Inside Track: Hines plants stake on digital side of lawns

After working in the family lawn care business for years, entrepreneur creates international digital platform for services.
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College didn’t take twice for Kendall Hines, but he learned that focus and salesmanship are very beneficial in the real world. Courtesy David Burgess/Studio 616

They call him “Kendall, the lawn man,” and with good reason.

Kendall Hines, who is the owner of Lawnbot, a technology platform for lawn companies to sell their services, has spent practically all of his life providing consumers with “green, thick, weed-free lawns.”

Hines’ parents were the owners of a Lawn Doctor franchise, a small lawn care company that fertilizes lawns and sprays weeds, among other services. The family business treated residential and commercial lawns throughout East Grand Rapids, Caledonia, Byron Center, Wyoming, Rockford, Ada and Grandville.

Hines and his brothers grew up in the business, with all of them working there until Hines eventually purchased it from his parents. He later sold it to one of his brothers.

“I was out there doing the lawns at 8 years old, literally spreading the fertilizer, spraying the weeds, handing out fliers and putting signs in the ground after the treatment was done on lawns that read, ‘Stay off the lawn until it is dry,’” he said. “They were big properties, too; they were an acre-and-a-half big. I did everything short of going to the bank and depositing checks.”

Hines continued to work with his parents’ business until he went off to college at Siena Heights University in Adrian. But he realized quickly that college was not for him.

“I basically partied too much in college,” he said. “There is a saying that says, ‘If you are going to fail, fail fast,’ so that you can get onto the next thing. And I did that, extremely fast. I was there for two years and I just had too much fun, partying too much. It was also right around the time of the financial crash, 2008-2009, so it was very expensive to go to school. Between the financial situation and my grades, which weren’t that great because I wasn’t taking my classes seriously, I left. I left that school in Siena Heights because I probably wasn’t ready to go to school.”

 

KENDALL HINES
Organization:
Lawnbot
Position: Owner
Age: 28
Birthplace: Grand Rapids
Residence: Byron Center
Family: Wife, Masha Hines; son, Axel Hines
Business/Community Involvement: Mentoring young up and coming entrepreneurs and inspiring others to be the strongest version of themselves.
Biggest Career Break: “Growing my family’s business, Lawn Doctor, to 2,000 clients — and allowing my parents to retire.”

 

Hines returned home and after a few months of thinking about his future, he returned to what he had been doing for practically his entire life — working at Lawn Doctor.

“It was something in me that said go,” he said. “I didn’t ask for any permission, I basically just acted as if I owned the business and said, ‘This is my company.’ I just presented myself to the public as if it was my company. I just took the reins and just went. I just had so much ambition and focus at that time. I was done being a loser and being mediocre. I wanted to be successful. I started cutting negative people out of my life. I have a very tight circle now. A lot of people in my circle are fellow business owners.”

Hines said he began writing down goals he wanted to accomplish with Lawn Doctor in the next 10 years, categorized by months.

“It would say, ‘Where are we now? We have 90 customers. What is our average customer value? How much did we do in sales that year? What do we want the following year to look like? We want that year to have 300 customers and $100,000 in sales and an 80% retention rate. How are we going to get there? Networking, local engagements, lawn signs.’ Those were some of the little metrics we would use to judge ourselves by.”

Because Lawn Doctor is not a mowing company, Hines said whenever he would see a mowing company crew, he would network with them and introduce himself and his business, trying to understand ways they could be a resource to each other. He also established a social media presence for the firm.

Eventually, his path led back to school. He enrolled in Michigan State University’s agricultural technology program. The classes were held at what is now known as Calvin University. He was working at Lawn Doctor during the day and going to classes at night.

“I figured that if I am all in, I needed to learn all about the science and the different types of soils,” he said. “During classes, they would talk about the micro-organisms of the soil and how that impacts the amount of fertilizer. We learned a lot about soil composition: sand, silt and clay. (The classes) were very detailed, which was really important, but I happened to know a lot of that stuff by working with my dad.”

Lawn Doctor started to grow exponentially. Hines said it went from having 90 customers to 400 customers, and the growth continued to the point where his phone kept on ringing in class.

The demand for Lawn Doctor services was evident in the number of phone calls and online requests, so Hines faced a crossroad — either continue classes or focus entirely on growing Lawn Doctor.

He chose the latter.

“It was like, ‘Do I pay MSU $10,000 or do I go make $100,000?’” he said. “It was an easy choice to make. The top thing on every business’s financial statement is sales. Like, if you don’t have sales and revenues, you don’t have a business. Every business needs sales to grow and that was what I was great at. There are no college classes that can teach you persistence, to keep going when everyone is telling you, you can’t, or that is not a good idea, or no one is going to buy it.”

In the early 2000s, when his parents where operating Lawn Doctor, they had a small group of clients. Hines and Henry Eggers officially purchased the franchise in 2018.

Now the business has grown its customer base to over 2,000 homes and businesses, including the Gerald R. Ford International Airport. The company also has a fleet of a dozen trucks and a 5,000-square-foot warehouse from which to operate.

As the business grew, Hines noticed something else. He said Lawn Doctor received “thousands of requests” for quotes via phone and online, and he thought there had to be a better way for people to go on their phones and purchase lawn services.

Hines said he became obsessed with the notion and began building a website, occasionally googling how to add things to it like videos in HTML format. The site was the genesis for Lawnbot.

“When I built the initial version of Lawnbot and tested it and got my first sale, I was like ‘Oh, my God, it works! Someone put their credit card information in and they bought services,’” he said. “On the front end on the website it looks simple, but on the back end it is so much work. I have a lot of respect for people who build large technology platforms.”

Hines was putting a lot of his energy into Lawnbot, so his brother, Jordan Hines, managed Lawn Doctor last year.

“My business partner, Henry, said to me, ‘I can’t be in business with you while you are working on Lawnbot. You can’t be half in and half out.’ So, I started thinking about it more, and my brother and his girlfriend came to me and said, ‘Hey, Kendall, we see that you are busy with this Lawnbot thing. Have you thought about selling Lawn Doctor because, clearly, you are not spending enough time here.’”

Hines and Eggers eventually sold Lawn Doctor to Jordan Hines and his girlfriend, Angelica Hough, in January. Hines now is officially four months into Lawnbot. The firm operates in 32 states and 65 companies are using the platform.

Within the next year, Hines said he hopes to have 300 to 400 companies using his platform. In the long-term, he said he hopes to have 10,000 companies using the online service.

“I have lawn care companies in the United Kingdom and in Canada reaching out to me because they have lawn care companies there, too,” he said. “So, it is not just the United States, it is the entire green industry.”

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