Take, for instance, one of their first clients in Surprise, Arizona: The property saw nearly $100,000 in savings in just one year.
“And that was just high-efficiency water and a smartbox,” Holt says.
Even still, smart irrigation wasn’t a priority until HOAs and community living groups started reaching out.
“For years, I had wanted to do it, but the price point just wasn’t feasible to have a $10,000 clock,” he says. “That just doesn’t excite a lot of people.”
At the same time of this avalanche in client interest due to their increasing water bills, Holt says he also saw the prices drop on the technology. For Holt, who’s been in business since 2016, this perfect storm meant it was time to jump aboard the trend.
Not every client is begging for the smart irrigation technology like some of the HOAs. At Eco Verde, they’ve seen their fair share of clients shy away from it rather than embrace it.
The way Daniel Funes looks at it, smart irrigation systems are just like a soccer team with good chemistry. All the parts work together — the orchestration doesn’t work without each of the pieces. Funes, Eco Verde’s Water Conservation Usage Analyst & Monitor, says it’s easier to sell skeptical clients the clock first before moving on to newer nozzles and heads, or vice versa.
“If the budget is an issue, they can start with the clock alone or the heads alone,” he says, adding that results are varied without the full system. “We tell them, ‘Don’t expect results right away.’”
Funes says it makes sense that clients might be iffy on adopting the technology — some have never heard of it, they don’t understand the savings and often times, they don’t even see the devices at work.
“I understand why some people are hesitant to switch,” he says. “They think we’ll change or compromise their landscape, but often, they’ll come back and say it’s as green as it used to be or it actually looked better (because) the (plant) material got the right amount of water at the right time.”
Holt was surprised more commercial clients haven’t embraced it the way HOAs have, but he believes the commercial properties often have a disconnect between the people who write checks and the owners of those companies, so the decision-making power is out of their hands.
Plus, even on some residential properties, Holt says there’s skepticism because they’ve been burned by bad “new” technology in the past. Worse yet, he says some clients had previous landscapers who claimed they’d rescue their clients’ pocketbooks but failed to deliver. Convincing the clients that this time, the technology is legitimate, has been annoying in the past.
Holt says he’s even had some clients lose $50,000 or more on an upgrade but saw no results. “They’re obviously gun-shy to do that again,” he says.
“One of the challenges is self-inflicted in the industry, so many people installing, thinking if I throw up a smart clock, that’ll solve the world’s problems,” Holt says. “If you have a horrible irrigation system, it’s not going to do anything for you. There’s been a lot of pushback from people from other contractors who don’t know what they’re doing.”
A different animal
Funes started working at Eco Verde three years ago after working in other segments of the electronics industry. Despite being surrounded by other tech, the rapid evolution of the equipment proved surprising, and its capabilities were even more impressive. It wasn’t that long ago that weather-based watering and controlling the systems from their phones seemed farfetched.
“I found it fascinating that technology has gone that far that we can actually monitor and control water usage offsite,” he says.
Of course, with so much quick progress, Holt has to keep education in mind as he continues to talk with prospective clients. He says most customers struggle to understand the technology because they can’t actually see much happening — they only know the more traditional forms of irrigation like sprinklers you just turn on whenever you want during the summer.
“Most people think of irrigation as very low-tech,” he says. “It’s the guy with the beat-up truck and the shovel, but there’s a lot of science behind it if you want it to work right.”
Holt says he tries his best to sit down and demonstrate the cost-savings and how the system works each time he sells to clients, but he also advises some of his customers — especially those who have lots of reservations — to contact some of their other clients.
He’s noticed one concept that’s hard to grasp in particular is Evapotranspiration (ET) watering, which Holt says, “tends to kind of blow people’s minds.” He will let them know how the systems work and then give them a bit of time to process what he just went over before trying to continue pushing a sale.
“They say, ‘What do you mean, you don’t know how long it’s going to water?’ Those concepts need to be taught very simply,” Holt says.
This education isn’t just for clients — Holt says that while smart irrigation can help with the ongoing labor shortage, getting the employees to understand the systems can be really tricky. The technology advances quickly, and many employees are brand new to irrigation in general.
Eco Verde will run informal training sessions frequently to keep employees up to speed, and some yet are getting certified through Arizona’s primary landscaping association and through the Irrigation Association. That said, Holt says it’s tricky because Arizona doesn’t require the same licensing to operate as other states.
“Because we’ve been growing so fast, it’s also just really hard to stay in front of the learning curve with the guys,” Holt says. “There’s no real good classes that I’ve found to train them effectively and quickly.”
Funes believes the concepts are easy for employees to grasp, but it’s the technical application that gets people flustered. He adds that each manufacturer for smart irrigation devices have their own websites that offer training.
Still, the best teacher is experience.
“As everything else, when you have your hands on it, you will learn faster,” Funes says.
Holt adds that his employees are fully bought in to the technology. At this point, they vocally prefer it.
“At first, everyone’s just a little hesitant, but they warmed up to it really fast,” he says. “Anymore we get to a new job and they (joke), ‘How do you turn the clock on? We can’t use our phones?’”
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