Innovation drives the lawn care industry

Three lawn care professionals recall their entry into the market and where the service stands today.

Noted college administrator E. Gordon Gee, current president of West Virginia University, was quoted in an interview, “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.” 

Through the years lawn care – a backbone of the green industry – has shown itself capable of evolving and using technology to meet changing consumer, regulatory and business demands. This willingness to innovate and adapt is why lawn care is one of the most recession proof market segments.

IPM, diagnostics, digital imaging and grassroots communication have transformed the old norms of broadcast lawn care applications, and are considered a prescription for healthy turf, shrubs and trees.

According to a survey by Lawn & Landscape, lawn care is the third fastest growing service in the landscape industry with more than 80 percent of its readers performing lawn care services.

The Lawn & Landscape’s Technology Conference will spotlight the lawn care industry and offer in-depth sessions on topics ranging from overcoming the threat of pesticide bans, recruiting talent and the digital evolution.

Who are the innovative lawn care professionals that will share their valuable insights and experience with attendees? Let’s get to know speakers behind the session topics at the Lawn & Landscape Technology Conference.

Eric M. Wenger

Eric M. Wenger, President

Complete Lawn Care, Inc.

Laytonsville, MD 

Q: How did you become an LCO?

A:  The economy in the late 1970s and early 1980s was not that great. In fact, it was quite poor and so was I. Newly married in 1980, I decided college wasn’t going to be possible and I needed a job that paid well on a high school diploma. Lawn care offered me that opportunity.

Q: What's the highlight of your career?

A: When I became owner of my own lawn care company franchise in 1984. It was unexpected and quite the leap from lawn technician to owner.

Q: What one career moment do you wish you could do over?

A: When I became owner of my own lawn care company franchise in 1984, and I went from lawn technician to owner. I really wish someone had shown me that just because I could do the work, didn’t mean I could run the entire business. Not without a deeper understanding of business operations, anyway.  There were a lot of lessons learned the hard way. Truthfully, our attorney and accountant tried to talk me out of it, but I was hard-headed and didn’t listen.                                                                                                                                    

Q: How is your profession viewed among your peers?

A: It’s kind of interesting, so many of my peers went to college, got degrees and ended up as teachers, scientists, lawyers, accountants and even doctors. But so many of them came to me to help them with their lawn and landscape problems, and many of them are still my customers to this day. Some even worked for me part-time during summers when they weren’t teaching. I think they really respect me as an important part of their support network when they need professional help that they can trust.

Q: What's the best thing about being an LCO?

A: This is a tough question in today’s world. My typical answer is that being an LCO allows me to be a leader in protecting our environment while providing a valued service throughout our community. Being an LCO allows me to pay employees that don’t necessarily have a formal education a much higher wage than they might get in other jobs, giving them more opportunities to be successful for their own families.

Q: What one tip would you share with someone interested in becoming an LCO?

A: Don’t just focus on growth and production; take time with your family. Be sure to become active throughout your community, support local teams, schools and activities. Get to know your local political leaders and support them whenever you can. Make sure they know what is important to you as a business owner and as a member of the community.

Josh Willey

Josh Willey, Senior Vice President of Operations

Green Lawn Fertilizing/Green Pest Solutions

West Chester, PA

Q: How did you become an LCO?

A: I took a seasonal position as an aerator to help pay for school and never left the industry. The manager who hired me created an excellent culture and took the time to show me the opportunity the industry can provide if I was willing to work for it.

Q: What's the highlight of your career?

A: It’s difficult to point to one individual highlight without getting too personal! My “top 10 highlights” all involve the opportunity to be a part of a team members’ success story and seeing how it’s changed their life and the lives of their family.

Q: What one career moment do you wish you could do over?

A: My first meeting with my team of leaders when I took over a new region. The individual that had preceded me was now reporting to me, and in the room was my new boss and the president of the company. I tried to get a message across that would resonate with everyone and, predictably, I did not!

Q: How is your profession viewed among your peers?

A: Great question. Our industry isn’t the most prestigious from the outside and isn’t often thought of as option for ambitious young people. I felt some of that from peers in the early years but, as we’ve aged and realized what opportunity and career success really looks like, that has changed. I would say the profession is respected and, in some cases, envied by peers with mountains of student debt carried into their 40s and in fields with uncertain futures.   

Q: What's the best thing about being an LCO?

A: The people. Every business will hinge on its people, but not to the level we do in the lawn care industry. Finding, developing and partnering with people who share values, work ethic and pride in what we do is as good as it gets.  

Q: What one tip would you share with someone interested in becoming an LCO?

A: Don’t plan on taking vacations in the spring.

Ayman Taha

Ayman Taha, Chief Information Officer

TruGreen, Memphis, TN

Q: How did you become interested in information technology?

A: I’ve always been interested in electronics from my early years to a teen. I’ve always taken things apart to “fix them” as I wanted to learn how things worked. I can’t tell you how many Walkmans and VCRs I’ve taken apart! That led to me building my own PCs, starting with an IBM XT and later with an Intel AT286, 386 and 486 CPUs desktops.

Q: What's the highlight of your career?

A: In 2014, while at Avnet, I led a team that successfully deployed a state-of-the-art quoting and booking system along with an intelligent enterprise pricing engine, processing upwards of $6 billion in sales annually. This initiative won a CIO award for the company. What made this initiative special is that after $2 multi-million dollar failed implementations were led by two of the largest Solutions Integrators, I proposed a path and led the initiative to successful delivery internally.

Q: What one career moment do you wish you could do over?

A: I would’ve probably liked to add more focus on research and development.

Q: What do your family and friends think your job entails? 

A: They think I work with lots of magic buttons. This doesn’t just apply to family and friends, but others at work as well!

Q: What's the best thing about being in your field.?

A: The excitement of being around exciting new technologies.

Q: What one tip would you share with someone interested in getting into your field?

A: I would say never be satisfied with the level of knowledge you’ve acquired. Learn, learn and then learn more. Don’t ever think you’ve reached the height of knowledge and stop learning. Also, remember collaboration will always be part of your success, you’ll always be as good as the people you work with.

Q: What career would you consider if you weren't an information technology specialist?

A: Teaching.

The author is Executive Director of Project EverGreen

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