I’m here to serve them.”
Lawn Doctor has provided Mary a chance to flex his muscles as a leader, and Mary continues to take full advantage of the opportunity, with plans to continue growing his business throughout the foreseeable future.
“I started with Lawn Doctor nine years ago, but I wish I’d started 20 years ago,” Mary said. “It’s a great business, and it’s something that I’ve been able to find great success in even without any experience in franchising or lawn care. There’s a lot to learn when you get started, but Lawn Doctor is great about getting you set up with all the information and materials you need. If you’ve got some business sense and you follow their model, you’re going to do well."