L&L Insider

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April 9, 2014
Lawn & Landscape Staff

Room to bloom

Craig den Hartog got tired of looking at trashed landscapes, so he did something about it.

HOLTSVILLE, N.Y. – When Craig den Hartog started the Old Town Blooms program, he did it for selfish reasons. The owner of Emerald Magic Lawn Care in Holtsville, N.Y., was “pretty disgusted looking at the increasing trash and invasive vines attacking the corner entrance to my neighborhood,” he says.

So he and a neighbor grabbed their rakes on a Sunday morning and spent a few hours making a dent in the problem. “Before long some extra plants ... and leftover daffodil bulbs were blooming where litter once was,” he says.

Since then, with the help of Bob and Karen Laidlaw and Jon Juarez, the program has taken on a life of its own. In the past five years, Old Town Blooms has planted more than 15,000 bulbs along Old Town Road, which spans 7.3 miles and connects a number of neighborhoods, four towns and four school districts.

The bulb installations are done in stages and the group picks a few focal points that would benefit in some curb appeal.

“We identify what needs to be done in advance – litter or debris removal, brush back of low branches or invasive vines,” he says. “Bulb planting is the fun day. Everybody sees and knows what you are doing so there is a sense of excitement in the community.”

When den Hartog started out, he and his company footed the bill for the work he did.

“Now I do get some donations and some volunteers have enlisted,” he says. “In some instances some bulbs, plants and mulch have been donated by local residents and businesses. I have also propagated and planted some perennials to add some summer color.”

Though he does get those donations, money is still hard to find.

“Towns and organizations have limited funds,” he says. “Fundraising can be done but it can be slow and limiting. As business owners we all can be impatient with bureaucracy.”

Finding help can also be a challenge, but there are places to look.

“Do not expect many volunteers but if you get them be happy,” den Hartog says. “Volunteers can be tapped by networking with other civic organizations, schools, Boy Scout or Girl Scout troops. Many groups are looking for ways to volunteer and many high school and college-aged children need community service hours. A letter or phone call to the right person can work wonders.”

The “right people” can include those involved in a town or civic association or Chamber of Commerce.

“Talking to ‘like-minded’ people will help get your project moving in the right direction,” he says. “It also can generate volunteers too. Disregard the ‘no-no’s’ There will be plenty of people that will knock your idea. Keep moving forward and you will attain more boosters as the blooms increase and the Litter decreases.”

Doing so will help the community but also provides notoriety for your company.  

“An added bonus is  that it improves company name recognition and some would call that free advertising,” he says. “But even more importantly for Emerald Magic Lawn Care, it reinforces in our employees and in our company that caring is important. We care about our employees, we care about our community, we care about our customers. You can’t do one without the other.”

By Brian Horn


Out in the cold

Winter was all the talk at the New England Regional Turf Show and Convention. 

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Much to everyone’s surprise, weather did not end up preventing attendees from making it to the New England Regional Turfgrass Conference and Show at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, R.I., the first week of March.

Even with the break in snowfall, the weather seemed to be a continuing discussion.

With a wet spring, hot summer, mild fall and a winter that was all over the place, lawn care professionals are beginning to think about the upcoming year and what practices will need to be implemented.

Over the four days of educational sessions, most topics covered pest and disease control, with a highlight on what role the weather conditions will play.

Here are a few points to take away if you couldn’t make it.

  • According to Dr. Richard Cowles from the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, if you’re spraying an insecticide to control the annual bluegrass weevil and some weevils survive, they may have genetic traits that they pass onto offspring. After a few generations they are no longer susceptible to the insecticide. So how can you manage pyrethroid resistance annual bluegrass weevils? Use only selective insecticides that don’t kill the predators that eat weevils.
  • Cowles also said weevil adults often emerge in two peaks. Targeting first instars, a developmental stage of an insect, as they emerge from the grass stem is also effective against smaller larvae within the stem, so larvae resulting from both waves of adults can be suppressed with one spray.
  • As more pesticide restrictions are being enforced, Dr. Jason Henderson from the University of Connecticut said lawn care professionals are finding it harder to use products properly, mostly because the way they were taught is not the way things are being done now. They weren’t trained to manage grass this way, so it’s making things more difficult. In fact, most current recommendations aren’t based on research.
  • Dr. Patricia Vittum from the University of Massachusetts said weather conditions in New England throughout 2013 resulted in unexpected insect and disease outbreaks. Because the spring was wet, the summer was hot and the fall was mild, infestations were unusual and insecticides didn’t work as effectively as normal. Some places even saw new species, as the insects migrated to locations with more favorable conditions.

Next year’s show will take place Jan. 26-29 at the Rhode Island Convention Center in Providence, R.I.

By Katie Tuttle




Balancing act

I have an awkward and difficult question for you. I am and have been an operations manager for a couple different large commercial landscape companies for the last 10 years or so. For the last few years I have had my own company on the side.

Mainly focusing on residential clients, etc. I do everything, lawn care, maintenance, design/build, etc. It started out as just weekend stuff, then switched to weekends and evenings. The biggest problem for me is that the company I work for does not know, nor do they condone a person in my position to have or operate their own company. The real struggle for me is that over the last couple of years I have experienced good growth with my company and now have a shop, two full-time guys, three part-time guys, two trucks, etc.

I have had some commercial property opportunities come my way, etc. My annual revenue at the end of this year will be approaching $190,000. My question or concern is finding a balance between being a manager for a huge company and managing my own. I am not going to be comfortable leaving a good paying job to jump into my own thing full time until I hit $350,000 to $400,000. I am trying to do things the smart way and not grow my own company too fast to where I outgrow my capital, etc. I want nothing more than to own my own company and do it full time, but I have to keep in mind that financially I can’t do it until I get to a certain revenue point.

Up until the last year, I have managed to manage both well enough not to lose a grip on either. I know as my company grows that will be more and more difficult to accomplish. Any thoughts or advice on how I can juggle both, at least for the next season or two, until I am comfortable enough financially to go out on my own full time. I know I am not the only person in my type of position, working for a larger established company to juggle their own smaller company, too. I’m just trying to figure out some tricks to make it go as smoothly as possible. K.L


Editor’s note: We sent the question to our columnists Marty Grunder and Jim Huston. Here is what they had to say.

In America, everyone has the right to own and operate a small business. However, I am fairly certain the big company you work for has a policy, possibly in their handbook, preventing you from running a business in the same industry “on the side” as you say.

So, it seems to me, what you are doing isn’t ethical. So, my answer to your question is really quite simple. You need to resign from your current position and devote all your time to your entrepreneurial endeavor right now. Too many entrepreneurs wait for the “perfect” time to do everything and rarely, if ever, is there a perfect time to do anything. Most entrepreneurs find success by taking risks and by taking action.

Waiting is only hurting your company’s potential and future and it’s also hurting your current employer as well as there’s no way you are fully engaged in that work. You’re thinking about your company constantly – I know you are ... all entrepreneurs that catch the bug do this. Your employees are calling you while you are at your job, you are doing things for your own company while on the clock of your employer and so on. It’s impossible to run a company with a few employees on the side without what I just mentioned happening.

As the owner of a landscaping company, I have a policy that prohibits our team members from moonlighting. It’s a conflict of interest. We want and need people that are committed to us and we in turn will be committed to them. We never stop anyone from starting their own endeavor. I love entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. However, there’s a right way to go about this and the way you are doing this isn’t right. You don’t want to have your ethics questioned and your reputation in the process tarnished. Our reputation is all we have and it’s critical you understand that and protect it by doing the right thing here.

If you want to be an entrepreneur, and basically you are, then go for it. Put all your heart and energy into your landscaping company. Success can and will find you there. All entrepreneurs have a defining moment, yours is upon you here. I hope you have the guts to take this time to seize the day and go full time with your company.

Best of luck. – Marty Grunder

As a consultant, my job is to make the complex simple and the chaotic orderly. Let me make this simple: STOP!

What you are doing is unethical. You have to make a choice and the sooner the better. You said, “The biggest problem for me is that the company I work for does not know, nor do they condone a person in my position, to have or operate their own company.” End of discussion.

If the company that you are working for condoned what you are doing, I’d defer to the sage wisdom of Forrest Gump’s mother (“Stupid is as stupid does”) and call them “stupid.” However, if your actions were condoned, your position would not be unethical. But the owner(s) of the company you work for would still be stupid.

I ran this situation by some of my business-owner clients. To a man, they were outraged. If they became aware of what you were doing, you’d be fired on the spot.

To quote Forrest’s mom again, “Life is like a box of chocolates. ...” You gotta pick one … swallow hard … and move on. – Jim Huston



Editor’s note: This is in response to Chuck Bowen’s February 2014 column, “How you Grow It,” which you can read at bit.ly/howgrowit.

What a right-on commentary regarding succession. It’s a great topic to expand upon with future articles or commentary.

Too late in life, I have discovered my faulty thinking about business growth, suffered the ravages of the economy and a changing market place. Those things have affected my succession. I did not build a business big enough to put management in place that could run the business without me indefinitely. Not that I have been unwilling to delegate, but growth in a saturated, mature market has been devoid of any large success.

In the late 90s, I chose to specialize on fertilization and irrigation only, which pretty much goes against the grain of what goes on in the industry. To succeed, I needed to create my own niche, and fundamentally change the way consumers view purchasing these two services from a single source.

What has been more discouraging in the last several years is the discovery – while seeking the best marketing advice and assistance, and networking with the best businesses in the industry – there are no really skilled people or companies that are able help a company less than $500,000 or $1 million in sales. There are plenty of people and companies to sell you marketing products and services, but are not necessarily the resource one needs to go from the $1 million level to the several-million level. I have yet to meet or speak with anyone in marketing that says we have had great success with this copy on these post cards, door hangers, Frisbees, etc., for a number of companies or regions of the country.

Every agency I speak to has a minimum fee of $2,000, or more per month and that is just for web work in inbound marketing. That’s 5 percent of sales for a $500,000 business for just that one single item. No direct mail, no sales person, no home shows, door hangers or whatever.

So I have come to the conclusion that one must go big or go home. You have to have a vision of your intended result or outcome in place, right there with your succession plan.

For others a “lifestyle” business where they always remain the same size and not too big is the right choice for them. They too can plan for succession, but only if they use bigger company methods to manage their business and keep a legitimate set of books. But a company where the owner is always part of the working crew, they better be making a big profit, because that type of operation will not yield much return, if any, when the owner wishes to leave.

In summary, what I feel needs to be conveyed to many entrepreneurs is your vision plan plus a vision for the future of the enterprise. Most helpful for those of us wanting more than a lifestyle business would be scalable three- to five-year marketing plans and web services based on the vision for the business.

Harold Fox, owner, Town Pride Lawn Service, Medford, N.J.



Sorry USPS

We asked commercial property managers what their preferred method of communication is from their landscape contractor, and it’s not what the mail carrier wanted to hear.