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A Cut Above

A landscaping franchise bloomed into a livelihood for this grad.

Being an entrepreneur was the furthest thing from Michael Carlo's mind when he graduated from college with an interest in computer programming. Now, 14 years later, Carlo, 37, is the quintessential entrepreneur. He's co-owner of six U.S. Lawns franchises and expects to gross $6.3 million this year alone--and he can't imagine working for anyone else but himself.

It all started in 1990, when Carlo's sister and brother-in-law asked him to invest some sweat equity in a franchise by running it for them. Carlo had never been interested in running his own business, but all it took was some sisterly persuasion to convince him that running a franchise would be a great opportunity. The family researched many different companies before discovering U.S. Lawns, a landscape maintenance franchise. It sounded like exactly what they were looking for: U.S. Lawns offered room for growth, low overhead costs, and a good year-round business in the warm Florida weather.

Fresh out of college, Carlo began running his family's franchise in Port St. Lucy, Florida. He built a clientele by knocking on doors and cold-calling potential customers for the first six months. Though his first year's salary was meager, business picked up steadily, and the franchise nearly doubled its business every year for the following three years. Eventually, Carlo invested $20,000 in the business and became the sole owner.

Carlo sold that first franchise in 1995 and purchased another one in Sarasota, Florida, before deciding to merge with longtime friend and fellow U.S. Lawns franchisee Todd Moerchen in 1998. Carlo met Moerchen, 40, during his initial franchise training, and they developed a close camaraderie. "It can get lonely and tough sometimes," Carlo says of being a business owner. "[It's helpful to be able to] get on the phone or visit a franchisee who's going through the same thing you are."

Together, Carlo and Moerchen own five franchises in Florida and one in Lexington, Kentucky. They are now the longest-running U.S. Lawns franchise owners and expect continued growth and success. "I'm very happy with the company," Carlo says. "They teach you the right way to do things, and I've never been denied help when I needed it. When I [have] raised my hand, they've always been there."

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This article was originally published in the May 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur's StartUps with the headline: A Cut Above.

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