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March industry news.

March 12, 2008

Raleigh Restricts Water

The Raleigh, N.C., city council voted Feb. 12 to ban hand watering with a hose and continue the ban of all automatic irrigation beginning Feb. 15. The new ordinance is an extension of the irrigation ban implemented last October as result of the state’s severe and lengthy drought.
Several hundred members of the Green Industry Council were on site to voice their displeasure with the decision, said Ed Buchan, water conservation specialist for Raleigh’s public utilities department. The ability to water with a hose had provided some relief to contractors since the October irrigation bans. “Most landscape professionals are pretty disconcerted that we’re moving to stage two, our most restrictive ban,” Buchan said. “Hand watering is off the table now, so they’re obviously going to be affected by that.”
As an alternative, many contractors are utilizing bulk reuse water available in Raleigh and neighboring cities. After taking a free, 30-minute certification class, contractors with means to transport reuse water have unlimited access to. “Unfortunately we don’t have in ground distribution, so it can create some logistical problems for people who don’t have some sort of tank,” Buchan says, adding the number of contractors interested in the reuse water has skyrocketed in recent weeks. “But one of the few bright spots in this situation is that people are aware they have access to the reuse water and there is increased interest – we certainly applaud them for that.”
As of press time, there is no end in sight to Raleigh’s restrictions, and unless there is “an unusual rain event” this spring, Buchan doesn’t see one any time soon. “We don’t ever get much rain in the summer, so if don’t get rain this spring it could create a real crisis,” he said.
As of now Raleigh doesn’t even have stage three water restrictions, so a whole new system will have to be created if things get worse. According to Buchan, that is when other commercial businesses, like restaurants, could be affected. “We wish we would have been able to prevent this earlier, but no one can predict drought of this magnitude,” he said. “Unfortunately this isn’t going away any time soon.” –Emily Mullins

Georgia Landscape Contractors See Water Use Relief

Georgia’s severe and lengthy drought made headlines in 2007 as the worst drought in the state’s history. But residents saw relief when the state voted Feb. 13 to ease the level four restrictions, which banned virtually all outdoor watering in 61 counties, to level two restrictions, which allow hand watering of plants for 25 minutes every other day for three days a week, as long as local water regulators sign off on the rule. It also allows homeowners and professional landscape contractors to water newly installed landscapes up to three days a week for 10 weeks once they pass an online certification program that will start in April.
A 10-percent reduction in water consumption ordered last year by Gov. Sonny Perdue is still in effect, and lawmakers also adopted Georgia’s first statewide water plan, which calls for three years of assessments to measure Georgia’s water supply and needs, and creates 11 regional councils to create their own water plans.
The restrictions were lifted largely on account of pressure from green industry groups, like the Georgia Urban Agriculture Council, news sources say. GUAC stressed the economic importance of Georgia’s $8.12 billion green industry during meetings with the governor and Environmental Protection Agency members. “The landscape industry has been most largely affected by the bans,” says GUAC member Tony White, operations manager of T. Lake Environmental Designs in East Dublin, Ga. “So far, about 14,000 jobs and almost $2 billion have been lost as result of the drought [according to GUAC research]. That’s significant.”
While the lesser restrictions don’t really affect the counties already experiencing level two restrictions, it will prevent them from reaching level four restrictions, White says, adding that each county has the ability to tighten the restrictions as they see fit. “The state is just the outside perimeter, making sure everyone is on the same playing field,” he says. “The decisions of individual counties can create whole new issues.”
While progress has been made, White says this is just the beginning. “No matter what the water conditions are, we as landscape professionals must be good stewards of our water resources,” he says. “Drought or no drought, we must take ownership and responsibility to manage our water wisely.” – Emily Mullins

Tips for Top-Notch Account Managers

Contrary to common thought, landscape companies don’t actually have to sell their services to their customers, says Tom Oyler. The client already knows they need their grass mowed, beds mulched or whatever it may be. All contractors really have to do is suppress their competitors.
Doing so, it turns out, comes down to the all important role of the account manager, attendees learned at the Wilson-Oyler Group Success Series seminar in Atlanta last month. About 35 professionals attended the event, titled, “Foolproof Methods to Develop World-Class Account Managers,” which was sponsored by Husqvarna. Lawn & Landscape was the media sponsor.
If account managers are effective, they’ll move up their customers’ value chains to be more than just the “landscapers,” Oyler says. Doing so makes a firm “strategically relevant” to its clients, thus allowing it to suppress the competition. Oyler and his colleague Drew St. John outlined how account managers can achieve such success.

BUSINESS FIRST. First, account managers must possess a business mindset. While technical knowledge may be important, key business criteria like the ability to lead and inspire others, good organization/time management skills and self confidence are necessary, St. John says.
Effective communication is vital, too. St. John recommends account managers come right out and ask clients how they prefer to communicate – e-mail, phone or in person.  Another tip: After a phone call or meeting, send a follow-up e-mail, St. John says. “Just ask them, ‘Did I capture everything we talked about?’ What you heard is not always what the customer meant.”
Beyond the basics, the best account managers have a thirst for knowledge about their territory, Oyler says. “They become hyper-vigilant about their area, seeing new buildings and opportunities to improve density,” Oyler says.

CREATING VALUE. Good account also understand each customer’s values. For example, a private developer of a high-end office building with triple-net leases has different priorities than a third-party manager of an apartment complex. Oyler recommends landscape companies develop “value chains” for every type of customer. These lists depend on a client’s market and individual circumstances. Account managers can better understand these details by reading magazines relevant to their customers and their businesses, attending their meetings and joining their organizations (consider reading Real Estate Portfolio or joining the Building Owners and Managers Association). The goal is to understand “what the customer thinks of when they wake up,” Oyler says.
Once the account manager has market knowledge, he or she is equipped to create and retain “lifetime customers,” Oyler and St. John say.
After the customer signs a contract, the account manager develop an operations plan, establish time lines, coordinate with the support team and inform the client, all while keeping the value chain in mind.
Within the first 30 to 90 days, the account manager should photo document current job conditions, evaluate the condition of the landscape, determine a 90 to 180 plan for curb appeal, turf care, water management, etc., and discuss long-range plans. During this process, an account manager should be prepared to defend his or her plan and provide supporting documents, keep the customer informed and seek counsel when necessary. It’s all part of becoming a “subject matter expert,” Oyler says. 
The Wilson-Oyler Group continues its Success Series on the following dates: March 6, Los Angeles; March 20, Denver; April 3, Chicago; April 17, Columbus.  –Marisa Palmieri

Share Your H-2B Stories

THE PROFESSIONAL LANDCARE NETWORK is appealing to landscape contractors to provide their stories on how not receiving the H-2B workers they need this year will impact their business operations.
Because of the grim outlook that Congress will act on this issue, Tom Delaney, PLANET’s director of government affairs, says he wants to share industry stories with legislators, the media and others to continue to lobby for a legislative fix for the returning worker exemption. The group has been distributing questionnaires seeking contractors’ views on topics such as how much income will be lost as a result of not getting workers and what hardships will result from a failure to approve this year’s exemption.
“Congress has said several times, ‘What’s the impact?’ and we haven’t been able to show it,” Delaney says. “This is our opportunity to do that.”
Delaney would like to send Congress as many as 100 contractor stories. He believes this number provides a sufficient snapshot of the diverse ways people use and depend on these guest workers. To date, Delaney says the response has been disappointing.
The government caps the H-2B program at 66,000 annual visas, split for each half of the federal fiscal year. In 2005 and 2006, Congress passed a temporary provision allowing workers who participated in the program for any of the three previous years not to count against the cap. Congress has not yet approved the exemption for this year. As a result, it’s likely only 66,000 visas will be issued, eliminating an estimated 100,000-plus workers from the labor force.
At this point there’s too much uncertainty surrounding this issue, Delaney says, and the green industry needs to use its collective voice to press for a resolution with regard to the foreign worker visa program.
“Some companies may get their workers on time, other may have to wait until April and some many not get them at all,” Delaney says.
PLANET, which is appealing to both members and non members, will be accepting contractor stories through this month.
Interested contractors may contact Delaney at –Mike Zawacki

ValleyCrest Branches Out in the Southwest

ValleyCrest’s latest acquisitions have expanded the company’s reach in the Southeast, where it most recently acquired Hilton Head, S.C.-based Second Nature Landscapes, a landscape maintenance company.
The acquisition follows the news last December that the company acquired Scapes, a $16 million-plus landscape maintenance and design/build firm in Atlanta. Neither transactions’ details were disclosed.
The geographic location wasn’t the primary reason these companies looked attractive, says Roger Zino, president of ValleyCrest’s landscape maintenance division.
“Our approach is that when we’re interested in company, we’re generally interested in the people and the teamwork,” Zino says.
Because of this interest, ValleyCrest will retain Scapes’ and Second Nature’s employees. ValleyCrest also benefits from the customer base the acquired companies bring.
“Great relationships in the marketplace are the cornerstone of business,” he says.
With the Scapes acquisition, ValleyCrest ventures more into the residential design/build business, an area that has been limited to only a few ValleyCrest locations, including Southern California and Dallas. The company sees potential for more growth in that market, Zino says.
Scapes, founded in 1982, ranked 88th on Lawn & Landscape’s list of the nation’s Top 100 landscape companies in 2007. Second Nature Landscape, formed by Steve Clark and Ed McCullough in 2003, performs landscape maintenance for homeowner and property owner associations, resorts, hotels and other commercial properties on Hilton Head Island.
The landscape maintenance portions of the companies will become part of the ValleyCrest Cos. brand.
On the design/build side of the business, Scapes will retain its name. –Heather Wood

University in New York to Offer Turfgrass Management Degrees

Those looking to pursue a degree in maintaining recreational fields have another option. That State University of New York (SUNY) Cobleskill has been given the green light to offer bachelor’s degree programs in turfgrass management.
Starting with this spring’s semester, the school offers  the following degrees in
this field:

  • Bachelor of technology in sports turf management – focuses on the cultivation and management of specialty grasses for sports fields and recreation areas. 
  • Bachelor of technology in golf turf management – focuses on the production and maintenance of different specialty grasses for the greens, fairways and tees of golf courses. 

The programs, once closely related, have evolved into distinct fields with different cultural practices and now have separate professional organizations, says SUNY Cobleskill Professor of Turfgrass Management Zhongchun “ZJ” Jiang, Ph.D. While SUNY Cobleskill has always offered turfgrass management courses, the field was previously treated as a concentration under plant science. The new bachelor’s degree programs include rigorous coursework in the field not required in the concentration under Plant Science, Jiang adds.

To apply for the program, go to or –Heather Wood

Online Registration Open for 2008 Show

Green industry professionals can now register online for the 2008 Green Industry & Equipment Expo at The event will take place Oct. 23 to 25 in Louisville, Ky.
Many features from last year’s show will return, including the three-day outdoor demonstration area, free concerts, the Dealer Club and the Green Industry Conference, said Warren Sellers, expo director. Features from the Green Industry Expo and the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo, the two industry events that merged to create the GIE+EXPO, will be incorporated as well. “Last year we were a bit limited on space because an exhibit hall adjacent to our show floor was under construction,” Warren said. “This year we will have unlimited space for the 650 exhibiting companies and attractions like the New Product Showroom, on-site workshops and receptions.”
GIE+EXPO is sponsored by the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, the Professional Landcare Network and the Professional Grounds Management Society. For more information, call Sellers Expositions at 800/558-8767.  –Emily Mullins

Executives Focus on Peak Performance

About 125 landscape professionals explored their inner “Power to Perform,” at the Professional Landcare Network’s Executive Forum in Scottsdale/Fountain Hills, Ariz., in February.
The annual education and networking event took a detour from its typical management- and operations-heavy format, and focused this year instead on “the soft side of the hard stuff,” as speaker/moderator Paul Sessions said. In addition to Sessions’ talks on succession planning and how executives can navigate difficult conversations in their businesses, other speakers addressed executive wellness, coaching strategies and how to manage stress through relaxation techniques. 

PLAYING IT SAFE. Sessions, the director of the University of New Haven’s (Conn.) Center for Family Business, led Executive Forum’s two general sessions about creating a “safe place” to discuss difficult topics and succession planning. A product of a family business himself, Sessions also operates a consulting business that focuses on family business succession planning, interpersonal communications and conflict resolution.
Nearly every close-knit business has “a gorilla in the room” – the thing nobody wants to talk about, Sessions said. These topics often center on money, retirement, succession, substance abuse, death, incompetence and change. “What if you could talk about those things freely? How much better off would you be?” he asked.
He offered the following strategies for creating an atmosphere where it’s comfortable to discuss the hard topics:

  • Consider “filters.” Everyone sees the world through a different lens, Sessions said. Being conscious of one’s own history, biases, prejudices and beliefs – and considering others’ – is the first step to creating “safe spaces.”
  • Take stock of your emotional responses. “Pay attention to your body,” Sessions said. Know your body’s emotional reactions to anger, fear, etc., and before you respond to these emotions, exercise a “pattern interrupt.” Stop, take a deep breath, lower your shoulders and think for a moment. Then, Sessions advises, “Choose a behavior of the kind of person you want to be.” And then act on that choice.
  • Chose a “safe place.” When selecting a meeting place, Sessions encouraged choosing a meeting place that reinforces good communication. Choose a neutral location (not the CEO’s office), an agreeable time and consider air, light and noise.
  • Consider “checking in.” For effective meetings Sessions suggests instituting a “check in” policy, where attendees go around the room and give a brief explanation of their emotional state and what they expect to get out of the session. “It’s just to let everyone know, ‘Who’s here today,’” he said. 

PASSING THE BATON. After laying the ground rules for how to initiate tough conversations, Sessions’ second presentation focused on one of the most difficult topics a business owner must conquer – succession planning. “The best succession is one that nobody even notices,” Sessions said. “It happens with such grace and such care that it’s seamless.”
To achieve a graceful transition, it’s important for the firm’s leader to bring up succession and help the company address it, Sessions said. A panel of industry executives who’ve experienced a number of different types of exit plans weighed in, too. Gary Thornton, former owner of Thornton Landscape in Maineville, Ohio, said it’s never too early for an executive to start thinking about how and when he or she will make an exit. “You have to start early because it’s going to go really fast,” he said.
Executives also should realize that succession doesn’t always mean retirement, members of the panel said. It may mean taking on a lesser role in the company, starting a new business, pursuing hobbies or teaching.
“A succession plan is not a succession plan when it’s only in your head,” Sessions said. A good, written succession plan includes a strategic plan, a development plan for future leaders, a transition time line and possibly an estate plan.
To kick start the planning process, he recommended business owners create “transition councils,” or a group of advisers to guide an executive through the preparations. It may include staff members, peers, and members of the company’s board of advisors or directors.
Sessions peppered his presentation with real-life stories of family businesses, with both good and bad succession plans. One thing’s for sure, Sessions said: “You don’t want to be like the story of the 88-year-old father whose 65-year-old son retired before him because knew he was never going to get the chance to run the business.”

FIRST THINGS FIRST. In his keynote speech, Dave Zerfoss, president of Husqvarna Forest & Garden Co., put it plainly to the attendees: “We don’t pull in the pits to do the necessary maintenance on ourselves often enough,” said the avid NASCAR fan, using a racing analogy.

“Many of us believe we’ve won because we have mastered the art of multitasking,” Zerfoss said. “Multitasking may be a winning strategy, but is it at a cost of mediocre performance and burn out? Even the best juggler can only keep the balls in the air for so long.”
To create better work/life balance, leaders must first determine all of the roles he or she fills in their life, Zerfoss recommends, crediting one of his favorite business books, First Things First by Stephen R. Covey. These roles may include but are not limited to “manager,” “spouse,” “parent” and “coach.” To perform better in each of these roles, Zerfoss recommends all leaders create a decision-making framework each week. Assign specific appointments for completing the tasks involved in each of these roles (“schedule an occasion”) – and keep them. This process is more than just creating a to-do list, Zerfoss emphasizes. “This exercise is not about prioritizing your schedule; it’s about scheduling your priorities.” –Marisa Palmieri