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May 1, 2013
Lawn & Landscape

Pillars of the community

A Virginia nursery and landscaping association lent a few hours to spruce up a local housing development.

They say timing is everything. That was the case for the Central Virginia Nursery & Landscape Association’s (CVNLA) participation in a recent community project.

While many of the members do service projects on their own, the group wanted to do one together. They were talking about working with Habitat for Humanity on a community service project, when a week later an opportunity fell right in to their collective laps – The Pillars at Oakmont, Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity’s multi-family, mixed-income development.

“Jack Thompson with Richmond Habitat came to Glen Allen Nursery looking for help with the plants for The Pillars and in that conversation mentioned if we knew of anyone who could do the installation,” said Jim Hassold president of CVNLA and sales manager at Glenn Allen. “Upon mentioning this opportunity to our board, we immediately accepted the invitation to help with the planting.”

The project was broken down into two phases. The first phase, which was planted in late February, consisted of 125 native trees, shrubs and perennials along a buffer area and in the water retention pond area at The Pillars.

More than 20 CNVLA members took about three hours to help with the installation of the plants. More native plants will be installed around the completed homes during phase two, which was scheduled for late April, after L&L went to print for this issue.

“In Virginia, there has been a concerted effort on the behalf of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s Plant more Plants Program to encourage planting native plants in the landscape to help mitigate stormwater pollutants from entering our local streams and, eventually, the Chesapeake Bay,” Hassold said.

The native plants made The Pillars a perfect choice due to the sustainable design of the development. In the planning stages of this development, Richmond Habitat partnered with the American Institute of Architects Committee on the Environment to develop sustainable designs for the Pillars at Oakmont, said Kristin Vinargo, communications manager for the Richmond Metropolitan Habitat for Humanity

“The development is a prime example of green, sustainable building practices,” she said. “Energy efficiency and environmental friendliness were taken into consideration in every step of building this neighborhood, from the planning stages all the way to completion.”

Hassold said he hopes service projects become a regular occurrence with the CVNLA.

“Although this is the first team project that the CVNLA has taken on in some time, with the positive feedback we’ve received from this planting, we are looking for additional projects and hope to work on at least two or three each year,” he said.”

Photos courtesy of the CVNLA and the Pillars

Born for the business

Lawn care pioneer Michael Kravitsky dies at 81.

By Chuck Bowen

Michael Kravitsky III, the founder of Grasshopper Lawns in Wyoming, Pa., died in early April. He was 81.

“My dad, he lived, he ate, he slept – he did nothing but lawn care. He loved this business so much it was annoying at times. He would talk about it so much to anybody and everybody. You’d go over to the hospital, you wouldn’t find a doctor or nurse that doesn’t know Grasshopper Lawns,” said Kravitsky’s oldest son, Michael Kravitsky IV.

From left: Michael Kravitsky IV, Kravitsky III and Shawn Kravitsky enjoy a drink.

In fact, Kravitsky spent his last days pushing lawn care services on his medical team. “Until his dying day, all he talked about was lawns,” Michael says.

In a fitting tribute, the Kravitsky family custom-painted his casket in Grasshopper Lawns blue with orange stripes and a company logo.

In 1964, along with his wife, Eleanore, Kravitsky bought two Lawn-a-Mat franchises in Scranton and Allentown, Pa. Eventually, the business grew into the independent Grasshopper Lawns. Kravitsky was also one of the founding members of the Lawn Care Association of Pennsylvania and a member of the Professional Lawn Care Association of America.

Kravitsky’s sons and Shawn and Michael Kravitsky IV now run the business, and Michael says his father outlined the core values of the company early on.

“It was always do more than what you say you’re going to do. That was simply his legacy to us. Do more than expected,” Michael said. “He made is simple for us. He said, ‘Lawn care is pretty easy boys. Make it green, kill the weeds and fill in the bare spots. You have to take care of your customers. Give them what they want and give them a little bit more.’ That’s the way we’ve been running our business since.”

Michael, who went along with his father on sales call as a child, praised his father’s dedication and connection with each of his customers, and his focus on small details. At every call, he would ask the homeowners for a newspaper as they sat down at the kitchen table. After a puzzled look, he would explain that he wanted to lay the paper down so his metal clipboard wouldn’t scratch the table’s finish.

Kravitsky III stands next to a 1952 Dodge, which was the first truck he owned.

Michael and Shawn officially took over the business in 2009, but had been increasingly responsible for the day-to-day operations for many years. Every winter and early spring since the 1970s, Kravitsky and Eleanore would take a three-month vacation to Acapulco, Mexico. In that time, Michael and Shawn learned the business first hand.

“I’m kind of glad they would go away in the wintertime, because it forced us to step up to the plate and learn,” Michael said. “That kind of taught me to do it myself. He was a good teacher.”

Joe Kucik, who runs RealGreen Systems, counted Kravitsky as a customer and long-time friend.

“He never worked for anybody else. He always was in business for himself. He was just a hardworking, blue-collar, honest guy,” Kucik said.

In lieu of floral tributes, the family requests memorial contributions in Kravitsky’s memory to The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, the Franklin Township Volunteer Fire and Ambulance Department, Orange Road, Dallas, Pa., 18612; or to St. Mary’s Protection Byzantine Catholic Church, 321 Chestnut Ave., Kingston, Pa., 18704.

5 things learned at Next Level

The editor at L&L sister publication, Garden Center, shares some of the ideas that caught her attention at the event.

By Karen Varga

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I showed up at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville on a cold morning earlier this year for Next Level. I had read about the event online and how it was inspired by the American Nursery and Landscape Association, but jointly organized between ANLA and OFA – a national horticulture association – and was looking forward to connecting with retailers and getting an idea of what was keeping them up at night.

I found that the event was an excellent networking opportunity, and the speakers were very knowledgeable. In fact, keynote speaker Barry Moltz, a small business consultant, had so much to say that he wrote an article for Lawn & Landscape, which you can read on page. 94. In addition to the usual keynote and regular presentations and meals, Next Level offered participants the opportunity to meet in smaller groups of people with similar business goals in hubs.

I chose to join the group of professionals in the hub “Reinvent My Business,” where we had the chance to discuss the presentations we had attended with our peers as well as share our challenges and solutions. Attendees expressed their interest in learning how to differentiate themselves from their competitors, frustration that customers don’t seem to want to purchase what they’re selling and a desire to keep having fun as they developed their business and increased sales.

Here are a few of the pointers I picked up in the three days of the event.

1. There are four main skills to develop to take your business to the next level, according to Moltz.

  • Learn how to hire the right people. Your business depends on the successful execution of ideas that are carried out by the people you hire; choose the best personnel to maximize your business’ success.
  • Go out and meet the right people. No business owner can reach the highest level of success without doing some networking and learning from peers. Industry events and meetings are great places to do so.
  • Be able to sell to the right people. People buy things to solve a perceived “problem” that they may have.
  • Understand that customer service is the way to differentiate. It is a sustainable, competitive advantage that many contractors have against competition in their area.

Especially against those who are constantly slashing prices to win jobs, but sacrificing quality at the same time.

Simply calling customers back immediately, and then following up after a job is done is a great way to show your clients that you genuinely care about.

It’s also a great chance to sell extra work while you walk the property in that follow-up visit.

2. The actions you take to increase profits don’t necessarily have to be big or complicated.

Ken Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, Ariz., suggested the following simple actions to boost your bottom line: shop around for insurance, sell equipment, cut dues and subscriptions, sign all checks personally, verify credit card statements, simplify uniforms and refinance long term debt.

3. Setting up a strategic plan is essential to carrying out all other business plans.

A strategic plan sets the course for growth, lays the foundation for other plans and processes, aligns resources and reduces waste.

It’s essential for a strategic plan to have short term key priorities, long-term areas of focus and a way to measure that progress.

4. People shouldn’t be put into positions of leadership if that’s not where their strengths are.

Jeni Britton Bauer, founder of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream, explained to attendees that, while she founded the company, she doesn’t consider herself a natural leader; she’d prefer to stay on the creative side of the business.

So she brought on John Lowe, an experienced businessman, to be the CEO of Jeni’s.

5. Sharing goals with peers is a good way to hold yourself accountable.

How many times have you told yourself you were going to make changes to improve your business, and not followed through with them?

According to Stan Pohmer, garden center consultant, one of the best ways to assure that you’ll meet your goals is to share them with peers and form your own support group of sorts. We’ve seen that it works for people trying to lose weight or train for a marathon – why not try it for your business?

The author is editor at Garden Center magazine. She can be reached at kvarga@gie.net.

ServiceMaster CEO resigns

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – Hank Mullany has resigned as the CEO of ServiceMaster.

John Krenicki Jr. will serve as the company’s interim CEO, according to a press release. Krenicki is chairman of ServiceMaster Global Holdings, the parent company of ServiceMaster, and also a senior partner at the private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier and Rice.

Mullany became ServiceMaster CEO in 2011 and oversaw the sale of its TruGreen LandCare business unit, which had been in the works.

But even with an increased focus on lawn care, TruGreen struggled to improve its performance. In 2012, it reported an 11 percent drop in revenue, and operated at a loss of $805 million.

Mullany’s exit is the latest in a series of high-level changes at ServiceMaster and its companies.

Since 2011, TruGreen has had three presidents. David Alexander was hired in December after Tom Brackett resigned. Chuck Fallon, former president of Terminix, also resigned in March. – Chuck Bowen

It’s the year of the European van at the NTEA Work Truck Show

INDIANAPOLIS – European commercial vans were a large presence at the NTEA Work Truck Show at the Indianapolis Convention Center this year, and not just because they’re physically bigger than their American cousins. The vehicles, like Ford’s Transit and the Mercedes Sprinter, have more available cargo space with better gas mileage. That space means a lower step-in height.

Other highlights from the show:

  • 2013 Show attendance on the floor nearly hit a new record with 10,351 attendees, coming just short of a 10,408 high in 2012.
  • Shawn Jacobs, CEO of STS Trailer & Truck Equipment from Syracuse, N.Y., was named the 49th president of the NTEA.
  • The NTEA’s group for upcoming leaders in the work truck industry, the Young Executives Network, rebranded itself as “Generation Next.”

– Kyle Brown


SCD 2013 brings out the best

HERNDON, Va. – Many of the country’s best and brightest landscape and horticulture students gathered at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala., March 7-10, to compete in the 37th annual PLANET Student Career Days (SCD) – The National Collegiate Landscape Competition.

Sixty-seven teams, including two FFA high-school teams (a total of 839 students) participated in 28 individual and team competitions. Tree climbing, hardscape installation, wood construction, plant identification, sales presentation, exterior/interior design, irrigation troubleshooting, skid steer, 3-D exterior landscape design, personnel management, and small engine repair were just a few of the events.

“The overall enthusiasm and competitive nature shown this year by the students was truly remarkable.

With consumer spending confidence on the rise, and a lot of companies reporting positive growth, the opportunities for job placement for these students is unlimited,” said PLANET SCD Subcommittee Chair, Ed Furner.

“An amazing campus, attendance, and overall positive nature of the people in attendance made me feel truly blessed to be part of such an amazing industry.”

Awards were given to the top placing students, called “Superstars,” as well as to winning teams. The individual winners were – in first place, Chase Ricks of Brigham Young University - Provo (Provo, Utah); in second place, Alex Nisbet of Alamance Community College (Graham, N.C.); and in third place, Jeff Elshoff of Michigan State University (Lansing, Mich.).

BYU – Idaho took first place in the overall competitive event, followed by Cal Poly Pomona and BYU – Provo.

Aside from bragging rights, some students also received scholarships and award money at a special PLANET Academic Excellence Foundation (PLANET AEF) reception, sponsored by STIHL Inc.

This year, PLANET AEF gave $59,700 in scholarships and awards.

Students also took advantage of the opportunity to meet and interview with 52 landscape industry companies for full-time positions and internships at the on-site career fair.

ScottsMiracle-Gro names new CFO

MARYSVILLE, Ohio, – The Scotts Miracle-Gro Co., named Larry Hilsheimer executive vice president and chief financial officer.

Hilsheimer was executive vice president and chief financial officer of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., the Columbus-based insurance and financial services company, from 2007 through 2009.

He then served as president and chief operating officer of Nationwide Direct & Customer Solutions and most recently was president and chief operating officer of Nationwide Retirement Plans.

Prior to Nationwide, he was vice chairman and regional managing partner for Deloitte & Touche USA, LLP and served on the board of directors of the Deloitte Foundation.

Hilsheimer received his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a major in accounting from the Fisher College of Business at The Ohio State University and his law degree from Capital University Law School.

“To add someone with Larry’s strong financial pedigree and broad business background to our executive leadership team is an enormous win for ScottsMiracle-Gro and its shareholders,” said Jim Hagedorn, chairman and chief executive officer.

“His leadership skills will bolster an already strong finance organization and his business insights and experience will make us a stronger and smarter company.

“I welcome him to the ScottsMiracle-Gro family and look forward to a strong partnership.”

In his role at ScottsMiracle-Gro, Hilsheimer will oversee all corporate and operating finance functions.