Friday, 31 March 2017

Like a Boss: Stepping Back and Learning to Delegate

Todd Thomasson, owner of Rock Water Farm Landscapes & Hardscapes

When Todd Thomasson, owner of Rock Water Farm Landscapes & Hardscapes in Aldie, Virginia, started out, he was basically doing it all — working 100-plus hours every single week and wearing all the hats. After working all day in the field, he’d meet with clients every evening. Maintaining such crazy hours, Thomasson admits he “barely remembers his 20s.” It was a busy time — but the company has grown tremendously because of that hard work at its start. A decade older and wiser, Thomasson says he has learned to hire for growth — and to let go of some of the control he’s solely maintained — but he admits it hasn’t been easy.

Thomasson says that he has learned he doesn’t want to be everyone’s go-to for everything at this point in the company’s growth. Along those same lines, he doesn’t want every single customer to have his cell phone number anymore. He has delegated much of that work to managers who can be handling those matters.

“The fact is, if it’s getting to me, there’s been a breakdown in the system somewhere and I want to know why,” Thomasson says. “And if it gets to a point where I must intervene, it’s important to get to the bottom of why.”

Getting to this point where he’s been able to take a step back and let managers handle a lot of the day-to-day stuff has also meant accepting the fact that mistakes are going to be made.

“You have to be able to let your employees make mistakes, too — after all, it’s how they learn,” Thomasson says. “Mistakes are how I learned. Hopefully with your direction, they won’t make mistakes as bad as you did. It’s certainly not easy to do. It’s not easy to sit back and watch mistakes being made. However, it is how you handle those situations that will make a tremendous difference in what your employees learn. And it’s how you handle those situations that will ensure they don’t happen again.”

Thomasson says it is a huge mistake to come in yelling and cussing over a mistake that was made. He says that will only cause employees to resent you. Instead, Thomasson says he keeps a very open line of communication with his people so that they aren’t afraid to come to him if a mistake is made. This is where steps toward growth can really be made.

“As we sit down and talk out a problem, we get to the bottom of why it happened in the first place,” Thomasson explains. “It’s possible it was even my fault — maybe I didn’t give that employee everything they needed to succeed. If they were missing a tool from the truck for the job one day, did I provide them with the checklist of what they would need? You must always ask yourself if you provided your employees with what they need to be successful before you let them take the blame for a problem. Working together is where you come up with the best solutions and the best opportunities for growth.”

Thomasson adds that when you are working to get to the root of a problem that it’s very important to leave emotions out of the discussion. He says he has spent a lot of time focusing on emotional intelligence.

“Controlling your emotions is hard,” he admits. “I am not always successful at it but it ultimately leads to a more productive conversation when you can do that.”

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Case Study: Pie Giveaway Generates Off-Season Calls

Case Study: Pie Giveaway Generates Off-Season Calls

Marketing a seasonal business can be tricky. Reach out at the wrong time, and you might as well kiss your marketing dollars goodbye. And only advertising when your competitors do can get you lost in the crowd.

Jack Robertson, owner of Robertson Lawn Care in Springfield, Illinois, has mastered the art of off-season promotion. His annual Thanksgiving pie giveaway has become a much-anticipated community event that keeps his company top-of-mind at a time when landscaping is the last thing on anyone’s mind.

It started 25 years ago when he decided to reward his oldest 100 accounts with a thank-you certificate for a free pie from Baker’s Square at Thanksgiving. Baker’s Square was right around the corner from the Robertson Lawn Care office, and customers were encouraged to stop in and say, “Hi” when they came to pick up their pie. Robertson is a big believer in relationship marketing and the power of a kind gesture to generate customer loyalty. “I want people talking to our staff. I want the relationship from the first day — I want them to know about us, see that we have a building, a staff, people who work here year round.”

It worked. Out of 100 certificates, 78 people picked up a pie, and the majority came in to thank the Robertson staff. “Do something like that, and now you’ve got a good relationship,” Robertson explains. “My objective is not just to gain but to retain customers. We want the ‘hole at the bottom of bag’ (customer loss) to be as tight as it can be so our new customer intake doesn’t have to be as large.”

The promotion was so successful that Robertson decided to turn it into a Community and Customer Appreciation Day, using radio and social media to promote the event. “When people pick up a pie, they don’t have to be a customer or fill anything out. We just ask them to smile. Every 50 pies, we post a picture of that person with the pie. It’s become a huge event in town.”

The pie promotion has grown year by year. Last November, the Robertson staff gave away over 1,000 pumpkin pies in a four-hour period. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s a lot of fun, and it’s been extremely beneficial for us,” says Robertson. “Those pies are going right on the Thanksgiving Day table. You can imagine the attention we’re getting in an off-season period.”

Attention is one thing, but results are another — and the pies deliver. Since starting the promotion, Robertson Lawn Care receives regular calls for estimates in November and December — months that are normally very slow. And, says Robertson, the goodwill and brand recognition the event generates has a positive effect on business all year long.

Don’t be afraid to have a little fun with your marketing. While most companies would never alter their logo, Robertson Lawn Care uses logo variations as attention-getting entertainment throughout the year.

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Thursday, 30 March 2017

April Kicks Off World Landscape Architecture Month: This Week’s Industry News

Photo composite includes an image of the At the Hudson's Edge: Beacon's Long Dock a Resilient Riverfront Park, designed by Reed Hilderbrand LLC, which received a 2015 ASLA Award of Excellence in the General Design Category. Photo: James Ewing Photography/ASLA

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.

Just Launched by ASLA: Your Land, a Magazine Supplement for Kids
Landscape Architecture Magazine, the monthly magazine of the American Society of Landscape Architects, has just launched Your Land, a special print supplement for young readers. Your Land is a one-time publication produced in response to a rising interest among ASLA members to introduce the profession of landscape architecture to students from grade school through high school.

Steven Hohl to be Named ASIC Fellow
Irrigation Consultant Steven Hohl, Principal at Water Concern LTD., Rancho Santa Margarita, CA, joins the ranks of American Society of Irrigation Consultants Fellows. The induction ceremony will be in conjunction with the 2017 ASIC Awards Banquet, April 25, in Seattle, Washington. Hohl enrolled as one of the first students in the Irrigation Science Program at Cal Poly, Pomona.  Upon graduation, he began his career in irrigation and has since stayed focused on his goal of having a positive impact on his chosen industry.

ASLA Celebrates World Landscape Architecture Month
This April the American Society of Landscape Architects will celebrate World Landscape Architecture Month by highlighting the work of its members, chapter by chapter. Starting on April 1, for the next 49 days, a different chapter will take over ASLA’s Instagram each day to show the best of the profession from around the country. ASLA encourages others to post pictures of their favorite landscape architect-designed spaces with a card that reads, “This is Landscape Architecture,” tagged #WLAM2017, on social media. Anyone can download a “This is Landscape Architecture” card online or find one in the April issue of Landscape Architecture Magazine.

H-2B Fly-In Announced for April 26
NALP and other members of the H-2B Workforce Coalition have announced a fly-in that will occur on April 26. The timing corresponds with the deadline for Congress to adopt a 2017 budget. Currently, the federal government is operating under a continuing resolution that extended 2016 budget allocations until April 28. If Congress fails to act prior to that date, the federal government would be forced to shut down.

STIHL Inc. Announces Sponsorship of Team Rubicon
STIHL Inc. is supplying power equipment and funding to support the mission of Team Rubicon, which unites the skills and experiences of military veterans with first responders to rapidly deploy emergency response teams. Team Rubicon has long used STIHL equipment in its missions in disaster zones. Team Rubicon volunteers have been trained to properly use a range of STIHL chain saw models.

LawnStarter Report: Top Places Where People Care Most About Lawn Care
A LawnStarter analysis of Google Trends data from March 2012 to March 2017 shows the combined area of Cedar Rapids, Dubuque, Iowa City and Waterloo in Iowa led all U.S. metro regions in Google searches for the term “lawn care” during the five-year period. In the LawnStarter analysis, all seven regions with the highest degree of search interest in “lawn care” are in the Midwest.

The 2017 Green Industry Benchmark Report Released by HindSite
For this year’s Green Industry Bench Report, HindSite Software received responses from over 250 professionals. Eight-seven percent said labor force was their biggest challenge. Responses ranked the most profitable services with design/build leading the way followed by irrigation and mowing services. Hindsite compiled the data from these responses into nearly 60 pages of critical industry insight that include over 60 graphs, charts and visuals. You can view and download the full report online.

GreenCare and SnowCare Volunteers Wanted
If you register to be a GreenCare or SnowCare for Troops volunteer with Project EverGreen by April 30, 2017 and agree to help at least one family in your area, you will be entered into a drawing to win a $500 Home Depot gift card. Program volunteers provide basic lawn and landscape services and/or snow removal, free of charge to families of deployed military personnel, and post 9/11 veterans with service-connected injuries or disabilities.

This Sunday: STIHL Extreme Sports Block on NBC Sports
The STIHL Extreme Sports Block airs this Sunday, April 2nd, on NBC Sports Network.  Here is the lineup of events:

  • 3:30-4:30 p.m. EST — STIHL National Championship Air Race presented by Reno-Tahoe USA
  • 4:30-5:30 p.m. EST — STIHL TIMBERSPORTS World Championships
  • 5:30-6:30 p.m. EST — Super Boat World Championships presented by STIHL

EnP to Market Foliar-Pak Brand Nationally
Beginning this summer, EnP will market its Foliar-Pak brand of fertilizers nationally and retire the EnP Turf brand. EnP Turf customers will notice new packaging, new product names, and even some new products in the line. The Illinois-based company manufactures specialty fertilizers for the turf and ornamental market. The Foliar-Pak brand has been sold in the Midwest and Long Island, New York.

NaturaLawn of America Announces Locations in Louisville & Lexington
NaturaLawn of America is now serving the Louisville area (Bullitt, Jefferson, Oldham, Shelby and Spencer counties) and Lexington area (Franklin, Woodford, Jessamine, Fayette and Clark counties). For over 30 years, the company has provided natural and organic-based lawn care service to over 80,000 homes across the country. Headquartered in Frederick, Maryland, NaturaLawn is a national franchise currently with 85 locations in 23 states.

Read last week’s industry news: CASE Ships 300,000th Skid Steer to Ohio Firm

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How to Route and Schedule Major Snow Events

tire tracks

What’s key to profitability in the snow removal business? Experts will tell you it’s all in the effective delivery of routing and scheduling. And it’s not just how your crews service a property during a snow event, but also how it’s handled before and after.

“Generally speaking, our industry takes for granted the money, resources and time involved in delivering our services,” says Mike Rorie, CEO of Cincinnati-based GIS Dynamics and 30-year veteran in the commercial grounds and landscape industry. “If you aren’t routing your crews with profit in mind, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table. And this doesn’t just apply to driving your routes. Sales and operations have a huge hand in routing a job so that it’s completed in the most efficient manner every time for the largest return on investment.”

And then there’s the significance of routing software systems. Raymond J. Hodnett, CEO of Allenhurst, New Jersey-based Geo3.0 snow and ice removal management software, believes the equipment, tools and technology available to snow professionals has never been more accessible and cost-effective than it is right now.

Today, a multitude of snow-specific software systems and apps are available. GPS technology is improving and scalable. Salt measurement and management technologies have become increasingly sophisticated and are likewise scalable.

Rorie believes that when selecting any software, rule No. 1 is that it needs to integrate with your current software. Other important elements include real-time tracking capabilities with quick data entry and user-friendly interface that allows road crews, and not just lead dispatchers highly trained in software input, to also input their data on route changes and equipment usage. The system should also be web-based, not just downloadable, and served in the cloud with real-time viewing available for on-demand client usage.

Tom Canete, president and CEO of Canete Snow Management in Wayne, New Jersey, uses a software system that formulates the exact amount of snow and ice melting chemicals dropped by each one of the hundreds of trucks used in major snow and ice events based on weather conditions, location and performance. His software system also formulates maintenance needs on each truck and generates a multitude of necessary reports.

Yet, Canete doesn’t rely solely on electronic management. There’s a few old-fashioned practices he still employs and would not change, including the implementation of war room magnetic white boarding mapping system at his ground-zero headquarters and dissemination of paper binders to each crew truck complete with printed, color-coded routes, an outline of procedures and safety tips.

Using subcontractors from the very start of your snow removal business in routing and scheduling is a good practice, emphasizes Rorie. “This increases your capacity and the footprint of your service areas dramatically,” he says. Once your army is in place, it’s a good practice to rehearse before the events occurs. Canete creates site maps and has a snow performance plan. All communication during the snow event is documented and recorded.

It’s also recommended that you take time to measure out routes prior to running them in real time. “Ninety-nine percent of contractors can’t tell you the miles or minutes of any of their routes, much less the averages,” says Rorie. “Time is money and everyone you’re dispatching is on your dime unless they’re out making sales calls or conducting marketing campaigns. Knowing the numbers is the essential part of the equation.”

“Generally speaking, our industry takes for granted the money, resources and time involved in delivering our services,” says Rorie. “Driving to a job is a huge indirect expense that contractors incur; however, they really don’t think about the costs involved because it’s routine and must be done.”

There are other considerations when it comes to profitability in routing and scheduling, too. For some snow and ice management companies, having a geographically dense route can be key. Building routes around existing ones reduces wasted time traveling and also significantly decreases the number of wasted trips back to the shop.

Read more: Landscape Leader: Tom Canete

Master sales up to route density

There is a lot of waste surrounding the most redundant but required tasks, according to the Snow and Ice Management Association. You want routines like beginning-of-day processes to be just that: routine. You don’t want your people to scramble and operate in dysfunction and chaos just to get out the door. Get your most routine tasks down into processes and prioritized checklists.

The biggest ongoing challenge faced when moving toward a goal of route density is that the marketing and sales approach must change dramatically.

SIMA offers three key elements to think about when focusing on routing density:

  1. The question is no longer how can I get several more accounts, but how can I get the property next to the other three I already service? This involves hyper-focused targeting of specific properties on a oneby- one basis.
  2. When looking at your routes, look at the hidden costs that can devalue an account.
  3. Routing density requires a sales and marketing approach that focuses less on area and more on prospects that fit into existing routes.

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10 Low Cost But Effective Marketing Tactics

10 Low Cost But Effective Marketing Tactics

As the keystone business principle states: “You gotta spend money to make money.” Savvy business owners of lawn care and landscaping companies plan ahead and make sure a portion of their annual revenue gets allocated to their marketing budget. Aggressive budgeting along with smart initiatives that can be measured are common traits you’ll find when looking to our industry’s leaders. But what happens when you “gotta spend money” and don’t have a lot to work with? Some marketing initiatives come at a premium price and you have to be careful not to waste those dollars you and your team work so hard to bring in. Here are 10 of the most effective marketing tactics that can cost you the least and give you the best ROI:

1. Proactive property visits. Besides the benefit of building a deeper relationship with your customers, visiting your properties a couple times during the year opens warm sales opportunities for growing an existing account.

2. Email marketing. Alec Baldwin may have said, “A-B-C … Always Be Closing” in his obnoxious regional sales manager role in the 1992 “Glengarry Glen Ross” film, but email marketing replaces old, obnoxious tactics with a new phrase: “A-B-H … Always Be Helping.” Email marketing is just one of the ways you can help your customers.

Helpful and timely information versus sales-y messaging will increase your chances of additional sales opportunities with your active customers and also help to re-engage prospects and inactive accounts. Email marketing software is fairly inexpensive, and setting up a campaign takes little time once you have a plan in place.

3. Cloverleafing. Every time you’re servicing a customer is a great time to find new ones nearby. Take a few minutes to walk over to the neighbor sweating over his pile of pulled weeds in his mulch beds. Introduce yourself and you may be surprised at how many times they ask for an estimate.

If neighbors aren’t home, hang some literature on the doors of four nearby neighbors (hence the name cloverleafing). Make sure you mention that you take care of that gorgeous property next door that they envy each day when they come home.

4. Job signs. You can purchase small lawn care flags for less than $1 and 18-inch-by-24-inch corrugated plastic yard signs for less than $10 when ordered in bulk. This signage will often stay in your customers’ lawns for days or even weeks. This is a great way to get exposure in neighborhoods in which you’d love to grow your customer base.

5. Customer referral programs. Happy customers are the best sources to find new ones. Referral leads close higher than any other marketing source and often are more easily retained for the long haul.

Create a formal and generous referral bonus for your customers if you close their referrals. Boldly ask for referrals and make sure you frequently remind them of their opportunity for the reward, as well as your desire to grow your business.

6. Promotional inserts. Thanks to today’s digital printing presses, creating promotional fliers and inserts is very affordable. Stuff a promotion alongside the invoice you mail out or leave at a customer’s property. It’s a great way to keep your customers aware of all the services you offer. Make sure your offer is compelling and generous.

7. Coworker lead programs. As I mentioned in Nos. 1 and 3, your team has multiple opportunities each day to help you grow your business. Give them some financial incentive for generating new business opportunities with a formal lead program.

8. Vehicle graphics. Whether going as simple as a few hundred bucks for logos on your truck’s doors or as bold as a full-wrap on a box truck, people will mention they saw your trucks in their neighborhood. Wrapping landscape and lawn care trucks, trailers and equipment offers a tremendous ROI and is a great way to get hundreds, if not thousands, of advertising impressions each day.

content marketing - blog

Photo: iStock

9. Content marketing. Content marketing — typically in the form of blogging — will cost you more time than money but has proven to be an effective (and measurable) way to drive visitors to your website, generate qualified leads, provide helpful information to include in email marketing and answer questions that people constantly search for online. Just stay consistent, be helpful versus sales-y and learn a little about how to write in the manner that search engines like. A single article can generate many qualified leads for years and years after it is published to your website.

10. Serving on committees. Volunteering on local committees or boards is a great way to meet influential people and business owners in your community. Just go about it with the purpose to help the organization. Make sure to get involved and stay at it. It can take a little time to earn the trust of strangers, but it works.

Not having a big marketing budget is no longer an excuse for not positioning your landscaping or lawn care service for growth. Use what resources you have, make a plan and stick to it, and soon you’ll be on your way to success.

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Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Story of a Landscape: Updated Landscape for Napa Valley Wine Tasting Room

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

What makes a landscape a prize-winner? For Rodney Rose, owner of California-based Autumn Skies Landscapes, it’s nothing less than perfection itself.

Rose, whose company installed the landscape for the Vine Cliff Winery Tasting Room in St. Helena, California, says on the surface what he calls the post-stamp-sized project that won first place recognition as Small Commercial Installation from the North Coast chapter of the California Landscape Contractors Association was “nothing special.”

“But, if you were to look at the infrastructure and see everything that it took to make it work, it’s an entirely different story,” Rose says. “It’s a very small space, and everything had to be just so.”

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

That emphasis on perfection, he believes, got him the job, designed by Steve Arns, ASA. Roses says he was told by Rob Sweeney, the owner of the tasting room project, that his bid wasn’t necessarily the lowest, but it was the most-detailed.

When he talks about being a small space, Rose isn’t kidding. The areas to be landscaped measured approximately 30-foot by 100-foot. Further complicating construction — and what he says offered by far the biggest challenge to the job — was that rather than being one of the last contractors on the site, the landscape work was being done as the building itself was being built.

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

“Work space was at a premium,” he says. “All we had was a very small parking lot with which to stage all our materials and supplies. There was room for four trucks, and the minute I’d have to leave to get say a load of soil, someone else would pull right in. All the materials had to be brought in in small loads.”

Additionally, the project’s location, next to busy state Route 29, offered little in the way of street parking, and a project to bury power lines along the right-of-way was going on at the same time.

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Fortunately, Rose says Autumn Skies has a reputation for working well with other contractors, although that was put to the test as the small job site required everything to go in common trenches.

“Let’s say we planned to work in a certain area installing our conduit,” he says. “Then, the electrician says, ‘I really have to get in there for the next three hours to set up a subpanel.’ We’d shift to the other side of the property, but it was quite a dance.”

It’s also true that much of what Autumn Skies installed during the approximately seven months its two-man crew plus Rose were onsite is underground. Leading the way, a drainage system made up of flow wells that are located under the two outdoor patios.

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Perhaps surprisingly, the patios themselves — on separate sides of the building — are done in gravel that’s Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant. That first required the company to grade the slopes to a 1.5 percent grade.

“Then we put in a gravel pave geogrid system with a weed barrier laminate under it,” Rose says. “It’s a honeycombed grid filled with gravel and you can drive on it. The gravel is three-eighths-inch.”

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Learning about the gravel pave geogrid was a real positive of the project, Rose says, and has given him another possible element to include when he’s designing projects himself.

“It was an unusual feature of the job that I’d never used before,” he says. “Since then, I’ve called it out on designs for commercial clients and for ADA-compliance. It was an interesting aspect to the job.”

The outdoor patios each measure approximately 20-foot by 20-foot, and are bordered by what he refers to as small oak ledgestone to delineate the area between the patio and the plantings.

“The landscape is really in three sections,” he says. “There’s a middle section that’s a large enclosed porch that was not done by us. The areas we did are enclosed behind a fence and they’re really rustic seating areas with big, blocky chairs and tables.”

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

The plant palette around the seating areas includes Carolina cherry trees, fruitless mulberries and boxwood hedges.

Plantings are critical to the look of the property, although they serve many purposes. For instance, the building’s sceptic field is screened with English laurel and Parthenosisus. The front median is done in Grandma’s purple flag iris, Little Ollie dwarf olives, Crimson pigmy barberry and Spanish lavender.

It’s the plant palette that particularly makes Rose smile.

“In some respects, the landscape is very average,” he reiterates. “But, Steve did a great job of laying out the plants so it’s very pretty. You’ve got the gray of the olives, and the lavender with the purple flowers, the red of the barberry and the deep purple of the iris, so it’s real pleasant to look at here in the spring.”

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Photo: Autumn Skies Landscapes

Irrigation at the site is all drip, with Netafim emitters that are pressure-compensating and sized on a per-plant spec. The landscape lighting, which Autumn Skies also installed, is a custom design from SPJ Lighting and it all low-voltage LED.

Despite all the headaches of working on the crowded site and other inconveniences — such as having to walk the trees through the partially finished building — Rose is justifiably proud of the approximately $100,000 project.

“I’m most proud of the accolades it’s gotten,” he says. “We were able to make both the architect’s and the client’s vision come off without a hitch. After Steve’s walk-through, he couldn’t believe how dead-on it all was, just as he envisioned it. He said, ‘Of all the contractors I work with, Rodney, I don’t think there’s another company who could have pulled this off the way you did.’”

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Top 5 Misconceptions about Landscaping in NJ

Homeowners often have misconceptions about NJ landscaping needs and services. Proper landscaping care and maintenance requires knowledge and experience with a variety of techniques, procedures and products, so it’s easy for people without them to become misinformed. There are many misconceptions about landscaping care, but here are five at the top...

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Get to Know Scott Stewart

Roots: Scott Stewart

With a deep passion for connecting plants, people and places, Scott Stewart’s heart lies in the world of public gardens and parks as settings to teach about the natural world.

He sees himself as an odd-bird in the landscape industry. “My education and training is, primarily, as a restoration ecologist with a specialization in rare/endangered species reintroduction. I found my way into the world of horticulture through restoration ecology — acting as intermediary between ecologists and plant producers, educating the plant producers about important ecological concepts such as genetic fidelity and teaching ecologists about mass plant propagation techniques.”

Since January 2015, Stewart has led the team at Lurie Garden in Chicago’s Millennium Park, responsible for its overall management, programming, outreach and planning. The garden has become a top attraction in Chicago and is considered one of the country’s best examples of sustainable horticulture in a public, urban setting.

Prior to Lurie Garden, Stewart served as manager of the Oak Park Conservatory, a research and development team leader in the plant biotechnology industry and a field ecologist in southern Florida for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Stewart has several years of teaching experience as dean and faculty member of horticulture and sustainable agriculture at Morton College and director of horticulture and agriculture programs at Kankakee Community College, both in Illinois.

An accomplished author, Stewart is currently writing his own book about using ecology and natural areas management techniques in the management of public gardens and parks, of course featuring Lurie Garden. He is also co-authoring a book on the scientific history of the native orchid conservation movement in North America. He has more than two dozen scientific and popular articles under his belt on a variety of industry topics, from grassroots plant conservation to plant propagation techniques.

Proudest moment in the landscape business: Choosing one moment is always difficult. One of my proudest moments is having the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion among Piet Oudolf, Roy Diblik, Shannon Nichol and Laura Ekasyta. Piet, Roy and Shannon were visiting Lurie Garden for their every-other- year review. This panel discussion was the first time in the garden’s 13-year history that the lead landscape architect (Shannon), perennial plant designer (Piet), plant producer (Roy) and horticulturalist (Laura) were gathered in one location to discuss the history and future of Lurie Garden.

Biggest challenge: Developing broader acceptance and understanding for the garden’s design style. Interpreting the mixed perennial designed plant community design of the garden to both the casual visitor and horticulture industry veterans can be a challenge when, in many instances, both groups view the garden as “weedy” or “messy.” Add the challenge of developing an understanding of the ecologically based management strategies needed for a garden such as Lurie Garden, and the business of being a designed plant community and designed public garden can seem too daunting.

Best sources of landscape design/build inspiration: A walk through any natural area is my best source of inspiration. I like to visit the same natural areas throughout the year — several times during each season — with an eye on gathering ideas, conversing with land managers and remaining connected with nature. After all, the plants we install in any landscape all originated from natural places… so a visit to nature is akin to visiting these plant’s hometown. What better way to know a plant than to visit it in its hometown?

Favorite plant or plant combination: This question is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. Most plants I encounter in the garden or nature are candidates for being a favorite. A favorite plant represents a plant or planting combination at a specific moment in time in the garden. For example, the spring brings the combination of taller Tulipa ‘Hakuun’ and ‘Maureen’ with an understory of Tulipa urumeinsis and T. bakerii ‘Lilac Wonder.’ Then for summer, the interplanted combination of Calamintha nepeta ssp. nepeta with Gentiana andrewsii is spectacular. Come fall, I find the combination of Eryngium yuccifolium with either Perovskia atriplicifolia ‘Little Spires’ or Sporobolus heterolepis ‘Tara’ is irresistible. For winter, I love the sound of ornamental grasses blowing in the brisk Chicago wind, such as Schizachyrium scoparium ‘Blue Heavan,’ Pennisetum alopecuroides ‘Cassian’ or Panicum ‘Shenandoah.’

Monday morning motivation: Each Monday I arrive at work by 5 a.m., well before the staffs of either Lurie Garden or Millennium Park begin their days. I spend the first hour of each Monday walking both the garden and park — not necessarily looking for broken lights or needed landscape repairs, but to simply take a personal moment to appreciate the splendor of it. Walking the garden and park gives me the opportunity to make a purposeful physical connection with the plants and structures, almost as if I am taking their pulse in a manner of speaking.

Worry that keeps you up at night: The lack of an educated, well-trained next generation of ecologically informed public garden professionals. I interact with numerous students at Lurie Garden, particularly landscape architecture and horticulture operations students. Few of these students are learning even basic ecological or sustainability concepts as they apply to the public garden industry. As more ecologically inspired public landscapes are constructed, I worry that their long-term management, and therefore their long-term artistic and ecological integrity, will suffer from the lack of qualified and skilled professionals.

Landscape design/install mentor: Two people at the top of both lists are Larry Richardson, who recently retired as a wildlife biologist with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and Roy Diblik, of Northwind Perennial Farm. Larry taught me the importance of making plants relatable to the general population and was famous for saying: “You’ve got to make plants warm and fuzzy, like bears and cats; otherwise, taxpayers will pay you to plant more of some rare little plant that looks like a roadside weed.” And, Roy’s influence in garden design is well known in perennial plant circles. There are just too many Roy stories to share!

Favorite landscape design book: ”Planting in a Post-Wild World” by Thomas Rainer and Claudia West. This book brings much of the ecology-horticulture overlap I have espoused for some time now into the limelight for discussion and experimentation. Gardens must reflect the temporal history and potential future of a given site, be it from a hyper-local perspective or across an expanded urban complex. Gaining a deeper understanding of this big concept has led me to reading Edward Glaeser’s “Triumph of the City.” This is a great read that helps relate human development to the development of urban centers, which is an underpinning of designing public landscapes.

Landscape design/installation project that makes you smile every time you drive past it: While working for the Park District of Oak Park, I oversaw the design and plant selection for two projects that remain close to my heart: a teaching/demonstration bioswale and a landscape renovation along the north side of the Oak Park Conservatory. Both projects were significant additions to a tired, outdated landscape at the conservatory, but more importantly both projects were examples of my philosophy of bringing plants and people together in a place around teaching, learning, and discussion of how urban landscapes can be both aesthetically pleasing and ecologically functional.

Describe where you see yourself and the garden in five years: I see Lurie Garden strengthening its position as the standard-bearer for the designed plant community in public landscapes. The garden has tremendous potential to become a center for learning within the horticulture industry about the design and long-term management of designed plant community landscapes. I plan to remain a part of Lurie Garden and the exciting work happening in this space, but do foresee my role expanding as interest in landscape renovation planning in Millennium Park begins to develop.

Connect with Scott Stewart and Lurie Garden:

Website: http://ift.tt/XlxIjd

Facebook: The Lurie Garden

Twitter: @LurieGarden

Instagram: @LurieGarden

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Hit Your Marketing Targets

Hit Your Marketing Targets

Do you enjoy marketing your landscape business? Or do you consider it a necessary evil? Love it or hate it, marketing is a critical element for business success. Deciding how to market your landscape business can feel overwhelming, especially for a business owner with little to no background in marketing. What will get you the best bang for your buck? Should you invest in advertising? Hire an agency? If so, how much should you expect to spend? And should your marketing tactics change as your company grows?

The answer to the above questions is: “It depends.” Ask 10 successful landscape marketers about their best marketing strategies, and you’re likely to hear 10 different answers. And to make matters even more confusing, it’s not uncommon for a tactic that one person swears by to make another’s “never again” list.

What works? What doesn’t? How can you market your landscape business to advantage, regardless of budget?

While there are no one-size-fits-all answers when it comes to marketing, let’s explore a few basic principles that will help you stay on track toward choosing marketing strategies in line with your goals, your budget and your brand.

Get clear on your ideal client

Many rookie landscape business owners make the mistake of trying to market to everyone in their area. This can get very expensive and often attracts customers who aren’t well-matched to their business. Instead, and before you even think about tactics and strategies, figure out who your ideal client is.

“Your ideal client is the intersection between where you make money, where you have fun and what’s sustainable,” explains Marty Grunder, president of Grunder Landscaping, Dayton, Ohio. In other words, create a picture in your mind of the client you most love to work with, who can afford your services and whom you can serve profitably and repeatedly. Then, laser-target your marketing efforts to people who match that profile.

Think profits

Ultimately, to stay in business you need to be profitable. That may seem like a self-evident observation, but it’s amazing how common it is for business owners to let profitability fall to the wayside because they are overly focused on traffic or revenue, or because they get caught up in the excitement of the latest, greatest marketing fads.

Have a budget

Run a P&L before you spend anything on marketing. This will give you an idea of what you are already bringing in, and what you can reasonably spend on marketing.

As a rule of thumb, most experts suggest budgeting 10 percent of your revenue for marketing. However, this may not be appropriate for your business. “Determine priorities and growth goals first. What you budget needs to reflect how aggressive your growth goals are. This is where a lot of companies fall short: They want to grow by 25 percent but they’re not prepared to match their aggressive goal with an aggressive marketing budget,” says Chris Heiler, founder and president of Landscape Leadership marketing agency. On the other hand, an established company with a solid base of repeat customers and no plans to expand may do just fine spending 2 percent or less of their revenue on marketing.

Jack Robertson, owner of Robertson Lawn Care in Springfield, Illinois, believes in relationship marketing.

Track your efforts

As much as you can, track your marketing efforts and the results they bring. If you are using an agency, it should be doing this for you. If not, use spreadsheets or other software to track your promotions, responses and sales.

If you are using direct response methods like postcards or pay-per-click advertising, this will be relatively straightforward. Branding and word-of-mouth campaigns can be harder to track, but you should be able to get an idea of how they’re working by asking new customers how they heard of you and keeping track of their answers. Over time, you’ll get a sense for what’s working and what’s not.

Think ROI

Before committing large amounts to any advertising strategy, calculate the potential ROI. High-cost advertising can be profitable, but only if the potential returns warrant it. Run the numbers before you commit. For example, if you would have to sell 5,000 aerations to make your direct mail promotion profitable, perhaps you should find another way to sell aeration – or use the direct mail piece to offer a higher-profit service.

Keep in mind, though, that some of the most effective things you can do to market your business won’t necessarily produce immediate returns. “Do you invest in marketing or spend on marketing?” Heiler asks. “We prefer to invest our time and dollars in marketing that provides a lifetime of value as opposed to one-time value.” Two such tactics include:

  • Content marketing: using blogs, articles, videos and other informational materials to draw prospects to your business. Content marketing is an effective way to steadily build your online presence.
  • Relationship marketing: “People do business with people they know and trust,” says Grunder. “You make friends, you make sales.”

These sorts of tactics take time. “There’s no magical silver bullet. It’s a process,” Grunder says. “Maybe you see a neighbor’s trash cans blown over, they’re not your client, but you can go over and fix it. Develop relationships with your prospects. Do anything you can to make friends. Hopefully, someday trust takes place and you get a chance to work for them. And when you get that shot, you better be sure you get it right for them. Our best strategy is to do a great job. I think people overlook that. We’re worried about a wrap on our truck and fancy things, but at the end of the day, if you do a great job, that’s what will sell the next job,” Grunder adds.

That said, there are times when short-term strategies make sense. For example, a business that is expanding into a new community may do well to run an advertising campaign to win a number of new accounts right away. And seasonal advertising can be a great complement to a long-term relationship or content marketing strategy.

Sowing the seeds of success

In the end, creating the perfect marketing strategy for your landscape business is a lot like putting together the perfect custom wildflower mix. Just as you might hand-select varieties that are likely to work well for your client’s particular climate, soil type and aesthetic tastes, marketing your business successfully is all about finding the right mix of tactics and strategies for your goals, budget, style and audience.

But what if you’re in lawn care and couldn’t care less about wildflowers? Some business owners thrive by doing their marketing in-house, while others prefer to focus on their core competencies and leave the marketing to the experts. Just as the turf care company may refer that wildflower job to a neighboring business, you may prefer to outsource some or all of your marketing to an agency, consultant and/or freelancers.

Either way, understand that it may take some time for your efforts to take root, and you may find you need to adjust what you do and/or whom you work with as your business matures. But with practice and experience you will discover the perfect mix to make your business bloom.

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Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Introducing PLOW, a Supplement to Turf

We made a community just for you

We’re proud to introduce PLOW, a supplement to Turf magazine and an extension of PlowSite, the largest and most active community for snow and ice management professionals. Our goal is to provide expert advice about business management alongside the growing community that users have made the go-to resource for all things PLOW.

When winter storms drop a foot of snow, like one did recently in the snow belt east of Cleveland, Ohio, where I live, it seems like everyone has a rig. You notice them more when you’re looking for them, like noticing the same car you drive. I started to see them everywhere when I started this job, clearing the veterinary clinic up the street, at my neighbors who have contracts, on the roads, at office parks, and at the universities and municipal complexes around the area. Public and private, they are everywhere.

Here’s what I’ve noticed: There are varying degrees of sophistication in these contractors, a loose term when considering the number of rusty pickups I see. Maybe some of them shouldn’t be in business at all. Maybe they are good operators that are struggling to reach a level of professionalism that will give them the edge they need to succeed. That’s where we come in.

The goal of this supplement is to drive professionalism in all aspects of snow and ice management. You know how to plow, and so does the guy in the ’70s-era pickup. What differentiates you from your competitive set is your professionalism that is both customer-facing and behind the scenes of your business, no matter what your equipment looks like.

PlowSite aims to be a one-stop experience for all things related to your business, from the trivial to the essential. Here’s what you’ll find:

  • The only forum for private, public and commercial operators, with more than 1.5 million unique page views a month on PlowSite. Users can post questions, interact with peers, research equipment and engage with various forums on business management ideas and best practices. It’s a community just for you to gain business expertise, and also post photos and videos of your rigs and your work.
  • More than 25,000 threads on used trucks and equipment to buy, sell or learn about what’s out there.
  • More than 10,000 discussions on employment, business fundamentals, bidding and networking.
  • More than 30,000 individual discussions on commercial management, government properties and ice mitigation.
  • Individual product forums for new trucks, plows, snow blowers and other snow and ice management systems.
  • Professional content from the experts. We’ve assembled a team of editorial advisors and contributing authors that have expertise in legal and liability issues, sales and marketing strategies, customer relationship management, billing and accounting. Notably, you’ll see John Allin’s column. Allin founded Snowfighters Institute, a workshop that exemplifies his expertise and mission to help snow and ice management professionals run a more profitable, effective and sustainable business.

There is a lot of information out there, but only one source that delivers the expert advice, community, real-time accessibility and depth that PlowSite provides. We’re excited to be part of this industry and facilitate some of the most industrious and entrepreneurial small businesses out there. And anytime you like, from your smartphone, tablet or desktop, you can join the conversation on PlowSite. And let me know what you think about the new supplement to Turf magazine. Until then, I’ll be looking for more snow, and a guy to push it out of my driveway.

Not a subscriber yet? Sign up to receive free subscriptions to Turf and PLOW.

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What’s In My Truck: Earthworks

Earthworks

As president of Dallas-based Earthworks, which is primarily focused on commercial maintenance (namely HOAs in the Dallas-Fort Worth market), Chris Lee says he maintains a fleet that is a 50/50 mix of Ford and Isuzu — altogether comprising 85 vehicles. But Lee drives a 2013 Toyota FJ Cruiser, which is perfect for navigating the North Texas area where Lee says it can unexpectedly rain. Since he’s no longer hauling anything or pulling big trailers, Lee says the FJ Cruiser is more maneuverable and easy to park, which are both helpful since he’s frequently meeting with potential clients. Still, the four-wheel drive capability is key should Lee need to help pull out a mower that got stuck in a small pond — yes, that really happened. Since the main office and Lee’s house are in a rural area, south of the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex, there are many small country roads, not all of which are paved. Lee says the maneuverability of his vehicle is incredibly helpful in this capacity. Turf caught up with Lee to find out more about his vehicle and some of the surprising items inside.

All of our field trucks are branded. But, beyond that, we don’t feel the need for extra moving billboards. My truck and our managers’ trucks are not branded and that’s intentional. I’m going to meetings all the time, and I don’t need the competition to know I’m there. If I’m going to be bidding a job, the competition doesn’t need a head’s up.

Being a mobile office is essential, and my iPhone helps me do that. I probably answer 50 percent of my emails on my phone. I do carry a Surface Pro 3, but I would say that the majority of my emails need a couple sentences to answer, and it’s usually quicker to just do that on my phone. A vehicle with a multitude of charging options is also really important for a mobile office. My Toyota has three different charging areas so that my devices are always ready to go.

Everything has a place in my vehicle. I’m an organized person in life and in business, and I like everything being organized in my vehicle. When things are not where they’re supposed to be, it stresses me out.

People might be surprised to know I have a 12-inch machete under my front driver’s seat. It’s not for actual landscaping so I guess it’s more for personal protection or emergencies. I’ve switched vehicles three times and each time it’s come along with me and goes back under the driver’s seat — though I’ve never actually used it.

The Essentials

Sunglasses are my No. 1 essential — I have a pair of Costa’s and a pair of Native’s, and I love them both. It’s often very sunny in Texas and almost impossible to go on long drives or be out in the field without sunglasses. They’re both polarized and that really helps on those bright drives.

Olay 15 SPF Sunscreen — I’m always reapplying sunscreen on my face throughout the day.

Bausch + Lomb Opcon Itching and Redness Reliever Eye Drops — These are the world’s greatest eye drops and if you work around plants and pollen, they are an absolute must-have.

Smith & Wesson Pocket Knife — It’s my seatbelt cutter, get-outof- the-car-in-an-emergency type of tool.

My iPod — When I need music to decompress on the road.

Graco Car Seat — So that I can always pick up my 3-year-old daughter.

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Use Surveys to Judge Client Satisfaction, Loyalty

Use Surveys to Judge Client Satisfaction, Loyalty

Do you know, really know, how your clients view your company? Is your company doing everything you promised that it would do? If not, what do you have to do to keep these clients? How do you retain the loyalty of key clients?

These, among other reasons, are why Bob Grover, founder of Pacific Landscape Management (PLM) in Portland, Oregon, regularly surveys his company’s clients. Have you also thought about periodically surveying your clients, not to tell you what you already know, but to reveal what you don’t know? In today’s digital world, it’s surprisingly easy via email to put a lens on clients’ likes and dislikes.

“We talk about all the great things that we do for our clients, but if we don’t get feedback from them, we may think we’re better than we are. We may miss something we can improve upon,” says Grover.

Indeed, finding out what you don’t know (or what you erroneously thought you knew) is extremely valuable for the owner of any landscape or lawn service business. That goes for the smallest operation as well as a company the size of PLM with 250 employees and servicing about 500 commercial properties.

Depending on what you want to find out, your survey can be lengthy or it can be short. Grover thinks a short survey directed at key clients is the way to go.

“When we do a survey, we generally have 10 questions or less. We want it to look and be easy to complete,” says Grover. “You basically have to tell people how easy it is to fill out.”

PLM has used essentially the same questionnaire for the past decade. Asking the same small set of key questions over time alerts his management team to any real or perceived service shortcomings and illuminates emerging trends in client expectations.

A good way to start your survey is to ask clients to rate your company on a scale of 1 to 10 on the likelihood of them referring colleagues and friends to your company, suggests Grover. Clients responding with 9s or 10s are pleased with your service and will likely promote your services to others. If you get responses with 6s or below, look out. You could lose these clients.

Again, using the 1 to 10 scale, also ask clients how they rate how you are meeting their expectations when it comes to landscape quality. And are you meeting their service expectations? Also, ask what you can do better, to name a few of the most obvious questions.

Grover says before he began offering $5 Starbucks gift cards, he was getting about a 25 percent response rate. Offering the incentive jumped the response rate to more than 50 percent.

OK, you’ve done the footwork. You’ve identified your key clients, gathered their contact information, built your survey and incentivized clients to respond. Now it’s time to reap the fruits of your efforts by paying attention to what your clients tell you.

Grover takes the information he gets from the surveys seriously. He also makes it a point to respond to every client who returns a questionnaire to PLM.

Grover spoke about the importance of surveys at LANDSCAPES2016 this past October. The PLM founder shared that he had just completed writing notes to 150 clients that had answered a recent survey.

“It’s definitely worth the effort and cost to do surveys,” he says.

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Monday, 27 March 2017

10 Tips to Build an Online Survey

Evaluation

Developing a good survey has never been easier thanks to web-based survey tools. Even so, if you’re considering launching a survey, start with a plan. SurveyMonkey, a popular web-based online survey tool, offers the following 10 tips to creating and improving your online surveys:

1. Define the purpose of your online survey: Identify your survey’s goal, why you’re creating the survey, what you hope to accomplish from it and how you will use the data you collect.

2. Keep the survey short and focused: Make sure each of your questions is focused on helping to meet your stated objective. SurveyMonkey research (along with Gallup and others) has shown that the survey should take 5 minutes or less to complete. While 6 to 10 minutes is acceptable, significant abandonment rates occur after 11 minutes.

3. Keep the questions simple: Don’t assume that your survey takers are as comfortable with your acronyms as you are. Try to make your questions as specific and direct as possible.

4. Use closed-ended questions whenever possible: Closed-ended questions can take the form of yes/no, multiple choice or a rating scale. Open-ended survey questions allow people to answer a question in their own words. Open-ended questions are great supplemental questions and may provide useful qualitative information and insights.

5. Keep rating scale questions consistent throughout the survey: If you elect to use rating scales (e.g. from 1-5) keep it consistent throughout the survey. Use the same number of points on the scale and make sure meanings of high and low stay consistent throughout the survey.

6. Logical ordering: Make your survey flow in a logical order. Begin with a brief introduction that motivates survey takers to complete the survey (e.g. “Help us improve our service to you. Please answer the following short survey.”). Start from broader-based questions and then move to those narrower in scope.

7. Pre-test your survey: Pre-test your survey with a few members of your target audience and/or co-workers to find glitches and unexpected question interpretations.

8. Consider your audience when sending survey invitations: Recent statistics show the highest open and click rates take place on Monday, Friday and Sunday. If you are a sales driven business, avoid sending to employees at month end when they are trying to close business.

9. Consider sending several reminders: While not appropriate for all surveys, sending out reminders to those who haven’t previously responded can often provide a significant boost in response rates.

10. Consider offering an incentive: SurveyMonkey research has shown that incentives typically boost response rates by 50 percent on average. One caveat is to keep the incentive appropriate in scope.

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6 Twitter Tips for Landscape Pros

Twitter, social media

According to the latest report released from the Pew Research Center, 21 percent of U.S. adults use Twitter. Based on a poll we conducted on the Turf magazine Twitter account in December 2016, 30 percent of respondents answered Twitter was their most important social platform.

Out of all the social networks, Twitter is probably the simplest and least complicated. It works like this: You write a 140-character message, attach a photo or video if you want, and then send it out to the Twitterverse.

Read more: 3 Reasons to Invest in Social Media

There are three major benefits to using Twitter for your landscape business. One, it’s the perfect platform for sharing moments in real time. I’m sure you’ve seen or heard of people live-tweeting events as they’re happening. For your business, that could mean sharing what’s happening live on the job or live-tweeting while attending an industry event or conference. Second, it’s also the platform where users expect to be heard – and answered – in terms of customer service. This is something that you can promote to your customers or clients, letting them know that if they have a question or concern, to feel free to reach out to you on Twitter. And finally, Twitter is the perfect place to engage in conversations within your industry. Look for weekly or monthly Twitter chats based on your business interests or join in conversations at conferences, trade shows and events. Some you might look into are #landscapechat, #treechat and #gardenchat.

So, how do you make the most of your time and effort on Twitter? Here are six tips and best practices to follow.

1. Follow a daily posting schedule.

Twitter is a little more casual in nature and tweets are said to have incredibly short life cycles. Some studies say the life of a tweet is only 18 minutes. Aim for at least three to five tweets daily — or up to about 10 tweets per day.

2. Add photos or videos whenever possible.

Last year, Twitter made a big update: photos and videos no longer count toward a tweet’s 140-character limit. Tweets with photos or videos tend to get better engagement, so whenever possible, try to add something visual to your tweet. Just be sure to use your own photos.

3. Use hashtags – but not too many.

A hashtag is a social media tagging system that helps expand the reach of a tweet to anyone interested in that specific phrase or keyword, whether they follow you or not. In other words, it’s a way to enter a conversation on a specific topic. It’s important to use hashtags sparingly and purposefully. Studies have shown that tweets with one or two hashtags tend to increase engagement, however, once you hit three or more hashtags, engagement actually drops. Before adding a hashtag to your tweet, do a quick search and see if it’s a conversation you want to be a part of.

4. What should you tweet about?

Tweet about your current and past projects. Share news from both your industry and within your community. Show your followers that you’re paying attention and staying relevant. Also, don’t forget to share news about your company such as promotions, employee of the month, any company events or outings. Use Twitter to keep your followers up to date with what’s going on with both your business and in your industry.

5. Type carefully.

Your tweets are an impression of your company that you’re putting out for others to consume, so you want to make sure it’s a good impression. Always read over your post before you click “Tweet.”

6. Practice consistency.

Finally, practice consistency. Consistency is the key to social media. Find a schedule and frequency that fits your company’s time and stick to it. The easiest way to stay consistent is to schedule your tweets ahead of time. Twitter offers TweetDeck, or you can sign up for a full social media scheduling platform such as Hootsuite, Buffer or CoSchedule.

Want to learn more? Learning how to harness the power of social media to market your business to new and existing clients can seem like a daunting task. But once you understand the leverage of social media platforms like Twitter, taking the time to communicate your services and show off your work will be a no-brainer. In this free, on-demand 45-minute webinar, you will learn the do’s and don’ts of using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which audiences you can reach with each platform, and best practices to engage your audience and reach new clients. Watch now.

Landscape Social Webinar

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Sunday, 26 March 2017

Does Money Matter When it Comes to Marketing?

Does Money Matter When it Comes to Marketing?

Want to increase your revenue? Many experts say you should market your business because marketing done right drives revenue. But how much marketing do you really need? Exactly what percent of your revenue should you spend on your marketing for the biggest impact? Turf asked experts inside and outside of the industry what they recommend.

Behind the numbers

The U.S. Small Business Administration recommends spending 7 to 8 percent of your gross revenue for marketing and advertising if you’re doing less than $5 million a year in sales and your net profit margin – after all expenses – is in the 10 to 12 percent range. Some marketing experts advise that start-up and small businesses usually allocate between 2 and 3 percent of revenue for marketing and advertising, and up to 20 percent if they’re in a competitive industry. Still other marketing experts counsel a range between 1 percent and 10 percent, and even more depending on business age, competitive activity and budget.

According to Captora research, 46 percent of companies spend less than 9 percent of overall revenue on marketing, 24 percent of companies spend 9 to 13 percent of overall revenue on marketing and 30 percent of companies spend greater than 13 percent of overall revenue on marketing. Their research also showed smaller companies spent 9.2 percent of their revenue on marketing, while their larger counterparts spend roughly 11 percent of their revenue on marketing.

That’s the general small business consensus.

The landscape industry isn’t that much different. Chris Heiler, president and founder of Landscape Leadership, an inbound marketing agency for the industry, says, “I’ve heard 5 percent and 15 percent. A lot has changed in how we market our services in the past five to 10 years, but I still think 5 to 10 percent of total revenue is a good range for a landscape company’s marketing budget.”

He suggests marketing budgets will vary depending on the following factors:

  • Are you a start-up or an established business with a long track record?
  • Is your marketing handled in-house or do you outsource it? Or a combination of the two?
  • Where and how are you marketing your services? Online or offline? Or both?
  • How aggressive are your growth goals? How much are you willing to spend per lead and to acquire each new customer?

“A start-up lawn care operator with no existing market share and the goal of aggressively growing their new sales will need to spend a higher percentage of their revenue on marketing compared to an established lawn care operator with modest goals for new sales and more focus on client retention,” Heiler explains.

Competitive advantage

Think you spend enough on marketing? Think again.

The Captora research reveals that companies who plan to outperform their competitors invest 13.6 percent of overall revenue to do so.

So you may need to spend a little more to make more.

“Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that your landscaping or lawn care business can get by on a shoestring marketing budget now that there are so many inexpensive, and even free, ways to marketing your services,” Heiler says. “You still need to spend some dough. And you need to factor in time spent – like those 12 hours you spent on Facebook last month – into your marketing costs.”

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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Strategic Planning and Organizational Alignment Made Easy

Strategic Planning and Organizational Alignment Made Easy

There are many factors in determining an organization’s success or failure. While some of these factors are outside of the company’s control, most, if not all, are inside of its control.

As Jim Collins refers to in his book “Good to Great,” many factors are certainly within an organizations’ control, such as selecting and putting into operation a successful strategy, hiring and developing the right people, and defining and executing their work efficiently and effectively. In fact, the better the organization operates, the less the external factors affect it.

While strategic planning either scares landscapers or they do not even know what it means, it is nothing more than an organizational management activity that is used to set priorities, focus energy and resources, strengthen operations, and ensure that team members work together toward common goals. The process itself helps establish a verbal and written agreement around intended outcomes and results. The purpose of using this process is to help adjust the organization’s direction in response to an ever-changing environment.

Strategic planning step by step

The strategic goals you set for your business are the pragmatic definition of the organization’s aspirations and drive both the definition and operation of the work necessary to achieve them.

A vision is much more than a statement; it is the guiding light for the whole organization. There should be enough clarity so that when the plan is shared, the recipients understand what they have to accomplish. In a new business, this often takes the form of a business plan. For an existing organization, each year the organization should create a strategic plan that reiterates the direction and establishes its annual goals.

Some key steps include:

  • Create or review the organization’s vision, mission and values statements. Are they well aligned with your company as it stands?
  • Analyze the customer’s needs. Are you meeting those needs with your services or underserving their needs or even perhaps over-servicing, which is costing you money?
  • Analyze the competitive landscape. Many of us do the same things: what is your real competitive advantage?
  • Perform a SWOT (Strengths Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis on the state of the organization.
  • Review and plan the three- to five-year strategic goals.
  • Review and plan the next year’s annual objectives.
  • Create an enterprise communications plan to inform and educate your entire team on both short-term long-term objectives.

One thing is important to remember: strategic planning is not that complex. Remain focused on the objectives of what strategic planning is, and the outcomes become that much easier to achieve.

As one of his mentors once told green industry business consultant Steven Cohen, “You’ve got to think about big things while you’re doing the small things, so that all the small things go in the right direction.” Remember, Cohen says, smaller wins in business lead to bigger victories.

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4 Backyard BBQ Trends

4 Backyard BBQ Trends

The weather is warming up, and that means one thing for homeowners, particularly those who live in the Northeast and Midwest: outdoor grilling.

Although die-hard grilling enthusiasts never let cold weather get in the way of outdoor cooking, spring and summer are the true official BBQ seasons. Here are four key trends in backyard BBQs, according to the National Hardware Show and the North American Retail Hardware Association.

Smokers. Smoking meats at home has become something homeowners are starting to take on themselves to own the job of adding unique flavors to their foods and impress their friends and family. Some popular options include small-batch artisan bacon, smoked fish and slow-smoked BBQ.

Pellet smokers and grills. Along with the increased interest in home smoking, more people are looking at smokers and grills that utilize pelletized hardwood because they are buying into the advertised benefits. Because pellet grills use an indirect cooking method, manufacturers say they reduce the formation of carcinogenic chemicals in food, making it tastier and healthier.

Technology. Smart technology is everywhere, so why not in grilling and smoking tools? Some thermometers, for instance, notify cooks when the correct temperature levels are reached, while others let cooks close the grill and visit with guests until the food is done.

Pizza on the grill. Wood-fired or hearth-baked pizzas are no longer just a restaurant order. Homeowners who want this unique, artisan flavor on their pizzas are purchasing stand-alone outdoor pizza ovens, as well as portable units that utilize grills for their heat source, which means they also make nice tailgating accessories.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2016 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Friday, 24 March 2017

Trash Service vs. Yard Waste

Trash Service vs. Yard Waste

Sometimes small jobs don’t warrant a trip to the dump. While cleaning up a client’s property, does your crew place yard waste at the curb for pick up by the trash service? Or do you haul it away to the next property or the shop no matter what? These LawnSite members debated how to properly deal with yard waste and trash pickup.

Ready to Mow: Depending on the city, some trash collectors won’t pick up branches unless they are in neat 3-foot bundles. Branches are rarely straight, so it can be difficult to put into bundles. One time I did a small job and put three bundles of branches out to the curb. Both times I was at the property and trash collectors drove right by. What do you guys do on small jobs like this? If I throw the stuff in the trailer, the dump fee is almost as much as the job itself, probably more, if you factor in time spent to drive there.

Kelly’s Landscaping: For really small waste, I’ll just mow over it. Bigger branches that are an inch thick or more, I toss on the truck with grass clippings. I don’t charge for a few branches. If it’s a lot of branches, then it’s a separate charge.

yardsmowed: Around here, trash service will not take limbs or yard waste. I have a large burn pile at my shop where I burn leaves, grass clippings and limbs.

rlitman: Every sanitation district has its own rules. Around here, homeowner yard waste collection is taken on Wednesdays, garbage is two other days a week and recycling is on Thursdays. Lawn companies or contractors must pick up their own waste and pay commercial dump fees. So, in my area, if they saw a commercial vehicle leaving waste at the curb, you’d get a ticket.

Darryl G: I pay the disposal fee and charge my customer a hauling and disposal fee. I charge a minimum of $30 for any waste requiring a dump run. My book rate for hauling and disposing of a full load in my 7 x 12 dump trailer is $90, but I’ll often only charge $75. My fee for disposal ranges from $5 to $20 generally. Some municipalities require a form signed by the property owner verifying that the waste was from their property and may have restrictions on the diameter and length of the wood.

Mark Oomkes: Most of our work requires us to dispose of it. It’s always included in the price. It’s against our state law for yard waste to be disposed in a landfill.

whiffyspark: You should see our disposal fees. Thankfully most customers have woods.

knox gsl: If there isn’t an appropriate area to toss debris on-site, I’ll haul it off for a fee that’s included in the price of the job.

JLSLLC: Anything I create, I take.

KUMA01: In my city, trash people refuse yard waste. I have a burn pile and have a compost pile for grass and leaves and resell it to people for their gardens.

OakNut: I will say that I’d be pissed if I was a trash guy and saw a landscaper putting his job site debris out for me to haul off — legal or not. Even if a client asks you to leave it, you really should plan to haul it.

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Like a Boss: Bulking Up Labor as Busy Season Looms Near

Fred Oskanian

Like so many others in the green industry, Fred Oskanian, owner of Terra Lawn Care Specialists in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, is about to enter busy season with less workers than he could really use. Unsurprisingly, he is challenged by finding good people. In fact, he admits, he’s challenged to find any people who are willing to put in the hard work. But Oskanian says he is taking a multi-faceted approach to finding laborers, and hopes that it will pay off as the spring season closes in.

“It’s pretty crazy how difficult it is to find laborers when you’re offering a very good wage,” Oskanian says. “I think it comes down to people just not wanting to do this type of work. It’s hard labor.”

But Oskanian is addressing these concerns head on. He has found that the best way to attract high-quality people is to have a high-quality company. So Oskanian has really focused on building his company’s image in recent years. He has purchased all new trucks; built a 13,000-square foot building including a warehouse, mechanic’s space, and offices; and has invested in new equipment. This will be the first busy season with the new building up and he’s hoping it will have a positive impact.

“I’m hoping that having built such a strong image within the community will start paying off,” Oskanian says.

Having just gotten through Winter Storm Stella in his part of the Northeast, Oskanian was pleasantly surprised that for the first time ever, laborers were calling him to inquire about snow work. If that’s any indication as to how the upcoming busy season will go, Oskanian says he will be pleasantly surprised.

But he’s not taking any chances.

For the first time, Oskanian has also signed up for the H-2B program and expects to have 10 workers arriving in mid-April. Having heard stories of workers not arriving on time or other hold-ups because of governmental red tape, Oskanian will also do a heavy push to advertise locally for laborers as he has done in the past. He hopes that the combination of these efforts will pay off with available workers.

The good news is that Oskanian says he hasn’t had a lot of trouble keeping people once he does hire them. The bulk of the challenge lies in the initial search.

“I know the value of a good employee once we’ve hired them and will do what we can to keep them,” Oskanian says. “Fortunately, we really don’t have a hard time with retention so our focus is on getting people to join our team in the first place.”

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Thursday, 23 March 2017

3 Big Landscape Trends for 2017

3 Big Landscape Trends for 2017

People continue to desire more health and wellness in their everyday lives, particularly ways they can integrate more nature into their day-to-day activities. And garden trends for 2017 reflect that, according to Garden Media Group’s trends report. Here are three of the top trends the group expects to see this year.

Louisville Parklands

A total of 19 miles of the Louisville Loop run through The Parklands of Floyds Fork. Photo: The Parklands/John Nation/Quadrant

1. Forest Bathing

Considered by many to be the latest fitness trend in the U.S., forest bathing is the “medicine of being in the forest,” spending time in nature and awakening all of the senses. Forest bathing as a stress reducer is today where yoga was 30 years ago. Also, planting trees and shrubs for soundscaping, or increasing bird songs and buffering traffic noise, as well as providing shade (a.k.a. nature’s sunscreen) boost the health of the landscape and human health as well.

2. Tiny but growing.

As the U.S. population shifts focus from the suburbs to city living, gardening in smaller spaces increases. Smaller spaces require neatness, meaning large, overgrown plant material should be rejuvenated or removed. Prune, thin and divide plants to keep them tidy and have definite boundaries to create welldefined spaces. New varieties of dwarf plants, as well as container gardening, also continue to be in high demand.

3. Golden age.

Gold is now the “metal of the moment.” Metallic materials and textures have been trending in home d├ęcor for years, and 2017 shows them melting into the outdoors as well. When used outdoors, pops of gold warm spaces and create outdoor rooms. The reflective accent also helps move light around the garden. Plants like Katsura Japanese maple, carex, Rising Sun Redbud and Goldy arborvitae help add glitter to the garden.

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