Click to see the screencaps on how Milosi uses the software.
Rock star landscaping
Ron Kutter worked on a beach for 10 days setting up for a music festival, and rubbed shoulders with the band members afterward.
By Jake Zuckerman
It wasn’t a normal job for Ron Kutter.
The owner of Kutter Landscaping was contracted by the Hangout Music Festival in Gulf Shores, Ala., to install palm trees and tend to the greenery at the concert’s location. “It was the biggest, coolest deal ever for me,” Kutter says of the work.
The job was an intense and precisely timed coordination of efforts. With only 10 days to set up during the festival and four days to deconstruct afterward, there was little time to spare.
Kutter and his 12-man crew installed more than 400 palm trees and dispersed 15 truckloads of sod and thousands of potted plants. Kutter estimates that he and his crew put in a combined total of more than 1,000 hours of labor to prepare the festival.
“We were just there to soften the festival with greenery,” Kutter says. The festival takes place on a beach, but according to Shaul Zislin, festival owner and founder, plenty in attendance had no idea that the palm trees on the beach didn’t grow there naturally.
People were very impressed by (the scenery), and they all think it was pre-existing,” Zislin says. “You tell them it was all planted in the last 10 days and their jaws drop.”
Although the Gulf of Mexico does a fine job of providing a natural backdrop for the event, Zislin says the event wouldn’t be the same without Kutter’s touch.“I believe that even the best looking bride can use some makeup,” Zislin says. “Landscaping is the makeup on this bride.”
According to Zislin, the festival spent more than $15 million on landscaping for the festival. Following the deconstruction of the weekend, more than 200 palm trees were donated to the city of Gulf Shores, with a total estimated value of roughly $15,000. While he may not have been partying like a rock star, Kutter did have his fair share of run-ins with some festival acts. He managed to bump into a sweaty Dan Reynolds, lead singer of Imagine Dragons, and snapped a picture with him.
“It was fun to set up,” Kutter says. “But it’s fun to go into participant mode too.” Zislin has a deep appreciation for Kutter and his work, and he knows why Kutter busts his tail like he does.
“The guy does it out of absolute love of the event,” Zislin says. “We pay a fortune for this, but I know he’s not getting rich off of the event. He does it because he loves it.”
The author is a contributing editor at Lawn & Landscape.
Get fuel smart
Next month, we will feature a package of stories centered on how contractors and LCOs are managing fuel procedures. The coverage is part of Smart Fuel Month, sponsored by Kawasaki and will include:
- From the simple (make sure your tires are inflated and changing the oil regularly) to the more advanced (consider routing software and tracking devices that monitor idle time), how are contractors monitoring their fuel costs.
- We find out what types of alternative fuels contractors are using and why.
- What purchasing strategies are contractors using to buy fuel? On site vs. filling up at gas stations. If they are buying in bulk, do you pay up-front, or are there payment plans? What are advantages/disadvantages of each?
- The results of a survey on how contractors are purchasing fuel and being more efficient with fuel.
Plus, keep an eye out to L&L’s Facebook and Twitter (@lawnlandscape) accounts, and Kawasaki’s Facebook and Twitter (@KAWPower) accounts for daily fuel efficiency tips throughout September.
Reasearch: Appetite for apps
We polled contractors about what apps they were using to help different aspects of their business. The responses showed contractors used them to help in the areas of finances and identifying problems in the field, while the variety in weather and GPS apps wasn’t as diverse. If you need help in those areas, or are just looking for something new to try, check out these apps.
To disclaimer or not to disclaimer
Q: We are having issues on occasion with projects on which we underestimate the amount of material needed for projects. For example, we clearly state that we will “install six yards of mulch” at a project.
When we come short, and we need more, the client has been resisting, saying they don’t think they should have to pay additional. We thought we covered ourselves by clearly stating the quantity we were installing.
This is an issue that needs to be addressed. We were thinking about adding a disclaimer on the estimate that states any material above the quantity estimated will cost additional. Or, is it better to just eat it when the job requires more material? A clause like this on the proposal might frighten some clients when, with the majority, the clause will not apply to them.
A: Aside from working out the issue of why your estimator is making this error, I have a couple of possible solutions.
If the areas are difficult because they are irregularly shaped, you might want to use a resource like Google Earth Pro. An annual subscription will cost about $400.00. This will allow you to zoom in and get an accurate linear and square footage of multiple areas in one location. The remainder will be doing the math using the correct formula.
The other helpful tool is to always add a marginal percent of error, say five or 10 percent. I also like to use verbiage like “total yards +/-eight,” or “total square foot +/-1500.”
Adding your disclaimer or clause is not a bad idea, but acting on it probably is because it will send the wrong message. The last thing you want is a customer with a negative thought about your company. The finished result should always be positive for repeat business.
Rob Diaz, Land Care Incorporated
The middle-class market
Q: We have been in business for a year and a half servicing residential rental properties for large investor groups in the metro Atlanta area. We want to expand directly to middle class homeowners. We realize marketing is going to be key in this process. Our first postcards are being sent out Monday to high-density areas with homes valued between $180,000 and $250,000. Properly managed, do you think this can be a successful strategy? Do you have any ideas that could help us through the learning curve?
A: First, I think we have to go back to Marketing 101. I can’t stress enough how important it is to use differentiation. If you send me a postcard with a picture of a guy mowing a beautiful lawn on it, I’m going to throw it away. I get five of those every week in the spring. Now, if you send me a postcard with a picture of a pig in a bikini mowing a beautiful lawn, I might just flip it over to learn more about who sent that.
Second, what are you doing in social media? Instagram is where it’s at right now. It’s a platform based on photos and videos, and we are blessed to be in an industry that lends itself to visual media. Instagram won’t work as well if you’re, say, a tax accountant.
Not much interesting to look at there. But for landscaping, you’re surrounded all day with opportunities to document your work and share it with others. If you’re new to social media, hire a pro to get you started and skip the learning curve. There are tons of great apps on the iPhone that can make your videos and photos really stand out. I use Over, iMovie, and PicPlayPost regularly.
Terry Delany, ServFm
Have a question for the experts? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our Top 100 is always one of our most popular issues, and what we get asked about the most. To make it easier for you to find information about the current and past Top 100s, we saved you some time and put our Top 100 stories, lists and other related items in one place on our website.
We also have links to sign up for or download our Top 100 webinars, which will feature conversations with the owners of Top 100 companies. Visit bit.ly/lltop100 to receive all of this information and more.
We already received feedback on our first webinar with Larry Ryan of Ryan Tree Care. Here’s what Matt Noon, president of Noon Turf Care (who you can read more about on PG. 38), had to say.
“I just wanted to thank you for hosting the value added Ryan webinar today. I learned a tremendous amount and it really gave the audience a unique insight into the philosophies of how a successful business owner runs their business. Really creative to think of this!”
Visit bit.ly/llryanwebinar to listen to the webinar and find out if you agree with Noon.
A plan for pests
Lawn & Landscape has launched a new newsletter called the Playbook, which consists of articles on effective pest management to help grow your business. Below are three articles featured in the inaugural newsletter. Visit bit.ly/llplaybook to see the articles from all Playbook newsletters.
Getting rid of grubs
A beautifully maintained lawn is an oasis for a homeowner, but it’s also prime real estate for beetles. Grub infestations can do serious damage to healthy grass by eating away at, and destroying, root systems. Here’s what to do if you find grubs in your area.
Safe and effective
From flower thrips to gladiolus thrips to chilli thrips, Florida is home to many of the pests, both native and invasive. The chilli thrip, in particular, has been causing trouble for central Florida LCOs. Thrips are more prevalent during the hot and dry summer months.
Emerald Ash Emergency
It can demolish the largest ash trees in just a few years, and it’s spreading like wildfire. Emerald ash borer has become a serious pest since it was found in Michigan in 2002, spreading west to Colorado, south to Georgia and up to Canada.
Check out a couple of podcasts from our Lawn Care Radio Network:
Chinch bug control
Dr. Chris Williamson, of the University of Wisconsin, talks about his research with chinch bugs, and what damage from the insect will look like and what LCOs can do to treat them. He also breaks down the two types of insecticides used to treat chinch bugs.
Fuel for thought
Gary Busboom, chief development engineer at Exmark, talks about RED Technology and how much a contractor can save using propane. He also gives some insight on what propane does for an average contractor and why they should consider it as a fuel option.
Shaun Kanary is the director of marketing for WeedPro, based near Cleveland. Kanary works directly with the company’s inbound marketing program, using software called HubSpot to draw in new customers.
How does inbound marketing work?
Inbound marketing really is a change in philosophy of marketing whereas before we used TV, direct mail, radio to broadcast out advertisements for our services. Instead of that, we’re taking an inbound approach, meaning to put information out on the web, on social media, through various channels, drawing people in not with advertisement, but with content and offers of downloads and information that they can consume.
You serve as a viable resource for this people, educating them and teaching them and guiding them. Then when they’re ready to buy, when they’re in that part of the sales funnel and where they’re ready to purchase, you’re the logical choice because they’ve built up a relationship with you. It’s relationship selling at its best.
What does it cost?
Really it’s as much as you put into it. Now, we use software called HubSpot, who’s kind of the godfather of inbound marketing. HubSpot allows us to automate this process. If you go to our website, we have a lot of downloads and a lot of information that people consume. We set up automated nurturing emails that go out to these people.
If someone downloads our free hiring guide, it’s followed up with an (automated) email from our director of sales a half an hour later saying “Hey I’m glad that you downloaded this guide. Let me know if you have any questions.” A couple days later it’s followed up with “Hey hope you’re enjoying the guide. Would you care for a free estimate from us? We have all the traits that are in that download.”
It is pretty expensive, a good $1,000-2,000 a month but this is the kind of thing that you can really set up with a Wordpress website and something else too if you want to manually do it.
What’s the ROI?
The ROI for us has been fantastic. Our average cost per lead has dropped 50 percent. We’re getting leads cheaper than we’ve ever gotten before. We’re getting more of them. For instance, before we started inbound marketing, we averaged around 11,000 to 12,000 unique visitors to our website a year. This year so far, it’s not even July and we’re eclipsing 60,000 visitors. We’re putting content out there and drawing people to our website to consume information and become leads.
What kind of business does it make sense for?
It makes sense for every type of business. Inbound marketing is really the way marketing is going in the future. If you’re looking at traditional marketing, it’s getting harder to get leads through direct mail, it’s getting harder to get leads through TV. We as consumers are getting smarter. We have DVRs that can blow right through commercials.
We’re a society that’s built on finding information online and reading reviews and reading about companies and developing relationships with companies before we buy. You almost have to turn your company into a content company. If you look at all the successful companies right now, they all produce all this content that draws people into the website and interacts with their brand. That’s where we’re going as a future in marketing. It really makes sense for everybody.
What kind of investment in time/personnel is required?
It really depends on how gung ho you’re going to get into it. We’re a $4 million dollar company and we only have one person and an intern. Thanks to software like HubSpot, it’s automated and you set up the different areas that you want to concentrate on, so it helps with time management and makes things a lot easier to do. There’s several different inbound content marketing automated systems that companies can look and check out. Obviously we use HubSpot and we’ve been happy with it. We just keep increasing every year.