2020 and beyond

Departments - Words of Wilson

This decade is almost over, but there's still plenty to look forward to in the coming years.

November 18, 2019

Words of Wilson features a rotating panel of consultants from Bruce Wilson & Company, a landscape consulting firm.

As the green industry continues to evolve, what will define the way we frame the “landscape economy?” The nature of our business, labor intensive tasks and production and cost efficiencies are all under constant pressure. In conversations across our industry, from tailgate meetings to board rooms as landscape companies prepare their strategic plans for 2020 and beyond, speculation about the impact of automation and artificial intelligence, demographic shifts, operations optimization and smarter workplaces are front and center.

Of these, according to future ready conversations I’m having with clients, the two most powerful disruptors are private equity and automation.

Private Equity. Private equity’s impact on our wider industry culture can’t be underestimated. On the plus side, investment can be an opportunity for growth and have a measureable benefit to the companies in which it invests. But to an industry built largely by family entrepreneurs, PE-owned companies come with a shift in company culture and less time to adapt to change. The result is a new industry model, with fewer independently-owned companies propelled by a strong sense of purpose competing with equity-backed companies driven by a strong sense of EBITDA.

As we manage the economic impacts of these shifts, how can both landscape business models respond to competitive pressures?

Larger companies have competitive advantages if they:

  • Implement scalable training platforms in a more cost-effective manner than smaller companies
  • Create purchasing power due to their higher volume of purchases
  • Offer distinctive career path opportunities
  • Implement sophisticated marketing and communications strategies
  • Develop the ability to serve wider footprint via national/regional accounts
  • Remain agile


Smaller, independent companies can compete if they:

  • Engage in transformative thinking
  • Define and capitalize on their unique attributes
  • Emphasize their family culture, which many employees find attractive
  • Sustain an ownership ethos
  • Maintain a strong focus on work quality, employee and customer satisfaction
  • Sustain and leverage a relationship- and value-based culture
  • Brand their sense of community, an esprit de corps, for high employee and customer retention
  • Have a strong readiness mindset
  • Remain relevant


Automation. Smart systems, robotics, artificial intelligence, and personal and professional effectiveness tools continue to change the way we deliver our services, plus the way we forecast, track, measure and manage data. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly in terms of human cost, a digitally-driven organization will demand a different set of skills and a well-trained workforce that will support higher productivity.

Autonomous equipment and GPS-enabled mowers are being tested by many contractors and manufacturers’ investment in advanced research and development will continue to reconfigure machines and equipment.

The central question around technology is: when to buy it and how to apply it. Being first is a huge advantage. The “wait and see” types, who hesitate or are uncertain about cost and level of difficulty, will fall behind.

As employees work in more decentralized, cloud-driven businesses, with access to a greater menu of options and approaches, a greater emphasis will need to be placed on learning to help all employees work more effectively.

Lots of software and apps are being tried and implemented. Some work, others struggle to be incorporated. The sheer volume of options require that companies have a solid understanding of what the particular technology can do, how it will impact their organization and how they can leverage a digital mindset to remain competitive.

In a connected world, customers expect fast response, follow through and instant communication. Some companies are getting really good at this and others are lagging. In the future, the mindset we all need to have is: “fast beats slow”. L&L

Contact Bruce Wilson at bwilson@giemedia.com