The second time Jonathan Bankert decided to open a franchise, he knew exactly where to look. By then, the franchise broker maintained an inventory of roughly 250 franchise brands that he would pair with prospective franchisees who came to him looking for an opportunity that matched their interests, experience and capital. But the first time he decided to open a franchise, Bankert hadn’t yet become a franchise broker. In fact, he says he didn’t know the profession existed. If he had, he says he would have never bought into the global sandwich brand that marked his first foray into the franchisee side of the industry.
“It wasn’t the right personality match for me,” said Bankert, who had decided to purchase a franchise after working as the director of franchising for a small fast-casual franchisor in Hanover, Pennsylvania. “I knew the industry, and I wanted to own something for myself, something to build equity.”
Bankert learned quickly that the franchise he’d chosen for his first business would not work for him in the long-term, but he says the experience did not turn him off from franchising. “It wasn’t the right fit, but I still knew I wanted to own something, and I trusted franchising was the way to do it” he said.
Bankert sold his franchise, and after a short stint in law enforcement, (“I was looking for something less stressful than sandwiches,” he jokes), he learned about franchise consultancy, a profession he suspected he might be uniquely well-suited for, given his experience on both sides of the industry and his firsthand knowledge of the importance of franchisor-franchisee alignment.
Bankert has been working as a franchise consultant for about two years now. Last year, he and his wife Eleanor decided it was time to take a second shot at ownership, so they dipped into Bankert’s portfolio and started vetting concepts. It wasn’t long before they focused on Lawn Doctor.
“We pulled about seven brands that we were interested in and started researching them,” he said. “Lawn Doctor was hands down the best. Everything about it made the most sense for us.”
Bankert says the lawn-care franchise’s low investment, wealth of corporate support, home-based and seasonal operations, and strong marketing checked off all the boxes he and Eleanor were looking for, but it was the validation from existing owners that convinced the pair that Lawn Doctor was the franchise for them.
“I spoke to a number of owners, and without exception, they confirmed everything we were excited about,” he said. “They were making money, they were getting support from corporate, the marketing was working. I even spoke to someone who had left the system. I expected to hear about how it wasn’t for her or why she couldn’t make it work, but she was moving on for personal reasons, and she her husband had worked the business for something like 30 years. To me, that was the biggest selling point.”
Soon after determining Lawn Doctor was a great potential fit, Bankert met the brand’s vice president of franchise development, Eric Martin, at a convention hosted by Bankert’s consultancy. Martin told Bankert about an open Lawn Doctor territory that happened to be available in his area. Bankert said he had just the prospects in mind.
Bankert went out to a Lawn Doctor discovery day earlier this year, and he and Eleanor signed a contract to own two territories shortly after. They begin training in June and plan to be open for business in July.
Bankert says he plans to grow his Lawn Doctor franchise to eventually encompass four or five routes, at which point his son Keith will take over the business. In the meantime, Keith will start as the business’s operations manager and Eleanor will help with the office responsibilities while keeping a part time job as an ultrasound technologist.
That ability to run Lawn Doctor without fully leaving their existing careers was a major factor in the family’s decision to buy into the brand, says Bankert.
“We wanted to find something that would allow us to work together, from home, before both of us left our current careers,” Bankert said.
As the Bankert family gears up to open their first territories, Martin says the Lawn Doctor team is excited to start working with them.
“We have owners who come from all sorts of backgrounds, but few of them have the industry insight that Jonathan does,” Martin said. “He knows exactly how valuable our model is, and I have no doubt he’s going to work it beautifully. Jonathan and his wife have a lot of flexibility in their current career, which will allow for most of their time to be focused on building the brand. We can’t wait to help them grow the business.”
Now that he’s becoming a franchisee again, Bankert says he’s excited to return to that side of the business.
“Franchising gives people the opportunity to build something without the uncertainty and difficulty of starting a business from scratch, and that’s exactly what we want. We want something we can grow. We want to be able to look at our business and say ‘this is mine,’ and we’re excited to find that with Lawn Doctor.”