Friday, 29 December 2017

Why You Need A 24/7/365 Employee Recruiting Plan

Why You Need a 24/7/365 Employee Recruiting Plan

There’s no magic bullet for solving the worsening labor problem in the U.S., no single fix that you can rely upon to fill your rosters or add new workers to grow your company next season. Kent Kohn with Pro-Motion Consulting says that recent surveys have shown that 77 percent of green industry employers are having trouble finding enough dependable employees to meet service demands. Another 59 percent of business owners say they need more employees pronto.

“If it’s bad right now, it’s about to get worse,” says Kohn of the labor shortage.

That’s hardly a surprise, right? Multiple sources (the U.S. Fed, Moody’s Analytics, Goldman Sachs, etc.) now peg the nation’s unemployment rate at 4.6 or slightly lower, essentially beyond “full employment.” Even individuals working in the lowest-paying or part-time jobs, workers considered “underemployed,” have dropped to a near-historical low of 8.5 percent.

Your best option in this environment, stresses Kohn, is to attack the labor shortage problem with a 24/7/365-approach using every strategy available to you. Then, says Kohn, “be aggressive and stay positive.”

17 Employee Recruiting Tips

Kohn offers the following suggestions to build a long-term, ongoing strategy to get the workers you need:

  1. Start by always promoting the landscape industry and, by inference, your company as “a good career choice,” whenever you’re talking to prospects or whomever you’re meeting.
  2. Maintain bold and professional signage at your place of business indicating you’re hiring.
  3. Use social media to promote your company and all of its job opportunities. Millennials live on their phones.
  4. Let anyone visiting your website see that you’re hiring. Stress the career opportunities attached to each position you’re seeking to fill. Don’t forget contact information.
  5. Participate in job fairs. Partner with other small businesses in your market (not competitors) to host events to attract job prospects.
  6. Show off your company and the industry at high school career days. Bring along a zero-turn mower and let students get a chance to operate it.
  7. Remain highly visible in your market by being active in local service organizations and helping out (and publicizing your role) with community service projects.
  8. Offer financial rewards to employees that recommend friends who become employees and remain employees for a specified period.
  9. Employ students short-term during their breaks and assign them tasks, such as cleaning your trucks or other shop duties that prepare your equipment for the next day’s use.
  10. Place “Help Wanted” signs everywhere – your website, newspapers, social media, on your trucks, yard signs, etc.
  11. Pay a signing bonus to new hires, say $5 after, for example, the new employee works 60 or 90 days.
  12. Offer “voluntary” benefits to employees and job prospects. Employees can opt into and pay for the benefits if they want to. Some will but most probably won’t, says Kohn.
  13. Keep your initial hiring process simple, simple, simple – perhaps even something as quick and easy as name, address, telephone number and availability. New employees can fill out the rest of the paperwork soon enough after they’ve accepted your job offer.
  14. Be responsive. Promptly return phone calls and schedule interviews. Have required paperwork available very soon after the hiring process.
  15. “Proselytize.” Share your company’s job opportunities to people already holding responsible but often-stressful jobs, such as fast food managers, restaurant staff and retail store employees.
  16. Never overlook women. The number of females excelling in careers previously considered “male-only” (think long-haul trucking, heavy-equipment operation, construction etc.) continues to grow.
  17. Conduct exit interviews when valuable employees decide to leave your company. Let them know that if their new job doesn’t work out, they will be welcome back. Exit interviews may also give you valuable information about things you can do to keep other employees from bolting.

Take care of your present employees

Finally, if you can’t keep the good people already on your payroll, no amount of recruiting will ever get you where you want to be in terms of business growth or success, Kohn says.

The industry’s best companies provide job training, career development and mentoring. They regularly recognize and reward employees who deliver outstanding service. Rewards could be small cash payments, gift cards or cookouts. Have you ever considered surprising employees at a big job site with a food truck for lunch? Sometimes a genuine “thank you” or a simple hand-written note of appreciation to a valued employee is just as appreciated.

You as the owner are responsible for your company’s culture. It’s reflected in everything you do at your business. Good employees generally don’t leave a company because of the work itself, but more often because of dissatisfaction over other issues – poor or unpredictable management, poorly maintained equipment, lack of appreciation, lack of opportunity for advancement, etc.

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Like A Boss: A Unique Solution To Callbacks

When it comes to landscape maintenance work, nothing can eat into the profit like callbacks. Tim Buiten, president of Tim’s Complete Landscape Management in Kent, Washington, says they were getting more callbacks than he would have liked for clean-up and small enhancement projects — and he needed a solution. After doing a walk-through with the client he would relay the information on what needed to get done to his crews, but he says it wasn’t enough. They were still missing important details. That’s when he got the idea to start making videos.

“As I would walk through with the customers, everyone had very different ideas and very different properties even if the tasks were similar,” Buiten says. “There was a lot of information to relay to the crews. So, I decided to start making videos of the property with the specifics of exactly what to do. They are one to five-minutes long and completely answer the questions that the guys might have.”

In order to maximize time, Buiten makes the videos at the time of walk-through with the client — before he knows whether they’re signing on or not. It’s no more than five extra minutes of his time and saves him from driving back later, he says.

Buiten admits he was initially worried that customers wouldn’t like the idea of him videoing their property. But instead of any pushback, he’s only gotten praise. Customers are impressed that he takes that extra step in order to ensure that his crews know exactly what needs to get done on their property. In fact, it may even be a selling point.

“Customers seem really impressed when I tell them that I’m making a comprehensive video for our crews,” Buiten adds. “They see it as an extra step to ensure things get done right.”

Once the customer does sign a contract, then Buiten posts the videos on a shared Google Drive folder that he has set up on his crews’ work phones.

“The guys watch the video ahead of time to make sure they have all of the equipment that they need on the truck,” Buiten says. “Then they watch it again on site to make sure they know exactly what to do. Most of the time, if the guys have questions they can just re-watch the video and find their answer. It’s saved us time in a lot of ways.”

And, best of all, it has virtually eliminated callbacks. Buiten says they may occasionally get one here or there but it usually ends up being something that was covered in the video and the guys just forgot. For the most part, Buiten says customers are happier and projects are getting done the way they should from the start.

“I’m a very detail-oriented person and when I do the walk-through with the customer it’s important to me that the job is actually getting done that way,” Buiten says. “Originally I wanted to take the crews on my own walk-throughs but as we’ve grown that’s not been feasible. This has been an even better solution because they can re-watch the video as much as they like. It’s helped us to be a lot more thorough.”

Our Like a Boss series highlights some common business challenges landscape professionals face and how they conquer them. Discuss your biggest business challenges on LawnSite’s Business Management forum.

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Thursday, 28 December 2017

What’s In My Truck: Jacob Godar

Jacob Godar

Jacob Godar, owner of Scooter’s Lawn Care, which has locations in Illinois and Florida, says that his 2017 three-quarter-ton Dodge Ram crew cab is roomy enough to pick people up when he has to, but he can still tow a trailer and job materials to a site. Trouble is, Godar says he finds that lately he’s doing a lot more zipping around than towing, and he foresees that he might be getting a sedan in the not-sodistant future. After all, Godar says he’s “all about efficiency” and looking for ways to be leaner, so getting a vehicle that isn’t so harsh on gas might be another way to do just that.

I’m always looking for ways we can operate more efficiently and it’s no different with my vehicle. The more I run around to job sites, the more I realize a car might be the answer for me. This just may be in the fleet next year and I’ll lease a car.

My vehicle is my mobile office. I used to carry around a yellow notepad and take endless notes. I had an iPad for customer presentations but I just couldn’t type fast enough on it. Now I’ve gotten an iPad with a keyboard and it’s one of the best things I’ve bought. I can stand on my tailgate and knock out my notes faster than ever. And my iPhone 8 is basically my left hand. I use it all the time.

I came to this industry from the automotive industry and I brought that mechanic knowledge with me. That’s one of the reasons that I’ve always bought older trucks for my fleet and kept them running. But as the business has grown, that’s gotten tiresome. With the exception of my truck, we have an older fleet and I use a mechanic to help keep that fleet running. But I plan to start buying newer trucks and filtering them into the mix. We run new equipment so there’s no downtime and it’s time we start looking to do that with our fleet.

I came to this industry because I got tired of working on cars all day. I always knew I wanted to own a business and when I was younger I had been a foreman on a landscape crew and enjoyed it. When I switched into this field, I immediately became obsessed with the business, and I still love it. I like getting up early every morning and I don’t mind working late at night. I’m really passionate about it.

Our trucks have the Scooter’s logo on them, but that’s it. I like to keep it simple. There is no website address listed on the trucks, but we’re easy to find. We are heavy on digital marketing with the idea that all our customers need to do is type in our name on the internet and they can find us.

The Essentials

My binder of plants — I have a binder of plants that we like to use for landscape projects that I’m always growing.

Marking paint — A lot of times, if the customer says “yes” during the estimate, we can start marking stuff right then and there.

First aid kit — We had a lot of bee stings last year and now we always keep Benadryl in there. We had to use quite a bit of it last year.

Gloves and hand wipes — To keep clean.

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Ice Control For Wooden Decks

Ice Control for Wooden Decks

Residential clients will sometimes ask for the snow management professional to not only take care of the driveway and sidewalks, but also clear their deck during a storm. Wood and composite decking will react differently to deicing than the property’s concrete or stone sidewalks. These PlowSite members discuss their experiences with deicing wood decks.

flakesmeangreen: What’s the safest ice control to use on wooden decks? I know rock salt isn’t good for it, but I don’t know what is.

Mike Nelson: We have been doing 350 condo units all with wooden steps for years. We tried sand/salt, but the sand made a mess (tracking in the units). So, we went to straight salt. We also found out that the wooden steps would freeze before the roadways or our concrete walks. You could use treated salt (Iceban or Magic) or maybe try liquid applications (Iceban, Magic, Clearlane, etc.)

G.Williams: We use calcium chloride, it really melts well. It’s a little costly but works like a charm. Plus, it will melt to -20 below zero.

Taconic: The only problem with using calcium on wooden steps or decks is that it will take all the moisture out of the wood and can promote cracking on the deck because the wood shrinks and expands more than usual.

Mower For Less: I have a customer with a new wood deck, just built this summer, and has not stained or sealed it yet. It was built with regular pressure treated lumber. My question/problem is that the customer wants me to use an ice melter on it, but I don’t want to damage the deck. I have told them my fears and the reasons for them. I told them I will do it if they want, but they have to realize the damage it can cause to the deck. What I want to ask is, do you think calcium chloride on a new untreated deck will be OK? Would magnesium chloride be better? Would you think a stained/sealed deck would have better resistance to the damaging effects of the ice melter?

h_riderca: I usually shovel the snow off the deck and then let nature do the rest. After I shovel the snow off my cedar deck, the sun will melt what is left on the deck boards.

Mick: I put down Magic Salt before it snows. It’ll melt snow as it falls and keep it from bonding to the deck. Then just peel off anything it doesn’t melt. A few years ago, one application melted the first three snowfalls because it only snowed an inch or two at a time.

Mower For Less: Does this have any adverse effects on the deck? This customer is a year-round customer who I also do lawn, hedges and cleanups for. So I really want to be careful about the possibility of damaging their new deck.

Andy N.: Just tell them the adverse effects of it, have them sign off on it and do it. If they want it done that bad, just do it.

Grn Mtn: Andy is right, have them sign a letter that says “I, the customer, understand that using ice control products on my new, untreated deck will most definitely ruin it, but I don’t care because I like wasting money, and using sand is just too messy.” Then take their money with a smile and get into the decking business on the side.

Mower For Less: You suggest I word the letter just like that, do you? LOL. I went to salt last week, and I noticed they had applied their own salt to the deck, so I am just going to run with that, and they can ruin it on their own. I would much rather sell new deck board, having them think it was their fault, than sell a deck repair thinking it was my fault.

butler L&S: I do a townhouse complex that has wooden steps and a deck leading to the front doors and I use calcium chloride. Over time, the nails have started to pop up (major pain when shoveling). Other than that, the wood has held up well. Last year they started replacing and rebuilding many of these decks and I made sure they used screws. If the wood is treated regularly you should be OK using calcium chloride in my opinion.

Stumper1620: Just get a pressure washer to sell a deck wash in the spring, get the white salt lines out of the wood, pound the nails down or tighten the screws whatever it has holding it and go for it. Won’t hurt the wood, just stains it. Wash, wait a day and convince them to seal it.

Longae29: Is Magic Salt still the way to go, or has there been a new product introduced that would be more effective? According to their website, the closest dealer to me is about 40 miles away, if there is another product anyone could recommend it would be awesome. The customer calls the wood area a boardwalk. I’m not going to be able to use a ATV with a plow, but a small Toro snow blower should be OK.

Luther: Come on … what’s wrong with a plastic snow shovel?

Longae29: I’m pretty sure most of our sidewalk guys have no idea what a shovel looks like. I’m not that worried about the clearing of it, it’s only a 150-foot stretch. I’m more concerned about what to use to make it not slippery.

Luther: No matter what you go with, the concern would be how it affects the metal framing around the windows and railing (and the wood). Maybe you can also sell them on a product that you can apply to the framing to protect it for any corrosion before winter sets in.

Grn Mtn: Using a Toro or similar paddle-bladed snow blower is an excellent choice. They (the paddles) don’t harm the deck, yet clean it to the wood, making the chance of slipping reduced greatly. Using a liquid deicer sprayed from a pump sprayer will certainly help with any remaining ice, but as you already know this will cause the wood fibers to degrade more rapidly. How about talking with the property management and set up a signage program alerting users of the boardwalk that deicing will only be done in extreme cases and to walk with care?

Longae29: That’s what I figured about the paddle-bladed type. We haven’t dabbled that much in liquids, I did a bit more research, and from what I found I think magnesium chloride is my best bet, which is good because we have five or six pallets of it left from last year, so that’s what I used in my bid.

Visit PlowSite.com for more forums on equipment, business management and technical information. Join the conversation in the largest community of snow and ice business professionals.

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Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Deciding On Final Winter Height For Turfgrass

Deciding On Final Winter Height For Turfgrass

Determining the best mowing height can be debated for all regions and turfgrass species. Cutting at the ideal height, regardless of season and conditions, results in lush, healthy lawns that fend off weeds, drought and disease. Cutting too low, and especially to the bottom of the grass crowns, results in lawns that cannot resist weeds. Read what these LawnSite members discuss for determining lawn height for winter.

1STRIPER1:We live in northwestern Wisconsin (USDA zone 3B-4A) and have the typical turfgrass for this part of the country. Sixty percent bluegrass, 25 percent fescue and 15 percent perennial ryegrass. For the last mowing of the year before the snow fl ies, I’ve been trying to keep the height at about 1.75 inches. Starting in August, I gradually take the lawn down from 3.5 inches (mid-summer height) to the final 1.75 inches, then in spring, I gradually increase the height. I fertilize three to four times per year, depending how hot and dry the summer is. What are your thoughts on the final winter height?

KerbDMK: You are going to get a million different opinions on this, but I’m going to assume you are lowering your cut for good reasons that you have not explained to us in the fall. It would be my opinion that you should let the grass grow to the height you want to keep it for the summer before you mow in the spring. I recommend that you do some research of university information and decide what you want to do.

Mr Efficiency: I used to mow all the time lower in spring, summer and fall — until this year. I am keeping height up until just before the first snow. Leaves are a little more difficult to blow but I am convinced after my yearlong test on my own lawn that high mowing height is much better for the health of the turf and the environment. My final cut before snow falls will be around 2 inches but keeping it high until the last minute so the turf can get as much sunlight on long blades and continues to shade out any fall weeds that may want to grow.

KerbDMK: Just for the record I’m planning to do the same as Mr Efficiency this year because I have problems with voles and snow mold. If you don’t have those kinds of problems, you are better off not lowering the cut at all. The longer grass will help to prevent winter desiccation. I like to encourage people to fnd out why they are doing things the way are doing them. The universities have all of that information readily available and they have actually studied those things for many years. It’s difficult for any of us to give you all of the answers you may need and we often don’t know all of the particulars of your individual situation.

River: I just cut at 3.5 to 4 inches just like normal. If I cut it too low, it just gets snow mold. And we get serious snow from Lake Michigan.

Mark Oomkes: Mice (vole) tracks are not harmful, maybe a bit unsightly, but they go away quickly. The voles are still there going through your lawn, they just aren’t as visible. Snow mold is not in and of itself caused by leaving the grass cut longer.

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Proper Equipment Maintenance And Storage

Maintain and Store

It’s great when you buy a new piece of landscape construction equipment and everyone on the crew is excited to get trained on it and use it in the field. The not-so-exciting part is doing routine maintenance so it maintains peak performance throughout the year.

As far as Charles Gershowitz, technical service representative, Southeast, for Schiller Grounds Care, is concerned, when you talk equipment maintenance, you also have to talk safety.

“You have to teach safety first,” Gershowitz says. “While features such as power reverse assist make maneuvering a unit easier, the equipment operator still needs to thoroughly understand what the equipment does and how it should be used.”

Many manufacturers, including Classen, Gershowitz says, provide operation and maintenance safety guidelines in the equipment manuals. Operators should also be familiar with the machine’s moving parts.

Proper maintenance and storage is crucial to keeping equipment in tiptop shape throughout the season.

“The more the operator understands about the equipment, the more likely it is they will operate it safely and return it in good working condition so the owners get greater ROI,” Gershowitz says.

Maintenance matters

Equipment has two areas to maintain: the engine and all the other moving parts, which can include belts, blades, pulleys and chains. The most important part of engine maintenance is ensuring it’s filled with clean, freshly pumped gas and that it has the right amount of oil. When it comes to maintaining moving parts, Gershowitz says, make sure the belts are tensioned correctly and the drive chain is sprayed with a silicone-based, waterproof spray. The chain should also be clear of obstructions, including dirt.

Large, national landscape companies typically have a schedule for maintaining equipment, with a lot of the major maintenance being done over the winter when equipment is not in use.

“Manufacturers also include recommended maintenance schedules in equipment manuals, so it’s a good idea to be familiar with those guidelines as well,” Gershowitz says.

Those large companies also typically have written standard operating procedures on maintaining equipment and have their equipment dealers perform repairs and regular maintenance. Smaller companies, on the other hand, typically do their own maintenance as needed.

Storage 101

As far as storing goes, if a piece of equipment is not going to be used for a few months, store it with the gas shut off from the tank to the carburetor. Some manufacturers recommend draining fuel before storing equipment, which ensures the gas doesn’t become stale and turn to a varnish, which can clog the carburetor ports, making the unit difficult to start.

It’s a good idea to cover the equipment with a tarp if it will be stored outside, which will keep it free from the elements.

Employee training

Not every landscape company has the luxury of having a full-time mechanic on staff to help out with maintenance issues, but a few of the national companies do. Smaller companies either have a person knowledgeable enough to make the repairs, or they take the unit to a power equipment shop for repairs. These shops also provide service bulletins to customers, register the equipment and order repair parts.

Should every employee be trained on the importance of maintaining equipment? Gershowitz thinks so.

“The more people who know how to maintain a piece of equipment, the more successful a company will be. Again, the biggest part of maintenance is understanding the idea of safety first. If the employee is using the equipment in a careless way, there is a greater risk of equipment damage and operator injuries.”

Renting equipment often alleviates maintenance and storage headaches while giving landscapers the range of equipment they need to complete their projects. But companies that lease to purchase equipment like trenchers will often make minor repairs such as tine, belt and blade changes themselves and leave the more in-depth repairs, including motor, engine and hydraulic issues, to the power equipment dealer.

A machine needing maintenance on a job site is never a good situation because time is money. If the operator can fix the equipment in the field, they will. More often than not, it’s taken to a power equipment dealer to get the unit repaired, and it’s usually on the landscaper’s dime.

That is why it’s so important to work with high-quality equipment that’s built with better grade components and can handle the day-to-day use.

Maintenance Checklist

  • Safety should always come first. Check to make sure all guards and covers are in place, as well as warning labels.
  • Check gas and oil levels and add accordingly.
  • Ensure the air filter is clean and placed correctly so air can move freely through the filter and debris doesn’t get into the engine. It’s a good idea to mark on the filter cover the date in which oil was changed and the new filter installed.
  • Grease the grease zerks, which are usually around bearings and moving parts that otherwise seize if not lubricated during operation.
  • Start the equipment to ensure it starts correctly. If it’s an electric-start system, be sure the battery connections are in good working order. For manual start equipment, check the pull cord for wear.
  • Inspect the belts for wear spots.
  • Check aerator tines for wear and to ensure they will produce an adequate core depth.
  • Be sure the blades on lawn rakes and overseeders are also in good condition and not so worn they can’t be set to the appropriate depth.
  • It’s also a good idea to check the cutting blades on sod cutters, lawn mowers and brush cutters for sharpness and condition, and tighten any loose blade bolts.
  • Check trailer and equipment tires for proper air inflation.

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Story Of A Landscape: Maintaining The FCA Corporate Campus In Michigan

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Sitting atop a sprawling 504-acre campus, the Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center in Auburn Hills, Michigan, houses all facets of automotive production, from design, vehicle development and engineering to corporate leadership, for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles.

With 5.4 million square feet of office space amid 150 acres of lawn, over 200,000 square feet of landscape beds, and even wetland areas and nature trails, maintaining and improving the grounds at this automotive giant’s headquarters could be a daunting task, even for the most seasoned green-industry professional.

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

But for BrightView, whose Pontiac, Michigan, branch is responsible for the maintenance, it’s a challenge they’ve embraced.

This year, BrightView was given the Grand Award for Turf Maintenance by the National Association of Landscape Professionals for its work at the FCA US headquarters.

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

“You can only win a Grand Award for maintenance every 10 years,” said Jon King, BrightView account manager for the FCA US site. “After winning the Grand Award for Commercial Maintenance at the FCA US facility in 2015, we wanted to continue to showcase our work at this property. This year we entered for turf maintenance and won again.”

“We work closely with FCA US management,” King said. “They have very high expectations, as well as a desire for very competitive pricing, and that’s essentially what keeps us here.”

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

To meet those high expectations, BrightView dedicates a trained crew of 20 people to the campus – working almost year-round – to maintain the grounds.

“Our team is responsible for all the regular weekly maintenance,” King said. “We have people looking at the site every day.”

In addition to the site maintenance team, BrightView has a detail team that reviews the site daily.

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

The detail team is not only responsible for weeding, pruning and fine tuning the property, but they also work hand-in-hand with the BrightView plant health care specialist to monitor and treat any signs of disease and pest issues.

Beyond maintenance, the team works to design and install new additions to the property, such as new perennial beds that incorporate river cobbles. Another project involved extending the river cobble borders between interior roadways and turf to protect the grass from salt damage during winter snow removal efforts.

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

“We have several native Michigan gardens that attract wildlife, butterflies, bees and bats,” King said. “We’re always being asked for new ideas and to expand the landscape beds, so this year, we’ve put in bee pollinators. Over the last several years, we have added bat houses, too.”

Asked why he thinks BrightView was honored with this year’s Grand Award for Turf Maintenance, King believes it’s because of all the planning, attention to detail and hard work that goes into cultivating and maintaining a first-rate turf.

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

“There are so many things that need to be dealt with daily,” he said.  “There could be too much water or too little water, pest issues, fungus or many other issues. With a campus this size, you have to constantly monitor it and adjust your approach. We always address those issues, and it’s pretty much immediate when we do treatments.”

But BrightView’s biggest challenge, he said, is the same inescapable challenge that other companies face: the unpredictability of Mother Nature.

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

“You can schedule your days and plan accordingly, but then it rains or the temperatures rise or decrease more than expected,” King explained. “You always have to adjust to make things work.”

King said he’s immensely proud of how the BrightView crew works together to keep everything moving forward.

“Whether it’s the team member that is whipping, blowing, mowing, doing hardscape work, or diagnosing plant and turf issues, it would be impossible without all of our people involved,” he concluded. “I’d love to take the credit, but it’s theirs. I’m just here to help.”

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

Chrysler World Headquarters and Technology Center

Photo: BrightView

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Tuesday, 26 December 2017

Personality Testing For Account Manager Candidates

personality test

Want to increase your chances of landing a top-flight account manager (AM) for 2018?  Two words: personality testing. The operative words here are “increase your chances” not “guarantee” them.

That’s because, there’s a lively debate among experts as to the usefulness of personality testing in the business world, even as that particular industry remains popular with business owners and continues to grow. (More than 2.5 million people annually take the Myers-Briggs test, the most popular example in this space.)

Longtime industry consultant Kevin Kehoe is a believer in personality testing and suggested it, with qualifications, to a room packed with contractors at this past October’s LANDSCAPES 2017 in Louisville.

What is personality testing? In a sentence, it’s testing that uses a standardized series of questions or tasks (usually questions) that seek to identify and evaluate the test taker’s personality traits or predispositions. In the business and sales world, job applicants are sometimes asked to take such a test, which consists of a long list of questions, which purports to reveal and assess their unique personality style to potential employers.

In the landscape business, for example, the mindset required of a production manager would be very different from the mindset required of an AM. Their responsibilities within a company, while complimentary, are very different.

By it’s nature, personality testing is subjective. Even so, many employers view it as a valuable tool for judging the suitability of prospects usually for high-pay and high-stress positions. Kehoe advised having AM candidates undergo the testing to “get them through the first gate” even before launching into the interviewing process.

“Recruit for personality and train for ability. You must have a system to do that,” Kehoe says. Assessing a candidate’s personality style pre-employment reduces but does not negate the likelihood that an owner “will fall in love in with a person for the wrong reasons,” he added. This includes a job prospect with strong horticultural skills.

“The first thing that I want to qualify people for is what I call ‘the life of an account manager.’ That’s because you are in front of people all day. The people are either satisfied or dissatisfied. And you will have to deal with it every day because things change all the time and plans go out the window.”

The AM’s many responsibilities

Consider that the AM is the primary customer contact for the company they work for: the face of the company with its grounds management clients. To rack up win­-win-wins (for the individual, the company and the client), the AM must work seamlessly with his firm’s production and maintenance crews to ensure that services sold and promised are delivered according to specifications — and profitably too.

Beyond that, an AM’s duties extend to making sure that clients are so pleased with their landscape company’s performance that they renew their contracts at a very high rate. This requires strong communication skills, which are also needed to sell additional property maintenance services to clients, which, of course, bring additional revenue to the AM’s company. In this role, an AM must function as a troubleshooter, which means conducting site audits to suggest new services to improve properties’ appearance and/or safety. Safety (improving sight lines, removing large dying branches, etc.) is a big issue with many clients.

In the end, the following numbers measure the success of an AM:

  1. Revenue growth
  2. Profitability
  3. Sales to budgeted goals
  4. Percentage of contracts retained
  5. Management of satisfied/repeat/referral customer base
  6. Close ratio on proposals presented
  7. Ratio of proposals submitted to backlog goals and objectives

“As an account manager you will have to deal with this, put it all together and do it again the next day” that’s the life. That will either make you or break you,” Kehoe says.

Given the many different responsibilities that an AM must shoulder, the metrics by which they’re judged and their importance to the financial health of the company they work for, it’s little wonder an employer might want to invest in personality testing. But even a good test taker (some prospects are good at answering what they feel an employer might be looking for), doesn’t necessary translate into a good AM.

“Hiring is dicey,” Kehoe cautions. “You will never make the perfect hire.”

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What’s In My Truck: Joe Ryder, Professional Grounds Inc.

Professional Grounds Inc.

Joe Ryder says that his Ford F-150 has been the perfect vehicle for the tasks that he must perform as the landscape production manager for Professional Grounds Inc., based in Lorton, Virginia. Between overseeing logistics and scheduling, checking in on field operations and ensuring that everything is staying on track, Ryder says he spends a lot of time driving around. Ryder, who says he was always on the path toward a green industry career, loves the job as he enjoys spending time outdoors and also working with clients. In his role, he gets a good mix of both. We recently caught up with Ryder to find out more about his truck and what he’s up to on a typical day.

I appreciate that I can load up my Ford F-150 when I need to. If I need to bring materials to a job site or pick them up, I have the capability and space to do that. I can even hitch a trailer if I need more space for something like equipment.

I’m on the go a lot. I may be checking in on job sites, meeting with a customer or meeting up with crews. I’m constantly bouncing around. Sometimes that means sitting in a lot of traffic, which is common in Northern Virginia, but I always look to maximize my time. If I’m in my truck, I’m making calls that need to be made.

The most instrumental thing in my vehicle is its Bluetooth technology. Virginia is not a hands-free state but we do a lot of work in Maryland and D.C., which are hands-free. And given how much I’m on the phone, and how much stop-and-go traffic I’m usually in, it’s just the safer option. Whether I’m setting up work with subcontractors, talking to co-workers about a project or ordering materials, being able to talk while also focusing on the road is critical.

I try to keep my truck neat and organized. Everything has a place and when I go to look for it, I know right where I’ll find it. I don’t snack in the car — largely because I don’t have the time — but also because I really do try to keep things tidy.

One of my favorite things about the green industry is helping bring clients’ ideas to fruition. It’s really rewarding to be able to help give clients spaces they truly love.

The Essentials

Gore-Tex raincoat — That’s a definite necessity since we don’t stop because of the rain.

ZIPLEVEL — For grading.

25-foot tape measure — To check heights or help layout a project.

Soil probe — To get samples from time to time on the chemical make-up of the soil.

Volt meter — Since we also do a lot of low-voltage lighting work.

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Get To Know Mark Ciccarelli

Mark Ciccarelli

Although he went to college for a finance degree, Mark Ciccarelli, vice president of operations for Neave Group Outdoor Solutions, says the office life never suited him. He didn’t like being inside all day when the great outdoors always beckoned him. That’s why, when the opportunity arose to partner with Scott Neave (whose father founded Neave Landscaping in 1973 — from which Neave Group grew), Ciccarelli knew it was a great fit. He and Neave had been friends since childhood and Ciccarelli says they work well together — sort of a yin and yang situation. While Neave enjoys the business management aspect, Ciccarelli is passionate about getting in the field and doing a lot of handson work. That includes overseeing snow and ice management for the Wappingers Falls, New York-based business. The company sees around 48 to 55 inches of average snowfall in their region, and Ciccarelli says it’s typically a busy operation. We recently caught up with Ciccarelli to find out what he likes to do when he’s able to get a break — which he admits isn’t often.

SNOW AND ICE MANAGEMENT IS FUNNY IN THAT IT’S NOT NECESSARILY A DIFFICULT JOB TO DO ONCE THE STORM STARTS BUT THERE IS SO MUCH BEHIND-THE-SCENES WORK THAT USUALLY POSES THE BIGGEST CHALLENGE. It’s a lot of planning. Finding the emergency exits, fire lanes, dumpsters, or even mailboxes if it’s an HOA is all a lot of work. But once you get that stuff ironed out on a site map and you run it through with the property manager, as long as you’re well-staffed and wellequipped, it runs on its own — but that’s all assuming you prepared well.

THERE’S NOTHING HEALTHY ABOUT ME DURING A SNOW STORM. I’m hitting the drive-throughs or eating fast food. I love Oreos and Gatorade. When you’re working long nights it’s hard to stay healthy. You’re usually snacking a lot.

I’M A REAL WORKER — IT’S JUST WHO I AM — SO DOWNTIME IS RARE FOR ME. When I get a break, I’m often using it to still do work — especially if it’s winter. Wintertime really doesn’t offer us much downtime. A break in winter is usually stopping for lunch or maybe grabbing a quick movie.

IF A MACHINE IS EMPTY OR SOMEONE IS TAKING A BREAK, I’M JUMPING IN IT. I’m always trying to keep things moving, especially on our big sites. That’s why there’s really not a lot of time for a break.

OUTSIDE OF THE WINTER, I’LL UNWIND BY GOLFING. Or, I usually take some type of vacation with my wife and kids. My family enjoys Puerto Rico, St. Martin and Florida. We just recently did a big trip along the California coastline, which was a lot of fun.

Visit PlowSite.com for more forums on equipment, business management and technical information. Join the conversation in the largest community of snow and ice business professionals.

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Monday, 25 December 2017

Start 2018 Strong

Start 2018 Strong

How are you feeling about business going into 2018? Going into the new year, small business owners are feeling pretty upbeat, according to the latest Wells Fargo/Gallup Small Business Index survey.The survey further reveals that small business owners are reporting more positive pictures of their revenue in 2017. In fact, 46 percent say their revenue has gone up over the past year versus only 37 percent who reported the same one year ago. Similar year-over-year increases are seen in owners’ reports of their cash flow and their ease of obtaining credit.

The percent of small business owners rating their company’s current financial situation as “very good” or “somewhat good” is now 71 percent, higher than last year’s 66 percent.

Hiring: the good, the bad and the ugly

Small business owners planning to hire is increasing, the survey says, which means there is more fight for the same pool of employees. They even report increasing the number of jobs available at their businesses.

Unfortunately, the higher intention to increase jobs is happening at the same time as the increase in small business owners worrying more about being able to hire good employees. When asked to identify the most important challenge facing their businesses today, 16 percent of owners name hiring and retaining qualified staff — the highest on the list behind government regulations (11 percent), taxes (11 percent), financial stability/cash flow (8 percent), costs/fees of running the business (6 percent) and competition/larger corporations (6 percent).

Is bigger always better?

Newsflash: 71 percent of your larger commercial customers are at risk of taking their business elsewhere.

Since commercial clients tend to be your larger accounts, this number, as reported by Gallup, should scare you. Large accounts tend to attract a lot of attention, which is why the competition is always trying to steal them away. So while winning the big clients can certainly lift revenue, larger revenue clients can be more challenging and demanding to service, keep happy and keep profitable than smaller accounts.

Gallup’s Jeff Durr and John Flming say poor economic growth has forced your commercial customers to hit earnings targets by cost cutting and accepting low bids. Unfortunately, this pressures you to deliver exceptional service at bottom-dollar prices.

They suggest business owners look at the major drivers of poor profitability in their commercial customer bases to find unique ways to improve business outcomes with these high-revenue, high-profile clients. “Early in the sales process,” they say, “companies should evaluate the extent to which these drivers might affect the new relationship – never being afraid to walk away from bad business.”

They recommend providing customer survey data with tactical account management to optimize profitability, employee engagement and, essentially, customer engagement.

Here’s to a profitable and productive 2018.

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5 Questions To Ask When Considering A Biological Control Product

Stand of grass showing soil

Recent advances in biological control strategies to manage turfgrass diseases have been reported, such as the application of composts and the use of antagonistic microorganisms. When determining whether microbial products are right for a lawn, use common sense, sound judgment and ask lots of questions. Ask these five questions when considering the use of biological control products on turfgrass.

1.  Is the product making pesticidal claims?

If yes, is the product EPA registered? This is required by law if they’re making pesticidal claims. The U.S. EPA Office of Pesticide Programs offers a list of all products registered or for which Experimental User Permits (EUPs) have been issued. You can access the list at EPA.gov. If there are no pesticidal claims, the product is not considered a pesticide and does not require EPA registration. When in doubt, contact your state department of agriculture or EPA representative.

2.  How does the product work and what does it actually do?

For biological control products, this might include asking whether suppression is general (control by many organisms) or specific (caused by one or a few organisms) or inquiring about the specific mechanism or mode of action, i.e., competition, antibiotic production, hyperparasitism or induced resistance.

3.  Was the product tested?

Who tested it (ask for names and telephone numbers)? Were the results published in a reputable scientific journal? Were the experiments confirmed by multiple researchers? Preferably tested at a university by nonbiased researchers. Contact a turfgrass pathologist and get their thoughts on the product as well. Use your state extension specialists!

4.  Are others in the area using the product?

If the answer is yes, ask for references and give them a call to get their opinion on the product. Use your local network.

5.  Will they supply you with enough product for testing under your conditions to substantiate their claims?

If the product is really new and you don’t believe it has been tested enough in the field (based on answers to the above questions), then ask for a sample to evaluate on your turfgrass. Use common sense and take a somewhat conservative approach when applying the product. For example, avoid making large-scale applications to your high-value areas. Test the product using small-scale applications, making certain to include both untreated and standard-treated plots to enable you to fairly assess the efficacy of the new product or approach.

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in SportsField Management Magazine.

Pam Sherratt is a sports turf specialist at Ohio State University and served on the STMA board of directors from 2010-2011.

Joe Rimelspach is a program specialist at Ohio State University.

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Friday, 22 December 2017

Tiny Firm In Oregon’s High Desert Promotes Irrigation Industry

Tiny Firm in Oregon’s High Desert Promotes Industry

People don’t move here to become a gardener. And, people don’t move here expecting to do a lot of lawn maintenance either,” says Molly McDowell Dunston of North of South Landscapes. “People move here because they want to go outside and play.”

She’s referring to Bend, Oregon. Located on the eastern edge of Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, Bend is a magnet for folks seeking the outdoorsy lifestyle. Mountain biking, fishing, hiking, camping, skiing, white-water rafting — you name it and the region has it. Consequently, several major publications have, over the past decade, lauded Bend as one of the best places in America to live. Fueled at least in part by these accolades, Bend’s population has grown from about 52,000 in 2000 to more than 83,000 today.

Dunston is a transplant to central Oregon herself. She came to play, yes, but also to further her career in the green industry. Born, raised and educated in South Dakota, Dunston put down roots in Bend’s thin, high-desert soil 12 years ago. The move marked the beginning of her professional career as a self-described “irrigation nerd.”

Today, she and her partner, Angie Snell, operate North of South Landscapes. The two women (yes, just the two of them) provide irrigation services along with landscape design, lighting and other specialty services in Bend and the surrounding region of central Oregon.

Do what you love and love what you do

It’s hardly an accident that they’re now running a small but highly respected green industry company. Dunston earned a degree in agriculture with an emphasis on landscape architecture from South Dakota State University in 2005. Snell came to Bend after earning her academic credentials in landscape architecture at the University of Idaho. Academics aside, they attempt to live each day and perform their services in a spirit of “Do What You Love. Love What You Do.” It’s this positive attitude that delights clients and has them firmly established in the central Oregon business community.

Being such a specialized operation, however, the two women are careful not to take on more they can do at the highest levels of their ability.

“If we come across a project that is bigger than the two of us want to tackle, we pass on it. There’s plenty of work out there for everyone, and we’re open to helping other contractors,” says Dunston, claiming that her greatest on-the-job pleasure is designing and retrofitting irrigation systems.

“I love that part of the business; it’s the perfect intersection of art and science. I love the challenge of figuring out how to provide clients with the best looking landscapes using the least amount of inputs.”

Bend, at an elevation of 3,200 feet, is located in a high-desert, semi-arid environment characterized by sunny days and cool nights. The region’s soils are generally shallow and range from sandy to volcanic. For the most part, they lack organic matter.

Consumers shifting to low-input landscapes

“You must have irrigation here to have a successful landscape here. I don’t care how cool your design is or what kind of plants you install, if your irrigation system isn’t up to speed your landscape will not be successful,” says Dunston.

For that reason, property owners — especially homeowners — are increasingly recognizing the benefits of turning their large lawns and other water-intensive plantings into naturalized, low-input landscapes.

“We’ve had a lot of newcomers from California moving here in recent years and they already have that mindset. While these landscapes still need irrigation to get them established, as an irrigation specialist that’s what I like,” Dunston adds.

As busy as Dunston and Snell are within their business (Snell is also a master stained glass craftsperson), they’re both active in community and industry affairs. Both women have served as officers with the Central Oregon branch of the OLCA (Oregon Landscape Contractors Association). And, Dunston, who teaches Irrigation Basics at Central Oregon Community College, remains active on the Oregon Landscape Contractor Board, as well as the Irrigation Association.

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Thursday, 21 December 2017

John Deere Gator Models Recognized With 2018 AE50 Award: This Week’s Industry News

John Deere Gator

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.

John Deere Gator XUV Models Recognized with 2018 AE50 Award
The American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) recognizes the Gator XUV835 and Gator XUV865 from John Deere with the AE50 Award for 2018. The AE50 award highlights the year’s most innovative designs in product engineering in the food and agriculture industry, as chosen by a panel of international engineering experts. Introduced in 2017, the new utility vehicles are designed for customers who need all-day comfort with off-road terrain capability in all seasons. The gas-powered Gator XUV835 and diesel-powered Gator XUV865 offer a quiet cab, three-wide seating, and heating and air conditioning to maximize productivity and comfort.

Rotary Offers Assortment of Trimmer Parts, Accessories for 2018
A full line of commercial strength trimmer line, parts and accessories are among more than 9,500 items featured in Rotary’s new 2018 catalog for servicing dealers and distributors. A special 28-page trimmer section includes photos, illustrations and descriptions plus a trimmer head application chart. Featured items for 2018 are diamond-cut, quad-tex, premium quad, precut and Rotary’s best-selling twisted vortex line which produces less noise and requires less operating power.

FINN Awarded National Purchasing Contract by the National Joint Powers Alliance
FINN Corporation has been awarded a national purchasing contract by the National Joint Powers Alliance (NJPA) under the category of Roadway Maintenance, Asphalt, Snow & Ice and is officially available to NJPA Members. Through this contract (#052417-FNN) members now have the ability to purchase all FINN products including HydroSeeders, Straw Blowers and Bark and Mulch Blowers.

Growth Consultant Jason Cupp Wins Kolbe Professional Award
Kolbe Corp announced Kansas City-based business leader Jason Cupp as a 2017 Conative Excellence award winner. The professional award honors a consultant for success in applying conative theory – which uses instinctive strengths to unlock greater human potential. Cupp was one of four finalists for the award, which honors distinguished leaders for applying conative theory to identify people’s natural strengths through consulting work. The criteria is based on expertise in Kolbe Theory, impact on organizations and voting from a panel of more than 80 other consultants. Cupp has been a Kolbe Certified Consultant since 2006.

Registration Now Open for the 2018 ASIC National Conference
The 2018 ASIC National Conference Website and Registration is now open. The event will be held March 4-6, in Quebec City, Canada at Fairmont Le Ch√Ęteau Frontenac, with a mix of education, networking and fun. The early-bird registration deadline is Friday, January 12, 2018.

Project EverGreen Renovates William Bradley Park in San Marcos
The playing surface of William Bradley Park’s Field # 3 in San Marcos, California, became uneven due to the settling of decomposing organic matter — the park was built on a former landfill in the 1960s — and was in need of immediate attention. Project EverGreen and Hunter Industries, along with the Southern California Sports Turf Managers Association, and local landscape contractors and suppliers came together to revitalize this valuable stretch of green space. The project was valued at more than $31,000 in donated time and materials. The project included: aeration, re-seeding, weed control, new sod installation, field laser-level grading, infield clay soil mix, outfield warning track mix, outfield top dress sand to fill in uneven areas, field and shrub beds, irrigation repair and re-alignment, new trees and shrubs bed planting, mulching and repairs and painting of ballfield dugouts, benches, fences, and backstop.

Ferris Honored With Gold Level Award From EDA For 3rd Year
For the third consecutive year, the Equipment Dealers Association (EDA) awarded its Gold Level Award to Briggs & Stratton Corporation for its Ferris commercial mower products. This year, 2,371 dealers participated in EDA’s detailed dealer-manufacturer relations survey. Annually, dealers are asked to rate manufacturers on a scale of one to seven, one being extremely dissatisfied and seven being extremely satisfied. EDA members noted improvement in Ferris’ warranty procedures and say they’re satisfied with warranty payments. The increase in satisfaction comes after Ferris introduced a flexible limited warranty for all commercial riding mowers. In the first two years, Ferris riding mowers have an unlimited hour warranty. After two years, the mower has a 500 hour or four-year warranty, whichever comes first. Ferris walk behind mowers have an unlimited hour warranty1 for the first two years.

JCB North America Celebrates Employee Excellence
JCB North America hosted its annual “Celebrating Success” event, to recognize employees who made extraordinary contributions to the company’s success in 2017, and to celebrate those who achieved significant employment anniversaries in the past 12 months. The event at the company’s headquarters in Savannah, Georgia, was attended by 250 employees. The ceremony recognized milestone years service anniversaries of more than 60 employees, including two 30-year service award recipients, Steve Fox, president of Direct Sales and Product, and Chris Harrison, development engineer, and 40-year service award recipient, John Carter, aftermarket sales specialist.

SiteOne Signs Definitive Agreement to Acquire Pete Rose, Inc.
SiteOne Landscape Supply, Inc. has announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Pete Rose, Inc. Started in 1975, Pete Rose has one location in the Richmond, Virginia market, and is a leader in the distribution of natural stone and hardscape material. The deal is scheduled to close in January 2018, subject to the satisfaction of customary closing conditions.

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How To Interpret Doppler Radar

How to Interpret Doppler Radar

We turn to a very valuable weather tool to track precipitation and approaching storms. While some may not fully understand the intricacies of weather radar, most have at least seen several varieties of weather radar either online or on your local news channel. While radar is quite important to a meteorologist in the midst of tracking a winter storm, there are times when radar can be deceiving. If a snow plow contractor relies solely on what they see on radar, it may wind up hurting their bottom line over the course of a winter season. Throughout this article, we will discuss what radar is, how it works and provide some insight into some misconceptions and limitations of radar.

RADAR, an acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging, was fully developed around World War II and was primarily used to detect the presence of enemy fleets. The objective of weather radar is to detect the presence of atmospheric moisture or precipitation in the form of rain, snow, sleet and/or hail. First, a radar transmitter sends out electromagnetic radio waves into the atmosphere and waits for the return signal. The strength of the return signal as it bounces off the atmospheric particles provide a clue to the type and intensity of the precipitation detected. The strength of the return beam is then color coded on the radar and helps distinguish the density and intensity of the detected precipitation. Another very important aspect of radar is the use of the “Doppler Effect.” The commonly referred name, Doppler radar provides the ability to detect how fast precipitation is moving in a certain direction. This is most useful in severe thunderstorm detection but a recent technology upgrade to dual polarization radar has greatly improved detection of winter precipitation types. A radar profile that now provides both a horizontal and vertical profile allows meteorologists to understand the potential size and shape of the object which increases confidence on the type of wintry precipitation and where the rain/snow may be setting up over a given area.

There is a vast coverage of approximately 160 Doppler radar sites across the United States and U.S. territories, known as the NEXRAD network. It is important to note that even with an expansive network, there are known gaps in radar coverage (most prevalent in the western U.S. and high elevation areas). It is a good idea to know where the nearest Doppler radar is to your location (http://ift.tt/2oRBWQH). A collection of all the individual Doppler radars across the country are combined to produce three common composite views often shown at the national, regional and state levels. These views are good to capture an understanding of what is occurring on a large scale but often over estimate precipitation amounts. Since, some broader views often overestimate precipitation, it is best to view a high resolution local Doppler radar to see what is happening at your exact location.

RADAR Limitations

Although radar can be a great weather tool for tracking the approach of storms and precipitation, there are some unavoidable limitations. Understanding these limitations can help you better prepare your operations when winter weather strikes.

The first misconception is that radar detects everything that reaches the ground. This is actually false. The radar beam is oriented at a half degree angle which has implications for locations that are farther away from the transmitter. Nearly all precipitation is detected within 80 miles of the radar site. However, the greater the distance from the transmitter, the greater the vertical distance between the ground and the radar beam. So in the case of distant location, the radar beam may overshoot and not detect low level or light precipitation like drizzle. In addition, there are times when precipitation is detected on the radar but is not reaching the ground. “Virga” is not a stranger during the winter months and defined as precipitation that falls from a cloud at high altitudes but evaporates before reaching the ground. It is true that the radar is detecting precipitation, but the cold, dry air mass below the radar beam evaporates the falling snow before it reaches the ground. So, if you are just relying on a radar screen to call out crews without supplementing with actual ground observations, it may wind up costing you a few hours of standby time before the snow actually begins at your location.

Next, the user of the Doppler radar should understand that there are two viewing modes available, clear air and precipitation mode. The intensity scale and colors may look the same on both modes, but they are labeled at different decibels (dBz). Often times you will find the mode of the radar just above the intensity scale. Clear air mode ranges from -28 to +28 dBz and is commonly used when there is little to no precipitation detected in the area. Clear air mode is very sensitive and useful for detecting very light precipitation (flurries or drizzle). Due to the sensitivity, it has been known to also detect atmospheric phenomena like smoke, dust and even migrating birds. Precipitation mode ranges from 5 dBz to 75 dBz and is the most commonly used mode available on the internet and local news channels when actual precipitation is detected. This radar mode helps to determine the intensity and/or density of the precipitation.

USEFUL RADAR VIEWING TIPS:

Learn where the nearest Doppler RADAR site is located.

Start at national & regional levels for an overview.

Check the date and timestamp on the RADAR.

Know the mode the RADAR is operating in.

Follow the animations over the last several hours.

Identify higher intensity areas, shifts and patterns.

Understand limitations of Winter Mosaic RADAR.

Use ground observations, web cams and/or consultation services to verify what you see is correct.

Finally, there is winter mosaic radar. Your local news channels will often refer to this eye appealing, colorful radar depicting the precipitation type over a given area (blue = snow, pink = sleet or mixed precipitation and green = rain). Keep in mind, this radar also has its limitations. The first concern is that winter mosaic radar only occurs at the national, regional or state composite level which often leads to an overestimation of precipitation. Next, the depiction of colors come from a computer algorithm and the actual rain/snow line can often differ by 5-10 miles. Finally, local topography (elevation differences) may affect the radar presentations. Actual ground observations and dual polarization radar should be utilized to determine what is actually occurring at the ground surface.

Even with its downfalls, radar still remains one of the most valuable tools when tracking incoming weather and can be a huge boost to your winter operations when utilized correctly. Knowing what to look for on radar and understanding some of its limitations can certainly provide a leg up on your competition this winter. When it comes to utilizing weather radar in the snow removal industry, practice makes perfect.

Visit PlowSite.com for more forums on equipment, business management and technical information. Join the conversation in the largest community of snow and ice business professionals.

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What’s Your Take On Irrigation Licensing?

Licensing for irrigation contractors, yea or nay? Admittedly, it’s a complicated issue and one that generates strong emotional responses from the owners of landscape service businesses.

Let’s start by agreeing that unskilled and unqualified irrigators can and often do great damage to the landscapes that they service and sometimes to the structures — driveways, sidewalks, home foundations, etc. — on these properties, the primary justification for licensing. Often referred to as lowballers, “job gypsies” also damage the industry’s image, not to mention its ability to charge a “fair” price for services performed through shoddy workmanship and poorly performing materials.

Lawmakers that implement licensing and the beauracrats that administer it, insist it helps protect consumers and, ultimately, protects the welfare of responsible companies that design and service landscape irrigation systems.

While laudable, how effective is licensing in accomplishing these goals? It’s safe to say that very few if any service providers feel they need more government hoops through which to jump. Ultimately, however, it’s what professional contractors see and experience in the field that colors their views of licensing, especially since licensing is another cost for them. (New Jersey contractors must pay a $300 initial certification fee, plus a $150 examination fee, according to New Jersey EPA website.)

Is it being enforced fairly and openly in the field? Does it really make a difference in weeding out the dishonest, unfit and careless, under-the-radar operators? Is it helping to protect the integrity of the industry in consumers’ eyes?

According to the Irrigation Association (IA), four states require a license for landscape irrigators: Louisiana, New Jersey, North Carolina and Texas. Five others — California, Connecticut, Oregon, Illinois and Rhode Island — require a license that is not solely specific to irrigation but has provisions that govern irrigation contraction. Florida offers a voluntary license that exempts a licensed individual from local irrigation contractor licenses. Your city or county may require licensing, so it’s always a good idea to check there, as well, before launching into landscape irrigation.

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Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Story Of A Landscape: Anchoring Porcelain Pavers For A Chicago Deck Installation

Regular followers of the Hardscape North America awards may have noticed a new product on the list this year. For the first time, the use of porcelain pavers — both for residential and commercial projects — appeared as a category.

And, when it came to the commercial competition, this year’s winner recognized a project that utilized a new way of installing this attractive paver. Warrenville, Illinois-based C.R. Schmidt, Inc., took home the prize for work it did on the 14th floor deck of one of the Windy City’s premier apartment buildings, the Sterling Private Residences.

Olivia Lockett, C.R. Schmidt’s president, explains the job was not a typical porcelain paver project in that an important goal of the work was to keep the 2 foot by 2 foot by 3/4 inch pavers where they belong.

“Porcelain is a very light material, about nine pounds-per-square-foot,” Lockett explains. “Combatting against wind lift is a big deal for projects like this because the porcelain is so light it can fly around like frisbees.”

Photo: C.R. Schmidt, Inc.

The fact that the company was willing to take on a new system of installing the porcelain pavers — plus its previous experience working for the prime contractor — is what got C.R. Schmidt the job, Lockett believes.

That the company was also recommended by the porcelain paver supplier, Tile Tech Pavers of Vernon, California, as well as the design team, didn’t hurt either.

“We really were one of the very, very few contractors in the Chicago area who had any experience with this whatsoever,” she says.

There were also a couple factors involved in the designers’ decision to specify porcelain for the job, Lockett believes. Certainly, weight was one of them.

Photo: C.R. Schmidt, Inc.

“They were trying to keep the weight on the roof deck as minimal as possible,” she says, adding that because the job site was in an existing building all the materials for the project had to reach the site via a freight elevator, rather than being craned.

However, even more important, she feels, is the product’s aesthetics.

“The weight characteristic is attractive, but they also have aesthetic characteristics,” Lockett says. “This is very nice-looking stuff. It doesn’t look like a concrete paver; it looks more like tile, and designers like that. They can add a lot of different finishes in porcelain.”

Since this project was to create an attractive gathering and socialization area for residents of the building, complete with outdoor cooking and seating areas, the designers were looking for products that would look nice and hold up in exterior conditions.

Photo: C.R. Schmidt, Inc.

Lockett says the deck area was approximately 4,000 square feet, and her four-man crew arrived at the site of this $125,000 job as much of the rest of the work was winding down.

“There were some carpenters doing things with some of the cooking areas, and some of the finish guys were placing furniture, but that was about it,” she says. “The waterproofing, the electric, the drainage and other types of infrastructure were long completed before we came on the scene.”

While the lightness of the product also made the job less labor-intensive, and C.R. Schmidt was able to complete the work in two weeks, Lockett says part of the speed of the crew came from in-house training the company did before heading to the job site.

“We had installed these porcelain pavers just by themselves on a pedestal, so we were familiar with Tile Tech’s product, and we were familiar with their pedestal system,” she says. “However, the wind uplift system was new to us.”

Photo: C.R. Schmidt, Inc.

Lockett explains the wind uplift system as basically fastening four pavers to a plastic tray that together combine to form a system closer to the 2-inch depth of concrete pavers.

To make sure everything was done correctly, she consulted with the people at Tile Tech, and then watched instructional videos on that company’s website.

“We did our own mock-ups, and experienced our own trial-and-error in-house here at our facility before we ever went out into the world,” Lockett says. “That’s how we gained experience.”

While she says she’s quite pleased with the aesthetics of the completed job, she’s most proud of how the job came off without a hitch, even having to maneuver around the remaining crews and already installed infrastructure.

“Our trial-and-error and our practice runs were very effective,” she says. “Even though this was the first time we used the system, it’s sometimes difficult to teach old dogs new tricks. This was a new trick we had to learn, and we won an award for it, so that’s the cherry on top.”

Photo: C.R. Schmidt, Inc.

And, while learning the system was a challenge, Lockett says perhaps an even bigger challenge was developing a good process to keep the work flowing, especially when the staging had to be done onsite.

“There’s a lot of assembly that’s required with this system,” she explains. “The porcelain tiles have to be fastened to a tray; we were gluing them to each other. Then, we had to screw those into the pedestals and we had to put together the pedestals.”

It was clearly a learning experience, Lockett says, but worth the effort.

Photo: C.R. Schmidt, Inc.

“Since this was our first time using the wind uplift system, we did everything at the site,” she says. “We also learned that was probably not the best method of approach. Preassembling as much as you can is definitely a better way.”

However, it’s been a lesson worth learning.

“We’ve done a large project on another high rise — brand-new construction in the Loop — and we’re gearing up to do another one before the end of the year,” Lockett concludes. “This system has effectively combatted wind conditions, and opened up using porcelain in a lot of application where it could previously not be used.

“It’s definitely taking off — just not off the decks.”

The post Story Of A Landscape: Anchoring Porcelain Pavers For A Chicago Deck Installation appeared first on Turf.



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Seeking Louder Voices For Oklahoma Irrigators

Seeking Louder Voices for Oklahoma Irrigators

Things looked rosy for businesses in Oklahoma City in January 2007. Rosy enough for Jeff Ebbs to strike out on his own after six years working for a local, well-established landscape company. The U.S. economy, growing by more than 3 percent annually, was six years into a recovery following the relatively mild 2001 recession.

But the health of the economy wasn’t what it appeared to be. Ominous but largely ignored cracks were growing. The resulting implosion of the domestic housing market generated a contagion that spread worldwide and generated a massive international credit crunch. Welcome to the Great Recession of 2007-2009.

Jeff, soon after starting his business and seeing all kinds of financial hell break loose, might be excused for wondering if he picked the right time to start a new landscape company focusing on irrigation services.

“Let’s just say it was very, very hard getting started,” recalls Jeff’s wife, Rebekah. Rebekah was working in retail and had to quit after six months to help run the company.

The first year they both did everything from planting flowers to putting down ice melt. Thus was born Urban Lawn & Landscape Inc., which survived the difficult startup phase thanks to the couple’s persistence and the experience Jeff had gained previously. The Ebbs also credit some much-appreciated business sent their way by Total Environment, his former employer.

Today, the couple continues to work closely together in Urban Lawn & Landscape, with Jeff doing most of the irrigation work while also overseeing operations. The company, now employing 17, has grown beyond irrigation to also offer a range of lawn and landscape services.

The region’s generally strong economy is driving increased demand for landscape services, and Oklahoma City’s hot, dry growing season and ever-rising water bills are keeping the Ebbs (and other irrigation service providers) busy.

“Reducing customers’ water bills has become a big issue in our market,” says Rebekah. Most of the clients in their service area are on odd-even-day watering schedules, and the cost of potable water keeps rising. There also seems to be more appreciation for water- efficient landscapes as well as native and drought-resistant adapted plants. This is understandable given that much of their company’s work is in and around the city’s downtown where there’s lots of concrete, and Oklahoma City summers can be scorching hot. Consequently, the couple is seeing a robust demand for water-efficient landscapes and also for hardscapes within their market.

“While we’ve been offering different kinds of landscapes and learning more and more about xeriscaping, even native plantings need to be irrigated during their first year of establishment,” says Rebekah. “Everything has to have water here.”

Seeking the same respect as other trades

The Ebbs, as busy as they are, have nevertheless been among the small group of professional contractors supporting and attempting to make the 3-year-old Oklahoma Irrigation Association (OIA) a more valuable resource for irrigation professionals. Rebekah serves as president of the OIA and her husband as secretary. The OIA is partnering with Oklahoma State University (OSU) and has established a good working relationship with local government officials.

One of OIA’s goals is to develop an educational path leading to a state irrigation certification program. Turfgrass and horticulture educators at OSU are helping with this.

“We are not looking to get outside of the national Irrigation Association in terms of what we are trying to do,” says Rebekah. “Rather, we feel it would be valuable to have a curriculum more in tune to conditions in Oklahoma.”

The OIA is also working with city officials to have landscape irrigators be viewed and treated equally in terms of rules and regulations as other professional service providers.

“Obviously, people don’t want a lot of regulations, and I agree. I don’t want the government in our business any more than it already is either,” says Rebekah. “But we need to be considered as a true profession. You have to be educated to do what we do, and, like other true professions, we need continuing education.

“To be looked upon like any other highly skilled trade, we need to have similar processes in place. And that’s what the OIA is trying to accomplish,” says Rebekah.

The post Seeking Louder Voices For Oklahoma Irrigators appeared first on Turf.



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