Storm effects

Departments - L&L Insider

Landscapers and industry associations discuss the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in Houston and Hurricane Irma in Florida.

October 10, 2017

Some businesses in the industry, like Davey Tree, relocated workers to perform storm cleanup jobs in Texas and Florida.
Photo courtesy of Davey Tree

Lawn & Landscape reached out to landscapers and industry associations in Texas and Florida to learn about the damage from two devastating storms in August and September.

Hurricane Harvey hits hard.

Days after Hurricane Harvey hit Houston in late August, many Houston businesses closed temporarily – including landscape contractors.

“Everyone (was) simply shut down,” said Jason Mathers, owner of Houston-based Monarch Landscape Management. He said many Texans and Houstonians “stood tall” the week the storm hit, helping one another to safety and protecting property during flooding.

Most businesses, including landscapers, managed to return to work by mid-September in Houston as floodwaters from Hurricane Harvey subsided. “Most of the water subsided (by Sept. 8),” Mathers said. “(But Monarch) returned to work Aug. 31, and worked purposefully ever since Harvey’s departure. My team accepted the challenge.”

Although floodwaters subsided and road conditions improved, cleanup efforts remained underway at many residential and commercial properties in Houston throughout September. The Texas Nursery & Landscape Association kept busy in late August and early September by connecting with its members in the Houston area to make sure they were OK.

“We had just been calling everyone, at least leaving a message or email to see how (our members were) doing,” said Amy Graham, president of TNLA. “We really need to try to make connections (with members) the best we can. When people connect and talk to someone who has gone through this, it makes all the difference in the world moving forward.”

Graham anticipates the flooding in some parts of Houston could have an impact on the color of plants in landscapes. “The effects of the water and what that will do to trees and landscapes is yet to be determined,” she said.

While Mathers said his home and business property were in good condition, a handful of his employees experienced severe flooding. “We (had) 13 team members displaced from their apartments and homes. We are supporting our families with financial aid and with donations from the Native Texas Nursery and Weathermatic.”

Many other Houston-based landscapers like Mathers also prepared as best as they could, according to TNLA.

Widespread power outages in Florida caused a large need for generators to get business back up and running.
Photo courtesy of Custom Tree Care

“People knew to prepare, so that was good news,” Graham said. “Many of our companies prepared to the degree they could. But we just didn’t know that the hurricane would sit on top (of the city) that long, and some of the aftereffects of the storm could not have been predicted.”

Mathers said having a hurricane recovery plan proved helpful for his business. Monarch developed a hurricane recovery plan in 2008 after Hurricane Ike. “For us, the plan worked. We minimized property damage and had equipment and people staged, ready to go in the event of the storm,” he said.

This involved moving equipment to places that were less likely to flood. He also advises other companies to assess their hurricane recovery plans, or if they don’t have a plan to make one.

Hurricane Irma sweeps through florida.

Before Hurricane Irma even hit Florida, the Florida Nursery, Growers and Landscape Association responded by developing a web page with hurricane preparation tips, along with links to report needs or to provide assistance to FNGLA members.

“We’re trying to match people who can give with people who need,” said Jennifer Nelis, director of marketing and public relations at FNGLA. “It’s sad to see people incredibly impacted, but it’s also nice to see those who are focused on helping those who need help.”

Greg Gathers, owner of Custom Tree Care in Topeka, Kansas, is one of those individuals who came to help. His tree care company operates a disaster response division, which he introduced at his company after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“(Helping with Katrina) opened my eyes to a completely different side of the business versus what I knew up until that point, which was the residential side,” Gathers said.

Gathers mobilized 22 of his crew members, along with eight bucket trucks, five grapple trucks and some skid-steer loaders, to help with cleanup in Broward and Miami-Dade counties. He said his crew members would be paid for working in the two counties to clear roadways with skid-steer loaders.

Several landscapers in Florida shared their stories of how Irma impacted them. Degory Roll, owner of Palm Garden Nursery & Landscaping in Brevard County, noted that his company was still in the recovery process as of Sept. 19, trying to meet customer needs.

"This issue is not fully resolved," he said. "Every customer's need is different immediately after the storm and keeping in contact right before and after the storm will put a lot of customers at ease since you are playing a role of a first responder to protect your customers’ investments.”

George Kennedy, president of Terra-Scape Enterprises in Edgewater, said his employees performed a lot of cleanup work after the storm. While power outages caused some setbacks, he said damages at customer sites from Hurricane Irma were not nearly as bad as what he saw last fall during Hurricane Matthew. "When Matthew came through last year, it took us almost two months to get properties cleaned up," he said. "(But with Irma), the debris and damage wasn't nearly as bad."

FNGLA also encourages those who can help to visit to provide supplies.

“If you have resources and are willing to provide that, if you can ship things, if you have a truck, please post that to the I Can Help page,” Nelis said. “That will be beneficial.”

Eyes on the present and future

Appealing to younger consumers was a main topic at RISE’s annual meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. By Brian Horn

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla.–A big win on pesticide regulations in Maryland’s Montgomery County and a focus on appealing to a younger generation were two key takeaways from the 2017 Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment Annual Meeting.

“This is one of the biggest wins in many years for this organization,” said Aaron Hobbs, president of RISE, about Montgomery County, where local officials tried to ban cosmetic lawn care products.

Hobbs said RISE focused on getting local businesses involved and “packed the courtroom” to help convey their message about responsible pesticide use.

“We learned a lot of positive things that when the next Montgomery County comes, we’ll be ready,” Hobbs said.

RISE’s annual meeting in Florida focused on embracing changes within the industry, including the new generation.
Photo by Brian Horn

Hobbs also said 90 percent of RISE’s resources protect the lawn space because people won’t put up with cockroaches in their house, but they will tolerate weeds in their lawn. Even though most of the resources go to protect the lawn, the group must be unified when problems arise.

“If we don’t stand together, we’ll get pulled apart,” he said.

Embrace technology.

Failure to adapt to technology in the workplace can cause you problems in your current job, and may leave you searching for one, said Gina Schreck of SocialKNX, a content and digital marketing company. Schreck, president of the company and one of the keynote speakers at the event, cited a study that said one in three people will be unemployable or out of business because they refuse to adapt. “To me that’s a frightening number,” she said.

Schreck said video is king right now, and landscapers and LCOs should use that to their advantage. She recommended contractors think of the 10 questions they’re asked the most, and make one-minute videos to answer them. Those videos don’t need to be professionally shot.

“We want real people telling us answers,” she said.

A younger perspective.

Karen Reardon, vice president of public affairs at RISE, said the group ran a social media campaign geared toward reaching young families. The “And Not Or” campaign ran from April to June on Facebook and Twitter targeting millennial families in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Reardon said the results from the campaign proved that the next-generation homeowner wants to hear from the industry. Negative conversations about member products also decreased from the same time in 2016 compared to the pilot’s 2017 performance time.

“If we don’t stand together, we’ll get pulled a part.” — Aaron Hobbs, president, RISE

The idea behind the campaign was to get the message out about the positives of a healthy lawn and change the perception about chemicals to a younger generation. This is in line with the group’s effort to be more proactive on issues.

“When they are making those decisions – taking their own money and buying a product we provide and have to decide how they will control pests or grow their own tomatoes – (we want to) give them the opportunity to be engaged by us,” Hobbs said.

The right choices.

When Joe Dittmar was watching the World Trade Center’s North Tower burn from the 105th floor of the South Tower on 9/11, he knew he had to get out of the building. He detailed how he was in a meeting in a room with no windows and at 8:48 a.m. the lights flickered. No noise or movement of the South Tower. Someone told them they needed to evacuate, but the group figured it wasn’t anything major.

Eventually they were convinced to come out of the room where he saw the destruction of the North Tower.

Having still thought it was an accident and not a terrorist attack, one of his colleagues decided to use the restroom before leaving the South Tower. As Dittmar made his way down flights of stairs, the second plane hit the floor he was just on, killing his colleague.

Dittmar said his speech had nothing to do with the industry, but the lesson everyone should take from his talk was that every decision, no matter how small, can have major results.

“Making the right decision is not easy,” he said. “But if you trust source data, you can make successful critical decisions. You don’t need to be on the 105th floor during a terrorist attack. You can be anywhere and by listening you can make critical decisions that have effects on peers and partners.”

He can still recall vivid details from the event, including passing rescue workers on the 35th floor who were going up to save people, even though the workers recognized there was a slim chance of survival.

“The looks in their eyes told the story,” he said. “They knew.”

TruGreen acquires Lawn Dawg

TruGreen expanded its reach in the northeast by acquiring New Hampshire based-Lawn Dawg last month. Lawn Dawg had 10 branches throughout Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Connecticut and New York. All Lawn Dawg locations will be closed and integrated into the nearest TruGreen branch location, with some employees retained.

“The majority of Lawn Dawg associates were offered positions at TruGreen with the exception of Lawn Dawg corporate and call center associates, and a select number of field associates who did not pass TruGreen’s pre-hire screening requirements,” Simpson said, adding that TruGreen offered immediate benefits and will honor original hire dates so that associates can keep their tenure.

Jim Campanella, president, started the company in 1997 after his previous company, Barefoot Grass was acquired by TruGreen. Brighton Partners, a private equity firm based in Nashua, New Hampshire, acquired a 70 percent stake of Lawn Dawg in 2009, according to a 2009 Lawn & Landscape article.

Lawn Dawg had more than 100 employees and posted more than $14 million in 2016 revenue.

Water knowledge

The 2017 Irrigation Show kicks off Nov. 6, in Orlando, Florida, with extensive education sessions and certification opportunities.

Events from past shows, like the Pitcher’s Mound, will return to this year’s Irrigation Show, hosted by the Irrigation Association.

Attendees will have the chance to take certification exams throughout the week and attend education sessions on pumps and soils, agriculture, landscape and golf and business basics.

Photo courtesy of the Irrigation Association

The general session kicks off with a keynote speech by Doug Rauch, former president of Trader Joe’s. Rauch has 14 years of experience running the grocery chain, and will share insights into leadership and building a brand in a competitive marketplace.

The Pitcher’s Mound gives entrepreneurs a chance to have their new products evaluated by successful industry professionals.

After a 10-minute pitch and a Q&A session, the “umpires” will decide whether the product is a “strikeout,” “base hit,” or “home run.” Attendees are invited to watch this event inspired by the TV show “Shark Tank.”

New products will be on display at the New Product Contest on Wednesday, Nov. 8, with winners announced the following morning.

Ask the Experts: Disaster prep

Is your business prepared for the worst-case scenario?

Q: The recent hurricanes got me thinking about our back-up plans for the office and basically, we don’t have much of one. What plans should we have in place in case of disasters or major business interruptions?

A: Think about what you would do if you couldn’t get to your office, or access your computers or files. Do you have systems in place that would let you recover faster?

Make a list of what all you would want to back up. Some of these are obvious, but some are often overlooked.

1. Accounting Software.

Especially in tough times, you want money to continue to flow in, so that means being able to invoice or at least collect on receivables. But you also need to keep up with payables. Some products include offsite backup – but it does need to be set up.

2. Website.

It’s common for business owners to rely on their webmaster to have a backup of their website, but this is often not within the scope of the webmaster duties. Check with your webmaster to get a backup of your website files so that you are protected against hackers, hosting problems and more.

3. Email.
© Karl Spencer | Thinkstock

Your email should be backed up daily, if not hourly. The location of your email file varies, and some people have more than one.

It’s worth double-checking to see if this file is included in your regular backup routine. You may also want to create a separate, more frequent backup routine for this critical file.

4. Online Bank and Vendor Account Information.

Most banks and vendors have made it super easy to download PDF versions of your invoices and statements. Get used to doing this on a regular basis and be sure you do that before your access to them expires or becomes an extra charge.

5. Local and Cloud Drives.

Every business’ technology setup is different. If you have a server, chances are you’re getting it backed up regularly. If you have employees, make sure each of their hard drives is backed up so they don’t lose any files that are not on the server. If you have your files centralized in the cloud, make sure you have a backup of those files in an off-site location and/or in the cloud.

6. Contact Information.

In an emergency, it is critical to have access to all the contact information for your employees and clients. Make sure that lives in the cloud somewhere so that you always have it at your fingertips and make sure employees know how to reach you and know the system to share information.

Periodically check the accuracy and effectiveness of your backups and see if you can recover a file or two. If not, you’re back to the drawing board.

Being a business owner is all about taking calculated risks. Having all your important business data backed up helps you reduce your risks and protect what’s perhaps your most important business asset.

Monica Muir, Muir & Associates

NALP Consultant Member

Ask the Experts is brought to you in partnership with NALP, the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Questions are fielded through NALP’s Trailblazers, the industry’s leading company mentoring program. For more questions visit