Welcome back to Leader Talk! In episode 34 we chatted to the amazing Jim Penman, CEO of Jim’s Group, the largest franchise chain in Australia and the most renowned lawn mowing business in the world.
Jim famously started Jim’s mowing decades ago with only $24 to market himself to the world. Now Jim is a globally recognised entrepreneur with over 50 unique trade divisions under his name and over 4,600 individual franchises across four countries. He believes the key to success in a business heavily relies on customer service.
In this chat we spoke about how Jim’s Group came to be, the importance of constantly striving to improve and why you should always go above and beyond for you customers.
Authored by Jim Penman, CEO of Jim’s Group.
I never thought I would become a globally recognised entrepreneur – business wasn’t something I considered. In university I studied history, before gaining my PhD. All throughout university I was mowing lawns, trying to get better every day.
My passion and exhilaration to constantly improve and exceed my clients’ expectations has seen me grow and expand Jim’s Group to what it is today. While it began as Jim’s Mowing, today we have grown to have over 50 different business franchises and close to 4,600 franchise owners. Yet, my determination to always do better and provide greater services has never left – it’s the core of the business.
When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor, a vet and finally a science fiction writer. I had big ambitions to write my own sci-fi novels. Becoming the Founder, Managing Director and CEO of a multifaceted business empire wasn’t my goal. When I began Jim’s Mowing, I had $24 in my marketing budget. Rather than flashy ad campaigns and complex marketing strategies, I focused primarily on the experience and services I was providing.
One day while I was at church, I remember speaking to my friend Peter, who owned a successful advertising agency. I wanted advice about how I should advertise and get my business out there. The advice he gave was that I didn’t need an advertising agency, instead, you simply needed to be interested in the person you’re dealing with. This was the best piece of business advice I have ever received.
From there, my obsession to provide the best services and customer experience only grew. Growing a small business isn’t about that one big break. It’s about all the thousands of little decisions you make along the way. After I finished university, I didn’t have a strong career path – a PhD in history doesn’t give you many options! All I knew how to do really well was mow lawns. So that’s what I did.
I’m not particularly skilled in business. I’m not savvy with numbers, and I consider my personal skills mediocre. But I am obsessed about my customers. My customers are my emotional driver above all reason, and this is why I have succeeded. Nobody cares about their customers more than me. If I can grow my small mowing business into what it is today, any business owner can. Rather than focusing on advertising, focus on the customer. That’s the key to success.
Strive to improve every day
No day in the past 40 years have I ever not asked myself ‘How can I improve?’. Every day, whether it’s Christmas, Easter, or New Year’s Day, I always wake up and consider how I could do things better.
Owning a small business isn’t about one big breakthrough that will enable you to grow and expand. It’s about every decision you make along the way. When I was mowing lawns in university, I was obsessed about constantly finding ways to improve. I was deeply in debt and desperate after completing my PhD. With no prospects in becoming an academic in history or teaching, lawn mowing was all I had.
When I was mowing lawns, I was always asking myself, how can I do this better? How can I help my customers more? How can I expand? My questioning always fell back on the customer and the ways in which I can improve their overall experience.
Rather than simply mowing the lawn, I became fanatic about every detail. I was the first contractor to purchase a brush cutter; I wanted to see the crisp lines between the nature strip and the footpath. I would remove the grass in the cracks in my clients’ driveways. People would often say ‘I never knew my lawn could look so good’. If you truly aim to exceed your customers’ expectations, you will succeed – whether you’re a small or large business.
Today, I handle everything to do with our franchise owners. My primary customers are my franchisees. I constantly consider how I can make my franchisees happier. Whether it’s what training they need to improve or ways in which to help them further develop, I am always the biggest supporter of my franchise owners.
There’s a lot of pressure on my franchise owners. This isn’t for the sake of the customer but for the franchise owners to constantly improve and progress. I know we charge higher prices, because I believe if you do an outstanding job, that deserves proper compensation.
Every franchise owner receives customer surveys and I go through each and every one of them myself. I am really involved with my customers. The thing that upsets me the most is a franchisee doing badly and the thing that delights me the most is a franchisee doing really well. I am constantly checking in with my franchisees (and with over 4,000 of them, that’s a lot!). I call them when it’s their anniversary or birthday, I make sure everything is running smoothly and I offer guidance and advice. Everything I do is for my customers.
While this may sound unreasonable, it’s why I have succeeded. If you’re not passionate about what you do or your customers, it will be difficult for you to grow and expand – your customer will have no reason to stay with you.
Anybody can mow a lawn, but nobody could mow a lawn as well as I could while also providing an unrivalled customer experience. I made lawn mowing an enjoyable experience with outstanding end results and that’s how I grew my client base – not spending big bucks on advertising. This is the same thing I now bring to Jim’s Group. Nobody cares about their customers more than I do, and my customers know it.
Go above and beyond
By focusing on making the customer your priority, the money will follow. There’s no point in chasing after money – it doesn’t lead to long-term business success. By constantly improving and exceeding customers’ expectations, you will continue to grow and expand. It’s that simple.
At Jim’s Group, customer service is our highest priority. We recently hosted a health retreat, and it wasn’t up to our standards. Our customers were unhappy and so were we. It would have been easy for us to simply give them refunds or a discount, but we didn’t. Instead, we are hosting another health retreat for this group, completely free of charge. Not only will they have a great getaway, but we also get to show them just how good our customer service is. Making mistakes is a part of business. Sometimes, you will let a customer down, but it’s how you respond to the situation that truly shows just how much their satisfaction is a priority for you.
If you’re really passionate about what you do, achieving great customer satisfaction shouldn’t be difficult. You don’t just want your customers to be satisfied, you want them to remember you and to come back for more. Go above and beyond. Do everything to the best of your abilities. This doesn’t just mean the service you are providing, but the entire experience. From receiving an enquiry to calling back after the job is completed, every step of the customer journey should be done with pride.
At Jim’s Group, if you are a franchisee you must respond to a customer enquiry within two hours. Waiting the full two hours for us is actually considered waiting too long. Ideally, the minute a customer enquires about your franchise’s services, you need to be replying straight away. If you call them and they don’t pick up, you text them. If they still don’t respond, you email them. We have so many backup plans in motion to ensure that every customer receives an answer quickly and easily.
We do everything possible to amaze our clients – and it works. Over the past few years, we have repeatedly cut back our advertising budget as we just don’t need it. Our work speaks for itself. Trust is imperative and our quick response time alongside our open communication means our customers trust us wholeheartedly. We get the job done and we do it right every time.
I never set out to be an entrepreneur. I have always simply cared about exceeding customers’ expectations every time. From mowing lawns during university to building Jim’s Group to what it is today, customer satisfaction has always been my top priority.
If you care about your customers, you will always be successful. By constantly looking for areas to improve, you will always achieve your business goals. Be passionate about your business and what you do, and ask yourself every day, how can I improve?