Navigating inconveniences

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NALP’s Andrew Bray talks some of the biggest obstacles facing the green industry and how the organization is aiming to help.

March 4, 2022

Andrew Bray addresses the audience at the NALP’s Leaders Forum in January.
Photo courtesy of NALP

The number of challenges green industry companies face has continued to increase in recent years.

From more states introducing legislation to limit gas-powered equipment and pesticide usage, to the ongoing labor shortage, few businesses go unscathed.

So, the National Association of Landscape Professional’s Vice President of Government Relations, Andrew Bray, gave a quick update on how the organization is helping its members navigate these struggles during NALP’s Leaders Forum in January.“Some of the news I have to deliver is sometimes frustrating to say the least,” he said.

Bray touched on three main issues — H-2B visas, gas-powered equipment bans and pesticide regulations.

Visa woes

“We were in a workforce crisis before COVID,” Bray said, noting that the current labor market only adds to the needs for additional H-2B visas.

Bray explained that the visas are capped at 66,000.

“The landscape industry is the largest user of the program by a significant margin,” he said. “Fifty percent of the H-2B visas coming into the country are from our industry.”

A lottery is done in January to determine which applicants are permitted to receive visas. Currently there are seven lottery bins, labeled A-G.

“You have a one in four chance of getting your visas,” Bray said. “They added another lottery bin this year...Our understanding is if you’re in A you will get your visas. If you’re in B you will likely get your visas, but it’s no guarantee… If you’re C through G I’m sorry to tell you, you are likely capped out.”

However, Bray said all hope is not lost.

Bray explained that a supplement cap is instituted, which is the administration’s ability to release additional visas. Up to 65,000 additional visas can be issued each year.

“We’ve gotten anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 additional visas each year,” Bray said. “We got to fight for everything we can get.”

Bray said that he’s optimistic that this year’s supplement cap will help some of the pressure and encourages those in lottery bins C through G to stick with the process.

“This year, for the first time ever, the first half cap additional visas are being released,” he said. “Of that 22,000, there’s a carve out for those northern triangle countries — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

“This is part of the Biden Administration’s commitment to try and do some nation building. I tell people if you try and get your visas from a Northern Triangle Country instead of Mexico, I would bet you, that under the Biden administration, you will probably get your visas.”

Bray did note that through this option, the individual must be a returning worker.

He went on to explain the Returning Worker Exception, and how getting that passed through Congress could even further increase the number of available H-2B visas.

“The Returning Worker Exception means that if you were in the country as a worker under an H-2B visa in one of the three previous years, you are cap exempt. This would thus triple the cap and have a cap number of close to 200,000.”

Not only did Bray encourage attendees to contact their representatives and ask them to support this initiative, but he also told them all to help spread the message, as the more calls and emails the better.

“I always tell people to pass it on to five people,” Bray said. “This is a numbers game.”

Change is coming

California’s recent announcement of a ban on gas-powered equipment sparked even further discussion on the electrification of the industry.

Bray broke down the recent legislation, explaining that the ban is on the sale of new gas-powered equipment in 2024.

He also noted that California is the only state that can regulate based on emissions. Other states promoting similar bans can do so on the basis that the equipment is noisy or a nuisance, but technically not that it is polluting.

Bray said he expects more and more states to enact similar regulations.

This transition is inevitable and coming quickly,” he said.

Bray said NALP supports the transition to electric equipment, but in due time.

“We are stewards of the environment, and we are proud of that,” he said. “We do want to encourage a responsible transition to this equipment. But trying to do so in one to three years is impossible.”

Bray said there are three big hindrances companies face when making the switch.

“First is cost, and the cost is significant,” he said.

According to Bray, research shows a standard three-person crew would need about 35 batteries to operate their normal route in a day.

Because the battery-powered equipment is still relatively new, Bray added performance is another barrier.

“We know that they’re getting close…but it’s not quite there yet,” he said. “We’re already in a national labor crisis so we shouldn’t be using less efficient equipment.”

And finally, Bray said infrastructure on a micro and macro level makes a substantial impact.

“We know from talking with some companies already making the transition, that you need new electric lines for the different voltage, you have to retrofit the trucks to charge on the go, your whole company has to change its entire infrastructure,” he said.

Additionally, some communities might not have the wherewithal for the additional electricity usage. “On the macro level, is your community ready for that?” he asked. “Are there charging stations out in the community you could use?”

While the transition is inevitable, Bray said he and NALP are working with the government to make sure the process happens fairly and doesn’t stifle landscaping companies.

More rules for lawn care

Similarly to gas-powered bans, pesticide bans are continuing to increase nationwide.

“All pesticides need to be registered with the EPA,” Bray explained.

He added that when the EPA investigates how certain ones are being used, they talk with the agricultural companies, who use them on a much larger scale than the green industry does.

“We spend a lot of time talking with them about this,” he said. “It’s important to communicate with them and tell them how we’re using products.”

Bray adds that most of NALP’s work in helping pass fair legislation on the issue is done at the state level.

“States are where we’re fighting most of the pesticide stuff,” he said. “Every state in the Northeast, most of the states in the Great Lakes and every state west of Colorado has a bill introduced right now that would ban neonicotinoids or another type of pesticide.”

Because of this Voices for Healthy Green Spaces has been established.

Bray encouraged attendees to join the grassroots organization aimed at promoting the industry and its sustainable initiatives.

“We need you to be engaged as much as you can,” he said. “We’re trying to build that community feel.”

Heartland acquires multiple companies

The acquisitions happened throughout 2021 and include two Top 100 companies.

Heartland recently announced 7 acquisitions the company made in 2021.

“Our formula for success is simple; we strive to partner with the entrepreneurs who’ve built market leading brands with exceptional culture and growth potential," said HeartLand’s Founder and CEO Ed Schatz.

"Not surprisingly, our strategy resonates with owners who place a high value on finding the right partner who will respect their brand and create opportunity for their people.”

HeartLand has completed and integrated 22 acquisitions since 2016. It ranked No. 12 on Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 list in 2021.

“Each of these companies are highly-regarded leaders in the markets they serve, and we’re honored to welcome them as partners” said Rob McDonnell, HeartLand’s chief acquisition officer. “These owners have built companies with stellar reputations by living and working according to their core values; they were seeking a robust platform for the continued growth of their team members and HeartLand offered that.”

MainScapes

Founded 1995  //  Washington, D.C. / Baltimore (July)

MainScapes provides full-service grounds maintenance to planned communities in suburban areas. The company is a complementary addition to Heritage Landscape Services, a HeartLand portfolio company in northern Virginia.

“We have always held the dedication to customer service as a high priority and know that our number one asset is our team members," said Joe O’Brien, long-term operations leader at MainScapes. “Our shared alignment and core values have made the transition seamless. Our team members are being offered great growth opportunities and that is extremely exciting.”

Cutting Edge Services

Founded 1995  //  Boise / Salt Lake City / Denver (September)

Cutting Edge in Boise, Idaho, services office, retail, planned communities and multi-family properties. The company expanded in recent years to Salt Lake City, Utah, and Denver, Colorado.

The company was ranked No. 65 on the 2021 Lawn & Landscape Top 100.

Co-owner Bob Wheeler says “It is exciting to see our people adapt and embrace the changes that have come their way as we have accelerated our growth over the past few years. We have continued to maintain our quality and commitments to our clients while improving growth opportunities for our entire team.”

Co-owner Ben Helton added, “Our joint leadership allows us to prioritize different sides of the business with a unique focus unmatched in our region. Growing the right way has provided valuable opportunities for our team and clients across the locations we serve.”

Perficut Companies

Founded 1989  //  Des Moines / Cedar Rapids / Omaha (October)

Based in Des Moines, Iowa, Perficut provides grounds maintenance and winter services to commercial clients across all market segments, with a significant presence in industrial, retail, office and medical sectors. The company also serves Cedar Rapids in eastern Iowa and into Omaha, Nebraska.

Perficut President Matt Boelman had this to say about the qualities that have enabled the company to grow and expand: “Perficut has always honored its strong Core Values to build a collaborative team of passionate, respectful, honest and dedicated individuals to serve our clients and our employees. Our partnership with HeartLand will enhance our ability to continue delivering exceptional service in the future.”

Landscape Services, Inc. / “LSI”

Founded 1988  //  Nashville (November)

LSI is a family-run commercial landscape service business in Nashville. LSI serves clients in planned communities, office, multi-family and education, as well as other commercial market sectors. LSI had grown to become No. 72 in the Lawn & Landscape Top 100.

“We believe that living by our core values including doing what we say we are going to do and always doing the right thing are the golden rules to earning the trust and respect of our team members and our clients,” said Doug Stacey, LSI’s president. “Those core values align well with the HeartLand vision and leadership, which is why we are excited to be a part of the HeartLand family.”

Sharp’s Landscaping

Founded 1991  //  Philadelphia (November)

Sharp’s is a commercial company in the greater Philadelphia market with a focus on multi-family, healthcare, university, office, industrial and planned communities. Founder Jim Sharp selected Mike Donahue to lead the business, which he has done since 2016.

“Sharp’s has been able to grow and thrive in the tri-state area by keeping the needs of the client as priority one,” Donahue said.

“This belief has become part of the company culture and has been passed along to the organization from Jim Sharp himself. Companies like ours want to collaborate with a partner that looks out for their interests, deliver what they say they are going to, and quickly respond to feedback.”

Total Environment

Founded 1992  //  Oklahoma City (December)

Total Environment maintains properties in the Oklahoma City market, including planned communities and the luxury homes within them.

“I think it comes down to three things," said Founder Ty Hartwig about building a successful company. “First, assembling a talented staff. Second, paying attention to the details; we notice things that most lawn care companies don’t see. Third, providing multiple services with only one client contact.

“People are busy and if they can call one person, their account manager, to handle multiple things it simplifies their lives.”

Merit Landscape Solutions

Founded 1976  //  Western New Jersey / Philadelphia / Houston, Austin, Dallas - Fort Worth, San Antonio TX (December)

With commercial landscape operations in the Northeast and in Texas, Merit was ready for a new partner who could embrace their expansive geography and help them grow.

“The northeast Merit team is very grateful and excited about the opportunity to partner with HeartLand and welcomes their support as we continue to grow the business and provide our clients with quality service rooted in partnership," said Owner Joe Hoey. "With this type of opportunity, the future is unlimited.”

“Our business has experienced an amazing transformation over the last couple of years, including clients, team members and the processes we use to deliver excellence,” said Rob Cyprus, who leads the company’s South Central U.S. and Texas operations.

“The opportunity to partner with a unique and successful team in HeartLand allows Merit access to key resources that will provide the support necessary to grow with our current customer base by entering into new relationships with clients who are looking for our type of focused service approach. We are thrilled to be part of the HeartLand portfolio and are excited about the next chapter for Merit.”

Landscape Workshop acquires GreenScape’s landscape operations

The company has operated for 80 years in the Memphis area.

Landscape Workshop recently acquired the landscape operations of GreenScape based in Memphis, Tennessee.

GreenScape has operated over an 80-year time span, and Owner Kathryn Hetzler and the entire GreenScape team will remain on board to ensure a smooth transition process.

“We are incredibly excited to join our existing Memphis operations with the operations of GreenScape. With the combined resources of LW and GreenScape, we increase our ability to provide top notch green industry expertise and quality customer service to our clients throughout the Mid-South region,” said Landscape Workshop CEO J.T. Price. “GreenScape has built a notable reputation in the Memphis community and we are fully dedicated to continuing providing the level of customer service that Kathryn and her team have worked so hard to establish.”

Greenscape COO Jesse Jay will join the team as general manager for Memphis’ Install/Construction Division. LW Memphis General Manager Tom Johnson will lead the consolidated Maintenance Divisions.

Landscape Workshop is a full-service grounds management company that has been providing professional service and expert maintenance for outdoor commercial spaces since 1984. LW serves 12 Southeastern markets in Tennessee, Kentucky, Alabama, Georgia, and the Florida panhandle.

Landscape Workshop is backed by Carousel Capital and McKinney Capital.

SavATree merges with Lueders companies near Boston

Lueders Environmental and Lueders Tree & Landscape both operate in Massachusetts.

Savatree has merged with Massachusetts based companies, Lueders Environmental and Lueders Tree & Landscape.

This merger broadens SavATree’s presence in Massachusetts, serving clients near Boston. The Medfield office marks SavATree’s fifth Massachusetts operation, as they currently have branches in Cape Cod, Lincoln, Middleton and Hanover.

Lueders Companies has operated for roughly 40 years. Michael and Connie Lueders, along with their team, will remain on board with SavATree.

“We align so closely with SavATree’s services, client care standards and thoughtful, scientific approach that we knew partnering with them would allow the integrity of our services and values to continue. Our long-term clients look to us to know and understand their properties," said Michael and Connie Lueders in a joint statement. "Joining forces with SavATree allows us to provide even more resources, training, and technologies."

“We’re thrilled to partner with Michael and Connie Lueders who have built their business around a thoughtful approach to the environment and horticulture, while staying on the leading edge of best practices," said SavATree CEO Carmine Schiavone. "Lueders Companies, like SavATree, is a customer-centric company, and we look forward to joining forces to service the relationships that Lueders Companies has gained the trust of over the years."

BrightView acquires Winter Services in New Jersey

Winter Services employs 125 team members and 450 during peak season.

BrightView has acquired Winter Services Inc., a snow and ice management company headquartered in Ringwood, New Jersey. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

“The acquisition of one of the Northeast’s most respected snow and ice management firms allows us to expand our services in this region and enhance our existing snow removal operations in the Tri State Area,” said BrightView President and CEO Andrew Masterman. “In addition to highly trained crew members, including several certified snow professionals, Winter Services brings upgraded equipment and techniques to BrightView. We are delighted they have chosen to become part of our company.”

Winter Services employs 125 team members (450 during peak snow season) and serves clients throughout New Jersey, lower New York, lower Connecticut, eastern Pennsylvania and Delaware.

“We are excited to be a part of the BrightView team,” said Winter Services Owner Mark Moore. “We look forward to helping expand BrightView’s portfolio and collaborating on developing best-in-class snow and ice management strategies.”

Garden Design acquires Red’s Lawn and Landscape

Red’s Lawn and Landscape provides services in Forth Worth, Texas.

Garden Design has acquired Red’s Lawn and Landscape, a provider of landscape design, installation and maintenance in the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. GDI will be partnering directly with Red’s Landscape Founder and President Seth Peugh, who will continue to be actively involved with the company managing GDI’s Fort Worth operations.

Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, Red’s Lawn and Landscape is a commercial and residential landscape services provider in the Fort Worth market. The company provides upper-level landscape/maintenance services to DFW and surrounding areas.

GDI is excited to partner directly with Seth and the existing Red’s Landscape management team and to leverage the Company’s established operational capability and reputation to continue to grow Garden Design’s brand throughout greater DFW and Texas.

“Finding a partner like GDI who shares Red’s commitment to serving our customers and employees as well as our vision for the future was crucial for me in this process,” Peugh said. “I am excited to work together with Garden Design as we embark on a long-term growth plan and to carry on the legacy of Red’s Lawn and Landscape.”

“My team and I could not be more excited to work with Seth and his team. Red’s reputation for innovation and professional customer service is second to none, and the company’s commitment to genuinely valuing its people is truly impressive,” said William Davoli, CEO at GDI. “The landscape construction and maintenance space is an exciting and growing industry, and GDI’s track record of building a leading green industry services businesses makes us an excellent partner to Seth and his company.”

Heritage acquires Green Velvet

Headquartered in Bellbrook, Ohio, Green Velvet was founded in 1959.

Heritage Landscape Supply Group acquired Green Velvet, a wholesaler of fertilizer, seed, sod, and other turf & ornamental products.

Headquartered in Bellbrook, Ohio, Green Velvet was founded in 1959 by Ray & Mary Tischer and is run today by their son, Randy Tischer, and his wife, Beth. The company employs a team of over 40 professionals and operates out of four locations throughout Southwest and Central Ohio. Randy will continue to lead the company’s employee base going forward alongside General Manager, Nick Janovich.

“We are honored to welcome the Tischer family and the entire Green Velvet team to the Heritage family of companies,” said Matt McDermott, president of Heritage. “Green Velvet is a perfect complement to our existing Wolf Creek branches in Ohio and greatly increases our presence in the agronomics / turf & ornamental product categories. The Tischer family has built an outstanding family business that embodies loyal customer service with operational integrity, and we are delighted to have them on our team.”

“For the last 63 years Green Velvet has earned a reputation for providing exceptional service, trusted advice, and dependable products to landscape professionals, sports turf managers and golf course superintendents throughout the Midwest,” added Randy Tischer. “As we look towards the future, our newfound partnership with Heritage will allow us to continue doing what made us successful while providing growth opportunities for both our company and our employees.”

Outdoor Living Supply acquires Woodward Landscape Supply

Based in Phoenixville, Pa., Woodward Landscape Supply was founded in 1994 to serve the retail and contractor hardscape markets.

Outdoor Living Supply, a distribution platform for outdoor living products with a focus on hardscapes, has acquired Woodward Landscape Supply, an independent distributor of hardscaping materials, natural stone and other outdoor living products and accessories.

Based in Phoenixville, Pa., Woodward Landscape Supply was founded in 1994 to serve the retail and contractor hardscape markets and is currently run by Mark Woodward and Barbara Babcock. Their five-acre facility has facilitated an expansion of inventory and display areas to meet the growing product demands of their market.

“I am excited to welcome Woodward Landscape Supply to the OLS family. This new partnership gives us entry into the Pennsylvania market, increasing our presence and scale in the Northeast,” said Brian Price, CEO of OLS.