Obstacles you can't control

Landtech has dealt with weather extremes with proactive communication with customers.

November 21, 2013
Lindsey Getz

In this industry, tough weather can really take a toll. But when hit with one weather extreme after the next, it can truly be devastating to the bottom line. While it certainly hasn’t been an easy year weather-wise for the maintenance customer base served by Landtech Contractors Inc., the company has persevered.

Landtech, which has a main office in Aurora, Colo., as well as two branch offices in Colorado Springs and Longmont, has dealt with several extremes throughout 2012 and into this year. Historic flooding this past September destroyed 1,500 homes and left 17,500 homes damaged in the region. And of course the extreme weather took a toll on the irrigation side of Landtech’s business.

But after having dealt with water restrictions which began in the previous year, Landtech has learned to withstand such extremes. As a company that embraces new technology, Landtech learned long ago that good communication is the key to smooth sailing through big changes. It’s a practice that has helped them earn ongoing accounts and has assisted in customer retention even during some of these trying times.

Drought conditions in 2012 led to water restrictions that drastically limited the times watering could occur. Watering only two days a week was a huge change that required re-training staff, says Kathy Vicino, maintenance operations manager.

“The hardest aspect was all of the micromanaging required,” Vicino explains. “If you go into one area of town, such as Denver, they might be restricting water every day except Tuesday and Friday. But Brighton might only allow watering on Monday and Wednesdays. Successfully adhering to all these regulations meant a lot more follow-through. The solution was good communication. Our staff has a lot of experience under their belt so they were able to pick up on the changes quickly.”

Of course it was also a lot of running around. Properties that the company renewed on a yearly basis needed to have their clocks re-programmed to meet the requirements of the water restrictions. “It was a lot more time out in the field but staff stayed on top of the latest changes so that we could make sure our properties were compliant,” Vicino says.

Be in front. Winding up with properties that didn’t look their best was also a challenge. Limited watering conditions in an already-dry climate made it difficult for landscapes to thrive. But Landtech’s irrigation division took a proactive approach. “It was critical to stay in communication with the customer,” Vicino says. “Instead of just sending a generic email, we got specific about the dates of rainfall, how it affected the properties, and how it would affect their contract. We showed them the facts and that helped them understand what was going on with their irrigation system and their property.”

Unfortunately, the drought wasn’t the end of difficult weather patterns for Landtech. The strange year of weather included late snowfall that didn’t stop until April. It was good for the snow removal side of the business but with the irrigation techs usually getting on site in the early spring, those services needed to be delayed. “The snow on the ground in April was a bit of setback in terms of service timing,” Vicino says. “Although you can’t help the weather, it’s still a frustration because it’s hard to catch back up. You wind up behind for the whole year.”

And the extreme weather didn’t end with a late snow season either. Water restrictions were finally lifted in July 2013 but not long after, the region was hit with historic flood levels which meant going back out in the field and turning off the clocks. “The floods basically shut the entire irrigation department down,” Vicino says. “We aren’t out in the field when properties are getting 10 inches of rain so it was certainly a setback in terms of revenue. There was about two weeks of downtime because of the flooding. We also kept the systems off the entire time which isn’t great for business.”

While the extreme weather brought a variety of challenges, the company has continued to rebound from setbacks with good communication and a top-notch maintenance division. While many companies put a lot of value behind their install service, Landtech values the ongoing revenue and the customer relation building aspect of a strong maintenance division. “Having a qualified maintenance company is just as important as having a qualified installation company,” Vicino says. “A maintenance staff that is experienced and knowledgeable can be pretty critical to an operation’s success.”

Vicino says the company does a lot of maintenance for properties where they didn’t do the install and those jobs can be tough. If the irrigation install was poorly done, Landtech’s maintenance department is left to fix the problems. “A bad installation can cost a homeowners association a lot of money,” she says. “It requires a lot of troubleshooting to pinpoint the exact issue. But troubleshooting is something we’re good at and a reason why our customers value our services.”

A clear message. In Colorado, some of the rebate programs available have encouraged more property owners to opt for a retrofit and update their equipment. But Vicino says she has had to help clients understand that there is “an age to everything.” “You can keep making strides towards updating a system with retrofits here and there but at some point it’s eventually going to come down to wire and piping,” she says. “I’ve seen a good system last 40 or more years, but every system does have an expiration date and many of the older systems do require changing out more than nozzles.”

Vicino says the company keeps a close eye on water consumption. If it’s steadily going up with for no obvious reason, there’s a good chance it could be an underground leak. “Minor seeping can become very costly when you’re spending money to keep an inefficient system running,” Vicino says. “These are things customers don’t want to hear but is an area where good communication once again comes into play. We value education and keeping the customer informed.”

And certainly, keeping the customer in the loop has been instrumental not only during repairs and maintenance problems, but also during a year of strange weather patterns. “Unusual weather can be a big setback in this industry but our proactive approach helped prevent that,” Vicino says. “Good communication and honesty with the customer go a long way.”