Landscaping in Louisville

The green industry gathered again in Kentucky after events were canceled in 2020 due to COVID-19.


First Thing’s First

Paul Fraynd and Seth Kehne showed landscapes attendees one simple equation to building a better business: Employee satisfaction = happier clients = higher profits.

In their session, Fraynd (CEO, Sun Valley Landscaping) and Kehne (president, Lawn Butler) outlined why leadership comes down to making employees come first, even over clients.

Do It With Purpose.

Kehne said his employees used to get called in to blow out a client’s leaves from her backyard in the dead of the winter. He said they used to ask why — what was the point of spending 80 billable hours all winter taking leaves off a property?

Kehne said his employees felt the task didn’t make any sense. It felt pointless. From his perspective, it was a good chunk of extra revenue in a time where they didn’t have much else going on. But the lesson learned was that employees wanted to know the purpose.

Show employees why the job is important to the clients. That woman who hired the company to remove the leaves had someone throw a cigarette on those leaves once, and a fire nearly caused significant damage.

The “why” doesn’t have to be as drastic — maybe a client just wants to have his daughter’s birthday party look nice on the back lawn — but explaining the purpose remains important nonetheless.

“It’s taken me 20-some years to realize it: It’s really important for our team to know why we do what we do,” Kehne said. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but the ‘why’ is important.”

Seth Kehne (left) and Paul Fraynd told LANDSCAPES attendees that finding ways to have employees understand why their work is important is critical.

Show Some Grace. 

Fraynd says he occasionally hears it from employees: They take one look at a new employee and predetermine that they’re not going to last.

Fraynd admits it’s easy to feel jaded. Sometimes, employees just no-call, no-show. Other times, the work that gets done lacks quality. But he also reminds himself that often times, people walking into entry-level jobs might not be at their best stage of their lives. Show them some grace and help them develop, and see what type of person they become.

“You’re not catching them at their best most likely. You’re probably catching them honestly at one of the toughest parts of (their) life,” Fraynd said. “That’s just part of the genuine care of the humans that come into our office.”

Taking Ownership.

Fraynd says it takes a long time to master how to delegate effectively. Lots of times, he’d hand out job descriptions with tons of bullet points and told employees to figure it out. Others, he found himself managing employees closely.

One way to mitigate any work issues is to just ask employees what’s going on and if they’re doing okay, especially if you notice a dip in work quality.

Kehne added that teaching ownership of work quality is important. Asking employees questions like “what could you have done better?” often leads to good dialogue between the employer and employees. Holding employees accountable is important, but if they can hold themselves accountable, things get so much easier on the leadership team.

“I want you to own things,” he said. “You don’t have to be perfect by any means…but if you can’t own things, you’re not going to be great with us.”

Making the most of it

GIE+EXPO and LANDSCPES have been rebranded and will take place separately next year.
Photo by jimmy miller

The pandemic has caused consumer behaviors to change. And that was the topic of the “Life Post-Pandemic: Emerging Stronger and Smarter” hosted by NALP’s Women in Landscape Network at LANDSCAPES.

“We chose this topic six months ago when we thought we’d be post-pandemic,” joked Jennifer Burnett, VP of organizational development with LandCare.

Ashly Neneman, general manager of Sun Valley Landscaping, said throughout the entirety of the pandemic, customers are looking to enhance entertainment areas in their yards, and design/build business continues to boom.

Neneman notes that for Sun Valley, both homeowners have been home now, so they are communicating with both as opposed to normally working solely with one spouse.

Angela Hieronimus, director of engagement and success with Blades of Green Lawn Care, adds that customers are more apt than ever to buy online.

“It can be a blessing and a curse,” she said. “It’s difficult for someone to buy lawn care online, and then (they) get one application and think they’ll have the best lawn ever.”

Hieronimus adds that in addition to the influx in online approach, there’s also been a trend for more cancellations online as well especially through texting.

“It can be difficult for us to find out what went wrong if they’re cancelling through text messages,” she said.

Becca Presley, director of marking and communication with Senske, also referenced that people are home more with more dispensable income to spend. And with people being home, there’s been an increase in service calls.

“We have eyes and ears there where we didn’t before,” Burnett added to the topic.

All four women said that with more communication with clients, it’s key to keep lines of communication open and educate them about the services being provided.

From a business perspective, Neneman said the pandemic stressed the importance of having healthy relationships with suppliers.

“We found it difficult to get some of the basic items we needed,” she said. “Those vendor relationships become really important.”

Burnett said purchasing has caused quite a few problems, but to overcome them, the company is now planning one or two seasons ahead to ensure it has what it needs when it needs it.

“It’s forced us to be much more innovative,” Hieronimus added. “We’ve had to think on our feet…it’s made us look at our programs more specifically and be more efficient.”

All of these supply chain issues and lack of materials have caused prices to rise. Neneman adds she expects everyone’s retention rates to dip a little in the near future.

“Consumers will have to start choosing where they’ll pinch those pennies,” Neneman said.

The panelists said that out of all the changes COVID caused, a few might stick around once the pandemic ends.

“While it is great to have everyone back in the office, we’ve realized some functions can be done remotely,” Presley says. “Pre-pandemic, we were outgrowing our office and now we’ve expanded our workforce and not had to expand our office.”

Presley added that before the pandemic, a lot of training was on-the-fly and about mirroring a peer, so the pandemic forced them to standardize training and improve things since not everyone was working next to one another.

Neneman said she feels weekly Zoom calls will stick around for her team just because of its efficiency.

“Pre-pandemic, we were driving back to the office to meet for an hour and then driving back out to the field,” she said. “What a waste of time. I feel that they’ve been eye-opening and really positive.”

Burnett said LandCare has been able to offer even more training opportunities because of the efficiency of Zoom.

While some may think a company could lose its culture while working remotely, the panelists had a few ideas on how to keep employees engaged.

“We did team member spotlight videos because we were hiring individuals who were getting access to one or two people and we wanted others to get to know them,” Hieronimus said. “It’s mostly fun questions and then, ‘What do you like about working at Blades of Green?’”

Hieronimus said these videos have even sparked a marketing and recruiting campaign on social media.

Neneman said Sun Valley Landscaping typically holds an award ceremony every year and even held it remotely via Zoom in 2020.

“We did scavenger hunts throughout their house via Zoom and we delivered pizzas to everyone,” she said. “We tried to make the best out of the situation. We’re still having fun together; it just looks different.”

Burnett said LandCare has been giving employee engagement training to its supervisors.

“We want them to understand it’s their responsibility to provide a culture within their truck and within their crew, so their crewmembers are enjoying their work and enjoying their day,” she said. “I’m excited to see where this goes. I think it shows our supervisors the value they hold.”

Presley said it’s good to be realistic and recognize that things might never go back to the way they were before COVID.

“Even when we are post-pandemic things will look different,” she said.

Hieronimus agrees and says communication and collaboration have been the biggest takeaways.

‘When you encounter something as big as this pandemic your people’s true colors and strengths really come out,” she said. “And we’ve been really proud of that.”

Exmark revealed autonomous mowing prototypes that are still at an early stage.
Photo by Kim Lux

Exmark Autonomous Plans

Exmark showcased a handful of future technologies, including electric, robotic and autonomous commercial mowers. The company unveiled an early prototype of its robotic mower concept, and showed prototypes of autonomous and electric mower models.

Exmark General Manager, Daryn Walters, said many questions remain to be answered when it comes to commercial robotic mowers. He cautioned that the prototype shown at GIE+EXPO is still at an early stage, and that the form factor could change significantly by the time it reaches production at some point in the future.

Despite the unanswered questions, he said the potential for robotic mower technology is too great to ignore.

“We see a big future for autonomous and robotic mowers in the commercial marketplace,” Walters said. “We’re excited for what the future holds, and are prepared to give our customers the tools they need to succeed.”

Exmark also unveiled its 2022 product line at the show. New introductions include a new 144-inch Lazer Z Diesel zero-turn riding mower and all-new Vertex S-Series stand-on mower, as well as a Vanguard Oil Guard-equipped Lazer Z X-Series zero-turn riding mower and a new Radius X-Series zero-turn riding mower.

The new optimow is equipped with 4G connectivity.

Greenworks Optimow

Greenworks commercial’s new commercial-grade robotic mower, optimow, is equipped with 4G cellular connectivity and fully integrated GPS tracking, allowing operators to view its real-time location and operate from anywhere. Optimow robotic mowers can be customized for everything from scheduling to cut height and can operate on lawns with up to a 35% grade slope.

The commercial-grade optimow mowers debuting at the GIE+EXPO include four models: optimow 33, optimow 33H, optimow 66 and optimow 66H. The optimow 33 and 33H models can cut up to 1/3 acre on a full charge, while the 66 and 66H models can cut up to 2/3 acre on a full charge.

The optimow 33 and 66 models have a cut height from 0.8 inches to 2.4 inches, while the 33H and 66H cut heights range from 2.4 inches to 4 inches.

All four models are virtually maintenance free, using no gas or oil; the only maintenance needed is replacing the blades.

Additionally, Greenworks Commercial is debuting three new commercial mowers.

All three models feature dual power powerhead with dual battery draw technology to optimize the 2.0 kW brushless motor, offering maximum power throughout your cut.

Available are a 21-inch push mower (82LM21), a 21-inch self-propelled mower (82SLM21S) and a 25-inch self-propelled mower (82LM25S).

All feature commercial-grade motors, wheels and bearings for longevity. Self-propelled models include the same durability in transmission and gears.

The 25-inch mower include two dual-layer 2.5 mm counter-rotating blades to maximize bagging and mulching.

Both 21-inch models boast an upgraded 3.5 mm high lift blade for improved bagging, mulching and durability.

Gravely Z-Stance and Pro-Turn EV

Gravely introduced a new stand-on mower, the Z-Stance, which is ideal for landscapers that may be new to the industry.

“Stand-on mowers are the fastest growing category in the lawn equipment market. They offer great comfort and visibility on the jobsite for operators,” said Grant Wilson, product director, Gravely commercial. “The new Z-Stance is a professional mower with simplified operations for a more inclusive set of users.”

The Pro-Turn EV spearheaded the movement toward electric commercial mowers, providing energy and emissions savings while reducing noise and maintenance needs.

“The Gravely Pro-Turn EV may be new to the landscaping market, but we are continuously looking at ways we can incorporate updates that improve efficiency, reliability and ease-of-use,” Wilson said. “We have enhanced this already cutting-edge electric mower with a new deck design that helps landscapers cut grass more efficiently while increasing its durability.”

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Tony Nasrallah

December 2021
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