LOUISVILLE, Ky. – During the first day of the GIE+EXPO, Lawn & Landscape convened its third-annual Power Panel, a candid discussion of the greatest challenges and opportunities facing the landscape industry.
Every year during the show, I ask a group of smart and vocal contractors to sit down and give me some insight into what’s on their minds. This year, the panel included:
- Nick Depasquale, Gothic Grounds Management, Los Angeles
- Deb Cole, Greater Texas Landscapes, Austin
- Taylor Milliken, Milosi, Inc., Nashville
- Seth Nicholson, Bruce Company, Middleton, Wis.
- James Reeve, Chapel Valley, Woodbine, Md.
- Keith Rotolo, Rotolo Consultants, Inc., New Orleans
I moderated the two -hour conversation, which covered everything from labor, pricing, customer education and regulations. You can get a full version of the discussion in a future issue of L&L, but here are six key highlights from this morning:
1. As wage requirements have increased and the program has become even more politically volatile, contractors continue to migrate away from the H2B program. The problem is, they haven’t yet found a good replacement. Domestic workers don’t perform to the same standards, which increases the rate of accidents and lowers productivity.
2. Hiring as a whole continues to be a major challenge, especially for production-level employees. Companies have to interview dozens of candidates to get one who will last a season.
3. To alleviate that problem, many owners have turned to referral programs, sometimes paying as much as $300 to employees who recommend candidates who in turn last 90 days. Retention bonuses and other financial incentives also have proven effective.
4. Almost unanimously, the panel cautioned other owners to not see the seemingly endless cycle of recruiting and hiring as a self-fulfilling prophecy and to instead focus on the training and mentoring of new employees. One goes so far as to assign new crew members a specific mentor and gives them different-colored hard hats, so employees know they are still learning the ropes.
5. Customer education is a key focus for many owners, and seems to be an effective way to explain how a company has priced its services.
6. Especially in the commercial segment, many customers are moving away from buying habits dictated entirely by price and instead are choosing contractors based on the quality of the service.