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Making it rain one drop at a time

Features - Cover Feature: The Water Issue

Mike Garcia has found more gold in California thanks to a shift to drip irrigation.

Lindsey Getz | July 11, 2014

Along with the state’s water supply, some of the once-flourishing California landscape business has begun drying up. In Sacramento, groundskeepers are letting the grass die on the state Capitol lawn and are encouraging others to follow suit. While many think it might be time to find a new job, one landscaper says he’s at capacity.

“Much of my old competition has already gone out of business” says Mike Garcia, owner of Enviroscape in Redondo Beach, Calif. “I’m turning work away and those people are disappointed.

“They want water conservation efforts and they’re willing to pay for them. The market is there and it only makes sense to capture it.”

The key to that demand was adaptation. Garcia shifted the focus of his company from traditional landscaping to water management and now approximately half of his revenue comes from such services as subsurface drip irrigation and rainwater harvesting.

He says this work can have margins of 30 percent, which has meant a nice boost to the bottom line for his $500,000 company. “Instead of feeling like it’s time to find a new profession, I see a huge opportunity to make a difference in this profession,” Garcia says.

And with California in the midst of one of its worst droughts in history, marketing these services has been easy. In fact, Garcia says he’s reaping the benefit of the millions of dollars that have already gone into water messaging by the water companies.

“Two years ago when I was talking about the drought, people were clueless,” Garcia says.

“They had no idea what I was talking about. But now, two years later, when I talk about the drought everybody knows. There’s a true consciousness about just how bad it really is.”

Garcia says using keywords and phrases on his website that are picked up during Internet searches has been critical to marketing and selling the service.

Phrases like “rainwater harvesting,” “drip irrigation,” “native gardens” and “save water/save money” are all popular searches.

“People will call me and use the correct terminology, which gives you some sense of how well the message has spread,” Garcia says.

“I’ll get a voicemail asking about subsurface drip irrigation. It kind of blows my mind. Two years ago nobody would have had any clue what that was.”

Garcia says it took him a “few installs” during a two to three month period to get the hang of the work, but says if you have the basics down, you should be able to do subsurface installations.

“All irrigation systems require knowing about water hydraulics, friction loss, pressure, volume, plant needs for certain times of year, etc.,” he says.

“If you have a good foundation in current irrigation methodologies, you will see subsurface drip as an easy add-on. The very first systems we installed several years ago are still going strong.”

Garcia says one thing contractors should acquire is a trencher.

“Do not hand trench,” he says. “This will discourage you. Buy or rent a machine."

He also advises documenting your work. “I’d encourage contractors to grab their smart phones and videotape their crew installing jobs,” Garcia says.

“Video has worked very well for me. I have helped other contractors by directing them to my YouTube videos, which show how subsurface drip is done, and I’ve encouraged them to share that with their own customers.” While customers may like to see the installation, it comes down to the dollars. “Like anything, people want to see what kind of money it will save them.

“When you can start demonstrating those cost savings, the proof is in the pudding.” he says.

Installing drip will result in an escalated cost of about 10 percent compared to a traditional sprinkler system, Garcia says.

“The savings come in the form of water, which is spiking in price every month due to drought,” he says.

As water prices continue to rise, the ROI will be greater, Garcia says.

“A client called and was horrified to see their water bill had risen dramatically,” he says.

“Upon looking at their bill, it was noted their usage had actually gone down. The cost of water is rising at alarming rates.”

 

For more information
Visit bit.ly/lldrip to listen to a webinar Garcia did with L&L on drip installation. You can also visit bit.ly/lldrought to read an article on the impact of drought in California.

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