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Jim’s ‘Family’ – 40 years of building an iconic service business

Susanne Axelsson
Susanne Axelsson
June 28, 2021
Jim’s ‘Family’ – 40 years of building an iconic service business

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Green ‘Jim’s Mowing’ vans and trailers parked outside neighbourhood laws in need of maintenance across Australia, New Zealand, the UK and Canada are a common sight. What started out as a one-man-band, has expanded over 40 years to 4 300 franchisees, an annual turnover of A$500 million ($521m) and the capacity to service a staggering 35 000 customers a day. But that incredible success didn't happen overnight. It was based on clearly defined service standards; a genuine passion for people and an obsession with asking the same question every day – “How can we do better?” 

We caught up with the man behind the franchise, David "Jim" Penman, to find out more...

Mowing down the mundane

Jim is intensely passionate about his role in the business which includes mentoring franchise owners and their teams for success and making sure every customer is amazed by the service from their local Jim’s team. So when he says that nothing is ever good enough – we know it's tough love coming from a leader who just wants the best for his people and customers.

“The only thing that matters when you're in service is, is the customer happy. If you can wow them, they're going to give you upsells and referrals – a happy customer is the real road to success.”

But living continuous improvement and innovation isn’t always easy – so how can you be sure that your team wants to create that wow experience for customers? 

The advice Jim shares relates to what he believes are the three key pillars for building a successful frontline service culture:

  1. Great leadership and a  sense of community
  2. A shared passion for service and success; and
  3. Mechanisms for growth - personally and professionally

Relationships are the key

“In the beginning, what we offer is work. But people stay because of the relationships – a sense of community that our people often talk about as being a family.”

Jim talks a lot about building a community that genuinely cares about each other. Building relationships and proactive communication between leaders and teams, divisions and peers, should be a key focus for anyone wanting to build a healthy team culture. 

A shared belief in what matters most

Research shows that successful companies have one consistent thing in common – they’ve held on tight to a core value or purpose.”

Jim is adamant that a shared passion for service and success is the backbone of the company’s operations. Almost everything else within their business could change or be improved – processes, products and systems, but this core value or purpose is what holds the team, the family, together.

It's amazing what people are capable of - trust them!

“It's very important to motivate, and let people know they're okay. It's okay to fail. What's not okay is to not try.”

Jim’s approach to innovation is non-apologetic. He believes that being open to new ideas is only half the challenge. The real key to success is in your response and how you act on that same feedback. “A really quick risk assessment will weed out the potential for creating a customer WOW moment; versus wasted $$$. What matters is giving it a go! Encourage your people to innovate; respect new ideas and new ways of thinking. It's amazing what people are capable of in the right situation and what could happen if you decide to trust them.”

Jim’s final thoughts on culture and continuous improvement? Listen, Listen, Listen. Read, Read, Read.

Act on feedback 

Keep channels of feedback open – surveys, stats, a chat with a colleague or reading complaints – every piece of feedback is a chance to make a positive change, and not only for your business, but more importantly for your community. Always be ready to listen, listen, listen.”

Keep improving… not just the business, but yourself 

Look to the people around you for inspiration and surround yourself with people you can learn from. There is always an opportunity to learn something new, and books by great leaders and coaches are worth the time they take to read.”

Bonus - Jim’s top three read, read, reads: 

No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
McDonald's: Behind the Arches

Susanne Axelsson

About the Author

Susanne Axelsson
Susanne is the Frontline Community Evangelist as well as the author and researcher for Frontline Magic Handbook. She believes happy customers are born out of great experiences. Great experiences are delivered by motivated frontline people.
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