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Last year proved to be a dismal one when it came to raises and bonuses for employees at landscape companies.

April 14, 2010

Chuck Bowen Last year proved to be a dismal one when it came to raises and bonuses for employees at landscape companies. According to Lawn & Landscape research, only spray technicians received anything close to a good bump in pay and other hourly employees saw their pay cut.

Business owners surveyed reported that for hourly workers, their spray techs received a 6 to 7 percent pay increase in 2009. The same small margins hold true for most salaried employees, too. Only owners/operators and crew foremen/leaders received pay hikes – typically between 2 and 4 percent. For supervisors, account managers, landscape designers and architects, wage cuts between 1 and 4 percent were the norm.

And this year doesn’t look much better, as many companies have frozen wages and bonuses as a way to cut back expenses without digging too deep into their operations. It’s a stop-gap strategy to be sure, and one that can work in the short-term to bolster balance sheets and keep cash flow at a manageable level.

In “Controlled Cuts” on page 32, we talked to landscape contractors across the country to see what they’re doing to handle this approach. Many have found it to be a good way to trim down their operations and maintain profitability. They’re not happy about it, but it seems to be working for them.

“This year I’m trying to get by paying employees what I think it’s going to take to keep them around,” says Mike Stephens, owner of The Lawn Ranger in Kyle, Texas. “I’m starting new employees off lower, and if they’re not performing at a high standard, then I’m going to be a lot quicker to replace them. If they’re slow, it’s costing me money.”

This issue also includes the second installment of our 2010 Breakthrough series, which profiles companies working across the green industry to find success. This month’s story, “A Floating Garden” on page 48, focuses on Ambius, a multi-million dollar company that used strong relationships with nurseries to complete a tremendous project – building a huge garden on a cruise ship in two days.

The logistics of the Royal Caribbean Central Park project are staggering: More than 100 people moved 12,000 plants (including several semi-trucks worth of trees) in 2,000 containers using hand carts and one of the world’s largest cranes onto a giant ocean liner in just two days. Being forced to hew to such a demanding timeline has changed how the company approaches all its jobs – focusing on how to use labor and materials in the most efficient way possible.