When Jen Lemcke and her father bought the entire Weed Man company in 2018, its Canadian franchises were declining, and had sales of $43.6 million in U.S. dollars. By last year, Canadian franchisee sales were up to $66.2 million, and the U.S. business was worth $259 million.
How’d they do it? “People talk to you all the time about work-life balance,” she says. “Honestly, it doesn’t really exist at times.” Instead, she says, if you throw yourself at a big opportunity, and accept what you don’t know, you’ll figure it out.
That’s exactly what Lemcke and her father did. He had a background as a chemical engineer, but wanted to be a franchisee — so he bought his first Weed Man unit in 1986, just as the brand was starting to expand across Quebec. Lemcke went to university, met her husband, and then joined her dad in buying a Weed Man territory in Ottawa. In 1995, her father (through the parent company he founded, Turf Holdings) bought the rights to expand the brand in the U.S., and Lemcke joined five years later to lead that effort. Then in 2018, Turf Holdings bought the entire Weed Man brand — going from a multi-unit owner to the actual franchise owner.
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Image Credit: Courtesy of Weed Man
Here, she explains what it takes to go big — and why you should go easy on yourself when you do.
You started with a Canadian brand. What was it like expanding into the U.S.?
It took a lot of effort to expand. We ended up soliciting subfranchisors (regional franchise business consultants) in large geographical areas. We had the systems down, but we are taking care of a living organism, and there’s different grasses across the U.S. We needed to test our systems before we rolled anything out.
It was a lot of fun. It was also tough. I had three kids. I had a nanny, and my husband was incredibly supportive. You’re trying to raise a family and you’re trying to be there for everyone. I used to segregate my home family and my work family — some days [my work family] needed me more than my home family. Then some days my home family needed me more, so I became really good at balancing things and not missing the big things on either side, but sometimes missing the little things.
That must have become even more intense when you became CEO.
My dad and I worked hand in hand. He was the CEO, [then] I was the CEO. He retired in March 2020 and all hell broke loose. I’ve got 350 franchisees looking at me for answers. There’s no manual on how to be a leader in a pandemic. I’m always, I can do this on my own. And I just realized I can’t.
I made myself completely available day or night. Everybody had my cell phone, but one day I told them, “I don’t have all the answers; please be patient with me and trust that I’m going to try and find the best answer.”
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What is your management style?
I know they say you should be running your company at a 10,000-foot view. But for me, the best thing I can do is pay attention to detail and not be afraid to pick up the phone. If I see something, I call them like, “Hey, looking at the numbers last night, I think you could do this.” I live in the details. I don’t know anything other than that. I feel like you win and lose in the details.
Looking back on the last three decades, what’s been your biggest lesson?
At the beginning, you’re so busy raising kids and you’re running your business. They leave for college and it becomes a different busy, and you’re worried: Maybe I wasn’t there enough. Maybe I should have done this. You go through a period in your life, like, “Is everything gonna be okay?” Then you get to the other side and everything’s okay. You did the best you could and they’re great. Everything worked out. The company prospered, my kids are fine, and everything’s good.
It’s tough trying to build a career and be a mom. There are times in your life where you need to focus on certain things and you have to put things aside, but in the end everything’s going to work out. Just take a deep breath and give yourself some grace.