Just after the show last year, I got an email from Dylan Stapp. He’s a 17-year-old junior at Holy Cross High School in Louisville, and he runs the eponymous Stapp’s Lawn Care.
He wants to learn more about both the business and technical side of things, and get off to a good start.
“I’m looking at a few different ways: I’ve looked at business school, turf management degrees and also landscape design degrees. What is your opinion on what I should go do to be successful?” he wrote me. “I’m very passionate about lawn care and want to run a successful company.”
It was heartening to get a message like that, especially as I’d been on the road for what felt like weeks and had just heard dozens of contractors and educators lamenting the future of the next generation of landscapers.
The labor picture isn’t rosy, but Dylan’s a living, breathing example of someone who’s excited to get involved in the business. Here’s what I told him:
1. Read Lawn & Landscape every month. (A shameless plug, yes, but I only recommend the best.) You can get us on your iPad or iPhone, or at www.lawnandlandscape.com. We profile owners and share best practices that will come in handy as you grow.
2. Attend your state’s annual trade show/turf conference. You’ll be able to meet other owners and talk to them about how they got started.
3. Call up the biggest or most popular contractors in your hometown. Most folks in the industry started out just like you, and are happy to offer their advice to someone making his way.
4. Just get started. The barriers to entry are so low that you can start doing landscaping. Practice at your house or your friends’ houses, offer to do work cheap for neighbors so you can practice.
5. Focus on the business side of landscaping, not just design or horticulture. Both are important, but a solid understanding of how a business operates and turns a profit will serve you better than any number of soil science classes.
I think what I told Dylan was pretty good, but I’m interested to hear what you think. What advice would you give him? What do you wish someone had told you when you started in the business?
Send them to me at email@example.com and I’ll pass them on to Dylan and run them in a future edition of Lawn & Landscape so other new owners (or old hands who maybe could use a reminder) can learn something, too.
The CEO of a multi-million dollar landscape company in Maryland shared with me how his controller, a long-time friend, during a period of almost 20 years, had embezzled more than $1 million from the company. The controller, due to a guilty conscience, confessed to the CEO what he had done. Otherwise, the CEO may never have discovered the fraud.
A bookkeeper worked for another California landscape contractor for more than seven years. Upon her departure, the owner noticed cash flow seemed to improve significantly. A fellow office staff member, shortly thereafter, shared with the owner that prior to her departure, the bookkeeper spent almost three days shredding and destroying files. Connect the dots.
An irrigation contractor in Michigan had to terminate a bookkeeper who just wasn’t up to the job. Months after she left, the new bookkeeper noticed a gasoline credit card bill that seemed suspicious.
Upon further investigation by detectives, the gas station security cameras showed the terminated bookkeeper filling up her car’s gasoline tank using a duplicate company credit card. Legal action followed.
The unlocked lock.
Why is there so much abuse and outright fraud within the small business community? Here are some of the reasons.
1. Roughly 70 percent of my clients use QuickBooks or a version of it for their accounting. The security features within it are less than foolproof. Once posted, transactions can easily be erased or altered to cover up fraud.
2. Entrepreneurs are optimistic and trusting individuals. They tend to think the best of people and sometimes overlook prudent safeguards, and checks and balances within their organizations.
3. This is sure to be controversial, but tax code accounting is not an operational necessity. It adds little intrinsic value to the organization other than to meet arbitrary tax code requirements. If the tax code was replaced by a value-added tax (V.A.T.), a national sales tax or a flat tax, 90 percent of what bookkeepers do would be eliminated. Job costing, for example, has nothing to do with the tax code, but everything to do with a company’s profitability. I tell clients that my job is to help them make as much money as possible.
Their CPA’s job is to make them look like they are going broke and to keep them out of jail. Ninety percent of what a bookkeeper does to meet tax code requirements is arbitrary, meaningless and would be eliminated by a V.A.T., flat tax or national sales tax.
People with arbitrary, meaningless jobs tend to be insecure. Driven by insecurity, a small percentage of them tend to bend the arbitrary rules, in their favor, for personal gain.
4. A lock is not meant to keep a thief out. Rather it is meant to keep an honest man honest. Many entrepreneurs simply do not know how to implement simple safeguards in their company.
Ronald Regan was right.
Fraud is common place within the small business community. When discussing this topic with Mark Pendergast, president of Salmon Falls Landscaping in Berwick, Maine, he stated, “In the end, you have to trust your people.
Otherwise, you’ll spend all of your time mistrusting everyone and looking for abuses.” I agree. In the end, like Ronald Reagan said, you have to “trust but verify.” Here are a couple of good rules for entrepreneurs to follow.
First, open all bank statements. Second, have tight controls for the signing of checks. Third, personally hand out payroll checks at least once a month. Fourth, if you suspect fraud, hire a forensic CPA (Google “forensic CPA.)”
You can’t eliminate fraud entirely. However, with the proper procedures, and checks and balances, you can discourage it. Like Mark Pendergast said, “You have to trust your people.” But add to that the words from the ”Gipper,” “Trust, but verify.”
JIM HUSTON runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm. See www.jrhuston.biz; mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Volunteering for vets
A pair of irrigation suppliers volunteered to help a couple of good causes involving veterans.
Netafim did its part to help grow food for homeless vets
FRESNO, Calif. – GrowGood, a non-profit based in Los Angeles, spearheaded a program to create a kitchen garden in partnership with the Salvation Army Bell Shelter, located in Bell, Calif.
The shelter provides transitional housing, counseling, job training, health care and many more services for homeless vets with PTSD and other individuals.
GrowGood, founded by Andrew Hunt and Brad Pregerson, undertakes agriculturally-oriented projects in urban environments. As a corporate partner, Netafim USA teamed up to provide dripline irrigation materials and a series of irrigation workshops.
“We target underserved groups and believe in the power of food to unite people and lay foundations for healthy communities,” Pregerson said.
“Our goal is to achieve multiple positive outcomes,” he said. “The Bell Shelter Garden is intended to grow enough fresh produce to feed hundreds of residents daily, while encouraging better nutrition and opportunities to learn new job skills.”
He and Hunt mustered a corps of volunteers and contacted corporate sponsors for materials to make the garden bloom. Netafim USA supplied more than 2,000 feet of Techline dripline for the project. Netafim District Sales Manager, Bill Millward, also lead a series of step-by-step irrigation workshops for shelter residents.
“The workshops provided hands-on irrigation training so the shelter clients would be involved in the installation,” said Millward, who conducted the training along with Master Gardener Mel Crudge.
“The sessions were a great chance to gain real-world job experience in irrigation system planning and installation. They covered construction of the raised planting beds, trenching, installation of the irrigation controller, pipe, main lines and valves, along with a Netafim dripline system.”
Residents were joined by volunteers from the Master Gardeners association and college students from USC and UCLA.
“Participation in the construction of the garden, and the commitment to keep it flourishing have provided our clients with benefits on many levels,” said Steve Lytle, director of the Salvation Army Bell Shelter.
“It is very therapeutic for residents with PTSD to be involved in a meaningful activity and work outdoors in a structured environment. Our residents are very proud of their results. The Bell Shelter also has a nearby vocational school with instruction in landscape maintenance and the garden has provided a pathway towards this program.”
Hunter participated in a trio of Home for Our Troops projects
SAN MARCOS, Calif. – Charitable work is one of Hunter Industries four corporate values, and the company showed that with its participation in Home for Our Troops.
“Home for Our Troops is an ongoing project with several homes in process across the country at any one time,” said Todd Polderman, Hunter Product Marketing Manager.
“Hunter Industries supported the irrigation needs to three homes near the company headquarters in San Marcos, Calif.”
The three homes are complete and the tenants were in various stages of moving into the homes as of early December. Hunter was approached by Volvo Rents to take part in the project.
On the days Hunter employees volunteered, the focus was on planting shrubs and laying sod, Polderman said.
Hunter was also responsible for installing drip irrigation zones to irrigate the shrub material, and the company provided all of the irrigation equipment to the installing contractor and provided technical expertise on the sites.
Each project took four to six months to complete, while the landscaping was completed in two weeks. Planting took one day.
“A big challenge with any volunteer project is to get the volunteers trained quickly and to make sure their work is quality,” he said. “We held a quick drip emitter installation seminar and then assigned a skilled Hunter person to each crew to make sure everything went smoothly.”
The OTF show in review
Growth and changes were on tap for Ohio’s turf conference.
By Chuck Bowen
I sat down with OTF Executive Director Brian Laurent at this year’s Ohio Turfgrass Foundation show to pick his brain about the state of the industry, tradeshows and what green industry professionals in the Midwest can expect from the association in the coming years.
L&L: OTF has seen some ups and downs in the last few years. What made this year’s show stand out to you?
Laurent: We have certainly seen our fair share of obstacles over the last several years. Fortunately, we’re moving in the right direction as indicated by a great turnout at this year’s conference and show. There were many highlights, including another exceptional series of educational presentations, a show floor occupied by 124 companies representing all areas of the turfgrass industry and a packed house for our keynote speaker, Jim Tressel.
What will stay with me when it’s all over are the comments received from our exhibitors, especially first time participants and those returning after taking many years off. These companies were very pleased with the foot-traffic and number of qualified leads they received, even some from markets that may not be their primary target.
Our show is unique in that our attendees come from all sections of the industry … lawn care, golf, sports and more. This opens the door for new opportunities in many cases. It’s always nice when they tell you that they’re looking forward to returning again next year.
L&L: What are the biggest challenges and opportunities facing your members right now?
Laurent: One of the biggest challenges facing our industry is a lack of qualified and dedicated labor. At nearly every meeting that I attend, this topic is always discussed.
It seems as though many organizations are having a hard time finding enough quality people willing to show up on time and perform the tasks necessary to get the job done.
Communicating the fact that there are several options for long, successful careers in our industry is crucial to opening the door to future leaders of our industry.
Regarding opportunities, it seems as though we’re in a period of recovery and people have more room in their budget to attend events and spend more time investing in their own personal growth.
There are several opportunities for individuals to network and interact with their peers through social media, webinars and other online mediums, and of course at some of the many events held throughout the year.
Taking advantage of these resources is a major benefit to our members and is crucial to the immediate and long-term success of their programs.
L&L: What was the most interesting thing you saw or heard on the floor this year?
Laurent: Trying to pinpoint just one thing from the floor would be very difficult. There were several new and innovative products and services on display this year.
One popular attraction on the show floor was the hover-craft golf cart made famous by the Bubba Watson YouTube video. Windy Knoll Golf Club in nearby Springfield, Ohio has two of them and they were kind enough to bring one over for display. It’s not every day that you get to see a hover-craft golf cart.
Also, it was rewarding to have nearly 1,000 people in attendance as we recognized several students and industry professionals for their achievements over the past year during our awards and scholarships ceremony on the show floor.
L&L: What can attendees look forward to at future conferences?
Laurent: We’re excited to be moving the 2014 conference and show to Kalahari Resort and Convention Center in Sandusky, Ohio.
Having our conference, tradeshow, hotel rooms, hospitality options and more all under one roof will provide our attendees and exhibitors an experience unlike anything we’ve been able to offer before.
Additionally, the move will make it more affordable for many of these individuals and companies to attend.
The Foundation will benefit from reduced expenses as well, allowing us to utilize revenue generated from the event to further support our mission instead of going towards overhead costs.
Tree care and racing came together at the 2013 TCI EXPO.
The Tree Care Industry Association injected some racing into its annual tradeshow in November in Charlotte, N.C. The EXPO’s keynote speaker on Thursday was Jeff Hammond, a previous crew chief and current FOX Sports NASCAR commentator. Hammond’s talk was titled “Teamwork at 200 MPH” and highlighted how his experiences on a pit crew could be related to the tree care industry.
“You’ve still got to have communication, you’ve got to have teamwork, and let’s face it, your business is dangerous,” he said in comparing the two industries.
NASCAR was a recurring theme throughout the week, with the EXPO’s welcome reception taking place at the NASCAR Hall of Fame Thursday night.
Along with the trade show floor, which allowed attendees to get an up-close look at this year’s newest equipment, the EXPO also featured educational sessions. Throughout the EXPO, seminars highlighted topics on safety, business and arboriculture.
A large focus of the educational sessions was how to make sure your team is as safe as possible, whether it’s by hiring the best employees, training with the most successful outcome or making sure your employee handbook highlights the proper procedures.
A forum was held so young business leaders could ask questions and get advice from others who had been in the industry for years. One topic discussed in length was how to promote your new business. Suggestions included using direct mail fliers through the post office, and promoting yourself on Angie’s List.
Another topic discussed was the idea of seeking out a mentor in a neighboring city that could give you some tips and advice if you run into a snag with your business. Next year’s TCI EXPO will take place Nov. 13-15 in Hartford, Conn.
Photos Courtesy of Katie Tuttle
Tree shortage could be hitting contractors right now
While business may be picking up for landscaping companies across the country, some may hit a bit of an obstacle when deciding what plants to include in a project. A nationwide tree shortage has hit the industry, and it doesn’t look like it will end anytime in the near future.
“Tree shortages (mainly in the 2-2.5-inch caliber range) that are appearing right now are just the leading edge of a much more severe, widespread shortage of desirable trees that will be needed for landscape construction projects throughout the country,” says Nancy Buley, director of communications for J Frank Schmidt & Son Co. in Boring, Ore.
Trees can take anywhere from 5-10 years to propagate. When nurseries closed their doors during the Great Recession that meant fewer trees were being propagated to hit the market right now.
“Oregon nurseries propagate a large percentage of the nation’s shade trees, and everyone suffered significant decreases in their annual sales,” Buley says. “Some major tree nurseries in Oregon and other propagation centers went out of business, leaving fewer propagators in the business.”
Kevin Finley, general manager of Mariani Nurseries in Wisconsin, said you won’t see nearly as much of a shortage in container and perennial plants because those don’t take as long to propagate.
“That inventory, you can evaluate it and respond to demand a little quicker,” Finley says. “There’s not quite the build-up of inventory. But with trees, when things were really, really strong I think a lot of growers were having a hard time meeting demand; there was a big buildup of field stock – shade trees, that type of thing.
“With demand, it didn’t just drop a normal recession level of say 10 or 12 percent. In some cases it dropped 50 percent.”
That left an abundance of trees with nowhere to put them, which meant nurseries were losing money on them. That access inventory is now gone and Buley says Schmidt is expecting eight years of shortages.
“It’s going to take years for our nursery customers to recover from the recession,” she says.
“Even though the nursery economy appears to be steadily improving, growers won’t be able to afford to ramp up production right away. Many will have to spend money gained from improved sales on deferred capital improvements, equipment purchase, wage increases.”
Buley adds that it’s not only the recession that caused the shortage, but also the havoc wreaked by Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Longhorn Beetle, and other diseases, along with natural disasters and droughts that have hit the country.
“They’re still mopping up after Hurricane Sandy, but eventually the trees that were lost will have to be replanted,” she says.
What now? So what does this tree shortage mean for landscapers? For one, you’ll have to be more careful about what trees you place in a bid, which is a change from years past, Finley says.
“The pendulum swung so dramatically from two years ago when they would bid jobs and they wouldn’t even think where they could get the product because the product was so plentiful,” he says.
Buley said contractors shouldn’t assume the trees they want will be available at the bargain they bought it at last year. She also said contractors should be willing to expand the distances they travel for trees, be prepared to place deposits to hold trees for future delivery and align with quality nurseries and listen to their advice on upcoming availability and site-appropriate substitutions.
“Send your want-lists to nurseries as early in the design process as possible – give them a heads-up as to the varieties and quantities you anticipate needing in the future,” Buley says.
“Landscape architects can no longer assume that the trees they draw on their plans will be out there for the contractor to find. They’ll need to make sure the trees exist before they specify.” – Brian Horn
Exmark S-Series Walk-behind Aerator
The pitch: After more than two years in development, Exmark will offer its S-Series walk-behind aerator model in 2014.
- With a single-cylinder Kawasaki KAI engine, the S-Series is capable of aeration speeds up to 4 mph, allowing aeration of nearly an acre of turf per hour.
- Features a 21-in. aeration width.
- Simple, easy-to-use design centralizes weight over the tines for consistent core depth.
For more information: www.exmark.com
Inter-Fab WOK Waterfall
The pitch: Inter-Fab’s WOK waterfall is a classic waterfall that works with any outdoor living design.
- The WOK waterfall is 36 inches in diameter.
- Comes in two different pedestal heights and has optional matching planters to complement the pool area.
- Available in a true copper color.
For more information: www.inter-fab.com
Netafim Octave Water Meter
The pitch: Octave is an ultrasonic water meter that utilizes double-beam sensors to monitor flow.
- Octave’s water flow path is unrestricted.
- The meter’s measurement method is based on dual-beam sensors that determine the length of time it takes an ultrasonic wave to travel between the two sensors located in the meter’s body.
- The sensors alternate as senders and receivers with the ultrasonic waves travelling with and against the flow.
For more information: www.netafimusa.com
NexTraq VT-2400 Series
The pitch: NexTraq’s VT-2400 series includes technology that monitors aggressive and dangerous driving behaviors such as harsh braking, cornering and jack rabbit starts
- NexTraq’s latest vehicle tracking device tracks in one-minute intervals and comes with a built-in accelerometer.
- NexTraq’s associated Driver Safety Scorecard Report can show results for further driver coaching.
- Also offers gyroscope technology to ensure tracking of a vehicle’s movements.
For more information: www.nextraq.com
JAWZ Grabbing Tools
The pitch: Paladin Attachments has partnered with Star Hill Solutions to introduce the new Bradco JAWZ Grabbing Tools.
- The attachments feature a patented set of T1 steel fingers (pinchers) powered by dual cylinders.
- For more compact jobs, the Bradco Mini-JAWS mounts on a compact tool carrier.
- The grabbing tools are also capable of handling specialized materials like boulders and logs.
For more information: www.paladinattachments.com
Silver Creek Stoneworks Woodstone Collection
The pitch: Silver Creek Stoneworks Woodstone collection’s debut landscape tile has the look of weathered white pine, with soft edges, deep splits and detailed grain on five sides.
- Available in ash; a blend of brown and dark gray.
- Available in multiple looks for patios and pathways.
- Three sizes: 9.75-in.-width x 2-in.-height x 15.5-in;, 23.375-in. and 35-in. length.
For more information: www.rockwoodwalls.com
I got a degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in forestry and turf management. I came out to Colorado on an internship to work golf courses.
That’s what brought me out west. I tell everybody I watched too much “Ponderosa” growing up.
Eventually I got fired from my first job at a golf course. I had a softball game that I needed to get to and the assistant superintendent wanted me to continue working. We were putting in 12-, 14-hour days completing a golf course, and I thought my softball game was more important.
So, that caused conflict.
I ended up working for Barefoot Grass Lawn Service in Denver. And they were fabulous. I love selling and they gave you your own territory and said, “Knock a home run off if you can.” I went after it as hard as I could.
I moved over to Swingle in 1987 to help Swingle expand their lawn care division. I had an opportunity in 1997 to buy into the organization and then in 1998, my partner passed away – Dave Dickson.
When I originally purchased the company, we were doing about $6 million worth of business and we’ll just cross $20 million in sales this year.
We’ve been very blessed. The team’s done a great job.
This year we had our worst spring weather that any of us can remember. We had eight snowstorms eight weeks in a row starting in March.
It was, without a doubt, the most difficult financial year for our organization. People were down to less than 20 hours a week over a three to four week period. It was just impossible to get out and do our normal services.
It was about May 17, we had temperatures that hovered around 20 degrees. And we started that recovery about June 1.
The biggest challenge facing us is recruiting, retention and development. We’re going to have to attract people to our company, attract people to the industry. But we have to provide solid training so people will understand that they’re learning a skill that can carry them on in their future.
We identified a year ago that we truly needed to have an on-staff recruiter whose primary duty and responsibility was to make sure that we were sharing our opportunities with as broad an audience as possible – both traditional and non-traditional.
As we were looking at professional recruiters coming from different industries, many of them looked at us and said, “We just don’t think you have enough opportunity to keep us busy full time.” And I sat down with the one we hired and said, “Trust me. The opportunity is there and you will be plenty busy.”
The best technician isn’t gonna be your best finance person. You have to go out and find a professional finance person. It’s not to say that those of us inside the industry can’t migrate and move to different positions, but that’s not gonna be the case all the time.
It’s not what they call you. It’s what they pay you. People will respect you for what you’re doing and you keep working hard and it’s gonna reward itself.
The irony that I share with people is we make more dollars per hour doing aeration than we do in irrigation. Isn’t that just terrible that we, as an industry, can’t convince our customers that our irrigation technician is worth more than our aeration technician?
Certifications are wonderful. I believe wholeheartedly in them and we’re a massive supporter of certifications because it demonstrates people’s commitment to the industry.
I don’t think that’s gonna change what a customer pays us.
Answer your phone, return your calls, show up on time, do what you say you’re gonna do, do it for a fair price. And, by the way, if you’re a certified technician, that’s great.
The fact is, we’re truly the environmental stewards – we just have to conduct ourselves in that fashion.
You have to know who you are. And if that’s where you want to be, know that that’s where you want to be.