Eyes to the sky

Eyes to the sky

Drones, along with a glimpse into an industry giant and advice from an Emmy-nominated actor, were some of the highlights at the iLandscape show.

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February 3, 2017
Industry News

SCHAUMBERG, Ill. – Lawn & Landscape is here at the iLandscape show taking in all that Illinois and nearby states have to offer in the green industry. Here are some highlights from the show, which runs through Friday.

Take to the skies. One growing trend in the industry is using drones to photograph landscapes from above. This gives contractors a new marketing tool to use to get better photos, and to help potential customers visualize how a job will be done.

Peter Spero and Brendan Stewart, founders of AeroVista Innovations, an aerial vehicle service company, said learning to fly a drone for commercial purposes isn’t as easy as buying one and operating it. That means getting the correct paperwork filed and practicing the right way to fly one.

“It’s more complicated than stopping at Best Buy and buying one,” Spero said.

If you want to fly over a landscape and use the image for marketing purposes, you must obtain a 107 FAA license to fly the drone. You can obtain the license by taking a 60-question test at a local, small airport. You’ll need to take a refresher test every two years. You’ll also have to get a registration like you would for a car, which can be done online.

And though it’s not mandatory, Spero and Stewart recommend buying an insurance policy. This can be purchased at any company that sells aviation insurance, and you can buy $1 million worth of liability coverage for $1,500-$2,000 for a year.

Before you buy one, here is what to consider:

First, you have to ask yourself how you want to use it. Then, identify who on your staff is going to fly it. Third, develop standard operating procedures, especially for larger companies.

Fourth, apply for waivers. One example of a waiver is, if you are doing a job within 5 miles of an airport, you must get a waiver. Then acquire and register the drone.

“Buying a drone is one of the last steps,” McCarthy said.

Once you have the drone, you’ll have to perform minor maintenance on it. Stewart said there are only four flight-critical moving parts. Every 200 flight hours, those parts need to be replaced and will cost about $35.

To practice, Stewart has a little drone he flies around his living room to stay sharp.

“If you don’t do it for long enough, your skills get rusty,” he said.

If you are going to fly it over a client’s property, make sure you have the client’s permission and all your paper work and proof of insurance with you. Some local governments have passed laws making it illegal to fly drones, but Stewart said those may not be law-binding since the federal law may overrule the local law.

Spero and Stewart said they’ve flown in cities where there have been those types of law passed. They said they called the police department or city hall and explained why they were flying and the local government or law enforcement had no issues with it.

“It’s best to know the laws of the particular community before you go out,” Spero said.

After the merger. Three employees from BrightView gave a glimpse into what life was like after the industry giant formed when Brickman and ValleyCrest merged. Chuck DeGarmo, vice president of sales for the landscape construction group; Peter Hunn, a principle in development; and Brent Lloyd, a managing principle in the design group, talked about what the past two years have been like since the merger.

DeGarmo said because ValleyCrest and Brickman were already large companies individually, employees from both sides knew the challenges of communicating in a large organization. That helped ease some pains, but DeGarmo said one key to establishing good communication practices was simply getting to know the people in the organization you’d be working with.

Whether that was through meetings or company events, it was important to develop relationships within the organization where you knew the single point of contact for a situation if you needed something for a customer.

“Then it’s repetition, repetition, repetition and driving that home to create the relationships to know who we should talk to for what,” he said.

Since the company has 600 construction projects going on at all times, problems can escalate quickly. DeGarmo said the company communicates the importance of the customer on all levels, which keeps managers from always having to put out fires.

“Then drilling, drilling and drilling that in and showing that through actions – empowering them to make the customer happy,” DeGarmo said.

DeGarmo added that since the maintenance side is bigger than the construction side, and both ValleyCrest and Brickman offered maintenance, figuring that division of the business out was much more complex.

“The maintenance business is now three quarters of the revenue. It’s a much bigger integration challenge,” he said. “We’ve been at it two years now and have gotten to the other side of that lifting … where we can act quickly.”

One other challenge the company faced in its first year together was hiring. Since they need to hire so many workers and train them quickly, the company tried to use local ties and hire organically. That proved to be a problem because those who would be in charge of hiring were focused on running their departments and branches.

So BrightView invested in hiring managers whose sole purpose was to recruit, and now new employees have a constant companion with them when they start so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

“We’re investing tons of money in that, and it’s paying dividends,” DeGarmo said.

As far as growth, DeGarmo said the company is looking to expand in the Midwest, but Lloyd said local contractors shouldn’t be concerned if BrightView becomes a neighbor.

“We approach it as we have a lot of resources … but we also want to partner with folks on the ground who know the market really well,” Lloyd said.

Advice from Hollywood. In 1970, actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr., started to make more decisions based on the environment. Today, the Emmy-nominated actor best known for his role on the 1980s hit St. Elsewhere, gets asked a lot about what happened in 1970 to push him in that direction.

He said living 20 years as a kid in “smoggy” Los Angeles where he couldn’t go out on the playground some days because of the smog, and it would hurt to breathe, planted the seed of being more environmentally conscious. But, as a struggling actor, he had to do it on the cheap, and stressed to the audience during his Keynote address, you can start small and inexpensive. He started composting and recycling, taking public transportation when he had little income, and it helped put money back in his pocket.

“I saved money at every turn,” he says.

Begley also said avoiding “vampire power” could save you money. Vampire power is a term used to describe when electronics, like a television, are turned off but still use electricity because they are plugged in. He suggested buying a power strip and turning it off when you aren’t using those devices.

“We have to do everything in our power to turn it around,” he said in regards to problems with the environment.