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Lawn & Landscape Staff | November 5, 2013

Conservation loves a crisis

America has a problem with its water. Landscapers are part of the solution.

By Chuck Bowen

LAS VEGAS – I spent a couple days in early October at the WaterSmart Innovations conference. Mostly, attendees come from municipal and regional water agencies. There are also plumbers, landscape contractors and the EPA (except when the government is shut down and they can’t attend).

Consider it a TED conference for water use. It’s the only meeting of its kind where all those folks can get together and talk about the new programs, technology and tactics they’re using to conserve water. The format is fast-paced: Each day opens with the small trade show, and then half-hour sessions run from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Each presentation is quick and focused, and tracks run from landscape water use to marketing to codes to alternative sources.

The conference is the brainchild of Doug Bennett, conservation manager at the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the smartest guy in a room full of a thousand smart people. I caught up with him after he won the Water Star Award from the Alliance for Water Education to ask him how landscapers fit into the water question.

“Landscapers are the most critical stakeholders in my area. We can’t get where we’re going by simply regulating everything out of existence,” Bennett says, citing the sometimes tenuous relationship between landscape contractors, utilities and regulators.

“Everything,” he explained, means agencies reacting to a drought by banning all outdoor water use, as one example. “Give people an outlet,” he says. “Running small businesses out of business is not a way to make friends and influence people.”

Instead, he says, agencies and contractors alike should use the drought as an opportunity to increase business and implement long-term conservation measures in one pass. In his case, he used the drought as a tool to increase conversions from rotor-based irrigation to drip systems. “Conservation,” he told me, “loves a crisis.”

WaterSmart Innovations is not a conference designed specifically for landscapers – though there’s plenty there for them to take in. And it was interesting to hear the perceptions of landscapers from many attendees. On the level, it was mostly neutral, but they see contractors as an integral part of whatever solution – or solutions – to the water crisis we come up with.

One of the most interesting sessions I attended was a study of water restrictions and water budgets for landscape contractors in Austin.


Lesson in Texas.
Since 2007, the city of Austin has been under stage two restrictions for two years, so homeowners can only water once per week. So, no matter what the weather is, everyone on a certain street waters on Tuesday, another neighborhood Wednesday and so on.

Landscapers in the city asked to be exempt from the rule, and to be allowed to water as plant materials required. They agreed and developed a pilot program. Large-scale commercial properties were given quarterly water budgets based on historical ET measurements. Rain events and system efficiency (beyond a system working well enough) weren’t taken into account.

The city held a lottery for interested applicants. Out of 90 total applications, just 15 made it into the program. Turnage says 63 percent of properties failed an initial inspection of the irrigation system, mostly due to being in poor condition, mostly.

The first group of applicants were water management companies; the second round comprised landscape maintenance companies. Properties were dismissed if they went over budget two quarters in a year or by 50 percent any one quarter.

Turns out, the restrictions work better than the budgets: Control properties showed greater water savings under the restrictions than the new program. Turnage says water management companies performed well, but aren’t widespread, even in Austin. Almost all the companies that failed – 94 percent – were landscapers.

David Turnage, conservation program specialist at Austin Water, says that the best results depended on the person in the field managing the system day to day, and that most companies and property owners found it easier to operate under the restrictions.


Other interesting notes:
Congrats to IA: The Irrigation Association was recognized as an EPA WaterSense Partner of the Year for the group’s work to promote the program to professional contractors. IA is the first certifying organization to win the award, and association president Bob Dobson was on hand to accept.

“The EPA and WaterSense recognize the contributions the IA has made to the WaterSense program. Efficient use of our water supplies and maintaining a healthy landscape, including turf, can go hand in hand. They are not necessarily contradictory,” Dobson told me after the ceremony. “Our future is becoming part of the solution to the water supply problem.”

Cash money: The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California has started paying rebates directly to contractors. You need a background check and a few other hurdles, but customers can now sign over monetary incentives on system upgrades, etc., directly over to you.

Number crunchers: California is tying water savings to energy savings, because it takes so much electricity and fuel to pump, truck and pipe it from the mountains to population centers in Southern California. Utilities are looking at the “avoided cost of water” to see how much money is being saved (in energy not used, etc.) thanks to conservation efforts in the state, and also working to quantify the amount and cost of water lost to failing infrastructure.

Let’s go outside: Indoor water use has been squeezed like a sponge (pun intended) as far as it can go, so outdoor use is going to be a greater focus for water agencies, utilities and regulators. That’s good and bad for contractors: Good because it means there’s even more opportunity for them to position themselves as water management advisers, and bad because it means the worst parts of the industry are going to be highlighted and exploited as inefficient and wasteful.

Cool new product: On that point, Peter Carlson, vice president of product management at HydroPoint showed me the Belkin Echo, which can detect changes in a home’s water pressure of .002 PSI. The sensor connects via wifi to a web-based app that tells the homeowner in real time how much water he’s using, where he’s using it and how much he’s currently paying in charges for that water. It should come out in the spring.

The nation’s front yard gets wet: Friend of the magazine Brian Vinchesi was on hand talking about his work to renovate the irrigation system at the National Mall in Washington. Stay tuned for our November issue for more details on that massive project.

Water-only: In Florida especially, there’s a move by companies already in pest control to more water management services (Massey’s recent push into irrigation services comes to mind) because they are big enough to handle the training and marketing of those people and services to an existing base. Standalone water management companies can make a go of it in the large commercial/HOA space, but aren’t viable in the single-family home market.

Conclusion: Water is still the most pressing worry for many Americans, and it’s not going to get any better any time soon. Landscape contractors are positioned well to act as water advisers and really help their clients manage this scarce resource effectively. As Warren Gorowitz, vice president of sustainability and conservation at Ewing, told me on the show floor: “Plants don’t waste water. People do.”
 


 
Research

Buy, buy, buy

US landscaping products’ demand is expected to grow nearly 7 percent annually through 2017, according to a study conducted by The Freedonia Group. That would result in sales of $6.5 billion.

The main reason for the growth cited in the study was improved construction activity, particularly in the number of new housing completions. An acceleration in sales of existing homes, a rebound in construction expenditures in the office and commercial market and a drop in office vacancy rates will also support gains, the study said.

Landscaping products encompass decorative products, hardscaping products, outdoor structures and other goods used to improve the appearance or function of an outdoor space.

Visit bit.ly/landscapegoods to view the complete study.



Get with the times

Online marketing and advertising firm Yodle recently conducted its Small Business Sentiment survey One subject touched upon was technology, and the results showed small business owners aren’t adopting to technology or marketing approaches.  

Although 51 percent use technology to help with accounting operations, that number dwarfs technology utilization for appointment booking and scheduling (39 percent), customer relationship management (34 percent) and acquisition marketing (14 percent). More alarming was that 52 percent of owners don’t have a website or and only 56 percent said they measure the results of their marketing programs.

The numbers somewhat match up with Lawn & Landscape’s 2013 State of the Industry report when it comes to how websites and marketing are utilized. We asked contractors what marketing methods they use to obtain new business and only 52 percent said they use their website/email marketing.

However, 72 percent of companies who gross more than $200,000 used websites/email marketing, while only 37 percent of companies that grossed less than $200,000 did. Visit bit.ly/llyodle for more results from Yodle’s survey and read the October 2013 issue of L&L for more results from our SOI survey.
 



Letters

Contagious gratitude

Dear Marty,
We don’t often fully appreciate what we get for free. For about 10 years now I have been reading Lawn & Landscape magazine, and your column is the one thing that I most look forward to. So after reading your September column, even though I have not asked for help, I realized that a “thank you” was in order. Probably one of the things that helped me the most was your suggestion awhile back to take time during the off season to analyze one’s marketing ROI. I have learned a lot from you.

Thanks!

Randall Merriott, Irrigation Dynamics, Lubbock, Texas


Randall,
Well, you just made my day. I just learned something from you too. A thank you NEVER gets old.  I’m going to brighten someone’s day like you just did for me by sending a thank you email out.

Thanks buddy,

Marty


 
Phil Sarros, president of Sarros Landscaping, just finished the Lake Lanier Sprint Triathlon in Georgia – a quarter-mile swim, 13-mile bike ride and 3.1 mile run. “It felt great to set the goal and finish,” Sarros said. “I’m looking to complete an Ironman Triathlon in spring of 2015. My goals between now and then are multiple half-marathons, marathons and Olympic distance triathlons.” Sarros wrote L&L’s August cover story, which covered his struggles with stress as a business owner. You can read the story by visiting bit.ly/llsarros.
 


 
Condoleezza Rice to give keynote address

FARMINGTON HILLS, Mich. – Condoleezza Rice, the 66th Secretary of State of the United States, has been named keynote speaker of The Work Truck Show 2014. Her address is part of the President’s Breakfast & NTEA Annual Meeting on Thursday, March 6.

The Work Truck Show 2014 takes place March 5-7, 2014, at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis. Educational programming, including the Green Truck Summit, begins March 4. The Work Truck Show is produced annually by NTEA, The Association for the Work Truck Industry.

Appointed by President George W. Bush in 2005, Rice was the second woman and first African American woman to hold the post of Secretary of State. She served through January 2009.

Her political career also included serving as President Bush’s National Security Advisor from 2001 to 2005 and National Security Council member under President George H. W. Bush from 1989 to 1991, where she served as Director, then Senior Director of Soviet and East European Affairs and Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs.

Rice’s speech at The Work Truck Show will include insights from both the political arena as well as her educational and managerial career. Rice is a Professor of Political Economy in the Graduate School of Business, the Thomas and Barbara Stephenson Senior Fellow on Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, and a Professor of Political Science at Stanford University.

“Condoleezza Rice has a diverse leadership background that will inspire our NTEA members and other Work Truck Show attendees,” says Mark Woody, NTEA 2014 Convention chairman.

“She follows in the footsteps of several high-profile leaders who have appeared at the President’s Breakfast and NTEA Annual Meeting, including Presidents George H.W. Bush in 2004 and George W. Bush in 2012.”
 


 
Executive director of Connecticut Green Industries retires

Bob Heffernan, executive director of Connecticut Green Industries, will retire this fall after 24 years of service.

Heffernan and his husband, Allen Zeiner, will start a new life together as owners of the White Horse Inn, a 25-room bed-and-breakfast at the entrance to the Sugarbush Mt. Ellen ski area in Fayston-Waitsfield, Vt.

The Connecticut Nursery and Landscape Association, Connecticut Florists Association and Connecticut Greenhouse Growers Association will conduct searches to name his replacement.
 


 
Greenery, Noon brother expand

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. and MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – The Greenery has purchased the assets of Elliott’s Landscape of Savannah, Ga. The Greenery acquired the company Sept. 1 to more effectively serve the Coastal Empire’s landscaping needs. 

Elliott’s Landscape is a family-owned and operated landscape maintenance company that specializes in commercial and residential landscape design, build and maintenance.

The company’s owner Russell Elliott and his staff will continue serving their clients, but will do so as employee owners of The Greenery. Elliott will work closely with current Greenery employees Jim van Dijk and Paul Gray to oversee The Greenery’s daily landscape maintenance operations in the Savannah market.

In addition, Noon Turf Care acquired Fuller Green Lawn Care of Shrewsbury, Mass. Fuller Green, owned and operated by Jerry Fuller, has been servicing the Boston West area for more than 10 years. The company offers service and products to a large base of residential and commercial customers in eastern part of Massachusetts.

“We are proud to also welcome owner and president of Fuller Green, Jerry Fuller to our sales team as our new commercial sales manager. Mr. Fuller has done a phenomenal job building a quality customer-centric service and we are ready to continue this tradition with him,” says Christopher Noon, CEO of Noon Turf Care.