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The second annual Green Industry Grad School educated attendees on how they could run their business better and fertilizer research from the University of Florida.

Chuck Bowen | December 22, 2009

SYLACAUGA, Ala. – Nearly 50 lawn care and landscape contractors gathered in the hills of Alabama last week to attend the second annual Green Industry Grad School, presented by Agrium Advanced Technologies. 
 
The three-day event was held at FarmLinks, a golf course, conference center and research facility near Birmingham that Agrium co-sponsors with BASF and Toro. The event’s speakers touched on how attendees could run their business better and fertilizer research from the University of Florida.
 
LEADING IN LEAN TIMES. Marty Grunder, who spoke twice at the event, told attendees that the current economy was no reason they couldn’t do great work. The key to succeeding, he said, was to make sure you treat your own people well and that you do better work than your competition. 
 
“Too many of us are going down the wrong road – looking for the silver bullet to shoot out of the gun,” Grunder said. “If you want your people to treat your customers like kings and queens, it goes without saying that you have to treat them like kings and queens.”
 
Grunder said owners and managers should ask about their employees; be interested in them. How did their kids’ soccer game go on Saturday? Did they do anything fun for their birthday? Do you even know it was their birthday? 
 
He asked if, as 2010 gets closer, if the audience had definite goals for their businesses, and solid plans for getting there. You don’t need a lot – in fact, you just need two or three – one for sales, one for improvement. Wandering isn’t going to make anyone’s business grow, he said. 
 
“If you don’t have some goals, get some,” he said. “What’s your Super Bowl? What does winning look like?”
 
Lawn care companies have a leg up on some other industries, he said, when it comes to outsourcing, but that doesn’t mean they can’t lose their business to their competitors. 
 
“Your clients’ properties are not going to be outsourced to Indian, fertilized and sent back,” Grunder said. 
 
To keep your employees motivated, remember that you’re both an owner and a team member, he said. That means getting up and plowing snow with them or helping run a crew when you’re short-handed 
 
FERTILIZER UPDATE. John Cisar, turfgrass program coordinator and professor of environmental horticulture at the University of Florida, Gainesville, told attendees that their work managing turf is key to maintaining a healthy environment. 
 
“As fertilizer managers … we need to fertilize that turf properly. Fertilizer management and proper nutrition is a key to sustainability,” Cisar said. 
 
To ensure healthy turf, he suggests these levels of 
  • 2-3 percent nitrogen in the turf tissue
  • 0.3 percent phosphorous 
  • 1 percent or greater potassium 
  • Strive for a 2-to-1 ratio of nitrogen to potassium 
But that work is getting harder, Cisar said. Turf managers in Florida especially have faced increasing regulatory pressure from all sides. Local governments have limited the application rates of certain chemicals, instituted blackout dates and curtailed the locations where fertilizer can be applied. He said contractors need to work with their local governments to educate them about the importance of healthy turf. 
 
“We can’t even put phosphorous in levels that god would put it on in the rainfall,” he said. 
 
WORKING ONLINE. The event’s third speaker, consultant Jeff Korhan, spoke on the importance of developing an online presence for your company. He said local businesses especially are well-positioned to use the Web to their advantage to connect with their communities and strengthen relationships with their existing clients. 
 
“Just having a presence puts you ahead of 50 percent of your competitors. Doing it well puts you in front of most of them,” Korhan said. 
 
He suggests companies work on monitoring their brand online and learn the language of the Web. The better you can communicate on these kinds of platforms, the better.

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