Out with the old

Features - Irrigation

Retrofitting is a new way to save money.

February 13, 2013

Retrofitting old systems with today’s modern technology is an emerging trend, and yet the troubleshooting involved has kept many in the industry from tackling these jobs. They aren’t always an easy sell. Customers may be deterred by the initial expense or the idea of change. But the cost savings are well worth it and with the right sales approach, retrofits can be quite profitable.

For Chris Lee, president of EarthWorks, in Lillian, Texas, retrofitting has been a focus. “For me it’s always been a no-brainer,” Lee says. “Technology that can put back exactly the amount of water removed – no more or no less – seems like an obvious choice.”

The time is now. “About three years ago, we started to notice a big difference in the cost structure of some of these controllers as they began to partner with weather tracking companies and remove that weather component,” Lee says. “Mobile technology has come so far and contributed to these devices’ success.”

Lee says that in recent years the company has started going back to owners and investors of systems they hadn’t retrofitted yet to explain what is faced in the future and why this technology makes sense. “The reality is that the population is increasing, the water supply is shorter, and it’s never going to go back to where it once was – it’s only going to get worse,” Lee says. “This isn’t just about droughts, like many people think. This is about the entire future of our water supply.”

Water is going to get more expensive, Lee says, and it’s important that people realize this now. “Restrictions have never worked well – people find ways around them. But when you hit them in the pocketbook people start to listen,” Lee says.

The education factor also means explaining the technology and why it works. Lee says he can rely on numbers to show customers the evidence that it does work, making the technology an easier sell.

“When we are able to show people the cost savings, they finally get it. Some are even mad for not bringing it up sooner,” Lee says. “We were pushing it but nobody was listening until now. So we’re retraining ourselves and going back to everyone. People listen when you say you can save them money in their irrigation budget.”

Building credibility.
EarthWorks has even had some success in selling retrofits to customers that do a portion of their irrigation in-house. Lee says that taking this approach to selling may seem like it’s taking a financial hit but in fact it’s given his company great positioning by building credibility.

Lee says he’s glad that the smart water technology has finally caught on.

“I have always thought it was a genius technology,” he says. “As we grew our business, we always put the emphasis on our clients’ needs and that forced us to continue looking at this technology. We’re glad that others are finally now seeing the benefit of it as well.”

Educating the customer

Helping customers do their own work doesn’t have to result in profit loss.

In 2008, Texas-based EarthWorks began offering classes and seminars about water conservation and irrigation repair. Teaching customers how to do some of the very work that the company could be charging to do itself might seem like a recipe for profit loss, but company president Chris Lee says it has actually been just the opposite.

As the economy began to spiral downward, budgets were tightening up and more and more of EarthWorks’ clientele were deciding to do minor irrigation repairs in-house. The company realized they had to take the bull by the horns if they were going to get a handle on the situation.

“While a lot of our competition took the attitude of being angry, we decided to roll with it,” Lee says. “We wanted to be understanding and make it clear that we knew times were tough and we wanted to still work with our customers in whatever capacity we could. We weren’t going to stop them from doing this so we decided the best thing to do would be to educate them on the right way to do it.”

The intention was to retain a good rapport with customers with the hopes that they would still come to EarthWorks for the “big stuff” even though they were handling small jobs in-house. But Lee says it became much more than a relationship building opportunity. It became a marketing tool.

“As we began to educate them on how to do it, in some cases the customer decided it was just too much and found a way to keep us in their budget. They just hadn’t grasped that irrigation is more than a little sprinkler head sticking out – it’s an entire complicated system,” Lee says.