The water smart way

The water smart way

Features - Champions of Innovation

How John Taylor shifted his growing irrigation business to focus 100 percent on conservation.

January 8, 2014


“Is that really what irrigation is doing?” This very simple question stumped John Taylor, owner of Taylor Irrigation Service and an EPA WaterSense Partner of the Year.

His 10-year-old daughter wanted to know, where did all the water go? They were walking out of the theater after watching the animated film Rango, where the characters in the desert town of Dirt eventually follow a water pipeline to lush Las Vegas where lawns are being watered during the daytime.

Taylor’s daughter knew this was a big no-no. “I was shocked, too,” Taylor admits of the stark social commentary. “I felt like I was punched in the stomach.

“I felt put on the spot – I’m a veteran of the Marine Corps, and I feel if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem,” Taylor says. “I said to my daughter, ‘Well, we offer a high-efficiency system,’ and she asked, ‘How many people use that?’ The truth was, at the time, only 5 to 10 percent of our client base."

Taylor went home after the movie outing and crunched the numbers. Sure, the high-efficiency irrigation system costs about 30 to 40 percent more to install – but some households will earn back that investment in a single year of savings on water bills. And most everyone realizes the ROI within a few years.

“Anywhere from 50 to 70 percent of the water we consume in this country is irrigation related,” Taylor says. “You can install all the high-efficiency shower heads in your bathroom that you want, but the only real change we are going to make in terms of eliminating wasted water is with irrigation because that is where the bulk of water is being used.”

Taylor set out to sell irrigation services in a different way than his company had before, focusing on ROI rather than the actual irrigation system – auditing water bills and forecasting savings. It’s working.

The ‘save money’ language.

Taylor Irrigation Service has been offering smart controllers for about a decade.

“It was viewed as the high-end Cadillac system,” he says. And it wasn’t really selling – until Taylor made a bold decision to only offer a water-efficient irrigation solution.

He told his wife that the company was going to change the way it did things and take a gamble by only offereing the Cadillac system.

“At the time, I felt like I had everything riding on that decision,” Taylor says. “I felt like this could lead me to look for a new job!” Initially, he lost about 25 to 30 percent of his client base who wanted a cheaper product. “What I did not expect is to bring in a new client base, so this widened who we could serve.”

Word passed that Taylor’s systems were efficient and saved money – and kept plants alive. He began to field calls from large landscape firms in Houston that were installing significant jobs and wanted plant health insurance in the form of a solid irrigation system.

“They want to make sure the landscape thrives, and by using our system, they are losing fewer plants than they did before,” Taylor says.

Taylor’s systems are all drip technology with “smart” evapotranspiration controllers. Before installing the system, an audit is performed on the existing irrigation infrastructure to determine its efficiency. The property is evaluated and a system is designed to suit its watering demands, with conservation top of mind.

This process does cost about 30 to 40 percent more. But selling the more expensive service is easier now that Taylor learned how to pitch it to clients. “We focus on selling ROI,” he says.

Show clients the numbers – that’s what he learned. Also, be careful to manage expectations. “You can’t take one of our smart controllers and put it on an antiquated donkey system – that doesn’t make the system efficient,” Taylor remarks. “We need to make sure the system is up to snuff.”

Education is the key to selling a more efficient irrigation system. Taking that a step further, teaching industry members the importance of water conservation and irrigation efficiency is critical for preserving the industry. “This is where we need to be focusing,” Taylor says. “It’s responsible. It’s the right thing to do. And everyone makes money doing it.

“Irrigators have to learn to be adaptable,” he continues. “Raising the bar of what we call irrigation makes us all more professional, and that raises prices and makes it tougher for unethical business to take place.”