The waiting game

Customers wants instant savings from water conservation, and the team at Gachina Landscape Management knows how to handle that impatience.

August 6, 2013
Lindsey Getz

Recently celebrating its 25th anniversary, Gachina Landscape Management in Menlo Park, Calif., was founded by John Gachina, a California native who got his start as a groundskeeper for a golf course and then worked his way into the landscape industry working for another company before starting his own.

Today the company has more than 250 employees and does approximately $18 million annually in both maintenance and construction work for commercial clients. Those clients include corporate campuses, HOAs, shopping centers, property management firms and a lot of city work. Over the years, the company’s focus and commitment to water conservation has become a primary goal.

These days, water conservation is a major concern for many clients – particularly in states like California where water restrictions and rising water bills are becoming commonplace. “We don’t get a lot of rain here and when we do get rain, it’s not as much as it used to be,” says Stacie Callaghan, director of business development for the company. “Water districts are imposing huge fines for going over water budgets so this is a really important topic. We utilize a variety of efforts to save water including the use of smart controllers and much more. But of course you have to get the buy-in from the customer.”

Clifton Randolph, South Bay Branch manager (the company has four key branches) for the irrigation division says that even though water restrictions are tight, clients still want to see the numbers add up. Ever since the downturn in the economy, clients are paying a lot closer attention to their spending.

“Water conservation is definitely an easy thing to talk to customers about, but when it comes to actually getting it done, that’s a different story,” Randolph says. “There is definitely an upfront cost to make the changes needed to begin saving water and some clients aren’t so eager to pay it – especially if they’re not going to see immediate savings. In many circumstances it can take several years to recoup that money.”

That’s where smart marketing comes into play. “If we can show potential clients real-life examples of how we’ve saved other clients money, that often makes it easier for the new clients to invest,” Randolph says. “Once they see that we’ve already been doing this stuff and seeing good results, they feel a lot more confident.”

The company has gone a step further from talking about these examples to formulating “Customer Spotlights” in 2007. “We use them as marketing sheets at tradeshows, we include them in proposals and we share them with potential customers looking for company information,” Callaghan says. “We also have them as links on our website as well as included in our e-newsletters to both existing and potential customers. We have received great response from these spotlights. They are a great way to get a lot of information out.”

In addition to customer spotlights, Gachina also utilizes newsletters and social media to reach potential clients and stay connected with existing ones. Callaghan says the company also works with local water districts to help customers obtain rebates.

And they obtain water usage history from clients and compare with previous years to be able to show actual savings. All of these efforts have proven to be strategic marketing efforts and have played a role in securing new clients.

Water conservation efforts. One of the ways that Gachina aims to reduce water bills is by using recycled or reclaimed water in landscaped areas. This was the case with a large commercial client that Gachina has worked with since 2004. The client’s landscape includes 12 buildings across a 42 acre site. Through the utilization of grey water for all landscaped areas, Gachina has been able to significantly reduce maintenance costs for this client.

Of course using recycled water on such a large property is no small feat. According to Randolph, the company has gone through a certification process in order to implement the use of reclaimed water. Gachina meets the unique challenges of using recycled water by constantly monitoring the performance of all the plant species on the property and taking proactive steps to ensure plants thrive within the reclaimed watering environment.

“You have to be careful when using reclaimed water because some plant material will not tolerate it well,” Randolph says. “Redwood trees are one example. They would start to decline over the years. You also have to be careful that reclaimed water is not spraying on to nearby cars or asphalt. It can be very hard to get those water spots off because of the high salt content.”

In addition to utilizing reclaimed water, Gachina also employed a number of other efforts at the corporate campus. This included the removal of turf areas, installation of drought tolerant plants, and retrofitting of the existing irrigation system. Retrofits are a large part of Gachina’s business, Randolph says. This includes the installation of smart controllers, the conversion of spray nozzles to drip irrigation and the replacement of older spray heads with more efficient MP rotator heads.

Water audits. With corporations both large and small, property managers and HOAs paying much closer attention to their bottom line these days, water budgets are a big deal. Gachina offers an Irrigation Water Audit service that existing customers are taking advantage of to help keep a tighter rein on their budget.

The staff at Gachina participates in the Certified Landscape Irrigation Auditor program. Landscape irrigation auditors perform regular audits to define, measure and quantify water use across the landscapes. Audits enable more efficient control over programmed irrigation controllers and pinpoint system deficiencies, enabling reductions in metered water usage of 30 to as much as 60 percent.

“With our audits, we work with several water consultants and if a site wants to have a water audit we will have a consultant come out with us and walk the property,” Randolph says. “We will turn on stations one at a time and let them run three- to five-minutes to watch a variety of factors such as how many heads are rotating and how long it takes runoff to appear on the asphalt or sidewalk.

“From that data, plus the square footage, we can figure out what the water budget for the site will be. We also take a look at the past records from the clients and we tell them what they need to use per year and what they’re using now.”

Looking ahead. Like many landscape and irrigation companies that are looking to stay atop of current trends, Gachina Landscape plans to keep its focus on water conservation efforts as they move forward. “We plan to do this with a lot more retrofits,” Callaghan says.

“We will also continue to encourage our customers to reduce their water-loving lawns and plant more drought-tolerant shrubs. We’ll also continue to convert to drip wherever we can. Water conservation is such a huge issue and it’s not going away. Getting customers on board has a lot to do with education and we will continue to keep our clients informed about overwatering as well as the newest technology that can help them make important changes.”

This is one of three stories featured in our Water Works newsletter. The other two are below:

Follow the rules

A success story