Behind the beard; Inside the Jim’s franchise system


Inside Franchise Business: Jim Penman, founder of Jim's Group franchise Q & AOne of Australia’s most iconic franchise brands, Jim’s Mowing has branched out over a number of years, incorporating a series of home service, automotive and real estate offerings.

While diversification has brought new opportunities and market share, for founder, Jim Penman, his roots are still grounded in the group’s first love, the great outdoors.

Here, the man behind one of the most successful franchise groups in the country shares his advice and insights on the current outdoor service market, and what it takes to become a profitable franchisee.

Q: How competitive is the home and gardens services sector?

A: For us, it’s hardly competitive at all. In the past year alone we’ve knocked back more than 58,000 leads for mowing and gardening work, compared with 38,000 the previous year and 24,000 in the year before that. We’ve also been training and encouraging our franchisees to charge more. Though we’re growing, we simply can’t grow fast enough to keep up with the demand.

Q: How do you mark your brand out from the crowd?

A: We put a lot of attention on signage, setting up an automated system to check each trailer every two years. But our main focus has been on improving customer service. By an automated system that monitors complaints and sends out surveys, with appropriate rewards and sanctions, we’ve greatly improved our level of service in recent times. The effect is obvious.

Q: What is your strongest element of franchisee support?

A: We’ve found three elements are most important. The first is meetings, which are held about every six weeks. The second is fast and helpful response to franchisee phone calls. And the third is that the franchisor phones each franchisee regularly, at least monthly but ideally weekly. In all this, the personal relationship seems to matter far more than business advice. We monitor franchisors and figure out what works through annual, confidential franchisee surveys.

Q: What can a franchisee expect a typical day to look like?

A: Most of our jobs are domestic and quite small, so a franchisee typically does quite a few. Even though we’re called ‘Jim’s Mowing’, we strongly encourage franchisees to look for extras such as gardening, landscaping, rubbish removal and gutter clearing, which typically pay better hourly rates and reduce the time spent in travel. We also counsel them to take more work close to home and sell off clients further away, to steadily reduce travel time.

Q: What skills do you seek in a franchisee?

A: The first and most important is a passion for customers and strong aversion to letting them down. This applies to the work done, but even more to time-related actions such as phoning back fast and turning up on time. It’s also vital to have a self-critical attitude that accepts guidance and is always looking for ways to improve. Loving the job and the outdoors is also important. You don’t do well at a job you don’t enjoy. Specific skills such as pruning are less vital. They’re easily learnt.

Q: What growth opportunities are there for successful franchisees?

A: Many franchisees work on what we call ‘splits’, building up customers and selling the surplus to new franchisees, typically netting $20,000 to $25,000 each time. We also encourage them to employ people, with several now turning over millions of dollars a year. And we are always looking for capable leaders. One franchisee bought a franchise in 2014, then became a franchisor, then took over the dog wash division, and is now pioneering our growth into the UK.

Q: How long is a term?

A: Twenty years, but all our contracts have a right to renew at the end of a term, so effectively eternal.

Q: What is the cost of a franchise?

A: A mowing franchise is around $30,000 to $40,000, with equipment. Other divisions are more. Some, such as handyman, where the surplus of work is especially great, are less.

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