Middle man

Features - Irrigation

Joe Bolognese connects contractors with homeowners, providing benefits for both.

October 11, 2012
Lindsey Getz
Bolognese, left, and Ken Schmitt, also a member of the Fairview 9/11 Memorial Committee were part of a convoy to retrieve a piece of the World Trade Center beam to be used in the Fairview, N.J., memorial.

Joe Bolognese found a way to take a tough situation and create an opportunity. When he lost his irrigation distribution job, he didn’t know what was in store for him. After spending months looking for a new job, he realized that irrigation distribution work was not in demand any longer. He saw a chance to utilize his knowledge and launch his own consulting firm.

Having first worked for a landscape contractor performing the hands-on installation work, Bolognese started on the distribution side more than a decade ago. Since his start, he’s worked for almost all of the major distributors in the New Jersey area. But when the economy went south, he was one of many in the industry who found themselves without a job and hungry for work. That’s when he became creative.

“There were simply no industry jobs on the distributing side and that’s where my real background has been,” says Bolognese. “I had more than 10 years of distribution experience and yet I couldn’t find any way to apply that knowledge. So I decided that I would take that knowledge and do something with it on my own. If I couldn’t find a job, I would create one.”

Bolognese wanted to find a way that he could utilize his knowledge to help the industry fill a gap. He felt that there has never been a lot of education available to the homeowner. He also wanted to be able to work more closely with local contractors. “I wanted to find a way to bridge those two things,” Bolognese says. “I decided to create a business where I would market myself as a free service to the homeowner, offering my experience as a distributor to educate the homeowner and answer their questions. I could help review bids and make sure the homeowner understood everything. Homeowners felt comfortable having someone inside the industry making sure they’re getting a good product and a reputable, licensed contractor to install it.”

The company, Impact Irrigation Consulting, based out of Elmwood Park, N.J., has been a unique opportunity to work with local contractors in addition to homeowners. “This wasn’t just for the homeowners and I certainly wasn’t looking to take advantage of the irrigation contractors I work with,” Bolognese says. “I only take 2-3 percent off of the bid and cap myself at $2,500 so I’m not taking a lot away from the contractor. I saw it as a way to help out the retail market and to make sure good, hardworking, licensed contractors were getting jobs.”

How the process works is Bolognese markets himself to homeowners or directly to landscape contractors looking to sub-out irrigation to their customers. He’s promoted his business solely by word of mouth but has plans to advertise in local newspapers and on TV.

Bolognese, Ralph Panaro, Gail Woolcott (director of operations for NJLCA) and Gino Panaro at NJLCA Annual Trade Show in Secaucus, N.J.

Since launching his consulting company, Bolognese was hired as lead counter sales and service rep at Atlantic Irrigation Specialties in Wayne, N.J. Once he gets off work, he shifts into gear as a consultant at night. He says that consulting work is a good fit for the evening, as that’s when customers are home. “I will go see the homeowner in the evening and walk the place, taking all the measurements,” he says. “Then I’ll go home and put together the drawings and call up a handful of local irrigation contractors to get the bids.”

Once understanding the homeowner’s needs, Bolognese typically takes about 10 bids from local contractors. After reviewing the bids to make sure they’re fair, Bolognese returns to the customer. “I let the customer know it’s their decision,” he says. “If they ask me who to go with, I tell them I’ve already narrowed it down to about 10 of the best. They then have to decide who they want. I cannot show favoritism.”

While homeowners have found Bolognese’s industry expertise and knowledge of good contractors valuable, he’s found contractors like working with him as he does a lot of the preliminary legwork.

“I give them the full rundown on the job and what it entails,” Bolognese says. “I even go out and draw it up and figure out what equipment should be used for it, and I give them a material breakdown. All they have to do is put together their bid. They basically get me as a salesman and only pay 3 percent if they secure the job. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

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Air time

A call from a friend led to a teaching moment and good company promotion. The DIY Network’s “King of Dirt,” which follows the work of outspoken landscape contractors Gino and Ralph Panaro, gives viewers a glimpse inside the world of the landscape contracting world.

But for Joe Bolognese, owner and lead consultant for Impact Irrigation Consulting, it meant some local fame when he was included on a past episode, repairing a sprinkler line.  Bolognese, who has served as vice president of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association, met the Panaro brothers when they served as regional vice presidents in the organization. “

One day they were filming close to me and Gino broke a sprinkler line. He called me and asked me to come by – I didn’t know I was going to be filmed,” Bolognese says.

As Bolognese began to work on the repair he says producers started yelling at him to “mic up.” He received a mic and next thing he knew he was being taped. “It was a spur of the moment opportunity that was a lot of fun and chance for a little bit of fame,” says Bolognese.

Though he’s been on the distribution side for more than a decade, Bolognese got his start in the industry working for a landscape contractor.

His knowledge and networking allowed him to help a fellow industry professional – it just happened to be on TV and is now a good marketing tool. “I don’t deal with the hands-on work much anymore, but I know how to do it,” he says. “I saw this as a teaching opportunity. I was able to teach Gino how to do the repair and wound up getting on television, too.”