Since my grandfather, King Ewing, first established his career in green industry distribution, my family has been serving professional irrigators, landscapers and other industry professionals with the same principals he founded our company on: honesty, integrity, tolerance, perseverance, courage, responsibility, self-discipline, loyalty, quality work, faith and family.
While so much of our industry has changed since the early 1920s, Ewing has remained committed to those values. For nearly 100 years, Ewing has continued to grow our product offering and nationwide locations to better serve our customers with exceptional service and the quality products they rely on to do their jobs.
As we move into a new era, one with a greater focus on water conservation, regulations and changes in the workforce, I personally want our customers to know they can count on Ewing to be there for them.
For the young professionals entering this industry, trends will change, growth will rise, slow and rise again. But because of the important work green industry professionals perform—bringing beautiful outdoor spaces to the masses—you can rest assured Ewing will be at the forefront of that change to help educate and support your growth and the growth of the industry. I’m excited to see the path our industry’s future pros will take.
The Ewing family is focused on growing this next generation, just as we’ve always done for decades. From the past with my parents to the addition of my son, Jack York, coming on board, Ewing continues to be dedicated to serving the green industry, now and for the future.
Douglas W. York
President & CEO
Ewing Irrigation & Landscape Supply
Like many landscape architects, Scott Lankford once relied primarily on word-of-mouth referrals to drive business to his firm, Lankford Associates. Then, several years ago, Lankford tapped into a new source of potential clients through Houzz – a “community of more than 40 million homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals,” according to the website.
At the recommendation of another architect, who was attracting quite a bit of business through the online platform, Lankford set up a Houzz profile about seven years ago. Impressed by the site’s user-friendliness, he used it as an interactive project portfolio that could connect him with prospects who were searching for landscape architecture and design services.
“We get an awful lot of exposure from people who search online because Houzz is at the top of the search results. Whether people are looking for a landscape architect in Seattle or looking for us in particular, the Houzz site pops up above our website,” Lankford says.
Since then, Houzz has become Lankford’s “most successful marketing tool,” bringing in about 30 to 40 percent of his residential clients. With a solid five-star rating on the site, Lankford has received “Best of Houzz” awards every year since 2013, garnering recognition for both client satisfaction and design.
Houzz users can search the photo-centric site for products and services related to home improvement, décor, landscaping, lawn care and more – and then save photos and details to “Ideabooks” to inspire their next home project.
“Like they say, a picture is worth a thousand words,” Lankford says, “so our overall strategy (on Houzz) is to be very visual.”
Early on, Lankford took his own project photos, but now, he insists on hiring professionals. “The images are the most important thing you can put (on Houzz),” he says. “It’s very important to use professional photography.”
Since 90 percent of Houzz users are homeowners, Lankford focuses primarily on residential projects (which make up about 80 percent of his business) and saves commercial, municipal, mixed-use and multifamily work for his website.
Variety is important: While your biggest, most expensive projects might look impressive, they could drive away clients with smaller yards who presume you’re too big for them if that’s all they see.
As critical as images are on Houzz, Lankford says it’s equally important to post well-written explanations with each photo. Incorporating the appropriate keywords into these captions can help get your photos in front of homeowners searching for specific features or services.
“The hardest part is to do the write-ups on the individual images,” says Lankford, who writes these descriptions himself. Although he’s passing down some Houzz duties to another associate on his team, these descriptions are difficult to outsource to someone who’s not directly involved with projects.
Lankford leverages keyword research to spotlight certain design elements (like stone walkways, pools, patios and retaining walls) and garden concepts (like low-maintenance, drought-resistant, or salt-tolerant) that homeowners might search for.
“Don’t be too wordy,” he says. “Just use simple descriptions.”
Collaborate with clients.
Although Houzz’s greatest value is as a marketing channel to generate leads, Lankford also uses it as a design tool to collaborate with his clients. He encourages them to create Ideabooks on Houzz by saving images of garden styles that appeal to their preferences. Then, he uses their examples to guide his recommendations.
“If they’re mentioning a stone patio, well, there’s an awful lot of ways to build a stone patio,” he says. “The more images we have that (show what) the client likes, we can pick up the feel and style that they’re after.”
Lankford’s Houzz profile boosts his firm’s presence, both locally and internationally.
“We’re exposed to folks all over the world,” says Lankford, who has seen articles featuring his firm’s work as far as Russia, Scandinavia and Asia.
Lankford knows that word-of-mouth and websites alone are not enough to grow a business in today’s tech-connected world. To generate and close more leads today, landscape professionals need a strong online presence on platforms like Houzz that can accelerate their exposure to more prospects.
“We flat-out tell our contractors to get on Houzz,” Lankford says. “It’s been the most successful marketing tool we use. It’s much less expensive than creating a custom website, and it’s very easy (and free) to set up. We tell everybody to set up an account on Houzz, and they’ll get the exposure they need.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Ohio.
In the fall of 2017, Crawford Landscaping Group pushed its chainsaws to the limit as crews worked 65-hour weeks to clean up debris from Hurricane Irma. On a daily basis, the Naples, Florida-based contractor dedicated its crew members to use chainsaws to trim debris and trees in the aftermath of the storm.
“It was not easy,” says Phil Buck, arbor division manager. “We probably had 60 people running chainsaws at any one time during Hurricane Irma.”
However, Buck didn’t have 60 people on his tree care crew. He had a team of about 22 at that point. But with increased demand for cleanup work, Buck invited nearly 40 of Crawford’s maintenance crew members to join the tree care crews to speed up cleanup work for more than 100 clients who needed help.
While most of the maintenance crew had been at Crawford for a while, few of them had any experience operating a chainsaw. So, maintenance crew members received a quick crash course from experienced tree care workers on safe equipment operation, and the managers kept a close eye on them.
Although the equipment training for crew members was minimal and some equipment was lost, Buck says the company was fortunate it had no injuries and got the work done on time.
But the situation did serve as a wake-up call to improve training efforts.
“We had a brainstorming session after we were done with the initial cleanup on what we needed to do differently,” he says. “Chainsaw safety was one of them.”
Hosting big training events for cross-training and new hires is important, but contractors say it’s also good to remind crew members throughout the year on safe equipment operation.
Cory Lester, owner and arborist at Lyndon Tree Care & Landscaping in South Hadley, Massachusetts, says he hosts a weekly safety meeting with his crews to discuss various topics: electrical hazards, personal protective equipment, chipper safety and chainsaw safety, to name a few.
“We go over all the safety features on the chainsaw, how to start the chainsaw correctly, go over kickback – what that means and how to prevent it – and proper footing,” he says.
Lester’s foreman will gather the crew members together to discuss a safety topic for about 15 minutes either before heading out to jobs or during a lunch break once a week. They use a safety book from the Tree Care Industry Association to find discussion topics. Some topics are repeated, but he says that stresses their importance. Although that might get redundant, he says it’s more important to give workers a refresher to avoid complacency.
At Crawford, Buck also hosts bi-weekly safety meetings with his tree care crews. “It’s not always easy to find a topic to talk about, but a lot of times it might be driven by an accident,” Buck says. “Normally, we recycle the chainsaw and chipper safety and driving thing pretty frequently, three times a year.”
In between safety meetings, it’s also a good practice to teach safety lessons on site and in the trucks, particularly when it comes to equipment.
Jared Alexander, an arborist at Vermont-based Treeworks, says he likes to call out unsafe practices as they happen. So, if he sees a crew member who has a bad position while using a chainsaw, he stops the crew member on the spot and calls out the issue.
“If I see they’re in a position where they’re not balanced, you stop the guy and ask him if he sees the situation,” Alexander says. “There are so many things that could happen – what you’re cutting (could) come back and hit you. So, you ask them if they see the situation and if there’s anything they could do to be safer.”
If a situation might affect several crew members, he says he stops all operations to have a quick safety talk on site. For example, if a seasonal crew member picks up a branch that gets caught in a climber’s rope as he walks it over to a chipper, he would stop everyone to point out the potential danger. While this scenario might seem small, he says there’s nothing small when considering the consequences if the branch pulled the rope the wrong way with the climber still in the tree.
“These are not little things. These are very important and have severe consequences,” he says. “Cases like this, you don’t just bark and point. You shut down. You get the chipper turned off and explain what’s happening and what could go wrong because it needs to be on forefront of mind.”
He notes that employees generally respond well to these impromptu meetings. Alexander advises continuing to have these conversations with crew members back at the shop or in trucks so there’s constant dialogue.
At Lyndon Tree Care, Lester says he encourages his co-workers to join tree groups or tree climber groups on Facebook where users share knowledge on safety with one another. He says some people will even post news articles about accidents that happened in the field, which provides his crew members with a social platform to discuss safety practically.
“It helps a lot,” Lester says. “You can really look at accidents you might not even think about – examples of guys doing dumb stuff, so your guys know not to do that.”
Buck adds that communicating equipment safety tips with new and seasoned crew members alike is key to preventing accidents.
“Training should be an ongoing thing,” he says. “Build a culture of safety every day.”
Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm.
Over the years, the landscape industry’s C-suite has undergone a significant change. While the basic skills required for running a business haven’t changed, there has been a seismic shift in what’s needed for today’s landscape business owner to stand out.
Being the hardest working member of your team isn’t enough. Forward-thinking CEOs need to be more willing than ever to seek and try anything that makes them and their companies better. In meetings with owners across the country, I’m seeing a keen interest in performance, an intense focus on issues and an ability to inspire action. On top of that, a new generation of CEOs as savvy message managers are harnessing the power of communication and technology to create more awareness and appreciation of what our industry represents to the public. And by giving and sharing their time and resources, these CEOs are having a positive impact on their communities and the world around them.
Here are their secrets:
1. They empower others.
Smart CEOs know that power comes from expanding the power of those around you. Learning to let go will allow you to build trust with your teams, be more productive and enable talented and committed people to contribute to your company’s big picture.
2. Keep employees engaged with continuing education.
Providing growth opportunities at all levels of a company is a high priority for forward-thinking CEOs. Proactive owners offer continuing education, not just in professional and technical certifications, but training in technology and business. Developing talent will improve the overall quality of your workforce and distinguish your company as a sought-after career home.
3. Focus on long-term profitability.
Instead of short-term profit, learn to operate in two spheres at the same time, striking the right balance between growth and profitability. Reverse engineer your way back from where you want to end up, preparing for tomorrow while simultaneously focusing on results you need today.
4. Give back.
Corporate matching gift programs, philanthropy, charitable works and overall community support are instrumental to how the public ultimately perceives your business. Having a corporate social responsibility program is one of the best ROI decisions you’ll ever make. Annual days of service, donated time and materials for public gardens, parks, hospices, military families, Habitat for Humanity and other humanitarian efforts create a better, more innovative culture and makes your company a more compelling place to work.
5. Create a home-grown talent circle.
Because so many companies face labor and talent shortages, reskilling and promoting existing employees are revitalizing bench-building strategies. Training employees for upward or lateral mobility has lots of advantages. You send a message to other employees that their performance is valued and actionable and that you want to motivate and incentivize high performers to achieve and contribute more.
6. Build loyalty and trust.
Your ultimate journey to the top will depend on your ability to lead from behind. Generating excitement around shared values is an evolving journey. CEOs in our industry who respond to the needs of the team are finding substantially increased organizational success with engaged, more self-reliant people doing their best work.
7. Have sound financial and ethical practices.
Managing for organizational integrity isn’t just about doing the right thing. In today’s litigious environment, an integrity-based system will offset risk, misconduct, deal responsibly when things go wrong and put long-term relationships over short-term profits. This can be applied as settling disputes by giving in rather than jeopardizing longer term relationships and reputation or replacing dead plants even when they are not the cause rather than jeopardize the trust built over time.
8. Stay on top of the game.
There are six organizations every CEO in pursuit of moving their organization faster should consider joining: professional networking groups, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, Young President’s Organization, Vistage and National Association of Landscape Professionals peer groups. These groups will not only make it less lonely at the top and help you become more resilient, but they offer great guest speakers and learning events, go deep on substance and offer immeasurable opportunities to build strategic win-win alliances.
Bruce Wilson is principal of green industry consulting firm Bruce Wilson & Company.