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Weed Man's Terry Kurth Sows Seeds of a Good Life
Franchising and lawn care are a way of life for this Madison, Wis., lawn care professional.
This article originally appeared in InBusiness magazine, Dane County, Wis.
Terry "Weed Man" Kurth's success in the residential landscape business is proof positive that personality, knowing the right people, and a whole lotta moxie can fuel a career.
For it seems Kurth, 58, an area native, has as many stories to tell as he has grass seeds to sow. Perhaps it was the brain fertilizer he received while an elementary school student at St. Mary's of Pine Bluff, where one nun taught sixth, seventh, and eighth grade from one classroom, chalking up a good track record. One of Kurth's classmates became an engineer, creating disc brakes for cars, while another, David Lesar, is now the president and CEO at Halliburton.
"I've done okay," Kurth chuckled. Okay is, obviously, relative. His company, Future Retirement, Inc., dba Weed Man Lawn Care, is thriving, with current revenues of $3 million and a residential client list numbering around 6,500. "We grew 25% (in 2011), and over 20% in 2010," he said.
The company's success disproves the theory that in a tough economy, lawn care is among the first luxury items chopped from household budgets.
"The single biggest asset is the home," he reasoned. "We're kind of like the moat around the castle." Kurth attended UW-Madison in ag engineering, thinking he'd have a career in sewage treatment before realizing calculus was required.
Once he switched his major to agronomy, his career took off. After two years at Nakoma Golf Club, he became the golf course superintendent at Peninsula State Park in Door County. That opportunity led him to Scotts Company in Ohio, in the Pro Turf division, traveling the country and conducting seminars for turf pros. All the while, he was moonlighting for Barefoot Grass Lawn Service.
In 1977, he decided to purchase a Barefoot franchise back on his home turf in Madison. "I started the business with my parents' phone number, and made a number of my first sales calls sitting on my mom's washer," he said. Then, there was the time his wife was in labor &brkbar; "I'm pushing on the small of her back while my left hand was on the phone as I'm dialing potential customers," he laughed. "Failure just wasn't an option. I'd have another mouth to feed," he said, praising his wife for her understanding.
When Tru Green Chemlawn (owned by ServiceMaster) bought out Barefoot Grass in 1997, Kurth balked. He'd grown his franchise into a $3 million business with 12,000 clients, and wasn't about to give up his passion. After some legal wrangling, "let's just say they made me gainfully employed," he admitted. The settlement included a three-year non-compete clause for his markets, which he honored, during which he sub-franchised elsewhere around the state and the country.
By 2001, Weed Man and Kurth were beautifying Madison once again. He still holds franchising agreements in the Milwaukee market, Appleton/Green Bay, and Rockford, and a minority stake in the Minneapolis area. Kurth doesn't just enjoy life, he consumes it.
Birthdays are not just celebrations, they're events. For his 40th birthday party, he invited a comedian up from Chicago who roasted his friends with material he helped write. (Word is, they're all still friends.) In 1999, a chance conversation with a total stranger at a Yankees game in New York led to an instant friendship that resulted in rare tickets to the Ron Dayne Heisman presentation at New York's Downtown Athletic Club.
"Less than a hundred people get those tickets," Kurth said, still somewhat in disbelief. The band America played at his 50th birthday party. Yes, America &brkbar; Horse with No Name, Ventura Highway. THAT America. All thanks to a friend who had been a former manager for the band Cheap Trick. "It cost a lot to do it," Kurth said, "but they don't put luggage racks on hearses for a reason."
No word yet what's in store for his 60th, but no doubt, it's a highly anticipated invitation. Kurth is about 30% retired these days, and still owns about 80% of the company that his son, Andy, now runs. When he's not selling Weed Man franchises and mentoring franchisees, he's enjoying his wife, four children, and seven grandchildren; Badger sports; and escaping to homes in Manitowish Waters and Alberta, Canada.
With a lot of life left to live, it's clear Kurth will go out with no regrets. "I have had and done and seen more than I ever thought I would."