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How TopGrass Reached the Top of Lawn Care in the U.K.: A Chat With COO Katie Arnold

TopGrass Logo 2018 - colour with shadowRealGreen recently spent some time talking with one of our customers located in the U.K., TopGrass. The largest independent lawn care company in the U.K., TopGrass has been a RealGreen customer since 2006. During that time, they’ve seen significant growth in a rapidly developing marketplace. We talked with Chief Operating Officer Katie Arnold to talk about the history of TopGrass, how it became the top independent company in the U.K., her insights on the state of the industry, advice for others, and more.


RealGreen: Let’s start by learning a little bit about you, your role at TopGrass, the company, and what you specialize in.

TopGrass: My position is chief operating officer, and I’m also one of the directors for TopGrass UK, Ltd. It’s a family business; my parents are the other two directors. I’ve been with the company for 10 years now, gaining knowledge and responsibility along the way, and I’ve been in my current role for about two years. The company itself was founded in 2005.

As far as our services, TopGrass offers our basic lawn care treatment program, which is a combination of weed killers, fertilizers, and moss treatments; we offer aeration and scarification; and we have additional upsell services like water-conserver treatment, soil improver treatment, and red thread treatment, which is a common fungal disease we get in the UK. In addition, we fertilize borders and beds – for all of those typical pretty English cottage gardens with lots of flowers and shrubs.

RG: TopGrass has grown into the top independent lawn company in the United Kingdom. How did TopGrass get started? What did that journey look like?

TG: My dad worked for Bayer for many years; through that position, he had a chance to learn about lawn care in the U.S. and saw there was an opportunity in the marketplace here. There really wasn’t much competition outside of the Green Thumb franchise. Our market is nowhere near saturated yet. There are many more independents and franchise companies, but we’ve still got loads of space to grow, which I think is the main difference between here and the U.S. We’re probably about 20 years behind, in terms of market saturation. 

The percentage of lawns in the U.K. that are actually treated by a professional company is quite low — there is a big gap between the percentage treated in the U.S. and here. So we’re looking at those U.S. numbers thinking, that’s where we can be. So there is a lot to grow into.

RG: Why do you think there is such a difference?

TG: The U.S. service industry as a whole is far more advanced than ours, but I think we are rapidly closing that gap. Maybe because we haven’t had those services for as long, there has historically been that DIY mentality. As time goes on, that is changing rapidly as younger generations are far more willing to pay a professional for things like lawn care.

RG: Do you see any emerging trends for 2024?

TG: During and just post-COVID were very good years for our industry – people were spending so much time in their gardens. But then we saw a significant slowdown with the cost of living crisis in Ukraine/Russia, our costs rising and the general cost of living going up – our market did have a dip over the last couple of years. Last year we did see things starting to get back on track, so we are hoping that what the trend is showing us so far is that we should be coming out of it now.

In our industry there has also been a big change with the second biggest franchise in the U.K., Greensleeves, being bought out by Neighborly, which is an American company. Acquisitions like that will change the landscape for us quite a bit; we may have some opportunities initially while they work out the details, but they could also be the next big competition to take over the green industry here.

RG: Let’s talk about your company culture. How does having a positive culture help you attract and retain employees and customers?

TG: This is something that has been really important to us and something we have been very conscious of maintaining as we have gotten bigger. It’s been crucial to us to keep that family touch as we continue to grow. Culturally, we maintain that feel throughout all of our processes: interviewing, hiring, and onboarding. We want to ensure that every person we hire matches that attitude and our core values.

RG: The labor shortage has been a major topic in the U.S., especially in field service industries. Are you experiencing the same pains in the U.K.?

TG: Pre-COVID, we struggled to hire technicians but had an easier time finding office staff. Now, I’d say it’s the opposite: we are seeing a lot more applicants for our outdoor jobs. In addition, because the industry is still growing so rapidly here, probably 75% of our candidates don’t know much about lawn care — but 25% of them do, and that has been great to see.

RG: How would you say your company’s benefits and perks compare to others in the industry?

TG: When it comes to industry standards here in the U.K., I do think we go above and beyond. We try to compete with much larger companies in terms of our offerings. Right now a big one is being able to offer a private health care package. Here we do have the NHS (National Health Service), which is free, but they are severely understaffed and underfunded. We are doing a lot of research into this at the moment.

RG: What would you say to someone starting a lawn care company — who is maybe 10 years behind you – who is trying to build their company but can’t offer salary increases and other perks right now?

TG: I’d say the most important thing is excellent communication and collaboration at every level of the business. We are very open about our business and we try to keep the entire team updated as regularly as we can. For example, we had a session where we discussed ways we could improve our customer service, and everyone came up with some brilliant ideas – some of which we were able to implement quite quickly.

It’s also important to make sure that all of your employees feel supported from the top down, making sure that people feel valued, motivated, and heard, and that they have clearly defined goals of where they can go with their career in the company.

RG: How do you approach recruiting when, as you mentioned, a large percentage of applicants know almost nothing about the lawn care industry?

top grass teamTG: When we are recruiting, we ask questions like – Have you worked in lawn care before? Do you have a passion for gardening? Do you like customer service? Or none of the above? That’s absolutely fine. You don’t need experience in lawn care to apply for this job. Our first step is to get people to consider the position and think, “Oh, I could do that.”

Next, we approach hiring in two steps. First, we do a video interview, and as a second stage, we do a face-to-face meet and greet with the team and managers. This is when we can educate them on our company, our core values, what the industry is about, as well as the day-to-day responsibilities of the job. We also try to find out about them and their core values – because at the end of the day, even if someone is a fantastic worker, if your values don’t line up or if they’d be better off in a different environment, they’re not going to be happy working for you. You can teach the lawn care aspect of the job.

RG: Where are you finding great workers right now?

TG: We’ve had the most success recruiting online using Indeed; it’s the biggest recruiting site in the U.K. and the most cost-effective. We have tried recruitment agencies and job fairs without much success, so we stick with online job advertisements.

RG: In the U.S., companies will occasionally visit schools to recruit at job fair events. Is there anything similar in the U.K.?

TG: It’s interesting that you should ask that because this is something new for us. We are part of the U.K. Lawn Care Association, which includes around 100 independent companies.  My dad (CEO Tom Arnold) is currently sitting chair of the UKLCA and I’m heading up the Women in Lawn Care group. We’re trying to bring awareness to the lack of women in the industry and discussing how we can get more women involved. And through that, we have connected with a larger group called Women in Turf — which includes groundskeepers for sports like golf, football, and rugby — and they are trying to get into schools to talk about the green industry. We are trying to get lawn care added to the mix when it comes to job fairs and schools – just to get it on people’s radar.

RG: How does being a member of the U.K. Lawn Care Association help you stay informed about the industry?

TG: Oh, massively. We’ve been a part of the association since the beginning, and it’s been important for us to network with other companies, learn from them, and share knowledge and experiences. Top Grass absolutely would not be where we are today without networking. Now, we are the largest company in the association, and we make it a point to advise and help as much as we can.

We’ve also been able to network with companies from Scotland and Ireland. And networking with people in America has been huge for us since your industry is so much further ahead over there. So far, we have followed the same path, so it only makes sense that it will continue to do so.

RG: What made TopGrass decide to implement software – and why choose RealGreen?

TG: When the company first started, we were literally running everything on spreadsheets, and my dad realized that was not a long-term growth solution. He and his business partner started doing research, and they found there was really nothing in the U.K. that was lawn care specific. That’s how they found RealGreen.

My dad has told me that when he first saw RealGreen, he just saw the potential for the software to grow with us as a company. He didn’t want to choose a software that would be limiting after five years. And RealGreen was reinvesting, growing, adding new software and services, and he saw how we could grow together. And that has happened. 

Now, some things are limited for us, things that are not yet available in the U.K., but I’m not sure there are any competitors that offer as much as RealGreen does.

RG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us and sharing your knowledge and perspective about TopGrass and the state of the lawn care industry in the U.K.

TG: It was my pleasure and I look forward to seeing you and other RealGreen customers at future Users Conference events. If any US lawn care businesses happen to make a trip to the U.K., TopGrass would always welcome a visit!


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