Thursday, 17 August 2017

National Honey Bee Day Approaches, August 19: This Week’s Industry News

Bayer Feed a Bee Program

Want to keep up with the latest news in lawn care and landscaping? Check back every Thursday for a quick recap of recent happenings in the green industry.

National Honey Bee Day Approaches, August 19
August 19 is National Honey Bee Day, and Bayer’s Feed a Bee program will be working across the country to plant thousands of wildflowers from New York to California – all in one day. Since 2015, the Feed a Bee initiative has distributed over 3 billion wildflower seeds for pollinator plantings, establishing additional nutrition and habitat sources across the nation. This National Honey Bee Day, Feed a Bee will be celebrating with special planting events to add even more to the pollinator gardens at Bethpage State Park in Farmingdale, New York, North Central College in Naperville, Illinois, and the Placer Land Trust’s School Park Community Garden in Auburn, California.

Sponsored by the Bayer Bee Care Program, the $500,000 Feed a Bee initiative launched earlier this year with the goal to facilitate forage plantings or enhancements in every state by the end of 2018. More than 100 organizations have applied for funding to date, including wildlife agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools and universities, homeowners’ associations and more, illustrating the growing interest in pollinator health in the U.S. The three locations participating in National Honey Bee Day are part of the 58 projects that were awarded in the first round of funding alone.

Hunter Industries Announces Executive Promotions
Hunter Industries recently promoted Gene Smith to president of the landscape division. Twenty-one-year Hunter veteran Kevin Gordon moves back to the irrigation division and is promoted to director of marketing, for res-com and golf. He will be responsible for international as well as national markets. Ryan Williams was promoted to senior marketing manager for FX Luminaire. Sales for both irrigation and FX Luminaire will now report directly to Denise Hoover.

Penn State Picks Jon Johnson to Direct Pesticide Education
Penn State Extension recently appointed Jon Johnson, as its director of pesticide education. Johnson received his master’s degree in horticulture, as well as his bachelor’s degree in agronomy at Penn State. He has more than 25 years of experience in turf grass, vegetation management and weed control, most recently from working on the Penn State Roadside Vegetation Management Project.

Tal Coley to Head Government Affairs for AmericanHort
AmericanHort, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, recently hired Tal Coley as director of government affairs based in its Washington, D.C. office. Coley’s first initiative with AmericanHort is Impact Washington (http://ift.tt/2rYXX1E), a two-day summit this September with industry leaders from around the country designed to strategize on mission-critical issues – labor and immigration, horticultural research and innovation, and tax reform – and highlight legislative reforms and concerns with congressional members and their staffs. Prior to AmericanHort, Coley led congressional outreach efforts at Concerned Veterans for America.

Former Senator Kelly Ayotte Joins Caterpillar Board
Caterpillar has elected Kelly Ayotte as a member of the board of directors. Ayotte, is a former U.S. senator representing New Hampshire. She served as New Hampshire’s first female attorney general and, prior to that, she was deputy attorney general and chief of the Homicide Prosecution Unit in New Hampshire. “Kelly brings significant government experience to our board, which will be helpful for Caterpillar as we address a wide range of public policy issues,” said CEO Jim Umpleby. Ayotte joins 13 other members on Caterpillar’s board of directors and will be a member of the Public Policy & Governance Committee of the board.

EAB Spreads on Colorado Front Range
The Colorado State Forest Service confirmed evidence of the invasive tree pest emerald ash borer (EAB) within Lafayette city limits. EAB has also been confirmed in Boulder, Gunbarrel, and Longmont.  “Having a new detection in this area was not unexpected, but certainly highlights the need for Front Range communities to be planning now,” said Keith Wood, CSFS community forestry program manager. Lafayette is estimated to have approximately 22,000 total ash trees, with only about 3 percent of the overall ash population located on City-owned property.  With 97 percent of the ash tree population residing on private property, Lafayette residents are strongly encouraged to assess their trees, be educated on the available options, and make a plan.

Wedgworth’s Inc. Named as the Exclusive Distributor in Florida for Amp Agronomy
GCO, in partnership with Sod Solutions, has announced Wedgworth’s Inc. as the exclusive distributor of Amp Agronomy in the state of Florida. Wedgworth’s, Florida’s largest custom fertilizer dealer, offers users even more solutions for success with the addition of Amp Agronomy’s nutritional line to their existing portfolio of products.

Arborjet Announces New National Sales Manager for Retail and Indoor Growing Markets
Arborjet Inc. has announced that Mark Andrews has been appointed national sales manager for the retail and indoor growing markets. In this newly created role, Andrews will be responsible for developing and growing retail sales channel business and encouraging profitable revenue for the company’s line of horticulture products. Andrews brings a dedicated career of business development and retail channel experience to the company. Prior to his role at Arborjet, he spent 22 years with ITT working in the Innovation Lab as Global Director of Sales, and was also Global Sales Manager at Xylem, Inc.

Durante Rentals Listed on the 2017 Inc. 5000
Westchester-based Durante Rentals, with eight locations in the New York Tri-State area, has been selected to Inc. Magazine’s exclusive list of 5000 of America’s fastest-growing private companies – The Inc. 5000. After five straight years on the list, Durante Rentals is now a member of the prestigious Inc. 5000 Honor Roll.

VOLT Products Win PIA 2017 Award
VOLT has been awarded the 2017 Architectural SSL (Solid-State Lighting) Product Innovation Award (PIA) for our ShadowMaster and Coachman. These products were evaluated by a distinguished panel of 14 designers and lighting specialists skilled in product evaluation. The SSL PIA prgram awards manufacturers based on attributes, qualities, functionality, and/or performance beyond industry standards.

General Equipment Appoints New Vice President of Sales
General Equipment Company, manufacturers of light duty construction equipment, has announced Randy Dahl has joined their company as vice president of sales where he will have responsibility for the development and coordination of sales and marketing for national and independent accounts. He will also oversee long term sales strategy development as well as General Equipment’s sales representative organizations for North America. Prior to joining General Equipment, he served as Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Poly-Tex, Inc.

Read last week’s industry news roundup: RYAN Turf To Launch National Aerate Your Lawn Day

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How Do I Value My Business?

How Do I Value My Business?

Understanding the value of your business is a key component of the exit planning process because it defines the business that you will be exiting at some point. It is the beginning step in determining how to preserve and enhance the value until the planned or unplanned need to transition the ownership of the business.

Few topics are as poorly understood as business valuation. Despite common misperceptions, it is a complex topic that cannot be boiled down to simplistic formulas or rules of thumbs.

One often hears green industry business owners talk in terms of business valuation in terms of multiples of revenue or cash flow. In these scenarios, cash flows may mean several different things:

  • EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization)
  • Free cash flows (EBITDA less capital expenditures)
  • Seller’s discretionary income (EBITDA plus the seller’s compensation and perks, which have been expensed through the business).

While it is absolutely true that offers for the purchase of a business, especially a recurring revenue business like lawn care and some lawn maintenance businesses, may be made in the form of a price per dollar of revenue, that offer is actually the result of the buyer’s analysis and evaluation of the cash flow they can expect to generate from the acquisition.

In evaluating the cash flow that a buyer expects to generate from an acquisition, there are many factors to consider, including:

  • The size of the business
  • Historical profitability
  • Record of growth
  • Extent and condition of vehicles and equipment
  • Service pricing
  • Customer retention patterns
  • Type of customer (residential, commercial, governmental)
  • Revenue mix (recurring vs. nonrecurring)
  • Customer concentrations
  • The strength of the management team and employees
  • The importance of the owner/seller’s involvement in the business to its ongoing success
  • The age of the business
  • The geographic territory served
  • The competitive environment.

These factors will affect how the buyer evaluates the business and the risk associated with the buyer’s ability to achieve the expected cash flows from the business. The greater the perceived risk, the higher the discount rate or risk factor that seller will use in evaluating the cash flows and the lower the multiple of cash flow it will be willing to pay.

Some illustrations of this concept are as follows:

  • A landscape services company with an aging fleet may receive a lower multiple than one with a newer fleet because the buyer will factor into its assessment of cash flows the need to update the fleet.
  • A landscape company with a greater percentage of construction revenue will usually command a lower multiple because its revenue will be largely nonrecurring.
  • A lawn care company with pricing lower than the market and lower than that charged by the buyer will usually receive a lower multiple.
  • A lawn care company with a small number of relatively high-dollar commercial accounts will usually command a lower multiple than a similarly sized company with a large number of small-dollar residential customers because of the risks associated with the concentration. Losing one or two large customers may undermine the value of the potential acquisition.
  • A company that has higher margins because it pays below-market compensation and benefits will command a lower multiple than one that pays similarly to the potential buyer.

Some buyers will evaluate the business based solely on how it performs on a stand-alone basis, while others will evaluate it based on how it expects to integrate the acquired operations into its own.

These factors partially account for the wide range of business valuations. In the lawn and landscape industry, the majority of transactions have been somewhere in the range of two to five times cash flow. That is a pretty wide range and some transactions fall outside that range, particularly on the low end. It takes a very strong business to command a multiple at the high end of that range.

Ultimately, the market will value a business for sale. After all, fair market value is defined as “the price at which a property would change hands between a willing buyer and a willing seller when the former is not under any compulsion to buy, and the latter is not under any compulsion to sell, and both parties have reasonable knowledge of relevant facts.”

It is often desirable in the exit planning process, however, to obtain a business valuation or market assessment. The purpose of such a valuation is to estimate how the market will value the business when the time comes to sell. (There are other reasons to obtain a business valuation and the purpose of the valuation is important to communicate to the “valuator.”) Competent business valuations can be prepared by a variety of professionals, including business appraisers and some CPAs and business brokers.

The business valuation process should also help a business owner understand the value drivers of his or her business. In other words, what characteristics of his or her particular business tend to increase the value (or multiple) assigned to the business and what characteristics tend to decrease the value or multiple. Understanding those value drivers will enable the business owner to develop a plan to preserve and increase the value of the business over time.

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Wednesday, 16 August 2017

What’s In My Truck: Ruppert Landscape

Scott Sindall, Ruppert Landscape

As a field manager at Ruppert Landscape, Scott Sindall is responsible for the success of several landscape maintenance projects in the Forestville, Maryland, area, on top of other key tasks like hiring and training his crews, project planning and communication with clients. With his 2016 Ford F-450 Super Duty, Sindall is able to get around the area to oversee projects and transport necessities. Big enough to carry plant material in the truck bed and powerful enough to haul the trailer of equipment (which includes mowers, leaf vacuums, push blowers, two-cycle equipment and a variety of tools), the truck also seats six and features a custom aluminum dump body. Sindall says his branded vehicle serves as one of the branch’s primary marketing tools and that in a well-maintained state it has the power to “speak volumes” about Ruppert’s image and standards. We recently caught up with Sindall to find out more about his vehicle and how it helps him get the job done right.

Communication is so important — when appropriate. I carry my work phone (a Galaxy S7), work tablet (Galaxy Tab A), as well as my personal iPhone 7 Plus in order to communicate with my customers, crew and co-workers. But we have a zero distractions policy, so I only use these when the truck is parked.

I always keep my truck clean inside and out because not only am I representing myself, I’m also representing my branch and the Ruppert company. I also work much better in an organized environment.

Our fleet vehicles are branded and kept to a very high standard. This enhances our image, increases efficiency, helps us maintain employee morale and elevates pride in our company.

Our fleet vehicles are equipped with DriveCam. It records eight seconds prior to and four seconds after an event to determine how and why it may have occurred. An event is any driving irregularity that triggers a recording — it can be anything from sudden braking to hopping a curb or taking a turn too quickly. Events are reviewed daily and drivers are coached on safe and proper driving methods. This helps foster good driving habits and prevent accidents before they happen.

The Essentials

My Day-Timer — It helps me keep track of everything at my different jobsites.

My Galaxy Tablet — I use this to review maps and job details with my crew as well as take pictures and detailed notes for my clients.

Coffee — Getting up early in the morning means coffee is essential. I report to the shop at 5:45 a.m., and my crew and I leave the yard for our first jobsite at 6:05 a.m.

A full water cooler — It’s important to stay hydrated, especially on those hot summer days.

Extra ear plugs, safety glasses, work gloves and rain suits — These always seem to get lost or broken so I always keep extra on hand.

We also keep pink princess sunglasses in the truck for anyone who forgets their own that day! — We like to look out for each other and have an eye for fashion.

My North Face Backpack — I keep my job binder, training manual, tablet and all other necessities in it.

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Story Of A Landscape: Waterfall Provides Big Finish For Multi-Year Project

Deck and chair, waterfall background

James Godbold admits the job that won Hill’N Dale Landscaping two awards from the Landscape Ontario Horticultural Trades Association may be the grand finale for this client.

Although the team might still be called in to do what he calls “a few little additions,” he explains that over more than a decade they’d re-landscaped the front and side yards of the property and installed a multi-zone irrigation system before taking on the backyard.

Pavers

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

“The backyard has been on ongoing design/build effort because they were doing other things,” Godbold says. “For awhile it got put on the back burner, but we are finally finished.”

And, what a finish it is. While the job includes a flagstone patio, stone walkways and steps and an award-winning lighting system (the other recognition came for construction), the piece de resistance is a massive waterfall with five different outflows that when operating at full strength recycles a full 600 gallons per minute into the property’s existing pond.

In many ways, the waterfall was the project’s driving force. Godbold explains the clients have lived on the 20-plus-acre property for several years and both they and he felt the existing waterfall wasn’t quite right.

In progress

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

The waterfall was also a driving force in sizing the finished design. Godbold explains that the clients have a screened-in porch on one side of the house and a deck on the other side, and they wanted to be able to see it from both locations. They also wanted a dock at the pond from which to enjoy it.

“We basically laid it out with five different falls, and where you sit depends on what you see,” he says. “Now that the plants are growing up, it masks some things, but it gives different perspectives on it.”

Waterfall

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

After tearing out the old waterfall, his team spent a lot of thought determining the best way to build the new waterfall, which is run by a three-inch pump and a valve system that controls how much water comes out of each of the five pipes at any given time.

“It sounds complicated, but it’s not,” he says. “It took some thought, but it’s a fairly simple system. The big challenge was trying to get the correct number of gallons-per-minute.”

Not surprisingly, both the waterflow and the lighting system are controlled from the house.

Night lighting paver steps

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

All the stone for the job – boulders, stone steps and flagstones – is Ontario limestone. Godbold says some of the boulders in the waterfall are as large as five tons, and one of the biggest challenges he faced with the job was getting the equipment back to build it.

“There was only one way in and that was driving between the pond and the house to get the equipment in,” he says. “We then had to work our way backwards off the site. We really made a roadway, but the logistics were one of the bigger challenges.”

Waterfall night lighting

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

The job also required partially draining the pond – which also provides water for the 15-zone irrigation system – for the placement of additional boulders and lighting. A carpenter who regularly works for the clients built the wooden dock.

Godbold describes himself as a big fan of lighting, which may help explain the lighting award for this project, and the fact that he personally loves to look at the waterfall when it’s lit. The job incorporates three different styles: downlights, up lights and path lights, plus the underwater lights in the pond.

Waterfall night lighting

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

“I wanted it to not look too busy, but also to be safe,” says Godbold. “With the stone steps, we wanted to make sure they could see the step grades for safety purposes at night. You’ll see they’re fairly bright because we wanted to reduce the shadowing of the grade changes.”

He adds that the wrong light in the wrong place can make things harder to see and less safe.

The flagstone patio and walkways are also replacements for what was there. Godbold says the new construction features larger flagstones with butt joints to eliminate as much as possible gaps between the stones.

Landscaped home

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

The plantings for the project are all chosen for the Zone 4 location.

“It’s a mix of about 60 percent shrubs and 40 percent perennials and grasses,” he says. “We like to use a lot of ornamental grasses and a lot of mass plantings. We wanted a mix of spring, summer and fall color, with a bit of winter interest.”

Work on the project extended for more than a calendar year, Godbold says.

“We started in July of one year and finished up in August of the following year,” he says. “But, that’s sort of deceiving because we don’t work from mid-November to mid-April because of the snow and the cold. It really gave us a full season.”

Waterfall details

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

Most of that time, Hill’N Dale had no more than four people at the site simply because of logistical issues. A larger crew completed the plantings.

Along with the lighting, Godbold says he’s quite pleased with the way the entire project came together. And, as with any other job, the team learned a few things.

“Particularly with the waterfall, you learn little tricks along the way so that you know how to do things better the next time,” he says. “These are not cookie-cutter jobs; each one is custom and everything is not installed in the same way.

“When we analyze things after any job, we’re always trying to figure out how to do something better or quicker,” Godbold concludes. “Here, we learned a few new tricks for the water feature installation, and a couple good ideas for the lighting.”

Waterfall night lighting

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

Waterfall

Photo: Hill’N Dale Landscaping

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Using Retaining Walls To Transform A Landscape

Fortified Beauty

From the sky, a well-designed landscape can seem almost flat. Sure, you can see the patterns of the pavers, the shapes of the different-colored stones, and the touches of green and color from flowering plants. It’s obvious if a backyard has seating areas and a pool, or a water feature. And of course lighting is visible at night. But overall, the scene is one dimensional.

Thank goodness the bird’s eye view isn’t the way most of us take in a landscaping project, for we would miss a lot.

The elevations, the rises and dips, the high and low points — those are all visible to the naked eye from lower levels. And that three-dimensional aspect that comes alive when walking around a property is exactly the effect landscape designers want when choosing to install walls — not just retaining walls for function, such as erosion control, but seating walls and boundaries to create living areas in a backyard oasis.

Techo-Bloc, used in the two larger walls above, play a large role in determining how installation is performed.

Jen Kloter, who is on the design team at Bahler Brothers Inc. based in Connecticut, achieved this goal with the project she designed for the Baltazar property in Wilbraham, Massachusetts. From high above, you can see the different levels of the property. But until you view the expanse at different angles, you don’t see all that Kloter had to contend with.

Kloter says it was obvious from the start that they would need to include retaining walls in the backyard design, and many of the elevations evolved as they were building, as the site was still under construction when they got started. All in all, the walls built on the property totaled more than 2,300 square feet, with the tallest wall being 10 feet tall and about 210 feet long.

“The pool design was a driver for what we ended up working with,” Kloter says. “The pool had revisions also — they moved it and it became bigger. The height of all the walls depended on where the pool was going to end up, so we worked backward from there.”

The project started with the two outer walls that include the playscape — the flat area that provides lawn space for the owners’ children to play. Then they worked around the house counter-clockwise, Kloter says, noting that there’s another retaining wall around the front, and grading and landscaping work was done out front as well.

“The next thing that drove where those walls needed to be was the vanishing edge of the pool and how to transition the patio areas,” she says.

Since the pool and patio were built on fill — the homeowner works in construction, Kloter says, so there was access to fill whenever it was needed — they had to discover where the native grade was and then install the two walls with engineered segmented retaining wall (SRW) with geo-grid behind them. Everything was built to an engineer’s specifications.

Toll Landscape went for a West Coast look with Unilock products for a model home at The Reserve in Holmdel, New Jersey. Natural stones were used around beds in the front.

Material choices matter

While most material choices were made based on aesthetics for the pool and patio area, the structural integrity of the bottom two retaining walls — because they wouldn’t be seen from the patio — was more important, Kloter says, noting they used Techo-Bloc for the lower two retaining walls. “That is our go-to block for when we’re doing a large wall, especially if it’s not going to be viewed or doesn’t need to be decorative,” Kloter said. “They’re super structural.”

Initially the design called for building the 10-foot wall below the pool, and then installing a fence, per local regulations that call for fencing around pools. However, they didn’t want to risk blocking the view. They discovered they could bury the 10-foot wall so only 4 feet was exposed, then install another 6-foot wall as a safety measure. “No one can climb that and fall into the pool,” she says.

For the other areas of the backyard, the homeowners were keen on using natural stone. Kloter says while she tried to talk them into a concrete product, they wanted the stonework to match what was already there on the house. So Kloter found a stonemason to work with her crew, but Bahler handled all the prep, backfill and quality control.

“In the Northeast, we have a lot of natural stone that we can get, a lot of different looks. A lot is native to our area or nearby, such as Pennsylvania,” she says. “I also lived in Oregon and they have the opposite problem — you couldn’t get SRW blocks, so we had to build everything out of stone. It’s a much different look.

Kloter says it’s important to be aware of the differences between using engineered SRW or natural stone, because the shape and weight can affect installation tremendously.

“Say you’re building a 5-foot-high wall. If it’s out of SRW, it would be a single block wide or deep going up, usually with pins connecting them block to block and probably some geo-grid going some distance into the backfill behind the wall. All of that works together as a system.

“When working with stone, there’s no interlocking, so sometimes there’s slippage,” Kloter continues. “In order for a stone wall to be stable, you have to have really big pieces or the base of your wall needs to be 3 or 4 feet deep — you’re dealing with an incredibly large amount of stone. You can still use geo-grid, can still backfill, but the base of the stone wall is basically a big pyramid, going broad at the bottom.”

As for cost, Kloter estimates that natural stone accounts for 30 to 40 percent more than engineered SRW. On the Massachusetts project, because the Techo-Bloc they used was very basic, the natural stone probably ran more like 40 to 50 percent higher.

Ken Munroe, senior landscape supervisor for Toll Landscape in New Jersey, worked on the backyard of the model home for a new development called The Reserve in Holmdel, New Jersey, with designers Mark Culichia, president of Toll Landscape, and Matt Moonan, vice president, as well as Tony Manganello, landscape supervisor. Munroe says they were tasked with bringing a more West Coast feel to the East Coast.

“Some of the walls are very linear and a different look than we’d typically use in New Jersey,” he says. “We wanted to appeal to a millennial buyer, a city kid, who is used to that kind of look.”

In order to achieve this, the design included a lot of straight lines and dark colors, using Unilock products for the flooring as well as the company’s Lineo dimensional wall for the walls, made of smooth block.

Munroe says the aesthetics dictated the materials used, so it would blend seamlessly with the overall look of the house. Though in the front yard, natural stone was used to match the stone veneer — called Pinnacle Stone — on the house itself.

The younger buyer looks for a sleeker product more so than an older buyer, Munroe says. Someone in his or her 20s and 30s usually wants a more contemporary look compared with other buyers.

Manganello says he thinks there’s a mix to what people go for when it comes to materials. “I think it comes down to personal preference of the homeowner,” he says. “When you show them different homes we’ve done, some like contemporary or the more natural, almost tumbled look that’s been engineered to look old. I haven’t seen anything to show we’re going more engineered over natural stone. Even in older communities, senior communities, there’s a mix.”

Creating living areas

The homeowners of the Massachusetts home Kloter worked on both come from big families. “When family comes over, they needed every speck of space, however I needed to create intimate areas because they are a husband, wife and two children when it’s just them.”

Keeping the uses of the backyard in mind — for entertaining larger groups or when it’s just the home’s usual residents, is important when considering what to include in the landscape design.

“I tried to use the walls and curves of the walls to create little nooks and crannies and still leave some open spaces when more people will be over,” Kloter says.

While she prefers to use concrete products for features such as fire pits, fireplaces, outdoor kitchens and sitting walls, when it comes to water features, Kloter says they will start incorporating natural stone and use boulders, river rocks and gravel — a mix of materials.

Munroe says it’s important to talk to a homeowner about their outdoor lifestyle. “[Find out] what they want to use the outdoor spot for,” he says. “It’s no longer just a spot for a grill.”

Munroe says the design at the Holmdel model home called for walls for a water feature and seating, and to form the base of a pavilion that houses entertaining items such as a pizza oven, refrigeration, a wine cooler and kegerator.

In addition to those elevated surfaces, planting beds were a key part of the aesthetic look they wanted to achieve.

“We’re always looking for ways to break up hardscape with softscape,” Munroe says. “You’ll always find little pockets of flowers, [such as in the] pillars above the water or fire pits. It breaks it up and offers some color.”

Installing raised planting beds along the house is another key design element Toll likes to employ, Manganello says. “We’re always going to try to avoid pavers right up against the house, break up the siding and pavers with plantings,” Munroe added.

Another feature that comes into play when building walls or planting beds is lighting. Munroe estimates that $25,000 to $30,000 of lighting was installed in the model home project to show off different architectural features of the house. Lighting was also included in the pavilion and inside the walls, under every cap and inside the pool. “All of the trees and plant material are highlighted with landscape lighting, too,” he says.

Keeping drainage in mind

While the aesthetics of any type of wall are the fun part of design, the function must also come into play and drive how, where and what is installed.

“We always have to think about drainage,” Kloter says. “Water can be such a huge enemy — especially frozen water and what happens when it thaws. If it’s not installed properly, it will cause all kinds of problems.”

Kloter says Bahler Brothers tries to avoid any future warranty issues by building correctly from the get-go. For example, while standards from the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute say retaining walls need a pipe that exits on either end and every 40 feet, “we take that a step further and we install 3 feet of stone behind the walls, so there’s very little water even getting to the pipe then.”

She also explains that it’s recommended that a heavy compactor not get within 3 feet of the face of the wall, so anytime you have a wall, you’ll likely have soil there, but you can only compact it with a small compactor. Kloter says they try to bring in stone and run a small compactor over it, so it’s compacted well enough when they drop the retaining wall stones into place. Then, once they are past that 3-foot zone, they can run a big compactor over it.

Jen Kloter, who designed the Baltazar property in Massachusetts, used raised elements to create seating areas and other living spaces.

Future maintenance

One service that not all landscape design companies get involved with is the future of their installations years down the road. Bahler now has a division that does hardscape cleaning and maintenance. As a business that has been around for 30 years, Kloter says there are a lot of hardscapes in the ground with Bahler’s name on them. Customers are coming back and saying that the installations still look wonderful, they’re just a little grimy and need cleaning up.

“It’s a fairly new division for us,” she says, “but it’s gaining popularity. It’s been really good for us.”

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Tuesday, 15 August 2017

The Best Time To Invest In Business Software

The Best Time To Invest In Business Software

As your company grows and customer base expands, it might be time to consider investing in software for managing the customer base and your employees. Schedules, services, invoicing and account balances can become less time consuming with the use of business software. This LawnSite member wants to know if there is a point where getting software at your business is so crucial that the investment can’t be put off any longer.

GSO LAWNEN4CER: What’s the magic number of customers before needing software? I’m getting to the point where I can’t keep track of who’s been serviced and who’s up next for service. I have some customers who want their lawn cut on certain days. I need some suggestions.

anrwhr1212: If you know what software is and you have to ask that question, I think you can benefit from software now. We are a husband and wife team. My wife runs the office work, and I handle customer relations and stuff in the field. We decided to go with Service Autopilot last year, and we could not run our business without it now. We recommend it to anyone. It was a game changer for us. We only have 42 accounts right now but some are weekly, some biweekly. It helps when anyone asks for extra work with the next service, keeping track of accounts receivable and so much more. It’s awesome. A business friend who owns a multimillion-dollar-a-year lawn care business once told me no matter how big you are, you need software. Now that we have it, I know it’s true, because it’s never too early to start. If you start now, optimize your time, it will give you plenty more time to focus on growing and customer service. You won’t regret it.

JLSLLC: Sounds like you’re ready for software now or some sort of spreadsheet. Either way, keep us updated. I use a large calendar from Staples on my wall in my office. No real complaints if you keep up with it. There are much better ways than mine. Just a suggestion.

Steve5389: I use Yardbook and I have about 25 customers. One thing I like is that you can set jobs as recurring. Set your jobs as complete each day, and when you click on the customer’s name, it will tell you when their last service was.

Service.com: The honest answer is one customer. It is so much harder to transfer everything over to a system when you think you need it than to just start with one.

13Razorbackfan: I use Microsoft Outlook to schedule, keep a separate ledger for jobs done that day along with the amount and if they paid, and then I keep a separate accounting ledger. It’s kind of old fashioned, but works for me. I then invoice out using a Microsoft Publisher invoice template for the people who I invoice monthly. People who pay cash, I write out a receipt from my receipt book. It might sound like a lot but it takes me 10 minutes to do every day when I get home and maybe 30 minutes to send out invoices at the end of the month.

Darryl G: I just use a day planner for scheduling and QuickBooks for invoicing. It works for my solo operation with 25 to 30 mowing customers and 50 or so overall that I work for in any given year. I did a free 30-day trial a few years ago – I forget which software but it was one of the popular ones. My issue with it was that it seemed like I was spending more time and effort adjusting for weather delays and missing accounts missed of running out of time in a day than it was worth. It has no way of knowing everything I consider when shuffling my schedule. I was left with the feeling that it might be good for someone scheduling crews, but for me it seemed cumbersome and made decisions that I just ignored anyway.

BrandonV: It’s easier to start off with software than to try and add it in later.

Mowingman: You don’t ever “need” software. It is just something most people nowadays “want.” I am kind of old school and do not want much of anything to do with computers or software. During my peak years, I had 160 accounts and was running three crews. I did it all with a few scheduling forms I designed and a pencil. The only thing I used the computer for was to run QuickBooks for doing my invoices. I saved a lot of money by not purchasing computer equipment and expensive software programs.

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Business Lessons From Superstorm Sandy

Learning From Superstorm Sandy

In a matter of weeks it will be five years since Superstorm Sandy ravaged the U.S. East Coast. Folks entrusted with dealing with Sandy’s destruction and working to return their communities back to a semblance of normalcy (referencing landscape and tree pros in this instance) certainly haven’t forgotten.

Hurricane season is upon us again and Patrick Donovan, owner of Classic Landscaping, Edison, New Jersey, shares some of the lessons he learned in the brutally long, chaotic days immediately following Sandy’s landfall. Some of what he experienced may be helpful to you, too. No region of the U.S. is immune to the catastrophic consequences of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, tornado, wildfire or earthquake. As a landscaper or arborist, sometime during your career you will likely have to help property owners — perhaps even your own clients — pick up the pieces when their properties are damaged by a natural catastrophe.

Have a basic plan in place

You should, at the very least, put together a basic disaster response plan to share with your team in the event (unlikely as it may seem today) of a natural disaster. Your plan doesn’t have to be complicated. Start with knowing how to contact each other during and immediately after Mother Nature’s wrath. It’s also wise to have some basic materials on hand or easily accessible, such as water, an alternate power source like a diesel generator, fuel, appropriate equipment, etc.

But let’s get back to Sandy, which resulted in damages estimated at more than $71 billion in the U.S., second in terms of costliness only to Hurricane Katrina. Superstorm Sandy didn’t arrive without warning but it did arrive rapidly. On Oct. 29, 2012, the hurricane lumbered into New Jersey and New York after birthing as a tropical wave in the western Caribbean a mere seven days earlier. Sweeping up the East Coast, it veered west and made landfall just a few miles north of Atlantic City. Its ferocious hurricane-force winds pushed a huge storm surge inland destroying or severely damaging thousands of homes and properties in low-lying regions of New Jersey and places in and around New York City, as well as inundating streets, tunnels and subway lines in the city itself.

Sandy brings many challenges

Donovan counts himself and his family fortunate, a sentiment he maintains even almost five years after the event. Indeed, like a scab that has yet to heal, some of the storm’s destruction — ruined homes, damaged trees, etc. — remain evident. “There are many houses still in a state of disrepair. For reasons unknown, homes have not been repaired or demolished,” he says.

“In my area, which is not much above sea level but far enough away, most of the damage was downed and uprooted trees. Getting utility companies to shut power off was the issue. Cutting power took days at some locations. Our issue was trees on top of wires or buried under wires. To this day, you can drive anywhere in the tri-state area and see extremely large-caliper trees uprooted, snapped, widow makers and dead trees still left after they and Sandy crossed paths,” he adds.

Two challenges immediately revealed themselves to Donovan and his team as they got to work as soon as the worst of the hurricane had passed.

“Lack of communication was at the top of the list. I, myself, had no power for five days. We had limited phone service but were able to get internet service, go figure,” he says. Some of his clients had services, but many did not.

Another complication — and a big one — was the lack of fuel. “Stations had no electricity so they were unable to pump fuel. We were experiencing gas lines like back in the 1970s,” he continues. “Once the electricity was restored, the states ran out of fuel. We were siphoning fuel out of mowers and machines we were not using. These are the things you don’t think about on a day-to-day basis when all is well in life.”

Sandy’s size and ferocity created another huge problem that anyone having to cleanup properties after a hurricane, tornado or huge storm will instantly recognize.

“The amount of tree and vegetative debris was overwhelming,” Donovan says. “The mulch piles were 60 to 70 feet high. It actually got to the point the state regulatory agencies modified the quantity of material suppliers could store on-site. It was necessary because there was no where to deposit the massive quantities of debris.”

The financial and emotional toll

Then there’s the financial and human emotional toll created by destruction on such a scale. The financial toll is easy enough to understand if not measure precisely. The emotional toll on individuals and families that lost their homes and possessions can never be fully tallied.

Donovan says he has friends who lost their houses. “We mean they lost their houses. They were not there when they returned to them,” he emphasizes. Others, especially in New Jersey, have had to raise their homes on stilts 9 to 10 feet in the air, most at their own expense. If they don’t, they will be drowned in increased insurance costs.

Finally, and this is a sobering thought for any landscape pro who predicts a huge bump up in their revenue after the initial cleanup work – landscape renovations on most properties will not begin for months, if not years, later.

“Many of my clients’ facilities expended their grounds budgets and every other budget on the storm,” says Donovan. “There were no additional monies remaining in budgets to do anything other than clean up. Renovations after the storm were not even on their radar.”

In many instances, as a landscape pro or arborist, some of your time and the time of your employees will be devoted to helping to bring your community back to life — community service.

“My family and I volunteered to help a church group clean out peoples’ homes in Staten Island affected by the storm,” Donovan says. “I wanted my children to see firsthand how fortunate we were by not taking a direct hit like so many others did.”

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