At the 2019 Irrigation Association show in December, Lawn & Landscape magazine walked through a packed show floor with over 250 exhibitors. There were also 56 entries across five categories in the IA’s New Product Contest at the show. During the recap of several awards in 2019 and the formal introduction of the Irrigation Association’s new president, Jon Topham, attendees learned the winners of this year’s New Product Contest. The winners were:
- Specialty Agriculture: Valley Scheduling of Valley Irrigation
- Specialty Landscape: Drill Pump by Action Machining
- Landscape Lighting: Lighting Design Module of Irrigation F/X 16.0 by Land F/X
- Agricultural Irrigation: CPH Sand & Silt Seperator from Epiphene
- Landscape Irrigation: Klift-It by KJ Ketterling Enterprises
Beyond the scope of the competition, there were also plenty of products we saw at the IA Show floor. Here’s some of what we saw:
K-rain RPS Select Rotor
The pitch: K-Rain’s RPS Select rotary sprinkler is a gear-driven sprinkler that makes matched precipitation fast and easy without the need to change nozzles in the field.
- It offers a choice of four selectable, built-in nozzles that can be installed simply using a flathead screwdriver.
- An adjustable arc between 40 degrees and 360 degrees.
- It features precision-engineered nozzles and a standard rubber cover.
For more info: Krain.com
QL Down Light
The pitch: The new, ultra-compact QL provides an innovative down lighting solution for narrow posts, perimeter fencing, columns, doorways, and pergolas.
- It features a modular bracket for ultimate flexibility during installation, plus die-cast aluminum construction for durability.
- A wide-beam angle spread ensures more of the landscape is lit to your specifications, plus it has zoning and dimming when used with a Luxor controller.
- No visible hardware and a single setscrew keeps the design looking sharp.
For more info: Fxl.com
Vectorworks Landmark 2020 software
The pitch: Landmark streamlines integrated 2D and 3D landscape-specific design, modeling and presentation workflows.
- The updated tool offers live data visualization, walkthrough animations, GIS improvements and enhancements to the data tag tool.
- The 3D modeling is more adaptive than in previous iterations of Vectorworks products, as modifications to an object in a design doesn’t require the user to start over again.
- Users can now create custom data sheets, allowing collaborators to use those same entry points to instantly add their data to the appropriate object.
For more info: Vectorworks.net
Toro 17MM Drip In Brown Dripline
The pitch: Now available in industry-standard 17mm size, Drip In Subsurface Dripline is designed to save water while also making your job easier and more productive.
- It’s compatible with most fittings, dripline and hose for easy retrofits and system expansions.
- A double-outlet emitter design allows for greater debris tolerance.
- The pressure-compensating design keeps the flow consistent.
For more info: Toro.com
Rain Bird IQ4 Central Control Platform
The pitch: Rain Bird’s new IQ4 Central Control Platform provides full remote irrigation system access and advanced water management features from any web-based device.
- Available in five languages, the platform can manage small, single-controller sites as well as large, multi-controller sites.
- A redesigned user interface makes it possible to remotely manage and monitor Rain Bird’s ESP-LX Series controllers quickly and spend less time checking settings.
- Features like automatic, weather-based adjustments and real-time diagnostics help contractors and property managers save time, money and water.
For more info: Rainbird.com
Tree Hugger Tree Brace
The pitch: Trees can now be totally supported by an easy-to-use, high-technology molded system that can be installed in under five minutes.
- Engineered to eliminate improper angles, the Tree Brace offers optimal tree stability.
- This reusable staking system is manufactured with molded polypropylene, custom formulated to endure harsh weather conditions for decades.
- No specialized tools or related equipment are needed for the staking of each tree.
For more info: Treehuggerusa.com
KJ Ketterling Enterprises Kap-It
The pitch: The Kap-It riser allows you to raise a sprinkler with no digging.
- Expose the top of the sprinkler head and unscrew the nozzle, add the stem extender and snap on the new top. After reattaching the nozzle, you’re done.
- This process keeps irrigation maintenance simple as no tools are required, plus this keeps dirt from getting into the irrigation lines.
- Kap-It fits on most popular heads and changes none of the original workings. They are also stackable for extra deep heads.
For more info: Kjketterlingenterprises.com
BigDog Mower Co. Hike
The pitch: The Hike is a favorite among users because of its ease of use, wide stance, sturdy drive system and power-bar steering.
- The walk-behind Hike now includes a 5-inch deck depth, 20-inch rear tires and an electric start that comes standard on all models.
- The frame also allows for increased strength by using larger cross tubes and adding gussets.
- The Hike’s update improves park brake lever engagement with added low friction sleeve bushings, a more ergonomic knob and more.
For more info: BigDogMowerCo.com
Cub Cadet Hydro Walk-Behind
The pitch: Cub Cadet’s professional hydrostatic drive walk-behind mowers are built for maximum performance.
- The PRO HW Series features heavy-duty construction and maintenance-free spindles to ensure this mower will last for the long haul.
- Innovative steering technology helps landscapers take charge and get the job done quickly.
- The cutting deck can take a beating with a 10-gauge steel deck shell with 7-gauge top and bottom reinforcements.
For more info: CubCadet.com
Exmark Commercial 30 X-Series Walk-Behind Mower
The pitch: The powerful new Exmark Commercial 30 X-Series is a more productive walk-behind mower option, ideal for smaller properties.
- A new Kohler Command Pro CV200 engine delivers 30% more torque, while Exmark’s timed, two-blade cutting system reduces power requirements.
- The 4.6-inch deep, 30-inch wide deck cuts 40-percent more area per pass than a 21-inch mower.
- The 3-in-1 deck design quickly changes from side discharge to bagging or mulching, no tools required.
For more info: Exmark.com
Ferris FW15 Walk Behind Mower
The pitch: The FW15 variable hydrostatic walk-behind provides a narrow footprint for trimming around trees and planter beds.
- An innovative one-handed ergonomic drive control offers multiple positions with on the fly speed and direction change.
- The mower features a spring-assisted single adjustment point lever empowers professionals to select from seven cut height (1 1/2-inch to 5-inch) options while comfortably cutting.
- Its variable hydrostatic drive gives operators the power to maneuver the mower forward and reverse for smooth traction on sloping terrain to achieve precision trimming.
For more info: Ferrismowers.com
They’re new to the industry, but the next generation of landscapers has been watching. And they hope you have an open mind.
Take Cuyahoga Community College student TaiRenee King for instance: Currently in her final semester and weighing which university she can transfer to that will offer her the right degree for her career path, she says she believes the industry is slow to embrace change.
“From what I’ve experienced, I think it’s a little stagnant. I just feel like the industry can be a lot more open-minded than it is,” King says. “I would love from an employer, just the opportunity to be creative and try new things.”
King says she and other future landscapers around her age are excited about jumping into the industry, but apprehensive about dated mindsets or an unwillingness to adapt.
I don’t need a lot, I’m easy to please,” she says. “I want the freedom to make changes. It keeps the industry in a box when they just do what works or what’s working.”
A marketplace of ideas.
All 22-year-old Chance Howard has done is adapt. The owner of Howard Landscape Group says that at age eight, he was making about $200 a week in helping with yard work around the neighborhood. He eventually dropped out of high school after recognizing the financial opportunity he had already started making for himself in landscaping.
Armed with a beat-up pickup and basic tools he purchased at Walmart, Howard says by the time he was a teenager, he reached roughly 150 to 200 clients around Chattanooga, Tennessee. However, he realized that maintenance wasn’t for him because it was too repetitive, so he moved into design/build and moved quickly on developing a website, hiring employees and has now surpassed $1 million in revenue.
But he says he didn’t get there by refusing to embrace new ideas. He approached countless folks in the industry and outside of it – one of his closest friends and mentors actually works in the catering industry. Combining their perspectives with his own viewpoints, Howard says he’s reached success because he’s never been afraid to talk with people who might have better ideas than his own. He even meets with some of his competitors in the area and swaps stories over some beers or lunch.
This marketplace of sharing ideas, Howard says, is one of the things the industry can continue to encourage to get better as a whole, especially as the field switches to largely Millennials.
“One of common trait that I see with a lot of guys in the industry that I talk to, whether they’re smaller or larger than I am, is that a lot of them can be very stubborn. A lot of them are getting in their own way,” Howard says. “I’ve never been scared to approach anybody. If I want to learn from somebody, I’ll ask and do whatever it takes to learn. I think having that kind of mentality, having that mindset… has always been the biggest asset.”
“I just feel like the culture of horticulture could be a lot different if we tried to reach out more.” TaiRenee King, a student at Cuyahoga Community College in Ohio
Treated as equals.
Preston Stroupe is projected to graduate this coming December from Mississippi State with a degree in landscape contracting. With his impending graduation, he’s spent several hours attending events like career fairs to meet with potential employers. He hopes to work for a company that’ll value his opinion and promote open dialogue between bosses and the employees. He doesn’t want to simply be a cog in a machine or be treated like cheap labor.
“For me, I would say the most prominent thing that I’m looking for in a company is to be treated with professionalism and not treated as a student that just got out of college because I invested a lot of time and a lot of money in learning how to do these things,” he says. “I know experience goes a long way, but at the same time, I want to be treated as an equal.”
Even at the time of an interview, Stroupe says he can tell by observing an interviewer’s body language or tone of voice if they’ll give him respect to share his mind. If there’s not a warm welcome to begin an interview, he says there are immediate red flags.
“They want to treat you like they don’t have time or they don’t think you know anything about what you’re doing. I feel like you should be given a fair chance, at least at the beginning (of working there) or at least the interview,” Stroupe says. “If you’re going to be interviewing a professional of 20 years, at least give them the same respect as you would the professional.”
Stroupe says that someday, he hopes to start his own lawn and landscape maintenance company. But first, Stroupe wants to cut his teeth in the industry and work for someone who embraces technology.
“Specifically, I want to see the battery-powered options on the hand tools and the trimmers, chainsaws and stuff like that because honestly, that could completely change our industry,” Stroupe says. “I’d like to see how well they do run so I could have some experience with them for later on when I do want to branch off for myself.”
King agrees, adding that as she enters the horticulture field, she’ll want to help companies explore studies and research that also helps those in the green industry stay environmentally friendly.
“We could be a lot more advanced than we are. We just need more youth in the industry and more fresh ideas,” she says. “They should be willing to take what they already know and constantly try to learn more.”
A bright future.
All of these criticisms of the industry are not to say there aren’t positives. In fact, King views landscaping as a good thing for society as a whole. She says she comes from an impoverished neighborhood, but exposing citizens to better plant care practices – like she plans to do after graduating – can help inspire overall growth in the community.
“I just feel like the culture of horticulture could be a lot different if we tried to reach out more,” she says.
Beyond that, landscaping can also be lucrative, especially as the labor field continues to appear skim. Stroupe says that while it’s probably frustrating for employers to deal with less people wanting to spend time laboring outdoors, it’s also good for the industry because less homeowners are doing DIY projects in their yards.
“People are going to be willing to pay for a service more often than not, especially when my generation gets into being mature adults,” he says. “The service industry, and the landscaping and green industry, they have a special set of skills to go out and do things that other people don’t care about doing.”
Interns aren’t a new concept for Designs by Sundown in Littleton, Colorado. The company – which ranked no. 84 on our 2019 Top 100 List – has offered internships to college students for about six years, but the last four years, going into their fifth, they’ve revamped their program for a more strategic approach.
“As a company, we just kind of sat down and really looked at what it is we stand for and what makes our company better,” says Jessica Hommel, director of marketing at Designs by Sundown. “It was our employees and the fact that work we are able to retain our employees for so long.”
Instead of looking for a recruiter or headhunter, Hommel says the team realized they could recruit the top talent coming from local colleges in order to create a career path for them. “We want people to be able to grow. We’re not looking at people making lateral transitions,” she says. “The idea is that we would offer these interns a position at the company at the end of the internship. We want them to be ready to roll when the time comes.”
The company has a committee of five people, most who are in a managerial role, which focuses on networking and making connections to find interns. “We all target different professors and whether that’s alumni or just reaching out with a professor and (asking who their top talent is). The group works with the National Association of Landscape Professionals and uses the National Collegiate Landscape Competition as a resource as well.
Having a presence at careers fairs is also important for the group. “We always do one or two long distance career fairs and we try to rotate that,” she says. “So we have our few schools that we have recruited from and we do that on a rotating basis. It’s usually a three-year basis that we’re at least making some kind of (outreach) with that school.”
Making the connection.
In order to be selected for the program, Designs by Sundown receives recommendations from the connections they’ve made with professors and associations, but students are put through an interview process. Applicants are vetted by a member of the committee and interviewed by a sales manager to decide if they should take the next step to come out to the facility. “We don’t pay for our kid’s flights out here, but we will put them up (in a hotel) for the evening and give them a whole tour of the entire day,” she says.
It’s a paid internship program with some flexibility depending on the students individual situation, she says.
“Housing is such a struggle to find here,” Hommel says. “So we do offer a housing stipend with less take-home pay as an option.” She says some students have been able to sublease apartments for the duration of the program or even stay with friends or family to make it work.
The team came up with four different tracks for the interns to follow during the 12-week internship. Students can apply for the construction, maintenance, design/build or irrigation track depending on their career aspirations and current areas of study.
“We also have them spend at least two weeks in other departments as well,” Hommel says. “Every single internship does touch on every single department just because we also believe as a company we want our construction and our maintenance to speak fluidly because that’s how our company is going to operate…everyone working together.”
The students work the same hours on the same shifts as others in their department, too. “We keep them as close as we can to a ‘normal’ employee,” she says. “If they’re on a maintenance crew they are there in the morning for rollout.”
Every other Monday, the interns meet with Hommel and Ben Harcey, construction and irrigation manager, to ensure the program is running smoothly. The interns fill out a biweekly questionnaire on Friday’s for the team to review ahead of the Monday meeting.
“We want to make sure that we’re keeping our word, we're not just using them as labor and that we're actually teaching you,” she says. Managers follow up with department heads on Wednesdays to address anything that could be improved.
Additionally, interns are assigned a mentor in a different department which Hommel says allows the interns to speak more freely about any pain points in the program. “This isn’t getting directly back to the boss or who they are working with so we realized that it gives the interns a little bit more freedom to be a little bit more open and honest,” she says. And, a monthly happy hour is thrown in with owner Michael Hommel, too. Overall, she says they end up offering a job to two of the six interns they bring on.