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April 8, 2013
Lawn & Landscape Staff
From top to bottom: Bobcat’s new line of UTVs. Polaris’s Brutus HDPTO with front-mounted, powered attachment. Bobcat’s 3650 with PTO-driven, front-mount attachment. Photos courtesy of Bobcat

New UTVs mean business

Bobcat and Polaris share the first fruit of their partnership.

By Chuck Bowen and Heather Tunstall

Lake Tahoe, Calif. and Wyoming, Minn. – Two industry suppliers have partnered to bring landscape contractors a new option when it comes to utility vehicles.

No longer just fun on four wheels, the new UTVs from Polaris and Bobcat are designed to be versatile work machines.

The companies partnered in 2009 and have successfully brought together Bobcat’s reputation for durable, productivity-focused work machines and Polaris’s deep knowledge of the four-wheeler market.

These new UTVs indicate a growing focus by manufacturers to target a price point below heavy duty equipment like skid-steer loaders, but still offer versatile options for full service contractors. “(Polaris’) core competency is riding quality … handling, suspension technology, ergonomics, vehicles that can go through really rough terrain, styling – that’s really our core competency and that’s what you see in the DNA of all of our products,” said Marc Tullemans, director, ORV adjacencies at Polaris. “Bobcat’s core competency is engineering to work hydraulics, hydrostatic attachments, controls, all of those things.”

Now four years after they partnered, the companies have something to show: Bobcat has beefed up its standard 3400 UTV with brand new power take-off (PTO) capability, new transmission technology and suspension to make it an even tougher and more useful machine for contractors. And Polaris brings an entire new line of UTVs to market, complementing its existing Ranger and Sportsman lines.

More utility. Bobcat’s new machines, which should retail for between $15,000 and $25,000 depending on options, give contractors a suite of attachments beyond a standard UTV but at a price point far below Bobcat’s Toolcat, which can cost almost twice that. The largest of Bobcat’s new UTVs, the 3650, is the industry’s first utility vehicle with the capacity to operate front-mounted attachments that are PTO driven, the company says. The machines also incorporate a new hydrostatic drive system. The new transmission and PTO setup allows contractors to operate attachments and vehicle travel at different speeds.

“When we talk about work, we’re really focused on attachment capability, getting more versatility out of the equipment,” said Brad Claus, UTV and Toolcat product manager for Bobcat.

Beyond 4X4S. With the launch, Polaris builds on its for adrenaline-pumping powersports equipment to introduce a commercial line of utility side-by-sides to the landscaping and snow removal industries. The company has released three models in its new Brutus line: Brutus, Brutus HD and Brutus HDPTO, retailing between $15,000 and $25,000.

For landscapers, the Brutus HD and Brutus HDPTO bring the work capabilities out front with multiple attachment options, which allow for one vehicle for several tasks. The HDPTO has an integrated front-end mechanical PTO for attachments ranging from mowers to brooms to snow throwers. One major benefit is an easily-convertible cab that can go from capped to open-air in one minute.

For landscapers working in varying climates, this feature ensures quick conversion when the elements call for it. For those who also perform snow or other services, the ability to switch from one-wheel drive, to two-wheel, to four-wheel drive is an advantage. “With this, you can have one trailer, you can have a couple of attachments, and you can do everything that those multiple specialized pieces of equipment can do,” Tullemans said. “Plus, you can actually do it for about one-third the cost of buying separate, specialized equipment.”

The first models from a partnership between Bobcat and Polaris are available this spring.



Irrigation 2.0

Why regulations and drought are good for landscapers in California.

By Chuck Bowen

Los Angeles – Cities are restricting water use, water supplies are increasingly unpredictable ,and landscape contractors face growing pressure from all quarters to reduce water use.

Richard Restuccia and Colleen Kaufman of ValleyCrest have some fun during the event’s Tweetup.

And it’s all good. That’s what Peter Estournes, vice president at Gardenworks, told a group of attendees at the Landscape Industry Show organized by the California Landscape Contractors Association in February.

For many years, contractors had no incentive to take the lead on water conservation and were therefore shut out of discussion that led to regulations.

“We have very little voice in the legislature. We’re at the table, but we have very little clout when it comes to policy decisions,” Estournes said. “We have to be part of that solution.”

In response to that pressure, some landscape and irrigation contractors in California are rebranding themselves as water managers. Estournes said more should, or they’ll be forced out of the market.

“You can’t be out in that audience and shout out, ‘My clients aren’t paying for water conservation.’ It doesn’t matter if you think that. It’s here to stay,” Estournes said.

“Either keep your head in the sand and ignore it, or buy into it and model your business ... on a process that’s going to get you more noticed in that realm. I’m selling it. If we do that, we’re going to have better looking landscapes, and we’re going to save water.”

That process for Gardenworks, a $2 million full-service company in Northern California, meant water budgets, which track planned and actual water use. Estournes worked with CLCA several years ago to develop a web-based budgeting tool that allows contractors to remotely track client water consumption and produce reports that illustrate savings.

With a budget, he said, “you can stand up and say, ‘I’m saving water and I can prove it.’”

Budgeting is already the new standard with water purveyors and municipalities, some of whom are experimenting with real-time tracking of water consumption. “You’re not just turning on controllers anymore,” he said. “You’re looking at water management as your primary focus. It sets you apart; you can prove you’re saving money. It’s not a feel-good thing. How many people know how to read their water bill? They might not even know where the shut off is for their house,” he said.

The dish on drip

Water conservation was on tap elsewhere during the LIS as well. Representatives from manufacturers, distributors and landscape contractors gathered for a panel discussion on the nuts and bolts of drip irrigation. The panel was moderated by Warren Gorowitz, Ewing, and comprised presentations from Bernd Leinauer, New Mexico State Turfgrass Research, Extension and Education; Mike Baron, Toro Irrigation; Bill Millward, Netafim; Todd Polderman, Hunter Industries; John Ossa, Irrigation Water Technologies America; and Mike Garcia, Enviroscapes L.A.

“Frankly, the days of spraying water into the air and hoping it lands on dirt are over,” Ossa said. “You can talk to us now or talk to us later, but ... it’s coming.”

Regulations like AB 1881 – which mandated and incentivized drip irrigation in many applications – are forcing contractors to look at drip systems. Garcia has led California contractors in adoption of drip technology. He gave attendees an overview of how he got into the business and made it work. He cautioned them that, as with any new type of work, there can be a steep learning curve and high initial cost. Installation of drip irrigation systems requires some special equipment and expertise, but pays off with a higher price and gives contractors a way to stand out from their competition.

Garcia recommends contractors work closely with their distributor to learn about their product options and get trained on the ins and outs of proper installation techniques.

“Use these guys, beat ‘em up, abuse them,” Garcia said, pointing at the manufacturer reps seated behind him. And once you have drip down, he said, start pushing it hard. He gets many leads from prospects searching specifically for drip irrigation installers. “You should be marketing your company on YouTube because at 1 a.m., your potential customer can’t sleep ... they’re going to go on the internet and look for you.”

What happened in Vegas

The second annual Great Escape offered education, networking and some business (really) in Sin City

By Chuck Bowen

Las Vegas – PLANET hosted its second annual Green Industry Great Escape in late February, bringing about 150 owners and managers from top companies together for three days of high-level discussions about management, leadership and the future of the industry. A

New kind of marketing. Roger Phelps from Stihl, and Bill Brunelle from the Meridian Group spoke about how contractors must make their companies and brands stand for more than just great landscaping.

“How do you stand out in the marketplace and make sure your brand stands out?” Phelps asked. “How do you break out? What is the unique selling proposition that you offer?”

Leadership Award winners pose for a picture at the Green Industry Great Escape in Las Vegas. Pictured from left: Ken Hutcheson, Bob Grover, David Snodgrass (Lifetime Achievement Award), Christy Webber, and L&L Editor Chuck Bowen.

One of those ways is to highlight your position as an independent, local business. In 2010, Meridian partnered with Stihl and formed Independent We Stand, a group that promotes local businesses.

According to data from the non-profit research firm Institute for Local Self-Reliance, businesses in markets with an organized “buy local” campaign saw growth last year of 8.6 percent, compared with a national average of just 3 percent. And a 2004 study by Civic Economics showed that $68 out of $100 spent with an independent business stays in the local community, compared with $43 staying local when the same amount is spent at a national chain. Changing customer demographics and an increasingly crowded marketplace, Phelps said, have added a new requirement to traditional marketing: purpose.

“Who are you as a company?” Phelps asked. “A brand offers a product and a promise. A Mercedes is probably just as safe as a Volvo, but Volvo owns safety.”

Body talk. Janine Driver, a body language expert who consults with groups like the ATF and Scotland Yard, discussed how owners can improve their own body language to communicate more effectively and also learn more about their employees and clients. Driver said by reading body language, you can learn more about how someone is feeling. But she said you must use questions to get to the bottom of why they’re feeling that way.

“You can tell when someone’s getting anxious, but you don’t know why. This is what you have to find out,” she said. “Be careful of mind reading. You don’t know what that catalyst is. Don’t give people the benefit of the doubt, but don’t assume they’re lying, either.” Some of the body language tells she shared included:

  • The higher up you hold your arms, the more anxious you are.
  • Rising up on your toes or pointing your feet toward the sky means you’re positive and feeling good.
  • A chin grab makes you seem more intelligent.
  • Tilt your head to the left to appear smarter and to the right to appear more attractive.

Leadership Awards.
As part of the weekend’s festivities, Lawn & Landscape presented its 13th annual Leadership Awards. The program has honored dozens of business owners, executives and researchers for their leadership dedication to the landscaping industry. The awards, sponsored by Syngenta, recognize outstanding professionalism, dedication and support of the landscape industry. Winners this year, which you can read more about in L&L’s March issue, included:

  • Christy Webber, Christy Webber Landscapes
  • Bob Grover, Pacific Landscape Management
  • Rob Palmer, Weed Pro
  • Scott Frith, Lawn Doctor
  • Ken Hutcheson, U.S. Lawns

The ceremony also included recognition of PLANET’s Lifetime Achievement Award. This year’s honor went to David Snodgrass, president of Dennis’ 7 Dees in Portland, Ore. Snodgass is a past president of PLANET and a 2004 winner of the L&L Leadership Award. He was recognized for his ongoing support of the green industry leadership.

“I am deeply honored and humbled by this award. I’m really fortunate because I grew up in an industry that I loved, and I always knew this would be an industry I would make my career. I was just absolutely positive,” Snodgrass said in accepting his award.

“I love the people who work for the industry, I love the clients ... I love the plants ... (and) I love the challenges our industry sets forth.”

New board. As part of the meeting, PLANET named its new board. Effective May 1, Glenn Jacobsen will take the reins as the association’s president.

Jacobsen, who also runs Jacobsen Landscape Design and Construction in Midland Park, N.J., says his main goals for PLANET are to keep building partnerships with state associations and other groups to promote the industry, and continue its focus on nationwide community service projects.

“I’m just so proud to be part of an industry that’s ready, willing and able to give back,” says Jacobsen, who has spearheaded community service projects in his own region and recently during the Green Industry Conference in Louisville. “It’s an honor for me to be in this position.”

Jim McCutcheon, HighGrove Partners, joins the board as president-elect and Norman Goldenberg, TruGreen, moves to immediate past president.

Four people joined the association’s board of directors as new at-large members: Jason Becker, Caterpillar, Jon Cundiff, Weed Man of Kansas City, Joy Diaz, Land Care, and Michael McShane, Plantique.

Next year’s Green Industry Great Escape takes place in Anaheim, Calif. Dates have not been announced as of press time.

Dig deeper

Alternative ways to approach landscaping and lawn care were all the talk at the Ecological Landscaping Association conference.

By Brian Horn

Springfield, Mass. – “Lawn” isn’t really a four-letter word.

But reducing the size of one is an option to decrease the negative effects that maintaining a green, lush one could have on the environment.

That was one message conveyed at the Ecological Landscaping Association conference held Feb 27-28 at the MassMutual Center in downtown Springfield, Mass.

Trevor Smith, vice president of the ELA, said shrinking the size of a lawn and planting gardens or beds around it is an option for the customer who wants to become more environmentally-friendly and still have a good-looking landscape.

“If you have kids, you need a big lawn and a big play space,” said Smith, who owns Land Escapes, a company in Arlington, Mass., specializing in low-maintenance landscape design and custom landscape floral arrangement.

“I use lawns as transition areas from one garden to the next, so then you are selling people gardens, and that’s even better for your bottom dollar.”

The conference gives those interested in exploring unconventional landscaping and lawn care options a place to learn and network with others who are interested in the topic.

The ELA is not anti-chemical, but there is a wide range of opinions within the group.

“We don’t endorse one point of view or one technique. People are from so many different aspects of the trade – groundskeepers, residential, commercial, municipal and landscape architects – all types of people that interact with landscapes are looking to exchange ideas and best practices,” said founding ELA member and current treasurer, Sue Storr.

Selling the homeowner. Maintaining a lawn using organic practices won’t yield the same results in the same amount of time as a traditionally maintained lawn.

The organic method will take a much longer time to show positive results, which is something you need to stress to your customers.

Smith said you have to let the client know that if their lawns are “addicted to chemicals and used to chemical fertilizers,” there will be a time during the transition to organic care where your lawn won’t look so good.

“As long as you inform your client that’s going to happen, then there shouldn’t be a problem,” Smith said.

“As long as you talk about it in an upbeat way and let them know they have a drug-addicted lawn that you are now going to make organic, they’re going to be OK. They’ll see that transition time as a healthy thing.”

Some homeowners and property managers want their lawns to resemble the quality of a golf course.You can let them know some golf courses are reducing fairway sizes and increasing the rough because of water conversation concerns.

Don Woodall from the Colonial Seed Co. said organic fertilizer has allowed golf courses to manage turf in a much more sophisticated way, and some courses are going toward eco-friendly methods and products. “That’s important to tell the homeowner,” Woodall said.

Wise guides

If you aren’t blogging, you are missing a chance to market your company by sharing your industry knowledge.

By Chris Heiler

Regular blogging is the most effective way to increase website traffic and generate qualified leads.

According to Lawn & Landscape’s 2012 Social Media Survey, only 27 percent of respondents claimed to have a blog. When I informally survey audiences at green industry events I speak at, typically only 5-10 percent of attendees have a blog. Of this, very few actually blog on a regular basis (at least once per week).

According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound Marketing Report, companies that blog have 55 percent more website visitors than those who don’t. And, business to consumer (B2C) companies that blog generate 88 percent more leads per month than those who do not (67 percent more for B2B companies).

Our website, LandscapeLeadership.com, is a perfect case in point. In July and August of 2012, our website generated 82 leads each month. In the following four months, September through December, the site generated 35 leads each month. Why the sharp decline in leads? Easy: We published 25 blog posts in July and August combined, and only 10 posts in the next four months.

Blogging matters. Consistent blogging matters more.

If you are ready to give your website traffic and number of inbound leads a boost through blogs, turn to page 112 to read about four companies blogging effectively.

The author is a social media consultant and the founder and president of Landscape Leadership.