Here are some things that could ruin you this year: You get sued for a million bucks because a retaining wall collapses. Your top salesman steals half your clientele for his own company. INS deports your entire production staff in April. The EPA shuts down your facility due to a report (maybe bogus) of improper storage of chemicals. A crew member gets injured or killed on the job. Hurricanes. See also: fires, floods, tornados, earthquakes. All your managers quit in the off season.
I know. I’m a regular ray of sunshine this month. It’s the curse of a journalist to be drawn to stories of pain and sadness. Just keep reading.
We’ve written about all those things in Lawn & Landscape before, and how contractors responded to tragic and catastrophic events. Our message with all those stories has been that while these events stand out, they aren’t that rare.
I never made it to the Boy Scouts. I can’t start a fire with just twigs or build a canoe out of duct tape and neckerchiefs, but I’ve always liked their motto: Be prepared.
Now, some might say that you can’t really prepare for a list like mine. A lawsuit can (and often does) drop right out of the sky to ruin your day.
And while you can’t make someone not sue you, you can have a good lawyer, a great insurance policy and a solid foundation of cash reserves. You can’t make your favorite ops guy not quit, but you can build a pipeline of talented managers who can step in and step up when you need them to. You can’t guarantee that your H2B workers will come through again this year, or that the health care law won’t change.
All those disasters are things you can’t control. All you can do is prepare for them, and hope they don’t happen.
In our latest State of the Industry Report, we asked what the top concern for contractors was and for the first time in many years, stress was in the top five.
After successfully leaning out their organizations and taking on more work for themselves, owners have started to crack under all the pressure of trying to do more work themselves and continue to grow.
And while running a landscape business is inherently stressful, undue stress is something to watch for. Stress is a real thing – as real as a heart attack. It’s easy, especially if you have as active an imagination as I do, to think about those tragic and terrible things in my list.
So, and I say this a lot here in my column, but I’ll say it again: Don’t worry about the things you can’t control. Plan and prepare for the things you can.
– Chuck Bowen
In doing research for this article, I stumbled upon the following job ad:
Landscape Maintenance Supervisor
- Residential Landscape Company seeking Crew Supervisor. We are a high quality company that has been growing and seeking quality team members.
- The applicant must have a VALID DRIVERS LICENSE.
- The applicant must speak English.
- The applicant must have a CLEAN driving record.
- The applicant must have landscape maintenance experience.
- The applicant must show a work history, referrences and job history will be verified.
- We are a drug free workplace and the applicant must pass a pre-employment drug test.
- EMAIL WITH A RESUME OR WRITE AN EMAIL EXPLAINING YOUR QUALIFICATIONS. WE WILL CONTACT YOU WITH THE OPPORTUNITY TO FILL OUT A JOB APPLICATION.
- ONLY SERIOUS AND QUALIFIED APPLICANTS ACCEPTED.
This ad is awesome! Seriously, did I just say “awesome?” Yes I did! You know why? Because I’m pretty sure this ad is for a local competitor of mine and I’m guessing he’ll spend the next two weeks being bogged down by hundreds of applicants who will be predictably disappointing. He’s looking for bodies and this ad will attract just that.
An ad like this does nothing to weed out the “average” people and lure in the best and brightest talent. It says something more along the lines of “if you’ve managed to function somewhat normally in this world, then come work for us.” It also says that paying attention to detail is not important and yes, “referrences” is spelled wrong. IT EVEN USES ALL CAPITAL LETTERS TO LET YOU KNOW WHEN THEY’RE REALLY SERIOUS. This company sends the message that they are mediocre at best. What message does your company send?
Be clear. A great job description will engage, inform and create a strong call-to-action. Every position in your company should have a job description, especially that of the owner. Company owners are notorious for neglecting themselves in just about every way, and defining their own job is not an exception. Most of us don’t feel worthwhile unless we’re wearing every hat. Don’t we brag (or whine) about that as we lean on the counter at our local vendor? “I can’t keep up,” “I’m so busy,” “I need five of me” and the list goes on and on.
We say these things because we’ve experienced profound disappointment when people don’t make decisions like we would. When people we hire to be innovators don’t innovate, when creators don’t create, when thinkers don’t think and when doers don’t do, then, without giving it a second thought, we resign ourselves to a paradigm that says “employees just don’t care like the owner” or “if you want something done right, you’d better do it yourself.”
I’m going to suggest that we don’t get the results we want out of employees for two main reasons. First, we haven’t defined what results we want. Second, we haven’t defined what type of person it takes to achieve those results. Defining these then becomes the foundation for which a job description is formed.
When writing a job description, speak from the heart and please remember this is the green industry where real people use real words.
Job descriptions can begin on scratch pads before graduating to typed text. The most important thing to know in order to make the description successful is that it is written by the right person. It may have been a long time since you rode a mower, drove a Bobcat or pruned a hedge.
For this reason, involve your operations manager or crew foreman in the process of defining the position.
Your initial list of bullet points might be long, so take time to whittle it down and focus on being clear and concise in the final draft.
Be creative. Boring descriptions will again speak to the masses. Many applicants have spent weeks or months combing through job ads. Thinkers, creators and innovators will be drawn to a challenge and a story, so use your description to laser in on your target candidate. Compare the description to people in (or outside of) your company that are doing a great job. For owners, that may even be ourselves.
Document what makes that person so great and put it into the job description. Perhaps a line that says “looking for a winner that can do their best work even when the situation around them is hectic.” The point is to be creative.
If you’re a do-it-all owner looking to get out of the rat race and bring in top talent and perhaps you just don’t know where to start, begin by journaling. Keep track of what you do, every hour of the day, and at the end of each day, assign a role to each task.
For example, you might show that from 9-9:30 a.m. you ordered materials and from 9:30-10 a.m. you made sales calls. You’d assign the first task to the role of an operations person and the second to a sales person.
You’ve just begun the process of forming a job description. You’ve also created a great tool for identifying how you spend your own time. The point is that a great job description is going to attract great talent. It begins by writing and re-writing the duties of each role and once you have a list, turn it into a compelling, call-to-action, story. And by all means, please include a job title. Begin by simply beginning. Just getting started is half the battle.
Recruit the right way
If I were given the opportunity to re-write the job ad on pg. 80, it might look something like this. Keep in mind, while it’s not a full description, it does a great job of engaging, informing and creating strong call to action. Just a side note, do you think with an ad like this that it’s still necessary to tell people they need to speak English?
Job Title: Landscape Maintenance Foreman
(I hate the word supervisor)
At XYZ Company, we’ve spent years working with clever, creative people. Some come to us with years of experience and others are new to the green industry. Look, we don’t present our potential clients with a resume and expect them to hire us … we show up and wow them. We’re going to invite you to wow us. We’re expanding our team and looking to create a career path for the individual that can make the most difference to our company and who is most aligned with our values.
At XYZ Company, we serve our employees by placing value in the following areas:
- Cross-train employees so they can be prepared to take on additional leadership in the future
- Create a team culture so that no one individual can make the company or break the company. We will learn together, laugh together, work hard together and make money together.
- Our company embraces life outdoors and the value of hard physical work with the joy of maintaining impeccable properties for our clients.
- If you’re the best, you won’t ever have to worry about being paid above industry standards.
- Minimum 5 years experience overcoming challenges.
- 1 great story of how you helped someone else succeed.
- Able to work in, and appreciate, very hot days, very cold days, rainy days, beautiful days.
- Must demonstrate an insatiable energy to learn and be challenged. We are the best at what we do and are only prepared to invest in the best people.
- Valid license and clean driving history.
How you will serve us
- Keep our clients’ properties looking fantastic using an established system.
- Bring suggestions for improvement to every weekly meeting.
- Communicate with our clients regularly, and constantly “check-in” with them ensuring that our service is exceeding their expectations.
- Operate mowers, weed eaters, blowers, edgers and all tools and equipment according to our safety guidelines.
|One of Morgan’s projects has raised beds for wheelchair access and is irrigated with rainwater.|
In 1984, when Paul Morgan started a natural landscape business that put an emphasis on sustainable landscapes, the service wasn’t very popular around the country. Morgan Landscape Co., based in Atlanta, was known for working with the land, Morgan says, and ultimately grew into a second company, the RainHarvest Co., that would focus solely on water management and reuse.
Rain Harvesting and Beyond. At the time the company was founded, the idea of rain harvesting was brand new in the States, though it had been done in places like Australia for decades.
In 1999, the RainHarvest Co. put in its first residential system, garnering the company a lot of press and even some television airtime. But Morgan says that rainwater harvesting isn’t by any means a cut-and dry-business. Even the very best system is at the mercy of the weather.
“If it doesn’t rain, it doesn’t work and that can be a problem,” Morgan says. “I’m always clear about that fact up front because I don’t want my clients to be disappointed after investing a lot of money into a system that runs dry.”
Morgan says he has turned down work that wasn’t in the best interest of his clients. Simply put, if there is a drought, the system is not going to work. “I never want clients to invest in a system that they’re unhappy with,” he continues. “Negative referrals go a lot further than positive ones. If I believe the system is going to cost more than the client can recover, I tell them – even if it means lost work.
“That’s really important. Many of my clients have been with me upwards of 20 years. We want that long-term relationship and the referrals and getting those means being honest and even turning down work from time to time if it’s in the client’s best interest.” That’s why Morgan, and his business partner James King, began to get involved with other forms of water reclamation and reuse in addition to storm water management.
When working on a property, Morgan says his ultimate goal is to create a truly hydrological cycle. With a Water ReUse System, gray water (non-septic water) is collected from the household and filtered below the surface and directly into the root zones of the property’s trees, shrubs, and turf. “In a truly hydrological system, we would capture rainwater that can be purified and filtered for use both indoors and outdoors,” Morgan says.
“But we’d also capture laundry water and bath water to be recycled for other non-potable end uses such as irrigation or flushing toilets. The idea is that no water is wasted.” Reusing water saves homeowners from purchasing potable drinking water from the local municipality and also decreases the burden placed on the local sewer system or the residential septic system.
Besides adding value to the community, a system like this can also save homeowners money, and Morgan says that the increasing cost of water has helped drive more business for him.
But Morgan says that one reason a lot of residential homeowners may shy away from the idea is a belief that it will have a major impact on the way they live.
|A cistern is one method of rainwater harvesting that Morgan offers.|
However, he sees it differently. “I believe that when a home is properly plumbed that even prudent water use is not going to have an impact on their lifestyle,” Morgan says. “With the right system, they will be able to get off the grid, remain sustainable, but not have to sacrifice the way they live or the water they use.
“It comes down to smart planning. Just like a budget, water use needs to be balanced.”
Of the many recent projects worth noting, the LEED Platinum Southface Eco Office project included a 14,000-gallon underground cistern, which collects water from nearly the entire site and re-uses it for irrigation and sewage conveyance. In total, the company has worked on nine LEED projects in the past five years.
A better tomorrow. The importance of creating smart water use systems has driven the RainHarvest Co. to the point where it’s Morgan’s primary business. The landscaping company is no longer his bread and butter, though he says he still does enjoy doing a smart landscape design that works with the land, as opposed to against it.
When the opportunity presents itself, he will still do design and build work, but his focus right now is on water management. Of course, he says, the two businesses complement each other nicely.
“You can’t have a nice landscape without water,” Morgan says. “But when we do a landscape, we ultimately want something that can be weaned off regular watering except for the vegetables and maybe annuals and perennials.
“My feeling is that if you have plant material that needs regular watering, perhaps it wasn’t chosen properly or was put in the wrong place.”
While Morgan wants to make a living and provide jobs through his business, he says what’s really driving the company is his passion for water conservation. “That’s why we’re in the business,” he says. “We do a lot of speaking opportunities and lunch and learns with engineers and architects – and we push water conservation.
“We’re called to be good stewards of the resources God gave us or else we can’t expect our next generations to have plentiful water resources. That’s what really drives us. I want my grandchildren to have a big beautiful vegetable garden and not to have to worry about water bans because we used it all up. We have to be good stewards of our resources.”
3 tips for getting paid
It can be a challenge, but here are steps to make it easier to get your money.
Get it signed. No matter how small the job, a verbal agreement is never good enough on its own. Make sure you create a thorough contract that gets signed. “Always have a contract that is signed by all stakeholders with very clear terms prior to beginning any work or making purchases,” Morgan says. “In your contract you should make notes that if the final payment is going to be delayed beyond 30 days from completion, that you will automatically file a mechanics lien to protect your investment.”
Create a schedule. The payment schedule is a critical component of your agreement, Morgan says. “Have an explicit payment schedule defined, agreed to, and signed by all stakeholders,” he says. “Our schedule is based on our performance. Make sure that upon substantial completion of the project, only 10 percent of the total price remains on the table.”
Invoice in advance. Invoice for each phase prior to beginning that phase, Morgan says. “This eliminates delays that will result in waiting for the client to process the request after you have already completed the work.”
Photos courtesy of Rainharvest Co.
Every time an irrigation system runs, a faucet is turned on, a toilet flushed or dishes washed, a business supplies a product. The function of supplying water and removing waste is a service usually supplied by a quasi-governmental controlled monopoly … oops, business. Water should be free, right? After all, water is a fundamental component of people and plants. This is the one of the many roots of the problem when it comes to water rates. The other problem is water conservation.
Smart irrigation (ET controllers, low flow heads, drip, etc.) and turf conversion programs combined with other successful water conservation programs such as improved water-saving fixtures, technology and a number of other factors, have resulted in decreasing water sales and water-related revenues on a national level. In other words, the water supply industry is trying to operate with a declining revenue stream, which is not a sustainable way to conduct business.
While revenues are declining, costs of treating the water and delivering it to the customer is increasing. Operating costs for water companies are dominated by labor, supplies, energy, chemicals, purchased water (where applicable) and debt servicing in the form of bond payments. New contamination threats, escalating chemical costs and new or recently enforced federal and state water quality regulations are driving overhead costs up.
The only way to cover these increases is to raise the cost of the water.
Double cost. While water utilities struggle to replace the old pipes, they must also plan for future growth in sprawling suburban areas where new distribution pipes have to be installed, and increased population density in urban areas where water capacity is fixed with the existing infrastructure.
In order to ensure we have ample, safe and reliable water in the future, the cost of the water must continue to increase. In 2009, the American Society of Civil Engineers issued the Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s water and wastewater infrastructure a D-.
The same report also noted that drinking water systems face an annual shortfall of at least $11 billion in funding needed to replace aging facilities to comply with existing and future federal water regulations.
Going up. Water rates will continue to increase. Should customers continue to conserve? Absolutely, positively, yes! Conservation will continue to be the cheapest source of water. Water saved is water that doesn’t have to be purchased. With the water rates continuing to rise precipitously, water conservation helps offset future expenditures.
Rising water costs can have a side benefit for landscape and irrigation contractors. As the cost of water rises, the ROI for landscape and irrigation improvement projects related to water conservation become more attractive for owners and managers.
A project from last year that may have had a 24-36 month ROI may have seen a 10 percent reduction in time this year and another 10 percent reduction in time next year.
In other words, the increasing water rates may result in the customer seeing the benefit of water conservation five to six months sooner than previously expected.
Water conservation continues to be a viable discussion in the landscape and irrigation industry. So whether designing, installing, maintaining or managing an irrigation system, be sure to follow the best management practices outlined by the Irrigation Association.
The author is drector of sales operations at ValleyCrest Landscape Cos.
Buyers Products Barn Door Toolboxes
The pitch: Buyers Products barn door underbody tool boxes feature design improvements.
- The toolboxes feature a full perimeter D-bulb seal protecting against leaks.
- The underbody boxes that are 18-, 24-, and 30-in. wide have a single, left-swing door with a single point latch.
- A locking three-point, T-handle compression latch with low-friction roller also provides secure storage.
For more information: www.buyersproducts.com
The pitch: EverGreen Mobile is designed to reduce administrative time spent in the office while maximizing technician efficiency.
- EverGreen Mobile allows technicians to access their schedule from the field, record detailed service information and print reports on site.
- Record client signatures and process credit card payments with a mobile credit card reader.
- Data can be synced from anywhere with a wi-fi connection.
For more information: www.evergreensoftware.com
Noon Turf Care Front Rack
The pitch: The Front Rack from Noon Turf Care means less junk in your trunk.
- Initial prototype model fits all Lesco #80 lawn spreaders.
- Can be mounted on front or back of your truck.
- Locks on the front or back of your truck to avoid theft.
- Front mount enables you to tow a trailer at the same time.
For more information: www.noonturfcare.com
Subaru Big Block Engine
The pitch: Subaru Industrial Engines 35-horsepower EH90 and 40-horsepower EH99 big block V-Twin engines meet a growing demand for larger, air-cooled gasoline engines.
- Both engines are 999cc and feature heavy-duty connecting rods.
- The hardened exhaust valve and seats can handle high temperatures.
- Temperature sensors will shut off the engine to prevent any damage from overheating due to clogged air intake valves.
For more information: www.subarupower.com
Toro Evolution Controller
The pitch: The Toro Evolution Irrigation controller is a menu-based controller that incorporates a digital interface.
- The Evolution controller will be available in two models - an indoor model, as well as an outdoor model that features a locking door cover.
- Evolution will be manufactured as a standard four zone controller, with the option to add 4 or 12 zone modules.
- Users can upload site information and make schedule adjustments via a USB flash drive.
For more information: www.toro.com/irrigation
Xero Flor Green Roof System
The pitch: The Xero Green Roof System is 100 percent American made and grown on local, independent farms.
- Utilizes pre-vegetated mats based on advanced German technology – engineered and refined over more than four decades of ongoing R&D.
- The standard Xero Flor XF112 root barrier is a water-impermeable sheet of 20-mil. low density polyethylene (LDPE),
- Xero Flor has been installed in more than 30 states in the U.S.
For more information: www.xeroflora.com