Company Boss: TruGreen ‘Didn’t Meet Expectations’

MAINE–(ENEWSPF)–August 30, 2011.

The web site features hundreds of pages of complaints about TruGreen (ChemLawn) lawn care.

The web site features hundreds of pages of complaints about TruGreen (ChemLawn) lawn care.

In a surprisingly candid interview with his hometown newspaper, the Memphis Daily News, the CEO of ServiceMaster offered up yet another scathing commentary on the performance of TruGreen, the company formerly known as ChemLawn:

Saying the long-suffering division of ServiceMaster “didn’t meet expectations,” company CEO Hank Mullany took his own shot at the sales and service tactics of the nation’s largest and most mistrusted chemical lawn care company, saying: “This isn’t complicated stuff we’re talking about here. This is knocking on people’s doors before we service their lawn to let them know we’re there.”

Last year in June New York attorney general Andrew Cuomo announced a year-long investigation that found TruGreen — which serves 2 million customers through 300 branches in the U.S. and Canada — routinely misled customers and applied pesticides and fertilizers without permission.

“My office received complaints that this company was not direct and forthcoming about its contracts, forcing consumers to pay for unwanted services,” Cuomo said in a release when a $55,000 fine was announced. “TruGreen has agreed to revise its contract language and change its practices so that consumers don’t get stuck in a web of misleading and deceptive statements and terms.”

Mullany’s comments would indicate the chemical giant has not yet figured out a way to retain customer levels within the letter of the law. The Memphis Daily News reported “TruGreen revenue for the quarter increased only 1.2 percent compared to a year ago, which Mullany again said was unacceptable. TruGreen also showed a 5.2 percent decline in its customer count with decrease in new unit sales.”

“What we’ve found is that neighborhood selling isn’t as effective as it was in the past,” Mullany said. “We will rebalance our sales and marketing efforts and focus more on profitable sales.”

The outspoken ServiceMaster CEO — who also oversees other company brands including Terminix, American Home Shield, Furniture Medic, AmeriSpec, ServiceMaster Clean and Merry Maids — also admitted that TruGreen’s service levels were not up to par.

“There’s too much variation in service standards from branch to branch,” he told the newspaper. “We compounded the problem by introducing too many initiatives to the field team and then not sticking with them very long.”

Poor and illegal business practices aside, many in the natural lawn movement feel that TruGreen’s declining customer counts also point to an overall shift in the lawn care market — away from toxic pesticides and wasteful chemical fertilizers.

The organic lawn and garden market has been the only market segment with increasing numbers for many years now, according to Bruce Butterfield, who has been tracking this information for nearly four decades for the National Gardening Association.

At TruGreen, the company now offers TruNatural, an annual plan that advertises itself as natural and organic, with optional weed control. At Scotts Miracle Gro, the nation’s second largest lawn care service comapny, they’re offering a program called “Organic Choice + TPR (Targeted Pest Response)” — which is to say organic fertilizer with chemical weed and insect killers.

“No natural weed or pest-control products currently available deliver results that meet the strict standards of Scotts LawnService,” says the Scotts web site. “That’s why you should consider Organic Choice™ + TPR.”

In other words, the large large chemical companies have their toes in the organic pond, but aren’t quite ready to jump in. That continues to leave the door wide open for brands like ECOSmart, Espoma and Fiesta that — contrary to what Scotts would leave people to believe — do offer viable natural products.