|John Ossa||Sprinkler and rotor manufacturers are focusing on three things: efficiency, features that create the potential for conservation and contractor education.
Efficiency comes from nozzle design and pressure control that optimizes the dispersing of small, medium and large droplets over near, middle and far distances.
In rotors, nozzle design typically works as follows: the objective is to send the most water as far away from the sprinkler as possible. As the distance from the sprinkler increases, the amount of area covered increases greatly. To “shoot” water to the end of the radius takes a high velocity and a trajectory somewhere between 20 to 35 degrees from horizontal. As the water passes the peak of the trajectory and begins falling, the large drops begin to break up into smaller drops.
Simple physics determines that larger drops maintain a higher velocity and are least likely to be deflected by wind. The mid-range distance from the nozzle gets some water that’s “peeled” from the primary stream by mechanical means such as a dispersal screw, and, to a lesser extent, the outer layer of the stream – through friction with air – becomes unstable and breaks away.
With larger rotors, the near distance usually is addressed by a separate nozzle designed to disperse smaller drops at less velocity that quickly fall to the ground.
Most nozzles do a better job of sending water to the end of the arc, which highlights why head spacing with overlapping coverage is absolutely critical to the uniform application of water. Head spacing should never be stretched beyond the recommended nozzle radius. All of the principles described for the rotors apply to sprayhead nozzles as well.
Part of the Answer
There are new sprayhead nozzles on the market that achieve higher levels of efficiency than was previously possible. Toro won the Irrigation Association’s New Product of the Year (2008) with the introduction of its Precision Series Spray Nozzles. A fundamentally different approach to water dispersal achieves a 30 percent reduction in precipitation rate, matched precipitation and better definition to the edges of the spray patterns. The reduction in precipitation rate is significant because it provides more opportunity for water to infiltrate without run-off.
Another approach to higher application efficiency is Hunter’s MP Rotator. These multistream nozzles have a low precipitation rate and are relatively wind resistant. They offer an excellent and much needed option in 14- to 30-foot radii. Nozzle families that have matched precipitation rates are vital to efficient irrigation. That inherent potential will be fully realized when the scheduling of the run times matches plant water need, which changes throughout the year to coincide with the length of days and average temperatures.
Manufacturers are resegmenting their product lines for an evolving market created by municipal efficiency mandates and conservation requirements. They are refining key features that aid conservation. These features include in-head check valves, in-stem pressure regulation and specialty features like Toro’s X-flow device, which will sense if a nozzle is removed and shutdown water flow.
Conservation is achieved by how the hardware is utilized. To capture all the potential for conservation requires an understanding of the basics.
Manufacturers are increasing their commitment to contractor education to enhance the opportunity for their hardware to be put to its best use. For example, Rain Bird’s Web site offers a range of free how-to pieces, as well as tools that help forecast and quantify water savings.
These and other manufacturers’ similar offerings educate and help the contractor sell efficiency to the end user. As an industry, what we need to sell is water management efficiency, not just pipes and hardware.
A panel discussion at CENTS in Columbus, Ohio, earlier this year revealed how three contractors have grown their companies – what systems they’ve put in place, what consultants they use and how they bid and price their jobs to ensure a profitable year. Steve Rak, Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio; Dave Thorn, DTR Associates, Aurora, Ohio; and Joe Chiera, Impact Grounds Maintenance and Design, Norton, Ohio; brought together perspectives on high-end residential, commercial maintenance and full-service work for the audience.
– Chuck Bowen
What forms of advertising and marketing techniques have been most successful for growing your business?
Dave Thorn: Customer referrals have been No. 1. No. 2 is home and flower shows. Currently, through shows, we’ve made connections with garden writers and editors. They’ll do stories on us. Those have been key to our marketing – which is free. People love a story.
Steve Rak: We don’t do a lot. We develop a lot of relationships with [property] management companies. A lot of it is word of mouth. I also enjoy writing, and I write for a magazine called “Properties” in the Cleveland area.
Joe Chiera: On the design/build side, we’ve done a lot of direct mail. We send it in the spring and follow up in the summer and fall. Also word of mouth – if you do a good job on a project, you should get two or three leads. On the maintenance side, all our trucks are the same colors with our logos. We used closed trailers. The more trucks you have out there, the more it does for all your marketing.
What are your internal procedures from the time a client calls the office to the first day of the job?
SR: We bid in October of the year before. To help get your foot in the door, it’s a numbers game. When they don’t know you, ask if there are any projects you want us do enhancements on. If we do a good job, they get some face time with us, and we get some face time with them.
JC: Our office manager takes all the calls. He has a sheet of questions to prequalify the lead. On design/build, it’s me or another salesman who takes the call. We follow up within 24 hours of the call and meet with the customer. On maintenance, an account manager handles everything. They supervise the job, sell enhancements. They own the property.
DT: Our approach is pretty basic. We tell a story when the client calls. We’re screening them as they’re screening us. If it’s a good fit, we set up a client meeting, where we’ll have a lengthy conversation. I try to be a good listener and keep telling the DTR story. We send a formal design proposal and create a final plan. We use that exercise to showcase our work. Then, we have an on-site project meeting, where I introduce the client to the head foreman. We give door hangers to the client, so they can leave notes for our crews if we’re not there at the same time.
At what point did you decide to hire a full-time office manager?
JC: Our office manager has been key to our growth. I was pulling my hair out doing payroll and answering phones. My answering machine was always jammed full with messages. We have two office managers, one answers the phone, one runs bookkeeping. They do our HR and are shopping for our health insurance. They’ve really helped out a lot.
SR: It wasn’t soon enough. When you start a business, you’re motivated to grow, but this whole paperwork thing gets out of control. We hired one three years ago, and I couldn’t live without her. She’d be the last person I’d get rid of. Can we afford to pay someone full-time? Definitely, yes. I’m principally a salesperson. I am spending more time on customer sales and customer relationships.
DT: Ours is sort of a business manager; she answers phones and does clerical work. But we divide and conquer on this and try to run very tight. It’s not beneath me to answer the phone or plant a tree. We also have internships with local schools, and have students come in to do CAD or clerical work.
What tools do you use to show your value over your competition?
SR: For us, it’s a simple message: Our core focus is on commercial maintenance. We don’t do design/build. Every bit of our resources goes into cultivating that culture of commercial maintenance. We don’t have to pull a guy off a design/build job. You’re going to get A players on your property every day. This is our meat and potatoes.
JC: Our main selling point is communication, and making the customer feel like part of our extended family. We try to have our account managers contact clients twice a month, get to know the property managers outside of their work. When you build that relationship with the customer, it goes beyond money, because they’ll continue to refer you.
DT: It’s selling the story. When I meet with clients, I ask, ‘What can we do? How can we better help you live? We’re here to be a property manager for you.’ We’ll clean gutters, sweep the garage, wash windows. I tend to become very close to my clients. Once you make that connection … they couldn’t think of using anyone else because of the connection we have.
As your company grew, how did you motivate your staff to accept the changes that were necessary to move forward?
SR: Just don’t keep it a secret. If you want to grow, your people need to be in on it. Give them a stake in it – maybe something they’re doing can help, like more snowplowing, etc. This is their company, too. But sometimes people don’t want to do that. Sometimes you have to let them go. That’s not a bad thing.
JC: We started with a core of four guys, all basic laborers. We brought in some consultants to help with our growth and challenges. We took a lot of their ideas, and most of those four guys are account managers now. You never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse.
How have you used consultants to help grow you company?
JC: I can’t say enough. We use Rod Bailey in Oregon. He taught us the basic principles of business. I never knew what a P&L was. After a two-day talk with him, we were quoting things accurately. That got us on the path to growth. We also use Ed LaFlamme. He helped us from an operations standpoint – what a company looks like and how to set up quality control for the whole job.
SR: We’ve been using them for ages. Frank Ross, a financial consultant, set us up to track costs. Steve Pattie, from the Pattie Group, and I meet once every other month. He knows my employees.We’re not competitors, so we don’t compete for commercial maintenance market. Just do your homework. Consultants aren’t cheap, but if you get the right one in your business, they can really halp you grow it.
DT: We’ve hired Tom Koobee in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. I did the Dale Carnegie public speaking courses. Frank Ross comes in every year for us. He’s been instrumental in guiding our ship. He’s helped me understand finances and P&L statements. I always want to have a good year because I want to show Frank we did a good job.
Subcontractors are vital to a successful business. In a down economy, how do you stay committed to those relationships while protecting your business?
JC: The only sub we have is snow removal. I treat everyone the same way I treat our employees. I don’t try to beat them down on price, as long as they’re giving us good service that’s worth the money.
SR: Pay them on time. Everyone who runs a business knows what it’s like to wait for your money. It’s irritating. Get these people paid. If we can’t, we need to work at our business. Nothing irritates me more than chasing clients. Treat them as part of your family. My subs do quality work. It might cost more, but I can call them any time and they’re out there.
DT: We have two irrigation subs, two tree removal, two electricians. I will get estimates from two people to make sure I don’t miss an opportunity.
How do you structure your bids? Do you price per square foot, or use a material-plus-labor approach?
SR: We do both ways. With production rates for mowers and plows, there are so many variables there – lakes, trees, hills, I don’t think you can look at it from a square-foot perspective.
JC: We don’t price anything on the design/build side on square feet. We do everything materials plus labor. The gross margin is key for my financial success.
DT: Our jobs are polar opposites from one to another. We spend a lot of energy and time working with labor hours, machine costs and overhead mark-up on top of everything. We start with profits and work backward from that.
|David Snodgrass, president of Dennis’ 7 Dees, brings his design/build skills to a chain of garden centers in Portland, Ore. All photos: Mark Gamba Photographs
After a four-year hiatus, David Snodgrass along with his partners, brothers Dean and Drew, decided it was time to get back into retail.
To diversify the company, Snodgrass, president of Dennis’ 7 Dees Landscaping & Garden Centers in Portland, Ore., went back to the foundation his grandparents built more than 80 years ago and bought back a group of garden centers his brother Dennis had sold off. And by adding a hybrid DIY design service for homeowners, they’ve been able to leverage those storefronts into a lead-generating machine for their landscape division.
Getting Back in the Game
Snodgrass, who’s president-elect of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), and his siblings moved back into garden centers due to their love of plants and their history. Their maternal grandparents started the business in the 1920s – Bernard Esch running a lawn maintenance operation and his wife, Florence, growing rhododendrons in Portland. Then their father, Robert Snodgrass took over the business and expanded into retail in the 1950s, naming the new company after his 7 children, Daryle Lynn, Dennis, Drake, Dan, David, Drew and Dean.
“I, and I think my brothers share this, love every aspect of the green industry. One more piece of that industry is a good thing,” Snodgrass says.
And the company’s five garden centers are a boost for business. Besides better discounts for bulk purchases from suppliers and savings on administrative overhead, they act as a great source of leads – and sales – for its landscaping division.
Homeowners will order a big installation, and the company’s landscaping division can handle it, but those clients aren’t ordering a new project every other month – maybe every few years, if the economy’s good to them, or if they buy a new house. During the in-between times, Snodgrass’ retail arm can maintain contact with them – flats of annuals for the front beds or tomato plants for their vegetable garden – instead of losing them to another garden center.
“We lost them, I guess, and allowed them to go to competing garden centers, and sometimes those competing garden centers offer landscaping services,” Snodgrass says. “This way, we’re able to service our customer regardless of where they are in their buying cycle. We’re able to keep their attention and keep them as an ongoing customer throughout that process.”
And the sales process works in the opposite direction, too. The landscaping division has a presence at each of the five garden centers, and all the sales associates are trained to guide customers to the right level of project – from DIY to do-it-for-me.
“A lot of times we can turn that customer into either a bigger landscape plant sale and still have them do the work themselves, or give them a proposal do to the work. It’s been a real good source of leads,” Snodgrass says.
And, the garden center purchases helped stabilize the 200-plus employee company’s balance sheet: 24 percent of its $18.5 million in revenue last year came from residential design/build; 28 percent from commercial bid/build; 18 from landscape maintenance and 29 percent from retail.
“It bucks the economy trend,” Snodgrass says of his retail division’s performance this year – up when other areas are stable or down. “That goes back to the diversification – the green industry is never hitting on all cylinders in all areas. Sometimes there are pockets of strength and pockets of weakness. Being diversified allows us to leverage the pockets of strength into the pockets of weakness.”
Snodgrass stresses that, for now, retail is a pocket of strength. At least for this year. Last year, not so much. For example, Snodgrass’ five garden centers pulled in $35,000 total during a recent spring weekend. That same weekend last year, they made $113,000 – more than triple this year’s revenue.
“You just have to suck it up, and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. This year, sales for the garden centers are up 60 percent (overall). We had an early spring, maybe there’s some pent-up demand showing. There’s a huge interest in vegetable gardening. There are just a lot of things that bode well for being in the garden center business this year.”
Profits From Planscaping
One of those things is Snodgrass’ Planscaper program. About a year and a half after getting back into the retail arena, Snodgrass introduced the hybrid DIY offering. Homeowners interested in installing plants themselves, but who want a professional plan to work from, can sit down with one of Snodgrass’ designers and get a professional design, provided they purchase enough plant material from Dennis’ 7 Dees garden centers.
The idea is that the company can include things like creating outdoor living spaces, complimenting structures, privacy screening and overall curb appeal – important aspects of landscape design that homeowners rarely think about.
“We’re trained landscape design/build contractors. That’s our grounding,” he says. “We have brought that skill and talent into the retail garden center arena, so we have a level of professional design that’s you won’t find with a garden center that expands into landscaping or one that offers some type of DIY landscape design service.”
“People don’t know what it is – they can walk into a garden center and they say, ‘Man this is really a great place. They don’t pinpoint that the rows are perfectly straight, or that merchandise is stacked from low to high. They don’t understand what went in to giving them that feeling. It all adds up to a wow. It just works. You don’t need to know the details about it.”
The author is managing editor of Lawn & Landscape.
Want to get into garden centers?
Nearly a third of Dennis’ 7 Dees’ $18.5 million in revenue comes from its five garden centers. Here, president David Snodgrass shares his tips for landscape companies entering the retail sector. – as told to Chuck Bowen
A garden center is a whole different animal. You need specialists who know retail garden centers as managers. There’s an education in retail plant quality versus a landscape. The customer is going to pick up every single plant and look at it 360 degrees before they buy it. You can’t just think of it as more of the same.
If you don’t have some proven manager who knows the retail side of things, and you’re trying to open a garden center with your skill set and mindset of a landscaper, you’re in for a rude awakening.
It’s a big, huge challenge to get people to your doorstep. That’s all we want to do – we want to bring customers to our doorstep. Once they’re there, the rest of the program and what they see is going to keep them there and bring them back.
In the spring on good-weather Saturdays, every garden center is busy. If the weather is bad, it just adds up to a great season or a poor season. If you have a wet spring, it’s going to make it impossible to have a great season.
I would not buy a company that was not already successful. To think you’re going to turn it around is a pipe dream.
The trend is for multiple locations in order to average down your costs. It takes a lot of marketing to get customers to come to your door. If you have to cover that with sales from one location, that’s difficult to do. The trend is roll ups, and there is still a place for mom-and-pop independents, but that’s really hands on.
You have to love plants to be in retail. If you really are an enthusiast about the industry, and have passion and energy, it can be a lot of fun for the right person. For the wrong person, it can be just the opposite.
It’s really seasonal; you’ve got to weather the cold. You’ve got to make sure you can keep your staff around – that creates a good foundation to build on.
If you could open your doors for four months and close them, you’d be highly profitable. Spring and fall are profitable. Summer and winter can be long. Those are tough months. You’ve still got to pay the bills.
© Shineart | Dreamstime.comBlame it on the economy or the competition. Point your finger at the weather, a late spring, a difficult winter. If pre-season sales were sluggish and spring has sprung but your schedule is sparse, it’s time to get off the phone and stoke sales. (Yes, you heard that right.)
“If you didn’t make sales this spring, there’s really only one way to do it, and that’s to get out there and talk to people,” says Marty Grunder, president, Grunder Landscaping Co., Miamisburg, Ohio. Offer property tours and look for enhancement sales. Talk to long-time clients about what services they like and focus on selling those to prospects.
For a minute, think about when you launched your business. “You probably approached every day with a sense of unbridled enthusiasm and went after business like crazy,” Grunder says. “When you met someone, you gave them a card. If you saw an office building going up, you found out how you could help on the job.
“I think as we grow our organizations we tend to lose a little zest, and that’s what will grow your business,” he says.
When production picks up, and even while summer work is full-steam ahead, don’t forget job No. 1: sales. “The prettiest Ferrarri won’t run without gas,” Grunder says. “Companies are the same way. You have to understand that sales is No. 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 on your to-do list. It has to be. On a daily basis, you’ve got to spend the majority of your time selling.”
This month, Lawn & Landscape spoke to three firms to learn how they sell year-round, balance selling and doing the work, and continue to drive business in the door even when times are tough.
The face-first approach
By running separate selling and producing engines, Coastal Greenery constatnly fills its pipeline with prospects.
Principal: Jeffrey Johns, president
Production at Coastal Greenery is the “factory,” and it operates separately from the sales force, which consists of president Jeffrey Johns, an account manager and a part-time salesperson focused on relationship-building. By running separate selling and producing engines, Johns constantly fills the company’s pipeline with prospects.
“My job as a sales force is to keep the clients out of the factory,” Johns says. “Because a client waiting around in the factory messes up efficiency and you don’t want that.”
Production is charged with producing income and profit – delivering on the promises the sales team makes to clients. Sales is responsible for keeping production busy with ongoing maintenance work (contracts automatically renew) and enhancements. “The way I set it up is almost like a competition between the two departments,” Johns says. Both divisions rely on one another for success – but a company won’t survive without a “kick-tail sales force.”
To that end, Johns executes specific sales processes to upsell existing clients and attract new customers. Beginning with the company’s book of business, Johns and his associate set enhancement sales goals. For example, Johns aimed to sell $50,000 in enhancements in March, and $600,000 in enhancements overall for 2010.
“The old days of sitting at a phone and having someone answer it and take orders is over, I don’t care how the economy comes back,” he says. In-person meetings with clients is the only way to suggest enhancements and get the client’s OK.
“When you can paint a picture for them while standing in their yard, they’ll say, ‘That sounds good, how much will it cost?’” Johns says. “Most of them say, ‘Sign me up.’” The closing rate on enhancements is an average 52 percent, a 5-percent increase since two years ago when Johns began on-site walkthroughs with commercial and residential clients.
“During that walkthrough I’m looking for extras,” Johns says, always keeping his sales goals in mind.
Clients appreciate the regular attention and have an opportunity to voice concerns in person. Meanwhile, Coastal Greenery has a conversation starter to suggest enhancements and a has better chance of selling them because of the face-to-face contact. “This is a way for us to deliver exceptional customer service and stay on top of those clients,” Johns says, noting that residential walkthroughs occur quarterly.
All the while, Coastal Greenery recognizes that new account sales are critical for reaching the firm’s 2010 goal of $2.8 million. So this year, Johns is trying something new. He hired a part-time salesperson to nurture relationships with property managers. She works two, 10-hour days a week, and her sole goal is to provoke property managers to ask for a bid. From there, she turns the account over to Johns. The legwork for this invitation involves TLC and intuition. For instance: bringing fresh-baked muffins to a morning crew meeting after learning about the gathering during a conversation with the property manager. The gesture is unexpected – and refreshing. The relationship-sales associate might drop by with coffee mugs and brochures or take the property manager out to lunch. All the while, she is filling Coastal Greenery’s “bucket of contacts.”
“She’s a great communicator and she knows many people in the community – she’s generating those leads for us,” Johns relates. Those leads are filtered into a software system so they can be tracked. All the while, she sends out e-mail blasts and newsletters to these prospects so Coastal Greenery is top of mind.
The board-room approach
Matt Caruso relies on rock-solid relationships to grow his business.
Principal: Matt Caruso, president/founder
There are expanses of paver surface on big-box lots that need to be laid in basic running-bond pattern. There are contractors that play beat-this-price with hardscape bids. Don’t expect to find Decra-Scape vying for them.
“Many guys chase anything and everything that has the word ‘brick’ on it, and they end up with a whole bunch of nothing,” says Matt Caruso, president and founder. “We look, specifically, for intricate applications.”
Caruso references a rooftop patio project that involved craning materials and equipment; and a site that required 100,000 square-feet of brick in multi-weave patterns. “That’s the work I spend my time looking for, and you can’t get that through direct mail,” he says.
The sales strategy at his specialty firm is tailored to win the work that suits the company’s focus. Decra-Scape aligns with engineers, manufacturers, landscape architects and contractors who share a vision for the end product: a “wow” look that’s executed with advanced equipment (Decra-Scape is the only company in Michigan with a mechanical layer), Caruso says.
“My sales model is, you get me in the board room and it’s all but over,” Caruso says. “But you have to know how to get into the board room.”
Often, Caruso enters the bidding process through the back door by relationship selling. One outlet for developing these relationships is a local chamber of commerce group that meets weekly to share contacts, Caruso says.
But perhaps more importantly, Decra-Scape is recognized as an authorized contractor of a manufacturer’s products. “Basically, they believe in us enough that they’ll stand behind us if our work fails,” Caruso says. “And they aren’t going to do that for just anyone. You have to meet certain requirements.”
Manufacturers often send representatives to canvass the specifier community, Caruso explains. “They are out there trying to get their product on different jobs,” he says, adding that his company name is sometimes listed in specifications for a job so a general contractor will have to get a bid from Decra-Scape. “They may not use us, but they have to entertain a number from us,” he says.
That doesn’t mean Caruso can wait for work to fly in. He must emphasize his niche expertise to those he aligns with, letting them know he aims for specialty projects because of their size, scope or expertise requirements.
“I have to get out there and sell that,” Caruso says. “So if I meet with a landscape architect or engineer, I’m talking about sustainable work like permeable pavers and how we can be utilized as an information resource if they need help building those projects. And I tell them, ‘By the way, we bring this mechanical layer to the table with a capability to put down 8,000 to 10,000 square feet of pavers a day.’” That pitch turns heads.
Caruso also attends trade shows, meeting with tradesmen who might need his services and constantly returning to his book of business to keep in close contact with existing customers.
For residential work, Decra-Scape’s location on a main road encourages passers-by to stop in. And whenever the company is installing hardscape in a neighborhood, door-hangers are distributed and employees engage in “friendly communication” with anyone walking by the project site.
While sales were slower in 2009 than in years past – Decra-Scape usually brings in annual revenue of closer to $3 million – maintaining relationships and constantly reminding those contacts of their niche helps ensure that Decra-Scape gets a spot at that board table.
And as for the price wars that can occur there: “If you’re confident in what you do, confident in your pricing and your ability, that takes the dollar concern off the table,” Caruso says.
The calender-year approach
For Joe Kucik, the mantra is 'always be selling.'
Principal: Joe Kucik, franchise owner
A written plan with a detailed, 12-month sales process steers business development efforts at Joe Kucik’s Scotts LawnService franchise. “You have to put it on paper,” says the longtime lawn care player, who has bought and sold several businesses and also operates green industry software firm Real Green Systems.
Create a budget, jot down goals and expectations, map out what services you’ll sell when, and don’t leave out a single month of the year, he says.
“Your plan should have you selling something every day of the year – you’re not selling the same thing, necessarily, but you’re still selling every day,” Kucik says. For instance, Kucik’s sales team will focus on aeration in April, then grub control.
His selling year kicks off in late December with a 10,000-piece mailing to “cancels and rejects.” That primes this population for the phone campaign beginning immediately after New Year’s.
“A lot of people think you can’t get started selling until the snow is gone or the weather gets better,” Kucik says. “Sure, there are easier times of the year to sell lawn care, but you need to get a quick start on marketing and sales to build momentum. If you don’t get started until the middle or end of February, you aren’t going to build that good momentum until too late.”
A dedicated sales staff spends all of January following up on that initial mailing with phone calls, with a goal to sign 100 customers per week. In February, a direct mail campaign targets the company’s marketing universe, which includes about 210,000 homes of which Kucik knows the price and property size.
Every week during February and March, 5,000 to 10,000 direct mail pieces are sent to these prospects. With follow-up calls, Kucik expects a 1.5 to 3 percent sell-through rate and sales goals continue at 100 customers per month. He sets this goal knowing that he wants to spend less than $100 to acquire a single customer.
“A lot of people implement marketing plans and have no idea at the end of the day what each new customer ended up costing them,” Kucik says. “How will they know where to put their marketing dollars next year?”
While the 3 percent or less sale rate of direct mail with a follow-up call seems low, Kucik says that without the phone call, the direct mail will result in just a half-percent sell-through rate.
Meanwhile, by April, he ups the customer sales goal to 200 before the season is in full-swing.
Come summer, he divides the sales team into groups. Five people man the phone every day. Three associates focus on outside sales. A team carries out door-to-door sales efforts. About 30 to 35 people work for Kucik during high season, most of them servicing properties.
Regardless of job title, all employees are encouraged to sell, and an incentive shows them Kucik is serious about bringing in sales year-round. A technician who refers a client can earn an 8-percent commission on one year’s service. “They get paid as services are rendered throughout the year,” Kucik explains, pointing out the other side of this enticement: quality service ensures that customers continue the service, and that the technician continues to pick up the bonus on every service visit.
“If you don’t offer an incentive, some technicians will simply tell people who are interested in the service to call the office,” Kucik says.
This combination of strategies keeps sales rolling in year-round, but it will only work, Kucik says, when a plan is put on paper. Accountability and measuring results against goals is a critical component of a successful sales system.
Photo: Chris Butts
Dozens of volunteers, many of whom were GGIA members, offered their time, services, and materials to install the new lush but drought-tolerant landscape at the Georgia Governor’s Mansion.
Both the Georgia Green Industry Association (GGIA) and Governor Sonny Perdue recognized the importance of demonstrating that Georgians could have a beautiful landscape while still conserving water.
A recent renovation project at the Governor’s Mansion created a need for new landscaping. It was the perfect, high-profile project that would demonstrate water efficiency and good landscape management practices to Georgians.
Mark Fockele, president of Gainesville, Ga.-based The Fockele Garden Co. was hired as the landscape designer, while dozens of volunteers, many of whom were GGIA members, offered their time, services, and materials for installation. The design focused on a landscape garden that would require limited supplementary water once established.
“Our object was to show that this could be done – that the garden could still be very lush and beautiful, instead of looking like a desert,” says Fockele. “It’s all in the technique: proper soil preparation, drip irrigation, limited turf, appropriate mulching, grouping plants by water requirements, creating shade and, most important of all, proper plant selection.”
The plant selection included more than 1,100 plants of nearly three dozen varieties like Asiatic Jasmine, Creeping Sedum, Blue Thrift, Golden St. John’s Wort and daffodils, among others.
“What was so great about Mark’s design was that he was able to include a wide and interesting variety of plants that were still all drought-tolerant,” says Chris Butts, GGIA director of legislative, environmental and public affairs. “It was all kept very low maintenance yet it certainly changed the look and feel of the landscape.”
One of Fockele’s biggest challenges came after installation. “It was very difficult to get the governor’s staff to stop over-watering the plants,” he says. “The staff was finding it hard to gauge when the plants had gotten enough water.
But an illustration I like to use to help teach people how to water is to think of it like baking a cake. You can follow the recipe exactly, but you don’t really know if it’s done until you stick a toothpick in it. It’s the same with dirt – you have to be willing to stick your finger into it and feel whether it’s dry, moist or soggy. You obviously don’t want dry or soggy.”
Fockele also says many people don’t realize that an overwatered plant looks a lot like a thirsty one. There’s wilting in both cases. The lesson learned is that installing any water-efficient landscaping requires education to ensure it’s being properly maintained. Though it took several visits to make certain the irrigation was just right, Butts says the result has been a great example for the state and a plus for the industry.
“Any time we can demonstrate effective water conservation creates great exposure for the industry,” he says. “This project has shown that Georgians can continue landscaping without being large consumers of water. Even though we’re out of the drought now, there were some very valuable lessons learned from it.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Royersford, Pa.
Company: The Fockele Garden Co., Gainesville, Ga.
The Georgia Governor’s Mansion