“Today the lawn, tomorrow the world.”
This could be the slogan of Steve Sinodinos, CEO of Clintar Commercial Outdoor Services in Markham, Ont. Clintar, founded in 1973 to care for the lawns and parking lots of big commercial firms, happily assumes the messy outdoor jobs clients would rather contract out.
Cutting grass and clearing snow seem unlikely routes to business success. But by embracing franchising—licensing its business model to local entrepreneurs—Clintar has grown to become Canada’s largest commercial landscaper, serving retailers like Loblaw and Lowe’s, and property managers like Cadillac Fairview and Bentall Kennedy.
Today Clintar has 20 franchisees from Halifax to Vancouver. It manages more than 5,000 client sites and employs more than 1,500 people (including franchisees’ workers). “We look at ourselves like we’re really one company,” says Sinodinos. Head office manages training programs and offers a coaching program and discounted bookkeeping services to franchisees, and manages the national accounts. “We sometimes call it a quasi-franchise,” he says. “We do a lot more for our franchisees than McDonald’s.”
To enhance that culture, Sinodinos, who joined the company five years ago, established two advisory boards. An operational board, comprising 10 franchisees, meets monthly to discuss nuts-and-bolts issues such as equipment purchases. Sinodinos sits on the strategic board, meeting quarterly with six of his most experienced franchisees. “They keep me honest,” he says. “They bring new problems from customers and keep me focused.”
There’s a third board, too—this one focused explicitly on client needs. Twice a year, Sinodinos chairs a customer advisory board meeting to discuss issues and opportunities with a rotating group of half a dozen client executives (“the people who sign contracts,” he explains). Such meetings have inspired Clintar to move into new businesses (such as window cleaning) and enhance its sustainability initiatives.
Clintar also tracks customer satisfaction, surveying both national accounts and local clients through head office to ensure their Net Promoter Score remains high. Sinodinos believes this outreach has helped the company enjoy sales growth of 10% a year.
Sinodinos sees more opportunities ahead. He’s aiming to leverage Clintar’s customer knowledge and disciplined management to become more of a value-added adviser, helping clients reduce their carbon footprints through more eco-friendly practices. The goal is to help customers understand the upfront costs of green projects and calculate the payback over time.
To that end, Clintar has appointed a vice-president of sustainability, developed new fleets of hybrid vehicles and electrically powered lawnmowers, and explored greener methods of recycling, waste reduction and eco-friendly landscaping. It recently became the Canadian supplier for Pennsylvania-based UgMO, whose sensor technology for monitoring soil moisture helps landowners save money by optimizing water use.
This strategy is a double win for Clintar. The business gets to sell new services while tightening customer relationships. “When we bring these to our clients, they say, ‘Thank you,’ ” Sinodinos reports. “We are helping them hit their carbon-reduction targets.”
But Sinodinos is just getting started: on his desk is a folder with 10 new sustainability projects. This work, he says, “will go on forever.”