Market Trends: May 1999

Departments - Industry News

November 23, 1999

Where does the $$$ Go?

As the labor market remains tight, many lawn care companies are investing more money in improved performance products in an effort to rely less on their personnel.

The newest Operating Efficiency Study published by the Professional Lawn Care Association of America found that the cost of materials used climbed to 18 percent of net sales for the 1997 season, compared to 15.1 percent and 14.6 percent in 1995 and 1996, respectively.

The increased product expenditures didn’t necessarily correlate to increased profitability, however, as pre-tax net income slid from 8.2 percent in 1996 to 4.8 percent in 1997.

Student Career Day Soars

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Recognizing that the key to the growth of any landscape contracting company is qualified personnel, more than 80 landscape companies attended the 23rd annual Associated Landscape Contractors of America Student Career Days Mar. 18-21 in Lexington, Ky.

Overall, 1,250 attendees took part in the career opportunities and competitive events, while industry representatives and students engaged in more than 500 interviews, some of which resulted in internships or immediate hires.

The ALCA Student Career Fair served as a recruiting opportunity as 600 students visited 67 green industry exhibitors’ booths and participated in networking opportunities and industry-related discussions.

Competitive events, such as sales presentation, equipment operation, landscape plant installation, interior and exterior design, and irrigation assembly, kept students from approximately 45 universities and colleges busy.

California Polytechnic State – San Luis Obispo and Cal Poly Pomona took first and second place in the team competition, respectively, followed by Colorado State University in third place. Individual stars included Bryan Ashby and Nyles Gregory, both from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, and Joanne Stans-well of North Metro Tech.

Next year’s ALCA Student Career Days is planned for Mar. 9-12 at Mississippi State University, Starkville, Miss.

L&L Marks 20 Years

CLEVELAND, Ohio – In May of 1980 a 36-page, black-and-white magazine named American Lawn Applicator published its first issue. Quite a bit has changed since those days, including the size, color and name of the magazine, but one thing hasn’t changed – that magazine’s commitment to serving the professional lawn care and landscape industry.

This issue marks the beginning of the 20th year of Lawn & Landscape’s commitment to the professional contracting industry.

“The professional lawn care and landscape industry has changed agreat deal in the last two decades, so we’re excited to still be a valued tool for contractors’ businesses,” noted Cindy Code, Group Publisher of the Lawn & Landscape Media Group. “Keeping up with the ever-evolving nature of contractors’ businesses has been quite a challenge for us, but one we have enjoyed and look forward to continue meeting.”

In conjunction with the magazine’s 20th anniversary celebration, each of the next 12 issues will take a look back at articles presented in previous issues.

AgriBioTech Continues Slide

HENDERSON, Nev. – What began as a plan to consolidate and dominate the turfseed industry has turned into a saga including an ousted founder, a sliding stock price and a slew of class action lawsuits for AgriBioTech.

ABT, which arrived on the scene in early 1995 as it began buying up seed producers, was notified of the first of many class action lawsuits against it in January. The suits, filed one per state on behalf of those states’ ABT stockholders, allege fraud, accounting manipulations and imply a restatement of financial statements in 1997 and 1998.

The company promptly termed the allegations false and promised to defend itself “vigorously.” However, the individual making those promises, Johnny Thomas, ABT chairman, chief executive officer and founder, resigned his positions with ABT as the stock price continued to slide and lawsuits continued to mount.

Thomas was replaced by Richard Budd, formerly CEO of Lofts Seed, which was acquired by ABT in January 1998. Kent Schulze remained in his positions as president and chief operating officer, and a new office of the president was created at ABT that includes four co-presidents: Randy Ingram, chief financial officer; Thomas Rice, director of research; Kathy Gillespie, responsible for mergers, divestitures and acquisitions; and Drew Kinder.

Thomas attributed the dramatic reorganization to a change in the company’s operational needs. “I remain an optimistic and enthusiastic shareholder of the company,” he noted.

Budd’s initial focus will include the integration of ABT’s 33 acquired companies and expanding the company’s board of directors, which will include four new members from outside of the company to lead the nine-member board.

“Demand for our products and spring shipments appear to be very good,” noted Budd. “Although we cannot predict the profitability of the individual remaining two quarters in our fiscal year ending June 30 due to the seasonality of the seed business, management believes at this time that … we can at least break even on the pre-tax profit line for the remaining six-month period of our fiscal year 1999.”

Meanwhile, ABT’s stock continues its slide from its high point of $29.50 a share in July to below $5.50 as of presstime.

In addition, the company announced that exploratory efforts to identify a merger candidate or company to acquire ABT have been suspended. The company will remain independent for the time being with the goal of integrating all 33 of its seed companies into one organization operating under one name within the next 14 months.

L&L Landscape Services Acquired By Trugreen-Chemlawn

CAMPBELL, Calif. - L&L Landscape Services, co-owned by Steve Glover and Rob Zolezzi, was acquired by TruGreen-ChemLawn, just several weeks after LandCare USA and the maintenance division of TruGreen-ChemLawn finalized their deal to become one company.

The new organization continues to evaluate prospective names.

L&L Landscape Services, which was courted by a variety of national companies over several months before being acquired by TruGreen-ChemLawn, was number 62 on Lawn & Landscape magazine’s Top 100 landscape contractor list, reporting $9.2 million in revenues.

The newly acquired firm will join four others in northern California - Four Seasons Landscape & Maintenance, Golden Bear Arborists, Pacific Environmental and Redwood Landcaping - to form a beach head for future growth in northern California.

Glover, who will remain active in the business said he feels good about the acquisition and his firm’s new relationship with TruGreen-ChemLawn. Zolezzi plans to remain active in the landscape business as well. - Cindy Code

LESCO Acquires New Technology

ROCKY RIVER, Ohio – LESCO announced the acquisition of rights to a new technology that will allow it to develop a broad range of unique, controlled-release fertilizers.

The new technology is expected to allow for production of “fertilizers with highly efficient and precise nutrient-release characteristics to meet the complex, exacting agronomic needs of different applications and geographies,” according to the company.

LESCO hopes to introduce its first products with the new technology into the golf market later this year.

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