I spent a few days down in Orlando last month for the PLANET Lawn Care Summit and Real Green Systems Users Conference. Together, they provide LCOs with some of the best education currently available on how to run their businesses better.
The week was chock full of sessions about mergers and acquisitions, technical updates on the latest products and other solid education that’s key for so many companies. But two speakers blew me away and illustrated the fact that there are a lot of smart people working very hard to put science and real numbers behind the green industry.
To wit: Dr. Mark Schmidt from John Deere and Mike Dukes from the University of Florida.
Schmidt, Deere’s chief scientist, heads up a brain trust of folks working on a concept called ecological services. It’s an idea that’s found purchase in the ag and forestry industries and makes sense for landscaping as well.
The goal is to assign values to the various pieces and parts that make up a landscape – the trees, the water reclamation ability, carbon sequestered, even the pleasure people get from taking a walk in the park – and use those numbers to show that in a true cost-benefit analysis, landscaping has a net benefit to the world.
Yes, it’s a bit harder to quantify and put a value on the pleasure of a long walk in the woods than the market price of a truckload of soybeans or pine boards. But the approach and the effort are laudable.
The idea of ecological services moves the industry away from the idea that plants are pretty and nice, but not really necessary, and brings to the fore the idea that yes, landscapes are worth something, and likely worth more than a lot of people realize.
Second, Mike Dukes, a professor at the University of Florida, who’s working with the Southern Florida Water Management District to quantify the impact of smart controllers in various landscapes.
His work, among other things, is being used to develop standard irrigation codes for municipalities, so the industry gets a fair – and scientific – shake when it comes to regulations.
Third is our own report, Grow the Market. It’s the first post-recession study of consumer attitudes and how homeowners perceive landscapers. This first-of-its-kind report is designed to help landscapers and lawn care operators target customers more effectively and grow their market share intelligently.
Each of these three projects will help you grow and be more successful, either tomorrow or in the future. Some of the science may be wonky, but folks like Schmidt and Dukes are key to the long-term viability of the green industry.
– Chuck Bowen
It’s been a long-assumed truth that landscaping increases the value of a home somewhere between five and 25 percent when it comes time to sell. And our research shows that it really depends on the market.
According to our study, 61 percent of homeowners think that if they decide to sell their home, they can make any necessary landscape improvements in a year or less. Of the people who always or sometimes hire professionals for their landscape services, just 15 percent think they’ll get back more than what they paid for the project.
About two-thirds of average homeowners say they’ll get less than 60 percent of their investment back.
So, we asked three real estate experts in some of the biggest markets in the country to weigh in on what, exactly, landscaping does for a home when it’s time to sell.
Bio: 35 years as an appraiser, Irr-Residential Appraisers and Consultants, a Houston-based appraisal firm that operates 45 offices in 26 states Market: In Houston, the median home price is $170,000; first-time buyers spend $200,000; high-end homes cost $5-20 million
A huge component of curb appeal is landscaping. When you’re driving down the street, that’s 85 percent of what you’re going to see. As it impacts curb appeal, landscaping is very important.
What happens is we’re asked to do an appraisal. If the house is existing, you start comparing those properties, and you look at their landscaping relative to your properties. If the landscaping is terrible, the grass is dead and the shrubs are 1970s vintage … you have to compare. You have to see if it’s inferior to everything else or superior to everything else. That’s when the appraiser would typically adjust. Otherwise, it’s baked into the selling price.
Another way is to do a paired sale. Look at similar houses in an established neighborhood. They’ll have modernized the landscape and put in new plants. Find houses that have the old plants and compare them. That becomes a direct market analysis and that becomes the figure the appraiser would use.
It’s not a scientific approach.
We’re just reflecting what the market is doing. Sellers will often categorize and itemize trees on a property. When buyers look at it, they don’t care. It’s a more holistic approach.
Better landscaping will probably sell a house for more.
Bio: Broker with @properties in Winnetka, Ill., and chairman of the board of the North Shore-Barrington Association of Realtors Market: The average home price is $1-1.2 million
The key to the landscaping is it really makes the house much more sellable. What you’re going to do is attract people. People do a lot of drive-bys, especially in more exclusive neighborhoods. They don’t necessarily want to engage; they’re gauging the neighborhood.
It’s almost like you show up for a job interview and you’re not dressed well. You don’t want to show up in a rumpled shirt. It’s the same thing when they’re trying to sell a house. It’s got to be presented in the best possible light. If you don’t present yourself well, you’re not going to get the job.
When it comes to selling houses these days, it’s a beauty contest and a price war. The buyers today are really picky. A lot of people come in and they want to get something at a great price and don’t want to do a lot of work to it. They don’t want to spend $15,000 on new landscaping. It makes the place warmer. People like to see that color.
It’s critical dressing. It’s icing on the cake.
Bio: President of the Greater Las Vegas Association of Realtors Market: Mid-tier is $200,000-$400,000; high-end is more than $1 million
People tend not to realize how important landscaping is. What they need to realize is the first approach to anything we sell is landscaping. The neater and cleaner the landscape, the better chance for a sale. It’s our first step of a sale.
I have sold 20 years in New York and 15 years here. This is the story with a lawn in Las Vegas: All the high-end homes you will see, the majority of these homes have lawns for the whole look. They want that lush look. Even in the medium-priced homes, it’s hard to raise a family and have the kids go out on rock. Even if the front yard is desert, in the back they put in as much lawn as possible. They want their kids to go out to play.
It’s the ones with lush green lawns that get the highest resale value. When we see a lawn as a realtor, we’re happy because that’s what we like. The more lush, the easier it is to sell.
On the high end, landscaping can make or break your deal. It’s important here. If it doesn’t have grass, don’t show it to me.
It’s no secret that 2012 was no ordinary year. It was the hottest and second-most extreme year on record – ever – in the contiguous United States, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Punctuated with heat waves, droughts, hurricanes and storm surges, wildfires and floods, the unpredictable weather patterns threw everyone for a loop.
So what does this mean for your spring turf disease outlook? Well, it means it’ll probably keep you guessing.
“The overall theme for 2013 is, ‘Expect the unexpected,’” says Frank Wong, green solutions specialist at Bayer Environmental Science. “Going out on a straight calendar base may go out the window, because things are getting really unpredictable when you’re talking about weather and disease patterns.”
Doug Houseworth, research and development director for Arysta LifeScience turf and ornamental products, puts it more bluntly: “I have never seen disease problems so prevalent in Northern Florida, ever, than I have right now,” he says.
He recently visited with lawn care companies in the Jacksonville area who were having trouble controlling what they thought was large patch with traditional fungicide applications. “What I found is that this year, we are dealing with a completely different pathogen – we’re dealing with take-all. Even I was fooled, and other professionals were fooled,” he says.
It stresses the importance of getting a correct diagnosis, picking the right fungicide and the right rate and the right timing, Houseworth says.
Preparation is key. Successful LCOs will prepare their team and clients now for the turf diseases coming this spring and summer.
Education is a major component of identifying an issue, and should be your first line of defense.
Recognizing yellow or brown turf as a disease rather than dead or wilted grass could end up saving the lawn – overwatering and overfertilizing could just exacerbate the problem.
“There are some certain indicators that we can be prepared for, and based on the history that we have with that particular location, we can have a pretty good idea of what to expect, assuming normal weather conditions,” says Matt Giese, Syngenta’s technical field manager for the Midwest.
Prepare for that as a minimum, then as weather conditions change, alter your programs, he says.
Once you have an idea what you’re looking for, make sure to keep your eye out early on this year, since conditions are atypical and depending on where you are located, diseases may already be infecting.
Then if you spot something amiss, follow up with a professional diagnosis from a commercial laboratory or university diagnostic lab to ensure that mistakes are minimized and the disease is being treated properly.
There are also several preventative steps you can take to avert diseases. Most fungal diseases need plenty of moisture to thrive, so do what you can to decrease irrigation when possible.
“Even if we do get green up in the winter time (or early spring), the grasses aren’t actively growing,” says Dr. Bruce Martin, professor of plant pathology and physiology at Clemson University. Because the turf doesn’t need much water, cutting back on irrigation may help avoid large patch.
Preventive fungicide applications can also help mitigate disease problems.
Martin recommends two applications in the fall and then a follow-up application in the spring, around green-up, for best results.
Springtime applications are typically more curative because the disease has already infected, but you still may need an application to keep the disease from spreading and the patches from persisting.
In the case of summer patch, which usually occurs in late June, July and August, it’s already almost time to apply preventative treatments.
“You need to treat for it in the late spring in order to prevent it from occurring,” says Kyle Miller, senior technical specialist at BASF. “People with Kentucky Bluegrass lawns need to be aware of that and have fungicide applications go down before those diseases actually occur.”
Keep in mind that effective lawn care requires an integrated approach in addition to these types of applications.
According to Wong, adjusting fertilizer rates, looking at air movement or sunlight penetration should also be factors in your disease prevention.
See how LCOs around the country are saving time and money with pre-emergent programs. Visit www.lawnandlandscape.com and search “pre-emergents.”
Photos courtesy: Large Patch – Bayer; Red Thread – Jim Kerns; Snow Mold – Bayer; Dollar spot – Bayer; Grey Leaf Spot – Bayer
It’s difficult to know exactly what will hit turf come green-up, but there are signs to look for when stepping out this spring. Knowing which conditions cause which diseases will help prepare you and your team, and familiarizing yourself with how to identify these diseases will go a long way in control efforts. “You have the disease triangle – you need a host, you need a pathogen, and you need a conducive environment,” says Jim Kerns, assistant professor and extension specialist of turf grass pathology at North Carolina State University. “The pathogen is always there, the host is always there, so it’s really what the weather is going to bring.”
What you see: Cool, wet weather
What you get: Diseases such as Bipolaris leaf spot, snow mold, or red thread in Rye grass or Kentucky Bluegrass. “If we start to get a lot of wet weather in January, February, March, right about March and April when we start to get green-up, we’ll see the large patch disease, which is caused by Rhizoctonia fungus,” says, Dr. Bruce Martin, professor of plant pathology and physiology at Clemson University.
What to do: Alter irrigation – keep things on the dry side, particularly during the infection periods. DMIs are broad-spectrum sterol inhibitors, which will work on several types of diseases. Look for azoxystrobin or propiconazole as active ingredients.
What you see: Warm, wet conditions
What you get: Large patch, grey leaf spot and dollar spot in Centipede, St. Augustine or Zoyzia grasses.
What to do: There are standard compounds that are used later in the season, such as chlorothalonil, which serves as a protectant fungicide. There are also broad-spectrum fungicides called strobilurins, which work on several different diseases. Look for active ingredients triadimefon, propiconazole, azoxystrobin and fluoxastrobin.
Saving time on tank mixing
One industry supplier is helping LCOs take the guesswork and hassle out of tank mixing.
Holganix provides key clients with a bespoke mixing and filling system for its line of organic fertilizer.
Tom Winkler, CEO of Go Organic Lawn Care in Oakland, N.J., says that prior to installing the system, it took his techs at least 20 minutes to fill a truck. Now it takes eight.
The automated dispensing system known as RAD 600 holds 600 gallons of refrigerated Holganix product. Winkler says trucks are hooked up directly to the system and the operator calculates how many gallons he needs based on his truck size. The original system was designed specifically for Go Organic after Winkler called Holganix and said he needed a better system that could increase truck fill time and also the safety of his crew.
“It’s a cumbersome job to fill a truck with jugs and it presented the opportunity for injury with back problems,” Winkler says. “The company COO put pen to paper and came up with a solution that solves those problems for us. I think the system cost them around $12,000 and they gave it to us on loan. As long as we are using Holganix product, we can use their system – and that’s been amazing. It’s decreased our time at the shop which increases productivity and it makes filling the trucks a safer job.” – Lindsey Getz
Photos courtesy of Holganix
Clients who visit Moscarino Outdoor Creations’ 36-acre home base get a real sense for how the design/build process works and can essentially see before they spend. The grounds include several mini landscapes that showcase water features, hardscape materials, annuals and perennials.
Each year, the company, located in Northeast Ohio, adds to its onsite landscape theatre – it’s just enough to give clients a taste of what the firm offers.
“I love challenging projects, and I love working with clients who have a vision, and we can help bring that to life,” says Chas Moscarino, who started in the business cutting grass to help pay for college.
When he graduated, he couldn’t ignore the success of his company, so he and brother Chris focused on growing and expanding its services, incorporating in 2003.
“I talked to my brother and we said, ‘We can make this thing as big as we want – let’s go for it,’” Moscarino says, telling the short version of their conversation about growing the business.
Every year, Moscarino Outdoor Creations has grown about 30 to 40 percent, which garnered the firm a prestigious Weatherhead 100 Award showcasing the fastest growing companies in northeast Ohio.
“In a down economy, people were cutting back, but we kept our game out in front of everyone,” Moscarino says.
The company maintained its marketing budget, doubled its staff from 2009 to 2012 – the firm now employs 90 people – and moved into a brand-new facility two years ago.
Selling on site. The show-and-tell power of selling a landscape design is real.
When clients can see the material, touch it, choose among living plants they can see and smell, they can make decisions easier. And this saves a lot of headaches during the design process.
Plus, visiting the facility helps build a comfort level, which is the foundation for a long-term relationship that can result in multi-phase projects for Moscarino. “Once we get our clients here, they can meet our team, they meet our designers – we have them in the conference room and make sure they are comfortable with us, our process,” Moscarino says.
Then, everyone can walk outside the door onto the expansive property and stroll through the landscape settings arranged to help clients visualize how plans actually materialize. “They can point out what they like – ‘I love that plant material,’ or, ‘That’s not going to work,’” Moscarino says.
“They can pick materials out of a catalogue, but when they come here and see it they say, ‘I didn’t think it was going to look like that; I like this better.’ Having clients visit us here saves time.” The million-dollar project was a big risk for the company. “We did that in the middle of the recession, and it was a scary move for us,” Moscarino says.
The company did 25 percent of the construction itself, managing the overall project. Moscarino leases a portion of the land to another vendor, and its facility is at full capacity. “We have grown into the facility, and that was the goal,” Moscarino says.
To read the full article, visit www.lawnandlandscape.com and search “Moscarino.”
Phase in the work
Breaking projects into smaller pieces will appeal to clients.
Breaking big projects into budget-friendly pieces has secured long-term accounts for Moscarino Outdoor Creations. Taking a phase approach to designing landscapes gives clients financial flexibility and allows them to buy into a large-scale plan without feeling the pain in the wallet.
“We always present different concepts, and once we get the final plan, we break down every part of it as a cost,” says Chas Moscarino, president, Moscarino Outdoor Creations, Columbia Station, Ohio. Also, taking a project in phases helps Moscarino Outdoor Creations meet high expectations on tight budgets. “If a client is telling me their budget is $20,000 but I see $80,000 of work on the property, I always ask if this is something they want to stake out over a period of time,” he says. By laying out a project in a phase format, clients feel comfortable with the immediate investment. For example, if a plan includes a $50,000 outdoor fireplace, the first phase might include setting concrete and installing electricity.
“We get these elements prepped now so we can do (the fireplace) when the time is right,” he says. “The same goes for landscaping and trees – as long as we know it’s in the plan, we can prepare for it. And clients like that approach.”
It was December of 1987, 25 years ago, and I was in Boston teaching a landscape and irrigation estimating class to 25 strangers. These attendees were contractors from the New England area. I vividly remember that group even though I haven’t seen many of its members since.
Some of my best clients, landscape and irrigation contractors that I still see on a regular basis, were in that class. One in particular comes to mind: S. Michael Flowers.
Economic downturns breed opportunity. During the latter 1980s, Flowers’s company grew and he developed an excellent reputation for quality landscape installations and maintenance services.
Flowers developed strong relationships with some large commercial builders who gave him lots of work. Unfortunately, the recession of the late 1980s hit New England very hard and Flowers saw his sales plummet.
That was the bad news. The good news was that the recession gave Flowers an opportunity to rethink the mix of products and services that he provided for his clients. He had a chance to reinvent himself and pursue his new passion: turf management.
A cursory look at Championship Turf Service’s website (www.turfchamps.com), and the viewer immediately senses that much thought, planning and execution lies behind not only the website, but also the enterprise represented on the screen.
First, it’s not about Flowers. He’s not even mentioned on his own website. It’s about the team of professionals at Championship Turf Services and the quality of the product and services that it provides. It’s not about egos trying to get face time.
The team at Championship Turf Services has six to seven full-time employees with more than 70 years of combined experience in the sports turf and golf industries. Its team of agronomists and turf managers brings field-tested expertise and a passion for quality to every project.
A few years ago, he lost one of his maintenance accounts to a company with a substantially lower bid. The low bid was accompanied with low quality. Due to the poor performance, three years later, Flowers won back the job at his price, not the low bidder’s one.
His passion for and knowledge of athletic field management has set him apart as an example for others to emulate.
His hard work over many years has paid big dividends. Flowers can’t guarantee that the teams that play on the fields that he builds and maintains always have a winning season; however, he can guarantee the perennial success of the turf that’s under their feet.
JIM HUSTON runs J.R. Huston Consulting, a green industry consulting firm. See www.jrhuston.biz; mail firstname.lastname@example.org.