After years of working in franchise operations at Weed Man USA, Chris and Jennifer Lemcke are pioneering Canada’s first robomowing franchise – TurfBot.
As robomowers gain popularity, the Lemckes wanted to get in on the ground floor and use their expertise in lawn services to offer a new kind of mowing.
“It’s big in Europe,” says Chris Lemcke, technical director of Turf Holdings and Weed Man USA. “We’ve seen it and we’ve been seeing it more often. There’s a lot to be made of the fact that there’s no labor other than the installation and obviously everyone’s pretty well aware of the difficulty of finding labor nowadays, and the cost of labor, so that’s what intrigues us.”
The couple started TurfBot in Durham, Ontario, where they are master franchisors for Weed Man USA. Lemcke says the new company will be similar since Weed Man already services lawns, so the couple can use their expertise to branch into robotic mowing services. However, TurfBot will be a completely separate brand and operation.
The company just got its start in late August, so it’s still in the pilot test stage, but Lemcke plans to fully launch in 2020. “We just want to be sure that, like anything with the franchising side of things, the systems are set up. We already do it within our Weed Man organization and with franchises, it’s all about getting systems up and running.”
Lemcke has been getting his feet wet doing installs and learning the ins and outs of installations. “It’s not an easy, ‘Just install it and let it run,’” he says.
There’s a lot of tweaking after installing the wiring, and checking to make sure the robomowers are operating properly in the beginning stages, he says, adding that it takes several weeks to ensure that the robots are hitting all areas of the lawn.
“There’s that puppy stage of training to get it to work properly and there’s a lot of learning curves,” he says.
In the future, when the company is up and running, Lemcke plans to offer tech field training on installations and problem-solving, as well as marketing and other support.
In terms of staffing, Lemcke is still working on the numbers, but says most of the labor will be up front during the installation period. “If we’re doing 100 installs, we might need two crews,” he says. “If people are calling in, they want it done as soon as possible. They’re not going to want to wait three weeks to get an installation done.”
Once that initial installation is completed, the company will have employees work on services like spring cleanups, fall cleanups, gardening and trimming and edging where the robots can’t reach.
Lemcke is still working out the financials as well. The upfront cost of the robots are a big expense in the first year or two, but then profitability really starts to go up, he says. “We’re not sure how it will all work out but some of the options would be we would become like a leasing company for the robots,” he says.
The company plans to start offering franchises by the middle of 2019 and target selling in 2020.
“You don’t have to worry about setting the robot up. Basically, we come out and do everything.” Chris Lemcke, TurfBot co-founder
Selling the service.
Lemcke is expecting the customer base to be mainly older homeowners who can’t mow their own lawns and families who simply don’t have the time for yard work.
TurfBot would own the mowers and basically rent them out to homeowners, who would keep the robomowers on their properties.
“It basically becomes a service where you don’t have to worry about it,” he says. “You just pay a monthly fee and you don’t have to worry if technology changes. You don’t have to worry about setting the robot up. Basically, we come out and do everything.”
Robomowing deviates somewhat from the standard perception of lawn care, Lemcke says. People are used to seeing stripes in the lawn once their property has been serviced, but robomowers won’t be able to provide that.
There’s an environmental edge to the mowers as well since the mowers are entirely electric. That helps with the noise factor as well, which Lemcke thinks will be a huge selling point.
To play up the environmental factor, Lemcke says the company would offer services like electric mowing in areas robomowers can’t reach, like steep grades or ditches.
“The big thing that I find more than anything is it’s so loud usually when guys are out mowing the lawn,” he says. “In the morning you’ll be sitting having a coffee and they come by on a Saturday and all of a sudden there they go and it’s VRRRRRR. Whereas this thing, you could sit out and have a coffee and not even know that it’s going. It’s just, ‘Oh, look, the mower’s out going today.’”