Ahead of the game

Hunt Irrigation picked up clients from competitors who dropped the ball on water efficiency.

November 9, 2011
Lindsey Getz
Industry News

Jeremy Hunt got involved in the industry when he landed a part-time job for his friend’s father. “He had an underground sprinkler company and needed some extra help in the summer,” says Hunt, who is now the owner of Hunt Irrigation in Lincoln, Neb. “At the time I was attending the University of Nebraska. I eventually went to work for a bigger company and pretty much started from the ground up, installing heads and cleaning up the ground site. From there I moved up to the point where I was running a crew and ultimately to being a service tech. By senior year of college, I had decided I enjoyed this work and it was what I wanted to do.”

In 1997, Hunt decided that he wanted to start his own business. One of the catalysts was the fact that he really wanted to focus on water conservation. “Back then it wasn’t something that people were talking about, and when I presented those ideas to the company I was working for, it wasn’t something they wanted to focus on,” Hunt says. “So I decided it was something I’d do on my own. Today it’s the hot-button issue. But in 1997, it wasn’t really talked about.”

Being ahead of the curve has worked out well for Hunt’s company. “Today water conservation is a very popular concept and we’ve been doing it longer than our competitors,” Hunt says. “We’ve already examined our design and worked on modifications and changes to ensure our systems are as efficient as possible.”

Since 1997, a lot has changed that has made focusing on water conservation even easier. Hunt says that the advent of smart controllers has really changed the game. “When smart controllers came on to the market, it made our job easier to do,” he says. “Every system we install has a smart controller on the residential side. Obviously with commercial work you need to abide by the specification, but we always bring it to the project manager’s attention that we can save the owner money by making changes or modifications to the spec.”

While new construction has slumped off, Hunt says that he’s found a niche in making poorly designed sprinkler systems more efficient. The company does about 60 percent residential work on average. “A large majority of the new clients we pick up are systems we didn’t originally install but for whatever reason the original company doesn’t want to or isn’t following up on service,” he says. “This works out well because 90 percent of the time those systems weren’t the best installation in the first place so that creates an opportunity to offer the client a more efficient system.”

Whether an area is receiving poor coverage or is being over-watered, Hunt says that these situations create opportunities to modify the original design and bring the system up to a higher standard. “We come in and incorporate some water conservation features like pressure regulated sprays or maybe converting a zone of aerial-delivered landscape to a drip zone,” Hunt says. “Instead of installing a brand new system, we take an existing system and upgrade it to something more efficient. That’s been a nice little niche for us.”

To stay on top of trends, Hunt has also become increasingly involved in the industry as a whole. He says when he first started his own business he decided to do a little bit of research to find out who was the “voice” of the industry. That’s when he learned about the Irrigation Association. Since then, Hunt has obtained both his CIC (certified irrigation contractor) and CLIA (certified landscape irrigation auditor) certifications from the IA.  He also became Nebraska’s ambassador for the IA.

Looking ahead, Hunt believes that the industry is going to have to be willing to make some changes in these tougher times. He believes that an irrigation contractor is going to have to be a much more business savvy person than ever before. “I just don’t think there’s going to be companies that only do irrigation in our future,” he says. “Today irrigation contractors need to be thinking about ways they can branch out by doing things like outdoor lighting, hardscaping, water features, or maybe holiday lighting.”

In the last few years, Hunt says he’s started offering more of these types of add-on services, including even snow removal. While irrigation is approximately 60 percent of business, Hunt says he’s always looking for creative ways to expand his business.

Also ahead is a stronger focus on water conservation. Fortunately for Hunt, it’s something he’s been focusing on since the start of his career. He says he’d advise others to get on board. “If contractors haven’t already started looking at ways to improve efficiency and become more familiar with smart controllers, than they’re going to be behind,” he says. “Water conservation is at the forefront of the industry, and I believe it will remain there.”


This is one of three stories that appeared in Lawn & Landscape’s Water Works e-newsletter. To continue reading about Hunt Irrigation:

We’re rolling: Jeremy Hunt found a winning marketing strategy in TV commercials.

Time management: Splitting workdays between the field and the office can be a difficult decision for business owners.