In 2008, Texas-based EarthWorks, began offering classes and seminars about water conservation and irrigation repair. Teaching customers how to do some of the very work that the company could be charging to do itself might seem like a recipe for profit loss, but President Chris Lee says it has actually been just the opposite.
The catalyst for offering these educational opportunities was the economy, Lee says. As the economy began to spiral downward, budgets were tightening up and more and more of EarthWorks’ clientele were deciding to do minor irrigation repairs in-house. The company realized they had to take the bull by the horns if they were going to get a handle on the situation.
“While a lot of our competition took the attitude of being angry, we decided to roll with it,” Lee says. “We wanted to be understanding and make it clear that we knew times were tough and we wanted to still work with our customers in whatever capacity we could. We weren’t going to stop them from doing this so we decided the best thing to do would be to educate them on the right way to do it.”
The intention was to retain a good rapport with customers with the hopes that they would still come to EarthWorks for the “big stuff” even though they were handling small jobs in-house. In fact, the company typically even offers a complimentary breakfast or lunch during the seminar. But Lee says it became much more than a relationship building opportunity. It became a marketing tool.
“It was an unintended consequence but the truth is that these classes actually brought us more business because our customers didn’t realize just how complex irrigation repair could be until they took the class,” says Lee. “As we began to educate them on how to do it, in some cases the customer decided it was just too much and found a way to keep us in their budget. That truly was not our intention to scare customers away from doing it themselves. They just hadn’t grasped that irrigation is more than a little sprinkler head sticking out – it’s an entire complicated system.”
EarthWorks continues to offer the classes today and some customers are ready to tackle the jobs in-house while others continue to realize the magnitude of the work and give it over to EarthWorks to handle. When the client does handle irrigation repair in-house Lee says that EarthWorks still benefits from having taught them how to do it properly. “A lot of these customers are also contract maintenance clients for EarthWorks and if there’s a sprinkler head sticking out and we mow over it, that has the potential to create problems,” says Lee. “If the client took our seminar and understands the head is supposed to be flush with the ground then we’re no longer dealing with that phone call that there’s a problem. It ends up working out for everyone.”
And the company has also been able to use the seminars as an opportunity to push water smart technology and the retrofits that EarthWorks has made a focus. “We have an audience there to listen about irrigation repair and they are just the people we want to pitch a retrofit to,” Lee says. “It’s a perfect opportunity. We give them the entire seminar on how to do repairs and then in the last five to 10 minutes we throw out the information on the future of irrigation and upgrading nozzles to save water. We give them a one-page flyer that piques their interest about smart controllers, nozzles, and drip irrigation. Retrofitting high water usage areas is something we’re pushing hard and we have a captive audience to share that information with. We’re doing them a favor and also gaining a wonderful marketing opportunity.”
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