With drought conditions expected to continue, irrigation professionals in every industry sector -- from manufacturer to distributor to contractor to water provider -- will continue to feel pressure to become more efficient water stewards and help their customers do the same. This means raising awareness among customers and end users of the benefits of efficient irrigation and increasing customer demand for water-efficient products and services. One initiative designed to help the industry do just that is the Smart Irrigation Month campaign. Since its launch in 2005, the campaign has gained traction within the industry and helps irrigation professionals unite behind a common message and confront this growing challenge.
Smart Irrigation Month: Becoming Part of the Solution
With drought conditions expected to continue, irrigation professionals in every industry sector — from manufacturer to distributor to contractor to water provider — will continue to feel pressure to become more efficient water stewards and help their customers do the same. This means raising awareness among customers and end users of the benefits of efficient irrigation and increasing customer demand for water-efficient products and services. One initiative designed to help the industry do just that is the Smart Irrigation Month campaign. Since its launch in 2005, the campaign has gained traction within the industry and helps irrigation professionals unite behind a common message and confront this growing challenge.
Focused on July — the peak month of water demand in the United States — Smart Irrigation Month gives industry professionals a platform to showcase how their efforts are part of the solution to water-use issues by promoting water-use efficiency to business partners, customers and water end-users. Smart Irrigation Month promotes the following key tenets:
Educate irrigators and other customers about water-use efficiency and sustainable use and smart stewardship. Grow demand for pressurized, efficient irrigation technologies, products and services. Provide practical and viable solutions to today’s water-use challenges.
Part of that campaign is the Smart Marketing Contest, a yearly competition to highlight the best efforts of irrigation professionals in their promotion of the Smart Irrigation Month initiative. Winners are recognized at the Irrigation Show and Education Conference and across Irrigation Association (IA) communications throughout the following year.
This past March, a webinar hosted by the IA Smart Irrigation Month committee showcased three of the four 2012 Smart Marketing Contest winners and how their efforts translated to successful campaigns. Presenters included:
ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance was named the winner in the contractor category of the 2012 Smart Marketing Contest thanks to building an effort around educating as many audiences as possible, according to Richard Restuccia, ValleyCrest’s director of water management solutions.
“Education was key; first and foremost, we wanted to ensure that we educated lawmakers,” he said. “As an industry, we have to make sure we take control of the water situation right now in the United States. If we don’t, we may see legislation created that we might not be happy with.”
Building on that foundation, Restuccia described other education efforts, including taking the Smart Irrigation Month message directly to customers and letting them spread the positive impact of water-use efficiency on ValleyCrest’s behalf.
“We deal with a lot of property management companies and they have multiple customers whom we don’t necessarily deal with,” he said. “We tried to create a message that our customers could easily spread to their customers, trying to broaden the reach of Smart Irrigation Month.”
Social media was another important focus, with the ValleyCrest Twitter page hosting #landscapechat, featuring discussions on water management, sustainability, and the latest tips, trends, and innovations in the green industry. Restuccia reported that a chat commemorating Smart Irrigation Month reached 221,000 followers with more than 882,000 impressions — allowing ValleyCrest to broadcast the Smart Irrigation Month message to a large audience in a short period of time.
Restuccia went on to describe the tangible benefits of entering in the context of ValleyCrest’s first win in the 2010 Smart Marketing Contest. “One of the first benefits we saw, and maybe the most important, was actual water savings,” he said. “The next thing we noticed was that our customer satisfaction scores were going up – naturally, when we’re saving our customers water, we’re also saving them money.”
In addition to saving customers water and dollars, Restuccia described Smart Irrigation Month as an opportunity for the irrigation industry to lead the way for overall water conservation efforts.
“We know we’re doing good things and people are taking pride in that work,” he said. “At the same time, our customers are excited because we can do a return on investment analysis and show them how much water they’ve saved and how much money they’ve saved.”
CPS Distributors, Inc.
Lowell Kaufhold, president of CPS Distributors, Inc., described his company’s 2012 distributor win as starting simple and growing to become larger and more important than just the contest.
“We were very intrigued by the contest,” he said. “Since we entered, and eventually won, it’s turned out to be more to us than just a contest. It helps provide us with greater purpose.
“It’s been very beneficial for CPS. Obviously increasing your sales of Smart irrigation products is a no-brainer,” he continued. “The perception as being a market leader — being out front and recognized by your peers and customers is important. These days, it’s all about market share, and a great way to increase your market share is to participate in Smart Irrigation Month.”
Efforts by CPS included internal promotion with the Get Smart/Water Smart campaign to raise employee awareness of Smart Irrigation Month, as well as using IA resources such as the Smart Irrigation Month website and producing in-house materials such as contractor aids and point-of-purchase displays that highlighted Smart irrigation products.
Kaufhold noted that CPS started small, using the Smart Irrigation Month logo on e-mails, statements and invoices, describing it as “a very easy and inexpensive way to get that message out.”
Events also drove much of the CPS promotion, and ran from the specific (irrigation consultant events to discuss Smart irrigation practices) to the delicious (“Counter Days” barbeque events with local contractors). Merging the Smart Irrigation Month promotion into nearly everything they did, CPS was able to broadcast the initiative — and, thus, the importance of smart irrigation — to a wide audience. And it doesn’t get much wider than the entire state of Colorado.
“We were able to work with our governor to have July recognized as Smart Irrigation Month in the state of Colorado for 2012,” said Kaufhold. “That provided a very big springboard for us to reach out to the water agencies and different associations within Colorado to let them know that the state was recognizing this as an important initiative.”
Kaufhold remarked on the excitement at CPS in entering the 2013 contest, noting that they’ve received a second consecutive proclamation from the governor of Colorado recognizing July as Smart Irrigation Month. He also talked about how it has become integrated into their overall efforts, and what it means to his business.
“It helps people realize that there’s more to this than just selling sprinklers.” Kaufhold said. “We can educate our customer base on better ways to irrigate, and how to be smarter about how they do their jobs every day, and we can become part of the solution when it comes to promoting water-efficient products and techniques.”
The Toro Company
The Toro Company, winner of the manufacturer category for the second consecutive year, approached the 2012 Smart Marketing Contest with four key constituencies in mind: contractors, distributors, end-users and water agencies and purveyors, according to Mike Baron, national specifications manager. He described Toro’s efforts while echoing the earlier sentiments of fellow winners that the Smart Irrigation Month initiative is critical industrywide.
“Water availability is key to the landscape industry. What this program is designed to do, what the need for all of us in the industry to do, is to be part of the solution when it comes to water-use efficiency,” he said.
Baron noted reaching contractors through financial incentives on water-efficient Toro products was especially important considering the slow economic growth in recent years.
“By working through our distributors, we were able to reach our contractor customers to place emphasis on Smart irrigation products throughout the month of July for this particular promotion,” he said.
Baron went on to describe how, working with distributors, Toro was able to promote these technologies to cities, as well as contractors — while helping to educate these constituencies about relevant water issues.
“We did something somewhat unusual for us by utilizing television ads — we wanted to take our wireless sensor technology to the consumer base, directly,” he said. “Toro ran an advertising campaign through ESPN and Fox News to inform consumers that new, easy-to-use technology could help them save water and still have attractive landscapes. It was a new and different approach for us.”
Toro followed that with social media efforts, providing “Tips of the Day” to drive end-user awareness — an attempt to lower peak demand through that group. And like CPS Distributors, Toro was able to leverage events and engagement into official recognition.
“We finished July with a symposium titled ‘Success Without Excess,’ which is in support of a California state initiative, ‘20 x 2020,’ to reduce per capita consumption of water by 20 percent by the year 2020,” he said. “We brought water agency folks together to share successes and progress toward that goal. For that, we were recognized with a proclamation from the California Senate.” He went on to describe how Smart Irrigation Month can serve as a catalyst for the irrigation industry.
“What starts out as an effort to participate in a singular initiative — Smart Irrigation Month — actually becomes more about the message than the contest,” he said. “In the end, when we participate, we also get the power of participation. Together, we make more progress, touch more faces, influence more people, in the quest to do things that are sustainable for the future and manage water efficiently.”
While the Smart Marketing Contest itself recognized these three winners — contractor, distributor and manufacturer — businesses of any size or industry segment are encouraged to participate (water provider Municipal Water District of Orange County rounded out the 2012 Smart Marketing Contest winners, earning the affiliate award). Additionally, the March webinar included an update on individuals currently pursuing proclamations in their states to have July recognized as Smart Irrigation Month — a number that stands at 25 and is growing.
Pictured above: 2012 Smart Marketing Contest winners, from left: Lowell Kaufhold, president, CPS Distributors, Inc.; Pete Moeller, director of marketing, the Toro Company; Richard Restuccia, director of water management solutions, ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance