Ryan Jardine began working in the irrigation business while he was only 16 and still in high school. He says the grocery bagger jobs he’d previously had just weren’t for him and with irrigation he really felt he’d landed a “kid’s dream job.” “You get to play in the mud and run through the sprinklers,” Jardine says. “I’d see the little kids staring at me in awe because I was playing in the mud and nobody was yelling at me.”
Following high school, Jardine continued working in the industry as a college student while also studying business management. His passion for the outdoors coupled with an entrepreneurial spirit led Jardine to start his own irrigation business upon graduation and in 2003 he launched Quality Irrigation, one of Omaha’s few irrigation-specific companies. The fact that the company focuses solely on irrigation has been a differentiator and helped the business grow. But it’s also been Jardine’s hard work and his focus on a team effort that has made the business a success as it celebrates its 10th year this season.
Jardine says he strongly believes in team spirit – something he attributes partly to playing a lot of sports. He knows that success is achieved much easier when everyone works together. Therefore, he has taken that team approach to heart as a boss. “I’ve had jobs where all the boss does is yell at you,” Jardine says. “I believe that people don’t leave jobs, they leave bosses, so I keep that in mind when running my business. I’m a big believer in treating our employees like volunteers. I don’t like hearing someone say ‘he works for me.’”
Facing challenges. While the company has grown steadily every year, like everyone else, they were challenged by the downturn in the economy when new construction in the area came to a halt. Still, they managed to grow a bit that year, just not as much as in previous seasons. With the recession also came the new challenge of increased competition. Many jumped into the irrigation field – including landscapers and lawn care companies – in order to seek new lines of revenue for the deficits caused by the economy. But Jardine believes that the company’s specialization in irrigation is what has continued to differentiate them. “It’s not a sideline for us and we know what we’re doing,” he says.
Jardine says the company was able to hold prices firm and push quality as the reason customers should consider paying more for their services. “We only do one thing and that’s irrigation – so we do it quite well,” Jardine says. “We’re not trying to be a jack of all trades and I think the customer recognizes that.”
Another key challenge for the business has been in keeping up with the latest technology and ever-changing communications. Jardine says the company is always learning new billing or scheduling programs and has had to adapt to all different ways of reaching and communicating with customers.
“It’s been beneficial, however, because almost all of the changes have allowed us to provide better service to our customers and to build even stronger relationships with them,” Jardine says. “There are tremendous competitive advantages to technology and if you’re not learning, you’re dying. It’s so important to keep up. If you’re still doing your estimates on carbon copy, I’m going to look a lot more impressive when I show up with my iPad. Regardless of what age you are, I think all customers expect today’s businesses to be on top of the latest technology.”
Although the Midwest states have not been as engulfed in the water conservation issue as other parts of the country, that has not stopped Quality Irrigation from pushing smart technology. Jardine says that the company installs systems only using water-efficient sprinkler components. If customers need parts replaced, those parts are always upgraded to smarter technologies. “We’ve really pushed and promoted rain sensors and smart controllers, offering them at discounts or even giving them away for free,” Jardine says.
Opportunities in maintenance. When Jardine first began the business, his focus was on new installations. But today that has shifted and the company is very focused on service work. In fact, the company is comprised of one install crew and five service guys because Jardine says he’d rather do five times as much service as install. “Frankly, we enjoy it and it’s our strength,” he says. “There are a lot of companies–and even independent one-man bands–who can slam in a cookie cutter system. But then they disappear and the customer is left hanging. We’re not like that.”
A lot of businesses say they’d prefer to get more install work but Jardine sees maintenance as his bread and butter. It’s steady and ongoing, plus it requires less manpower. Instead of sending a whole crew to an install job, it can be tackled by one technician. Plus it doesn’t require all the heavy equipment. “It’s easier to be nimble when you stay small,” Jardine says.
Of course since the downturn in the economy, many irrigation companies have had to get more involved with maintenance purely out of necessity. There isn’t much new construction going on and it’s easier to find repair or retrofit jobs than new work. But there are also brand new competitors jumping into the maintenance sector. Jardine says the fact that the barrier to entry is low – there’s not a lot of investment in big equipment or manpower – has also meant that more one-man-and-a-truck operations are springing up. “It’s not just the guy that has been mowing and says ‘I can fix a sprinkler’ but even people who have lost corporate jobs and are looking for a way to make money,” Jardine says.
“One of our biggest frustrations is when there is work being done out there without a license and there’s no repercussion. There is nobody patrolling it and if we saw someone clearly operating without a license and called the city they wouldn’t even know who should handle it. Licensing is a hot topic here because it’s not enforced.”
Fortunately Jardine says that even though more competition in maintenance exists, Quality Irrigation has been able to hold its own. “There are a lot of people who have had a bad experience in something because they tried to save a little money and go with the lower cost provider,” Jardine says. “Not just in irrigation but in anything – roofing, electronics, you name it. So we find that most people are willing to spend a little more if they believe they’re getting value out of that extra expense. The most valuable thing you can do for anyone is save them time and if they believe you’ll get the job done faster and also correct the first time, they’re willing to pay more for that. We’re more organized and more efficient and customers recognize that.”
Building success. As Quality Irrigation celebrates its 10th year, Jardine says he can’t reiterate enough how much of that can be attributed to team work. “I learned a long time ago that if you hire talented, enthusiastic people that everything else becomes much easier,” he says. “Every job is valuable. From that first point of contact with your business – the friendly and helpful person you hear when you call to schedule service–to the knowledgeable and friendly service techs that come to your home, every team member plays a critical role. I have a team that works with me – not for me.”
Jardine says that because the team members are so committed to providing customers with outstanding service that it’s been easy for Quality Irrigation to back up its work with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee. “That isn’t just hype,” Jardine says. “We live by it. That’s why we all work really hard to get things right the first time for our customers and why so many of our customers are so willing to refer us to friends and family. They know they can trust us and they know that we do all of our work to the very best of our abilities.”