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| February 21, 2011

Water, water everywhere
By Chuck Bowen

PHOENIX – The 2010 Irrigation Show was packed with new industry technology, educational sessions, certification classes and a keynote presentation from Robert Glennon.

Glennon, a professor of law at the University of Arizona and author of “Unquenchable: America’s Water Crisis and What to Do About It,” addressed the importance of conserving and managing the water supply more effectively.

The show attracted 4,500 attendees and 295 exhibitors. Here’s an update about what took place.

Regulatory Update
John Farner, federal affairs director, said the association worked this year on securing consumer rebates for water efficient products. This is tied to the EPA WaterSense and Home Star programs. The Home Star program is still an active bill in Congress, but the recent changes in both houses make passage in 2011 uncertain.

In 2011, contractors can expect less focus from Congress and other legislators on regulation of businesses, increased scrutiny of government spending and the authorization of hearings for the EPA WaterSense program, he said.

Chad Forcey, the association’s new state affairs director, said the IA is focused on proposed certification requirements in Florida, Minnesota, New York and Michigan.
SMART MARKETING CONTEST. Winners of the Irrigation Association’s 2010 Smart Marketing Contest – which recognizes companies and industry partners for their promotion of Smart Irrigation Month – were also announced at the show. ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance, San Diego, won the contractor category by promoting the idea that “water management is more than fixing sprinklers,” said Richard Restuccia, leader of the company’s water management services. “The landscape contractor has the best ability … to save water,” he said.

ValleyCrest included calls for free irrigation evaluations in newsletters for its customers and prospects, and completed water-saving projects in Texas, Georgia and California.

Millennium Irrigation, Fayetteville, Ga., won the small company category. CEO Gregg Poe and COO Carla Poe started running this eight-employee firm full time in 2009, when Georgia was in the middle of one of its worst droughts and the economy was stalling.

They used social media outlets like blogs and Facebook to promote water-saving technologies and practices to their customers, and ran competitions for their sales staff to encourage them to sell upgrades and installations of rain sensors and smart controllers.

Ewing Irrigation Products, Phoenix, and the City of Calgary’s departments of parks and water services also won in the manufacture and affiliate partner categories, respectively.

The show's sponsors include: Toro, ITT, Hunter, John Deere Water, JAIN Irrigation, K Rain, FGN, Harco, Irritrol, J.R. Huston Consulting, Spudman and VGN.

For video interviews with industry experts and show attendees, visit our website at www.lawnandlandscape.com and search  “Irrigation Association.” A 2010 interview with Glennon from Lawn & Landscape’s archives can also be found on the website by searching “Glennon.”


Lawn Care Summit held in Atlanta
By Chuck Bowen

ATLANTA – The mid-term elections should be a boon for lawn care operators and pest management professionals across the country, but efforts to regulate these businesses still are strong – especially at state and local levels.

That was the message from Norm Goldenberg, senior vice president, TruGreen, and Aaron Hobbs, president of RISE, to many attendees during the opening day of the second-annual Lawn Care Summit. The two-day event brought about 200 LCOs and pest control operators to Atlanta for business and technical meetings.

Goldenberg said the GOP, traditionally more supportive of fewer regulations, won 18 legislative chambers in 12 states in the November elections, but the threat of bans on pesticides, fertilizers, irrigation and other green industry services still looms at more local levels.

“As you know, that’s where the action is,” Goldenberg said. “That’s where you’re going to stop a lot of local ordinances. That’s where you have to stop them. We have to sell the benefits (of our industries) better than we sell the benefits today.”

The event is co-hosted by PLANET and the National Pest Management Association and is sponsored by Agrium Advanced Technologies, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont Professional Products, EverGreen Software, Holganix, Quali-Pro, Real Green Systems and Spring Valley.

Other highlights from the conference included:

Lessons Learned
The first session brought together three LCOs to share their mistakes and advice for other companies in the industry. Jim Campanella, president and CEO of Lawn Dawg in Nashua, N.H., encouraged attendees to focus on their core businesses and not be distracted by add-on services unless they were sure their market was ready for them.

His company almost went out of business in 2006 after it posted $500,000 in losses in irrigation, snow removal, maintenance and other services. He stressed the importance of recognizing a failure, and working quickly to fix it. Had he not pulled the plug on those add-on service lines, he said, “I would have run my company into the ground.”

Training
One of a company’s greatest assets is the people who work there, and a strong training program is key to developing their talents. Gary Clayton with Southern States said companies need to have some sort of training program for all of their employees – technicians, front office staff and management.

He suggested mapping out the areas of responsibility for each position in your company, and then building training programs based on those, and keeping an ever-changing resource library on hand for continuing education. “Not just a thick manual you’re going to blow the dust off of and no one’s going to read it anyway,” Clayton said, but a collection of articles, websites and other resources for employees to better understand their day-to-day work and their industry.

New Modes of Action
David Shetlar, professor of urban landscape entomology at Ohio State University, highlighted recent developments in the world of chemicals available to LCOs and pest management professionals. As new classes of chemicals and modes of action become available, technicians have a much larger toolbox to work with. Now, they have a wide range of products that target insects’ metabolism, cell membranes and exoskeletons – not just their nervous systems – which means a much lower level of toxicity to humans.

But, Shetlar said, the new modes of action seem to be most effective in managing pests as part of a preventative program, and not necessarily a curative one. That could require companies to adjust the way they market their services and change the way they handle their customers’ expectations.


Real Green Systems conference hosts LCOs in Florida
By Chuck Bowen

ORLANDO, Fla. – The Real Green Users Conference took place in Florida, offering lawn care operators and their technicians a chance to learn about everything from invasive species to social media.

The annual event, organized by Real Green Systems, brought about 400 LCOs to central Florida for five days of technical and management training, as well as a few healthy doses of entertainment: attendees were treated to a casino night and a hypnotist show.

Highlights of the show included:

Emerald Ash Borer 
Elliott Schaffer, owner and founder of Environmental Horticultural Services in Dublin, Ohio, outlined the threat posed by this invasive species. First discovered in Detroit about eight years ago, this pest feasts on healthy ash trees – which cover two-thirds of the continental United States – with no known natural predator, making it particularly “insidious,” Schaffer said.

But, there is still hope; Schaffer treated 1,300 trees last year with a 98% success rate. “We can protect any tree. We just have to treat it,” he said.

Mostly, he injects trees with imidicloprid, which so far has worked well. “This is all proactive, folks. It’s like a flu shot – get this treatment before you get the emerald ash borer,” he says.

He cautioned technicians to be on the lookout for woodpecker activity, a thinning crown and vertical splitting on the bark. The insects are a half-inch long and a sixteenth-of-an-inch wide, so you’ll likely never see them with your naked eye, he says. They feed on leaf tissue, but again, that damage is so minute, that it’s hard to see.

“Unless it’s a heavy population, you’ll never see the feeding,” Schaffer said.

Social Media
Diana Bernecker, marketing coordinator for Pennsylvania-based Moyer Indoor Outdoor, gave several presentations on how companies could use social media to better market their businesses.

  • Focusing mostly on Facebook, she offered these suggestions:
  • Create a policy for how employees can use your social media platforms, and pick 1-2 people to be in charge. “Don’t get too many hands in the process,” Bernecker cautioned.
  • Create another policy for how you’ll handle negative comments. You don’t have to make it public, but do keep it on file so you’ll have something to fall back when responding to complaints.
  • Increase your fan base by sending out coupons or free articles for signing up or leaving positive feedback about your company. Moyer Indoor Outdoor hands out a $10 rebate to anyone who posts something to their Facebook page about a good experience they had with the company, and also collects the e-mail addresses for use in future in-house marketing campaigns.
  • Share content from your website and others, and post how-to videos or customer testimonials.
  • Always remember: these activities are not an opportunity for a hard sell.

Net Promoter Score
Brad Johnson, owner of LawnAmerica in Tulsa, Okla., spoke on how companies can measure their customer satisfaction.

Using a method called the Net Promoter Score, his company asks customers to answer one question on a scale of one to 10 – how likely are you to recommend our company to your friends or family?

By tracking the number of 9s and 10s they receive – the promoters – they know how happy their customers are. It’s a method used by companies like Apple and Southwest Airlines, and the goal is simple: turn passive customers into referral-generating promoters.

“True growth in any industry is hard to find,” Johnson said. “We’re geared for not just pleasing customers, but exceeding their expectations. They’ll talk about us if we’re really, really bad or really, really good. … That determines your future growth: how happy your customers are.

“I’m a numbers guy. I like to see data. The Net Promoter Score is a number I can look at, and I can be confident of how we’re doing on customer service.”

Johnson also incentivizes his entire company on the NPS results; depending on their position, managers can receive as much as $3,500 more at the end of the year if they exceed their goals. Technicians and office staff earn bonuses based on the performance of the company as a whole.

“We post all of our data. There’s some peer pressure, because it’s very visible,” he said.

And it seems to be working: In 2010, retention went up, turnover went down and employees’ attitudes were better, Johnson said.

 
Agrium hosts Green Industry Grad School
By Carolyn LaWell

SYLACAUGA, Ala. – Agrium Advanced Technologies hosted its third annual Green Industry Grad School, inviting 37 landscaping business owners and managers from across the country to partake in two days of education sessions and networking. The event took place at FarmLinks, a research and demonstration facility located at Pursell Farm with everything from an 18-hole championship golf course to clay pigeon shooting stands to high-tech meeting spaces – all of which were used.

Fertilizer Technology
Chris Derrick, product specialist for Agrium Advanced Technologies spoke about the fact that all fertilizers aren’t created equal. Derrick described the science behind slow release and controlled release fertilizers, which can have a predictable release of nitrogen, no odor and can be blended for maximum results.

“Typically when we look at traditional fertilizers there longevity is in that four week range, maybe even six weeks, there are a lot of factors that vary into that,” Derrick says.
“Ultimately we want to look at extended feeding. We’re talking about 8 weeks, 16 weeks, season-long, maybe one application in one season. There are efficiencies built into that technology.”

Bryan Gooch, marketing manager for Agrium Advanced Technologies, spoke about the economic benefits of using Agrium’s newer fertilizer technologies, such as XCU and Spread it & Forget it. Among the list of benefits he mentioned: Saving on labor and overhead from not having to do repeat applications, cutting down on surge growth and reducing annual nitrogen needs.

Gooch said the industry will have to continue to adapt to local, state and federal regulations when it comes to products such as fertilizers.

“It’s not going to get any better,” Gooch said. “It’s only going to get worse from here as more and more attention is drawn to protecting our surface water, our ground water and the atmosphere.”

Building Business
Marty Grunder, consultant and owner of Grunder Landscaping Co., gave presentations on how to outdo competitors and lead through lean times. Among his tips: Offer great customer service, be different, have a team atmosphere, set objectives and constantly community your vision, mission and vision and lead by example.

“I think everything rises and falls with leadership,” Grunder said. “(Leadership) is the area that we can learn the most from and it’s the area that we can all improve upon.”

Networking
The two-day grad school wasn’t just about listening and absorbing information. Attendees had the chance to network and bond over golfing, fishing, clay pigeon shooting and, later in the evening, dinner and karaoke.


New moves
Pleasant View Gardens in Loudon, N.H., hired Lynn Felici-Gallant as marketing manager.

The Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association hired Katherine Hetherington as director of government relations.

Stay Green promotes Jeff Norquist to operations manager for the Los Angeles metro area.

The Irrigation Association appointed Kathleen Markey as marketing director.

 

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