Company Name: NaturaLawn of America
Owner: Mike Weiner
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Years in Business: 12
Geographical Coverage: Northern suburbs of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Types of Clients: Primarily residential, with less than 1 percent commercial clients
Services Rendered: Organic-based lawn care (including a pesticide-free option), aeration, overseeding, and a 100 percent natural flea and tick program
Mike Weiner, franchise owner of NaturaLawn of America in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, believes that solid customer service plays a vital role in the success of his business. In fact, the customer connection was one of the reasons he chose to buy into the NaturaLawn of America franchise. “NaturaLawn was chosen because of its approach (to integrated pest management or IPM), awesome organic-based fertilizers and the customer service focus of the company,” Weiner notes.
“I truly believe customer service should always come first,” he emphasizes. “This may require extra explanations, resetting expectations and sometimes doing something at no cost, even if it’s not your fault. I do believe that we work for [the customers] and making them happy is the only way we stay in business.”
Weiner credits the CEO of NaturaLawn, Phil Catron, for this model of going the extra mile, which Catron calls the two-scoop service—essentially, giving the customer more than what is expected. According to www.naturalawn.com, one example of the two-scoop service is treating customers as neighbors rather than numbers. For example, technicians introduce themselves and say hello before giving a lawn treatment, clean up leaves from the driveway, sidewalk and porch areas after completion, and leave a personal note, including tips to see the most benefit from a treatment.
In fact, customer service begins before any technicians are dispatched. Catron states that conversation is the first step. “Our conversation begins with us asking customers about what concerns or improvements they would like to see with their lawn,” he says. Following the initial conversation, a laboratory soil test is administered, which helps to determine the needs and treatment options for an individual client’s lawn rather than taking a cookie-cutter approach.
Not only does a study of the soil provide a great deal of information about the health of the soil, but it also ensures that each client receives a treatment tailored to his or her specific lawn needs. The test can determine so much that Weiner calls the soil probe one of his favorite pieces of equipment: “We use it not only for soil tests, but also to check thatch, how much soil there is, how compacted the soil is and how moist the soil is,” he says. Following a soil test, technicians can provide clients with different options for lawn treatments.
“Our lawn care technicians primarily use LESCO push spreaders and Turfco T3100 ride-on spreaders. We chose the T3100 after trying a few other brands because of its ease of training, use and repair. Our flea and tick control technicians use the STIHL SR 450 [backpack] blower/sprayer,” according to Weiner.
Trained and Empowered Technicians
Catron describes NaturaLawn of America’s IPM approach as focusing on three basic principles—prevention, monitoring and controlling. He believes this approach helps put more control in the hands of the technician.
“Rather than simply going out onto lawns and applying control materials, whether needed or not, by teaching and following these three principles, it allows for technicians to utilize and practice their knowledge and skills, which many times, helps prevent and/or control specific pest problems without the use of a control material,” he says.
“Once these practices are put into place, technicians first identify what can be done to prevent a recurrence of the problem. We want to solve the problem by figuring out the underlying issues first and correcting them rather than simply treating the symptom of the problem.”
Catron notes that the results are monitored and shared with the client. If there continues to be any issues, NaturaLawn consults with the clients and advises them about the use of control materials, such as a biological or biorational spot treatment, rather than a blanket treatment of the entire property.
In fact, Catron doesn’t endorse the traditional lawn care practice of see and spray. He credits NaturaLawn of America’s IPM for minimizing the use of control materials. “The implementation of IPM puts the decision-making back into the hands of the technicians and helps remove the irresponsible use of control materials,” he says. “[It’s] not an easy task as it takes ongoing and continuous training, and that’s a commitment most companies do not make.”
Catron adds that providing additional training to technicians is key in the use of control materials. NaturaLawn of America provides continuous and rigorous training to technicians to empower them to make decisions and provide safe applications. “This, in conjunction with our IPM system, allows for a much more judicious use of any control materials, whether they be biological, biorational or synthetic. Additionally, NaturaLawn uses only those products that have minimal impact on the environment,” Catron concludes.
Two Treatment Options
NaturaLawn of America offers two treatment programs—the Alternative Program and the Natural Alternative Program. According to the company website, the Alternative organic-based program includes, but is not limited to, natural organic-based fertilization, slow-release nutrients to promote deep root growth of grass, 100 percent natural soil conditioner to replenish depleted soils, selected weed controls, crabgrass reducer, insect controls and specifically formulated lawn care treatments using its proprietary products. NaturaLawn does not include phosphorus in its proprietary products and does not apply it unless it is required for strengthening root systems during seeding.
The Natural Alternative Program is similar to the Alternative Program, but does not use control materials. Catron says the Natural Alternative Program “relies more on building the soil profile, correcting soil deficiencies, and creating a thicker, healthier turf through annual aeration and overseeding. It is our 100 percent pesticide-free program.”
While the Natural Alternative Program stipulates that no pesticides or weed controls are applied to the lawn, a client can specifically request treatment, although there may be an additional charge. NaturaLawn of America still reserves the right to refuse to apply pesticides if deemed inappropriate, however.
Catron adds that spot control and pesticide use are often unnecessary because of the formula of NaturaLawn’s fertilizers, which help provide insect and disease control. NaturaLawn of America uses proprietary fertilizers that are either organic-based or natural organic. Catron notes, “NaturaLawn defines organics as a material made from something that was once living, such as plants or animals.”
Weiner, the Pittsburgh franchise owner, views NaturaLawn of America on the forefront of natural lawn care. In fact, Catron mentions that NaturaLawn of America is introducing a comprehensive 100 percent organic weed control later in 2019.
Weiner is noticing more companies taking a natural approach using IPM, and anticipates changes in the future that align with NaturaLawn’s new approach to weed control. “The hope is that, soon, there will be a natural, effective and cost-efficient weed control that has a low impact on the environment, and is safe for humans and pets,” he says.
For Weiner, success with NaturaLawn of America comes through dedication to customer service and support via an individual approach to each client’s lawn, trained and competent technicians, and an emphasis on natural lawn care and treatment. With the new year giving way to NaturaLawn of America’s 100 percent organic weed control, Weiner’s hope of a more environmentally friendly weed control is well on its way.
Angie Mellor teaches communications and writing classes at Western Technical College in La Crosse, Wisconsin, while freelance writing and editing.