For our annual State of the Industry report, we sought feedback from industry professionals from all areas of the landscape and irrigation markets. Association leaders, manufacturers, contractors, designers, and more lent their insights to this overview of industry issues. In Part 2, below, we discussed industry advancements and shortcomings, reasons for optimism, and the overall outlook for 2012.
Landscape and Irrigation: What areas of advancement in the industry are you most pleased with? And what areas need to improve?
PLANET President Jerry Grossi, Landscape Industry Certified Technician: Technology. I’m amazed by the way companies are embracing and using technology. It’s really streamlining the sales process, and reducing and eliminating processes we have been using. The use of technology seems to have occurred overnight, and it has really changed our industry, especially in the sales end of the business. We have embraced marketing through the Internet, and what has really amazed me is the sophistication of targeting our prospective members and clients.
I’m also pleased with the advancements of synthetic coatings on fertilizers. I’m sure these high-quality products will be an integral part of our future. In addition, new chemistries in pesticides are more effective and friendlier. The companies advocating the use of these products are higher quality companies, and these will change the industry.
Another advancement is that our equipment is becoming more safe and efficient, and it’s using less fuel. I really think we’re on the verge of widely introducing the use of the battery [on lawn care equipment].
Lastly, I think we need to do a better job of promoting the benefits of our industry. We need to define our industry better.
PLANET President-elect Norman Goldenberg, Landscape Industry Certified Technician: The technology aspect stands out the most, especially with regard to running a business. I think there are companies out there that have embraced technology created by others to allow them to be and work smarter, increase productivity, and become more recognizable.
I would like to see more industry folks become members of PLANET. Its professional staff and hard-working volunteers are a resource everyone can enjoy. Much like other industries, I think people who participate in the industry should be part of national, regional, and state associations to gain respect and credibility.
Maria Candler, CLP, president, James River Grounds Management, Inc.: Our sales team has gone through a huge shift in 2011. Complete process rehaul from qualifying, strategizing and team selling. They are really embracing the changes, which has been tough, but I can already see good things happening, and right now is all about top-line growth.
Pat Cappucci, president and COO of Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.: I am most pleased to see that the American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well in our industry. Landscape professionals are among the most adaptable and resilient businesspeople I have had the pleasure to work with across the various industries I have served over my career. They have adapted and survived, and have made their businesses stronger than they were entering this recession. They have made more advancements in management practice than anyone else I know in our industry. They should be very proud of that.
As a manufacturer of outdoor power equipment, I am also pleased with the efficiency of today’s power equipment. Over the past two years, the manufacturing industry has met the challenge of producing equipment that increases fuel efficiency and reduces emissions, while producing better products at lower costs.
Allen Chariton, president, Tierra Verde Landscape, Inc.: Areas of advancement include greater conservation through “Smart” controllers. Improvement is needed in environmentally friendly chemicals. Unfortunately, in this economy, it is unlikely manufacturers will be able to spend the research and development funds necessary.
James R. Day, Turf Teq / Spec Fab: More advanced and efficient equipment improves the ability of a landscape contractor to accomplish their work faster and remain profitable.
Carl Dowse, irrigation manager, The Bruce Company: I am most pleased with the advancement in “smart” irrigation control systems. They do work and do save water. Soil moisture sensors/control systems need to be more robust and adaptable to individual irrigation control zones.
Tom Duffy, spray equipment sales manager, SherrillTree: We are very excited about the continued interest in fully enclosed spray equipment, which will allow the customer the opportunity to increase their marketing presence within their customer base.
Rene Emeterio, Certified Arborist, CLIA, CLT, Specialized Landscape Management Services, Inc.: Weather-based irrigation controllers have gone a long way. Areas of improvement: organic fertilizers; other options for water conservation other than controllers, fertilizers, water retainers, etc.
Alex Fransen, landscape development manager, Steele Blades Inc.: The green and sustainable side. I think that we need that miracle chemical like Imprelis, but without the harmful effects. This product would have made our chemical techs so much more efficient.
Judson Griggs, director of garden development at Lambert’s: Advances in technology that can help measure actual costs and productivity have been amazing. Software has made it possible to track production on a daily basis, while hardware advances have made it possible for field personnel to input their time spent and materials used easily and accurately even though they may not be computer savvy. These advances will allow contractors to make adjustments in the field in real time rather than having to wait until financial statements are produced after the fact.
The area that needs to improve is field production tools and equipment. Still, too much of our work is dependent on manpower — not technology. We are fortunate to have an excellent labor force that enjoys what they do and takes pride in the work produced, but we wear down the workers in the field due to the demands on their bodies. Technology advances in handling large plant material in tight spaces and excavation in tight spaces or in rocky soil is sorely needed.
David Johnson, director of corporate marketing, Rain Bird Corporation: I have been most pleased with the advancement of water-saving technologies. Smart controllers are just the beginning of that trend. We can’t forget things like sprays and rotors with increased distribution uniformity. Also, the increased use of drip irrigation and subsurface drip irrigation are positive trends in this area.
I think the area that needs the most improvement is for everyone in the industry to recognize the importance of an irrigation system as a complete system. The marketing, selling and buying seems to be done at the component level, within our industry. However, end-users are buying a system, and this is the right approach. A system is only as good as its weakest link. So it helps to buy system components that were made to work together, design the system correctly, install it perfectly and then maintain that system. Only then will irrigation be the most effective it can be and save the most water.
Michael Jones, president of the Americas, Husqvarna: Continuing to drive innovative products across the industry to provide solution-oriented products for our customers is always exciting and rewarding. Along with customer-driven innovations, we also have the opportunity to continue to develop more in the area of alternative fuel sources and clean technology.
Terry Kurth, director of development, Weed Man Lawn Care: I think we continue to get better in promoting a professional image in our industry and with YouTube, Facebook and other social media sites we have expanding areas on which to get our message out on the positives that we in the Green Industry bring to life. In terms of improvement, I think there are still too many in the landscape and irrigation industry who do not act professionally, and it continues to slow our image improvement.
Eileen Laber, co-owner and sales and product manager, Aqua-Flo: Some manufacturers are really working to make our industry more progressive in the area of water conservation.
Rich Lahren C.P., landscape division manager, Hebron Brick & Block: Most pleased with green products and design “green” landscapes. Permeable pavers, storm water management, water harvesting, LED landscape lighting. Starting to see some good software systems geared to landscape contractors. Landscape Management Network has one. How companies like Uni Lock and Belgard are using Google Sketch up 3-D design studios as a design tool. There are a lot of great new hardscape products out there to choose from.
Areas that need improvement: I think the industry needs to look at some way of getting all contractors on the same page when it comes to the differences in bidding in the market. I know everyone has different costs and such, overhead for example, that can make bids vary. But the extreme differences we see in prices from one contractor to another are crazy. I don’t want to see any more regulation from states when it comes to licensing. But take for example if a retaining wall supplier is selling a product to a contractor, there should be some responsibility for the supplier to make sure the contractor knows what he is doing, if he will make enough money to pay his retaining wall bill after the project is complete. I know this is a free market society, but I see a lot of contractors making these mistakes. All mechanics, plumbers, HVAC, and others have systems and programs in place. Our industry should do the same.
Bill LaSalle, Lambert’s: Worker safety has improved so much over the years, and now is being embraced by a culture of workers who see the value of self protection. It is no longer not respected to wear PPE — it is the clothing and look of a professional and is being embraced by all cultures. The area of improvement that is needed is attention to detail with limited staff. It means that everyone is going to work longer, smarter hours ‘til [the economy] turns around.
Charles A. McGrath, CAE, executive director, Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute: ICPI has been developing presentations, videos, brochures and an outreach program for manufacturers and contractors to take advantage of municipal and institutional projects. The growth in these markets will allow more consumers to become aware of the sustainability, durability and aesthetics of interlocking concrete pavers and permeable interlocking concrete pavements and encourage them to use them at home. As an industry, our goal is to continue to educate hardscape contractors on installation best practices and how they can expand and improve their businesses to become more profitable.
Todd Monge, president/owner of Custom Landscaping of Eagle River, Inc.: New products that make installation easier and less labor intensive, such as component outdoor kitchen systems, help make bidding more competitive. Although there are many people out of jobs, finding someone who knows how to work, wants to, and cares about what they do is very difficult.
Brad Murphy, executive vice president and COO, Subaru Industrial Power Products: Speaking as a representative of an engine company, I think the reduction in allowable exhaust and evaporative emissions has been a good thing for the industry. [Regulations] encourage new designs and improvements that might not otherwise happen. And it keeps it economically viable for all to meet the requirements.
Susan Olinger, APLD 2012 president: I’d have to beat the drum for sustainability. I think we’ve come a long way in the direction of preserving our natural resources. I am pleased to see restrictions in communities for reduced impervious covering, and especially pleased that the paver companies have introduced products to address these restrictions. I hear of landscape designers selling their clients on smaller, natural lawns that require less mowing time and do not rely on excess watering or chemicals to keep them green. The use of native plants has increased, and many homeowners are now requesting them in their gardens.
Although we have come a long way toward a healthier planet, I still see a need for improvement. As landscape professionals, we are directly responsible for so much of the damage to the Earth caused by overdevelopment. We owe it to our clients, as well as our planet, to learn whatever we can about sustainable landscape practices and use them. One way that contractors can improve in this way is to hire a professional landscape designer that is knowledgeable in this area. APLD regularly provides educational opportunities on sustainability to its members.
Lou Palazzi, Jr., PCH Palazzi Landscape Gardening: The tremendous growth in the maintenance sector due to more baby boomers doing less yard work and their retiring in large numbers will lead to continued steady sales increases despite the lack of new housing construction. This will greatly offset declines in new landscaping.
Roger Phelps, Landscape Industry Certified Professional and promotional communications manager for STIHL Inc.: I am most pleased with the overall increase in professionalism. I have seen an increase in companies pursuing certification through associations like the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET), as well as state landscape associations, and investing in training for their employees, particularly in safety. I think the industry has also made great strides in environmental responsibility whether using cleaner equipment or processes.
As far as improvement, I think our biggest opportunity is to educate customers and the public as a whole on what the green industry does. There is still a great deal of misinformation out there. Priorities should be letting the public know that we are, in fact, the original green industry, and no one has more technical knowledge, experience and resources to care for our community landscapes. Coordinating that message across all the facets of the industry will be critical to this effort.
Edward Pinckney, Edward Pinckney/Associates, Ltd.: I’m most pleased with the fact that the Green movement has taken hold in a holistic, almost global way. Frankly, I thought it was going to be the typical flash-in-the-pan fad, but it is way beyond that already. If you’re not on that train, you’re going to get left. True, some of it may be way over the top, and there are those that will take unnecessary advantage of it; but isn’t that true of everything? And the good far out ways the bad.
Jody Shilan, president of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association, and FromDesign2Build.com: I have been most impressed with alternative energy sources for equipment use, and the efficiencies being built into many products. I am also very excited about the continued growth of organic landscape and lawn care products that provide landscape contractors with better opportunities to be environmentally sensitive. I feel that the biggest area for improvement is the “self esteem” of our industry. Even today, landscape contractors allow themselves and our industry to still be labeled as blue collar or non-professional. Individually and collectively, we need to stop believing and perpetuating these myths, and continue to educate ourselves, grow together as an industry, and actively participate in our associations and legislative bodies.
Tim Smith, president and CEO of LandOpt, LLC.: It’s good to see a growing focus on the need for formal business practices. As the industry matures, I foresee that more landscape contractors will proactively seek tools and education that will allow them to adopt a more business-based approach, truly allowing them to understand the value that they are providing as horticulture and Green Industry experts to the clients they serve, and helping their clients recognize this unique value as well.
In terms of improvement arenas, as contractors, I believe there is an ongoing need to educate the customers of the value that we provide. As horticultural and environmental experts acting on the customer’s behalf, there are long-term, mutual benefits to building relationships through a proactive, problem-solving approach versus just simply reacting to a customer’s perceived immediate needs.
James Truan, vice president of sales and marketing of TurfEx: Today’s contractors are smarter than ever. They understand that in order to be successful, they must be efficient. Overall, we’d like to see the level of education continue to improve. We’ve seen too many good, hard-working guys go out of business because they didn’t know how to run their operations properly.
Hal White, vice president of sales and marketing, Wright Mfg.: The advancement we are most pleased with is business itself, rather than technical advancements. Business has stabilized and there is moderate growth. The area that needs to improve most is hiring, but the upward trend needs to be sustained before any new hiring can actually occur.
Kevin Wiebe, owner and president, North County Lawn Care: We like the advantage of “green” technologies in this industry. We would like to see further advancement of these technologies as far as productivity to efficiency to be able to implement these new technologies into our company and local industry because there is a growing interest of these technologies from both customers and landscape companies.
Douglas York, CEO of Ewing Irrigation Products: I am most excited about our industry’s adoption of LED technology for low-voltage lighting, and that this technology is moving forward so swiftly.
Landscape and Irrigation:What some reasons landscape industry professionals should be optimistic in 2012?
PLANET President, Jerry Grossi, Landscape Industry Certified Technician: By the end of this year, or the beginning of next year, we’re going to see a marked improvement in economic climate for the lawn and landscape industry. Housing statistics are the leading indicator for our industry. Without new houses, new lawn and landscapes are not created. I think at the end of this year we are going to see an improved housing market. I think consumer confidence and the job market are also going to show improvement. With these positive indicators, it will boost our outlook as lawn and landscape folks. The changes will not be robust, but they still will be supportive of growth.
PLANET President-Elect, Norman Goldenberg, Landscape Industry Certified Technician: Our industry should be pleased with the fact that with the current state of the homebuilding and mortgage industries, people are more likely to be staying in their homes and, therefore, will begin fixing up their homes and improving them. By making little improvements, they can place a higher value on their homes.
Tim Banfield ASLA, president, Outdoor Living, Inc.: It’s an election year.
David Brock, owner, manager and chief field technician for D B S Pest Control: There is an election in November.
Maria Candler, CLP, President, James River Grounds Management, Inc.: We are on our way out of this mess — slowly but surely. We don’t expect to have a major change in our net profit, but we do believe that the hard work around efficiency and process will be put to the test in 2012, tweaked where necessary, and we will see the changes in 2013. I’m super excited about seeing all the change in action
Pat Cappucci, president and COO of Schiller Grounds Care, Inc.: People continue to value a beautiful environment in which to live, work and play. This will never change. New technologies continue to emerge to make this more attainable. This will lead to growth in our industry, particularly and the economy turns the corner in 2012. This is supported by the following statistics: The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the Landscaping and Groundskeeping Workforce, which includes irrigation workers outside of the Farming & Agriculture Industry, will grow by 18 percent by 2018. This reflects positive growth for our industry. With sustainable greening practices increasing on the local and national level, there is enough work to sustain the growth of the industry workforce so long as proper training and certification is provided. Our industry is strong through its associations, and contractors need to become members to receive the proper industry accepted training to be competitive as the industry grows. There is a sense of expediency though, as ailing industries see the growth of greening practices and work to institute training that support their own industry workers in these fields.
Allen Chariton, president, Tierra Verde Landscape, Inc.: There seems to be little reason to be optimistic for 2012 in that our elected officials are not responsive to the needs of the citizenry, and therefore it will be more of the same.
Scott Cohen, garden artisan, The Green Scene: We have seen a significant increase in sales of our design books on outdoor fireplaces and outdoor kitchens, two of the fastest-growing trends in our industry. That leads me to believe contractors are looking to grow their skills and ramp up to be ready to increase sales next year.
Also, it is an election year, which is typically good for business — lots of optimistic talk from the media in an election year.
James R. Day, Turf Teq / Spec Fab: In 2011 we saw our first increase since 2008. We expect 2012 to increase over 2011 based on customer feedback and pent up demand for productive equipment with a short ROI.
Carl Dowse, irrigation manager, The Bruce Company: Some sectors of our economy are growing — health care in particular, and many hospitals, clinics, and health care related industries are expanding and they usually include extensive landscaping.
Maybe some of the billions of dollars that will be spent on the elections will somehow filter down and some of it be spent on landscape projects.
Tom Duffy, spray equipment sales manager, SherrillTree: Increased government focus and spending on “green” technology and environmentally friendly projects.
Bill Engler, director of sales-LSC, Industrial & Distribution, Ariens Company: A combination of the Housing market and, as of today, the job reports are positive, which is a key indicator that the overall market economy is on the mend. In addition, there is a pent-up demand of for new equipment. Contractors have pushed their equipment to the limit and will need to begin to replace for new.
Alex Fransen, landscape development manager, Steele Blades Inc.: We have seen the commercial market start to pick back up again and have landed several projects for next season.
Judson Griggs, director of garden development at Lambert’s: I believe that there is a pent-up demand for all of our services — design, installation and maintenance. This is due to the fact that clients have been waiting on the sidelines for the economy to improve, and are now tired of waiting. Consumer spending is beginning to increase and that spending makes up 67 percent of our economy. If that trend continues, the landscape industry should see the benefit of the increased spending. We will need to continue to watch our costs and provide a high level of service and value to our clients in order to be competitive and get our fair share of the pie, though.
The other reason for optimism is that with the election on the horizon, we may finally see the economy begin to really move forward if people sense there will be substantive changes for the better.
Susan Jasan, MS, landscape designer, Landscape Creations by S Jasan: People seem generally hopeful, and still want to make improvements to their homes, which translates into more design work and more installations for the contractors.
David Johnson, director of corporate marketing, Rain Bird Corporation: I think the general economy will finally be a help instead of a hindrance. I think housing prices have stabilized, and construction will soon begin to grow again. Additionally, as people become increasingly aware of water conservation requirements, they will turn to our industry for answers. While it won’t be an easy year, 2012 will be a good one with many opportunities for growth.
Michael Jones, president of the Americas, Husqvarna: I would expect a continued rebound of the lawn care professional industry to drive sales of professional, lawn care products.
Terry Kurth, director of development, Weed Man Lawn Care: The consistency shown in residential maintenance revenue gains should continue through the 2012 season and into the future. Homeowners — with the help of quality marketing by landscapers, lawn care operators and irrigation companies — now are beginning to realize more than ever that a quality landscape is not just a cosmetic improvement, but increases their home’s asset value. I like to say that it is like putting a quality moat around their castle.
Eileen Laber, co-owner and sales and product manager, Aqua-Flo: There are lots of motivated, educated “20 somethings” who are looking for work, so our ability to improve the energy level, motivation, and professionalism of the industry should improve.
Rich Lahren C.P., landscape division manager, Hebron Brick & Block: People are always going to update and improve there outdoor environments, our industry is showing consumers some great new products and ideas. Outdoor kitchens, natural gas fire pits, and sitting walls have been very popular in our market. The bad economy within the last 3-plus years has weeded out some companies that shouldn’t have been in our industry.
Bill LaSalle, Lambert’s: There are few talented workers and support people looking for jobs. We can use them, but they are being retained by companies that know their value and have enough work to sustain their positions. Also, there are some fleet investments that I see being made that would indicate an eye on the future.
Charles A. McGrath, CAE, executive director, Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute: The improvement of economy, job market and consumer confidence will encourage consumers to upgrade their driveways and outdoor living areas to use interlocking concrete pavement systems.
Dennie Melton, owner, Dennie’s Lawn & Landscaping Services: The small business person will be around as long as there are dreams and ideas. Yes, I still am optimistic for 2012.
Todd Monge, president/owner of Custom Landscaping of Eagle River, Inc.: Homeowners are looking to increase the value of their project, and are again looking at upgrades and enhancements.
Brad Murphy, executive vice president and COO, Subaru Industrial Power Products: The professional market seems to be recovering and growing. I think companies have been able to adjust to the new economic situation. Rather than just sit back and hope things change overnight, they’ve been proactive, and made the necessary adjustments to their business plan. I think it’s still going to be slow growth, but growth nonetheless.
Susan Olinger, APLD 2012 president: I often speak with many landscape professionals, and have heard from several that 2011 was better than the two years prior to it in terms of selling work. I have found this to be true in my own work as well. Despite the uncertainty of the economic future, I think we will see more business in 2012. I am hearing good reports from the retail industry that sales of expensive jewelry, fine art and luxury cars have increased over the recent holiday period. We all know that the consumer that makes this type of purchase is one that is likely to invest in new landscaping. I also feel that many of the low-bidding contractors that were walking off with our projects in 2009 and 2010 have gone out of business due partly to poor skills and business practices but also because they bid so low on jobs that they failed to make any money.
Lou Palazzi, Jr., PCH Palazzi Landscape Gardening: Those willing to focus on landscape and irrigation maintenance will have a very profitable year. Those who rely solely on new construction will continue to suffer as they have the past four years.
Roger Phelps, Landscape Industry Certified Professional and promotional communications manager for STIHL Inc.: I think landscape industry professionals can be optimistic about the resources that they have available to succeed in business. Whether it is more powerful, fuel-efficient and lower-emission equipment, training resources like the PLANET Universe website or the PLANET Trailblazers program, or marketing tools like social media sites and e-mail, for those willing to invest the time, talent and money in their businesses, the demand for professional companies to maintain and create beautiful, environmentally responsible landscapes is there.
Edward Pinckney, Edward Pinckney/Associates, Ltd.: The recession has given everyone reason and time to pause; reason to think about new approaches to how we do things, especially how we treat our environment, and how we plan, long-range, for the next generations. I’m optimistic because I believe this “green” trend is here to stay, and it plays right into our hands. The irrigation industry better get on board and start becoming more efficient — actually shrinking the need for irrigation, even tooling up to manufacture all the things that conserve and/or eliminate the need for irrigation altogether, where possible.
Jody Shilan, president of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association, and FromDesign2Build.com: Although there are not a lot of reasons for optimism in 2012 — and I’m not even sure that this is optimistic — but people in general are becoming more comfortable with the new economy. That is to say that over the past several years many have come to realize and accept that what we are expe