Eyes to the sky

Drones, along with a glimpse into an industry giant and advice from an Emmy-nominated actor, were some of the highlights at the iLandscape show.

The iLandscape show took place in early February in Schaumberg, Illinois, a suburb northwest of Chicago, and featured a trade show floor, education sessions and a keynote from actor Ed Begley, Jr.
Photo by Brian Horn

SCHAUMBERG, Ill. – Lawn & Landscape made a stop at the iLandscape show, taking in all that Illinois and nearby states have to offer in the green industry. Here are some highlights from the show, which took place Feb. 1-3.


One growing trend in the industry is using drones to photograph landscapes from above. This gives contractors a new marketing tool to use to get better photos and to help potential customers visualize how a job will be done.

Peter Spero and Brendan Stewart, founders of AeroVista Innovations, an aerial vehicle service company, said learning to fly a drone for commercial purposes isn’t as easy as buying one and operating it. That means getting the correct paperwork filed and practicing the right way to fly one. “It’s more complicated than stopping at Best Buy and buying one,” Spero said.

If you want to fly over a landscape and use the image for marketing purposes, you must obtain a 107 FAA license to fly the drone. You can obtain the license by taking a 60-question test at a small local airport. You’ll need to take a refresher test every two years and have a registration like you would for a car, which can be done online. And though it’s not mandatory, Spero and Stewart recommend buying an insurance policy.

This can be purchased at any company that sells aviation insurance, and you can buy $1-million worth of liability coverage for $1,500-$2,000 for a year.

First, you have to ask yourself how you want to use it. Then, identify who on your staff is going to fly it. Third, develop standard operating procedures, especially for larger companies.

The fourth step is applying for any waivers you may need. One example of a waiver is, if you are doing a job within 5 miles of an airport, you must get a waiver. Then acquire and register the drone.

“Buying a drone is one of the last steps,” McCarthy said.

“It’s best to know the laws of the particular community before you go out.” – Peter Spero, co-founder, AeroVista Innovations

To practice, Stewart has a little drone he flies around his living room to stay sharp. “If you don’t do it for long enough, your skills get rusty,” he said.

If you are going to fly it over a client’s property, make sure you have the client’s permission and all your paper work and proof of insurance with you. Some local governments have passed laws making it illegal to fly drones, but Stewart said those may not be law-binding since the federal law may overrule the local law.

Spero and Stewart said they’ve flown in cities where those types of laws have been passed. They called the police department or city hall and explained why they were flying, and the local government or law enforcement had no issues with it.

“It’s best to know the laws of the particular community before you go out,” Spero said.

After the merger.

Three BrightView employees, Chuck DeGarmo, vice president of sales for the landscape construction group, Peter Hunn, a principle in development, and Brent Lloyd, a managing principle in the design group, talked about what the past two years have been like since Brickman and ValleyCrest merged, forming the new company.

DeGarmo said because ValleyCrest and Brickman were already large companies individually, employees from both sides knew the challenges of communicating in a large organization. That helped ease some pains, but DeGarmo said one key to establishing good communication practices was simply getting to know the people in the organization. Whether that was through meetings or company events, it was important to develop relationships within the organization where you knew the single point of contact for a situation if you needed something for a customer.

“Then it’s repetition, repetition, repetition and driving that home to create the relationships to know who we should talk to for what,” he said.

Since the company has 600 construction projects going on at all times, problems can escalate quickly. DeGarmo said the company communicates the importance of the customer on all levels, which keeps managers from always having to put out fires.

DeGarmo added that since the maintenance side is bigger than the construction side, and both ValleyCrest and Brickman offered maintenance, figuring that division of the business out was much more complex.

“The maintenance business is now three-quarters of the revenue. It’s a much bigger integration challenge,” he said. “We’ve been at it two years now and have gotten to the other side of that lifting … where we can act quickly.”

One other challenge the company faced was hiring. Since they need to hire so many workers and train them, the company tried to use local ties and hire organically. That proved to be a problem because those who would be in charge of hiring were focused on running their departments and branches.

So BrightView invested in hiring managers whose sole purpose was to recruit, and now new employees have a constant companion with them when they start so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.

“We’re investing tons of money in that, and it’s paying dividends,” DeGarmo said.

DeGarmo said the company is looking to expand in the Midwest, but Lloyd said local contractors shouldn’t be concerned if BrightView becomes a neighbor.

“We approach it as we have a lot of resources … but we also want to partner with folks on the ground who know the market really well,” Lloyd said.

Advice from Hollywood.

In 1970, actor and environmental activist Ed Begley Jr., started to make more decisions based on the environment. Today, the Emmy-nominated actor gets asked about what happened in 1970 to push him in that direction.

He said living 20 years as a kid in “smoggy” Los Angeles where he couldn’t go out on the playground some days because of the smog, and it would hurt to breathe, planted the seed of being more environmentally conscious.

But, as a struggling actor, he had to do it on the cheap, and he stressed to the audience during his keynote address that you can start small and inexpensively.

He started composting and recycling and taking public transportation when he had little income, and it helped put money back in his pocket.

“I saved money at every turn,” he says.

Begley also said avoiding “vampire power” could save you money. Vampire power is a term used to describe when electronics, like a television, are turned off but still use electricity because they are plugged in. He suggested buying a power strip and turning it off when you aren’t using those devices.

“We have to do everything in our power to turn it around,” he said in regards to problems with the environment.

Christmas in the nighttime sky

A service project combining Christmas and fireworks is helping children in Idaho. By Katie Tuttle

For 26 years, Kimberly Nurseries in Twin Falls, Idaho, has held its annual Christmas in the Nighttime Sky event. A fun evening and simultaneous charity event, it was started by Jack Wright, who was then the president of the company.

“My dad always liked fireworks and he liked Christmastime and he thought why not combine those two into a charitable event and put those two things together that people don’t normally associate,” says Dave Wright, now company president.

The event takes place on Kimberly Nurseries‘ 3.5-acre property the day after Thanksgiving.

Photo courtesy of Kimberly Nurseries

The event takes place on the nursery’s 3.5-acre property the day after Thanksgiving, although Wright says people can see the fireworks from anywhere nearby.

“People mark it on their calendars. It’s an expected annual event,” he says.

For attendees who come to the facility for the event, there are bonfires set up with plenty of folding chairs and tables. There are lines for Idaho potatoes with chili, and Coca Cola sponsors the event, providing coffee, hot cocoa and soft drinks. Christmas music plays on loud speakers and a praise and worship band from a local church performs inside one of the buildings.

The event goes on for an hour and a half, culminating in a 10-minute firework display with 450 to 500 fireworks.

Admission to the grounds is one unwrapped children’s toy per family. The event has drawn as many as 4,000 people and averages 2,500-3,000.

“We just like to see it grow, quite honestly, because it’s such a worthwhile event,” Wright says. “All the toys we gather stay in our area. It’s a major – without this event it would be a lot of kids that didn’t get anything for Christmas.”

Wright says his goal for the event is to say it has collectively received one million toys from attendees. Currently, they’re sitting at 100,000. He says some families bring more than one toy, and some people go above and beyond.

“This year we got 18 bikes that people brought,” he says. “The generosity toward this is just tremendous.”

After the event, the toys are packed up and taken to a facility to be sorted. Then, different agencies in the surrounding areas come with wish lists from clients and are able to pick gifts and deliver them for Christmas.

Over the years, other places in Idaho have started to do their own versions of Christmas in the Nighttime Sky. It’s Wright’s hope that more places across the country will contact him for the rights and begin doing it as well.

“I’ve trademarked it but we’re willing to share, and we have everything a person needs to set up an event like this,” he says.

“I would like to see these events all across the country, in every state I think they can do them.”

A new design for a changing industry

Ohio’s MGIX saw a rebrand, as well as a shift in safety culture and a focus on the true buyer. By Katie Tuttle

Previously known as CENTS, the Midwest Green Industry Xperience went through a show redesign in the hopes of better encompassing the industry professionals in attendance. Running in Columbus over three days in January, the conference featured education for landscapers, snow and ice pros and other horticulture professions. Here are three takeaways:

1. Women make up 80 percent of buying decisions. “That isn’t saying your industry; that’s saying all industries,” said Anne Obarski, a consultant with Merchandise Concepts. Focusing on female buyers will help your company because a satisfied woman is, as Obarski describes it, “contagious.”

“They’ll tell everyone,” she said, highlighting this as a marketing technique.

2. In order to have a successful social media marketing campaign, you need to have a brand and a strategy. You also need to take advantage of platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Obarski suggested even asking happy clients to do video testimonials that you can post on those sites to catch the eye of potential customers.

“Video is now becoming one of the biggest ways to sell your product and you,” she said.

3. In the first quarter of 2017, the American National Standards Institute is rolling out new changes to the Z133 safety standard for the arboriculture industry. “This was the biggest overhaul that’s ever occurred,” said Phillip Kelley, owner of Samara Tress Preservation and the lead instructor for North American Training Solutions.

Not regulated by OSHA, Kelley said several incidents within the last year have caused OSHA to take serious interest in writing a standard for tree care. He said if arborists abide by the updated ANSI regulations, it may keep OSHA from getting involved in the industry.

Kelley highlighted important sections, such as one requiring all arborists to be certified in first aid and CPR within 90 days of being hired. “We’ve got to find a balance because we can’t keep burying people” Kelley said. “I don’t care how much red tape there is if it keeps people out of the ground.”

Ask the Experts: Spending time on social media

Q: My landscape company doesn’t have a large staff so we have a hard time keeping up with social media posting and we aren’t sure what is most important. Where should we be spending our time to get the greatest impact?

A: It is important to have a plan because the opportunities for digital communications keep expanding and it can definitely seem overwhelming, but it is also an incredible opportunity. Don’t think of social media and digital communications as something nice to do – think of it as part of your overall marketing strategy.

Decide on resources.

Review your marketing goals and determine the time and money you have to commit to developing and posting content. Then choose the best platforms to go all in on. Once you commit to a blog or Facebook page, you want to post enough content to appear timely and relevant.

Have your designated staff set aside a few hours (or whatever you deem reasonable) every week to work on digital content.

Choose platforms wisely.

Focus your time on platforms where you can easily reach clients, potential clients and your community.

You may not have time to focus on every platform and every platform might not be worth your effort. We find that most NALP members focus on Facebook first with fewer contractors putting time into Twitter.

Facebook offers reasonably priced advertising options like promoted posts where you can target your audience geographically and by interest. Twitter, on the other hand, has more expensive advertising options and takes longer to build a targeted audience.

Many contractors are joining Instagram every day because our industry has great visuals and it is quick and easy to post photos of your work.

Pinterest is a good option for residential design/build companies and LinkedIn can be a good outlet for companies that have a commercial client base.

Focus on who you want to reach.

Part of your content marketing strategy should include who you are trying to reach and what your goal is for communicating with them.

For client retention, a good place is on your blog or client emails.

Providing your clients with helpful seasonal tips with photos of your team in the field or sharing stories of your latest projects and community service work are a great way to keep you connected with clients, and it positions you and your team as experts in the field.

Photos and videos are critical to making your stories engaging, so have a process in place to get photos of your projects and your team in the field.

For client recruitment, posts that drive readers back to your website are key to getting them locked in as clients.

If you have a blog, news section or helpful videos on your website, create posts on your social media platforms that link back to those sections of your website.

Measure your reach.

Twitter, Facebook, your blog, your website and most every digital platform has free analytics you can look at to see how your posts performed; i.e. how many people they reached, how many people liked a post or clicked on a link. You can use that to create future posts on topics that your audience finds most interesting.

Also, you can look at your website analytics to see which social media platforms are driving more traffic to your website.

– Lisa Schaumann, NALP director of communications and public relations adviser for members

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