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The waiting game

Features - Irrigation, Industry News

Customers want instant savings from water conservation, and the team at Gachina Landscape Management knows how to handle that impatience.

Lindsey Getz | March 24, 2014

Recently celebrating its 25th anniversary, Gachina Landscape Management in Menlo Park, Calif., was founded by John Gachina, a California native who got his start as a groundskeeper for a golf course and then worked his way into the landscape industry.

Today the company has more than 250 employees and does approximately $18 million annually in both maintenance and construction work for commercial clients. Those clients include corporate campuses, HOAs, shopping centers, property management firms and a lot of city work. Over the years, the company’s focus and commitment to water conservation has become a primary goal.

These days, water conservation is a major concern for many clients – particularly in states like California where water restrictions and rising water bills are becoming commonplace. “Water districts are imposing huge fines for going over water budgets so this is a really important topic,” says Stacie Callaghan, director of business development for the company. “We utilize a variety of efforts to save water including the use of smart controllers and much more. But of course you have to get the buy-in from the customer.”

Clifton Randolph, South Bay Branch manager (the company has four key branches) for the irrigation division says even though water restrictions are tight, clients still want to see the numbers add up.

“Water conservation is definitely an easy thing to talk to customers about, but when it comes to actually getting it done, that’s a different story,” Randolph says. “There is definitely an upfront cost to make the changes needed to begin saving water and some clients aren’t so eager to pay it – especially if they’re not going to see immediate savings. In many circumstances it can take several years to recoup that money.”

“If we can show potential clients real-life examples of how we’ve saved other clients money, that often makes it easier for the new clients to invest,” Randolph says.

The company has gone a step further from talking about these examples to formulating “Customer Spotlights” in 2007. “We use them as marketing sheets at tradeshows, we include them in proposals and we share them with potential customers looking for company information,” Callaghan says. “We also have them as links on our website as well as included in our e-newsletters to both existing and potential customers. We have received great response from these spotlights. They are a great way to get a lot of information out.”

In addition to customer spotlights, Gachina also utilizes newsletters and social media to reach potential clients and stay connected with existing ones. Callaghan says the company also works with local water districts to help customers obtain rebates.

And the company obtains water usage history from clients and compares with previous years to be able to show actual savings. All of these efforts have proven to be strategic marketing efforts and have played a role in securing new clients.
 

Water conservation efforts.

One of the ways Gachina aims to reduce water bills is by using recycled or reclaimed water in landscaped areas. This was the case with a large commercial client Gachina has worked with since 2004. The client’s landscape includes 12 buildings across a 42 acre site. Through the utilization of grey water for all landscaped areas, Gachina has been able to significantly reduce maintenance costs for this client.

Certification assist

More and more companies are showing interest in becoming LEED certified in order to showcase themselves.

Landscaping and irrigation certainly play a vital role in that certification process and smart companies are helping clients achieve or maintain their LEED Certification.

Gachina Landscape Management assists NetApp, (a data storage solution company), in its LEED Certification Process through a series of monthly reports and green landscaping techniques.

Clifton Randolph, South Bay Branch manager for Gachina’s irrigation division, says there are specific requirements for LEED Certification. “For instance, on really hot days we don’t use the equipment so we will rake instead of blowing,” he says.

“To help our clients maintain their LEED Certification, we’ve also made sure our equipment is properly maintained, reduced the amount of turf that we have on a site and switched over to drought-tolerant plants.

LEED Certification also requires a lot of paperwork. That’s another area where landscape and irrigation companies can assist.

“We walk the site each week and take notes,” Randolph says. “They have to have notes on what was done for LEED.”

Randolph says the cost involved has probably kept some away.

“But those that are doing it can definitely use our help in maintaining a certain standard and keeping up with reports.”

Of course using recycled water on such a large property is no small feat. According to Randolph, the company has gone through a certification process in order to implement the use of reclaimed water. Gachina meets the unique challenges of using recycled water by constantly monitoring the performance of all the plant species on the property and taking proactive steps to ensure plants thrive within the reclaimed watering environment.

“You have to be careful when using reclaimed water because some plant material will not tolerate it well,” Randolph says. “You also have to be careful that reclaimed water is not spraying on to nearby cars or asphalt. It can be very hard to get those water spots off because of the high salt content.”

In addition to utilizing reclaimed water, Gachina also employed a number of other efforts at the corporate campus. This included the installation of drought tolerant plants and retrofitting of the existing irrigation system. Retrofits are a large part of Gachina’s business. This includes the installation of smart controllers, the conversion of spray nozzles to drip irrigation and the replacement of older spray heads with more efficient MP rotator heads.
 

Water audits.

With corporations both large and small, property managers and HOAs paying much closer attention to their bottom line these days, water budgets are a big deal. Gachina offers an Irrigation Water Audit service that existing customers are taking advantage of.

The staff at Gachina participates in the Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor program. Landscape irrigation auditors perform regular audits to define, measure and quantify water use across the landscapes. Audits enable more efficient control over programmed irrigation controllers and pinpoint system deficiencies, enabling reductions in metered water usage of 30 percent to 60 percent.

“With our audits, we work with several water consultants and if a site wants to have a water audit we will have a consultant come out with us and walk the property,” Randolph says.

“From that data, plus the square footage, we can figure out what the water budget for the site will be. We also take a look at the past records from the clients and we tell them what they need to use per year and what they’re using now.”
 

Looking ahead.

Like many landscape and irrigation companies that are looking to stay atop of current trends, Gachina Landscape plans to keep its focus on water conservation efforts as it moves forward.

“We will also continue to encourage our customers to reduce their water-loving lawns and plant more drought-tolerant shrubs,” Callaghan says. “We’ll also continue to convert to drip wherever we can. Water conservation is such a huge issue and it’s not going away. Getting customers on board has a lot to do with education and we will continue to keep our clients informed about overwatering as well as the newest technology that can help them make important changes.”

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