Aug. 1 2000 12:00 AM

Well, guess what? It doesn’t have to be this way anymore! If you haven’t begun making the move toward selling and installing remote-operated controllers, you are missing the boat. No longer limited to the commercial market, these controllers are available in price ranges that make them affordable for the average homeowner.
The original plan was to develop a product to make servicing systems easier for the contractor. However, when the homeowners saw contractors using this new device, they demanded one for their own use. This has led to another area of market expansion in the irrigation business.

Once a contractor has installed this product the first time and discovered the convenience it offers, the majority of their installations from that point on will include this device. “Only recently has the cost of technology been streamlined to fit the residential sprinkler controller niche. With this in mind, sometimes all it takes is one person in a neighborhood using his transmitter in the front yard and soon contractors are being asked for the product,” says Alan Ence of Orbit Irrigation, “It’s demand and supply, not supply and demand that moves this product.”

It goes without saying that convenience will be the #1 reason to use this product, both for the homeowner and contractor. However, it can also be the one point that differentiates a contractor from the second or third bid that the homeowner has in hand for comparison. You may be side by side to the other contractors in reputation, parts used, brands used, and costs. Then the homeowner sees that you are also including a remote-operated controller; being the gadget hungry society that we are today, that one point will rate you above the others, and you have sold the homeowner your system.
Ence goes on to explain that the homeowner will actually pay more attention to his irrigation system and his landscape watering needs using the remote control. “Most homeowners are not comfortable with changing any controllers’ automatic programming. Additionally, most installers cannot read the weather, so having an easy tool for spot watering between normal watering cycles is a big improvement over having a dissatisfied property owner call after expensive plants or patches of lawn are yellowing.” In other words, the homeowner, having used remote controls for years for their other appliances, falls right into using the remote control for his sprinkler system, all from the convenience of his Lazy Boy recliner.

Orbit’s remote control transmitter and receiver will transmit up to 200 feet and will “work with most standard brand 24-volt sprinkler timers or can be used independently as a semi-automatic controller,” explains Ence.
Jeff Carowitz, vice president of marketing for Hunter Industries, explains how using a remote control saves the contractor, both in actual labor and the cost of labor. “It reduces trips back and forth to the controller during the system’s installation, maintenance and service. Some tasks that require two employees (one to stand at the controller and one to work in the field) can now be accomplished with just one employee using a remote.” Installation time can be trimmed “because the installer can run the system and flush out new pipe without walking back and forth to the controller. This also saves costs when winterizing, because one person with a hand-held remote can drain the irrigation lines and complete the job.”

Another advantage for both the contractor and the homeowner is that it is not necessary for the homeowner to be at home for a service call or winterization procedure. The remote control will access the controller located in the garage, basement, boathouse, or any other locked facility. All the contractor needs to do is program his controller with the homeowner’s code. “The Hunter remote control has 128 address codes. We suggest that the contractor set the individual homeowner’s receiver to the numbered code matching the last two digits of the house number,” states Carowitz. The contractor’s remote can be reprogrammed instantly. The Hunter remote will accurately transmit signals up to 450 feet away and operate on a 9-volt battery.
Weathermatic introduced its remote control the first quarter of this year. It has an accurate transmission distance of up to 600 feet. Its unique design accepts two unique codes, one for the homeowner and one for the contractor, allowing “the contractor to operate any sprinkler system with a single remote unique to only their customers. The contractors program their ‘master’ transmitter to operate all of their customers’ controllers, while each customer maintains a unique homeowner code. This is accomplished in a simple two-step operation,” says Mike Barron, vice president sales and marketing, Western Region for Weathermatic. “The low cost, convenient fit and simple installation of the transmitter into the Weathermate controller makes this remote control an added plus for the irrigation contractor.”
Rain Bird has recently introduced two remote systems: a one-button sequencing system and a multi-function remote control system. The Multi-Function system offers more features for the advanced user and has a range of up to 700 feet. The one-button remote has a range of 500 feet. Both have the “STX (secure transmission) communication protocol that ensures correct command recognition for maximum security”.
Almost all manufacturers of irrigation equipment have either introduced their own remote control or are preparing to. Toro has plans to launch a remote for the Greenkeeper controller in August. Irritrol Systems will introduce a remote for the Rain Dial Plus in the fall. Buckner by Storm plans to release its product by the end of September.
While not being able to elaborate with any details, Don Thompson, director of sales for Buckner, says the new technology being used for their product is “very cutting edge.” This new product will be very different from any other on the market, full featured, simple, user friendly, and priced for the average homeowner. “We look at cutting-edge technology, and how to make it fit so that the average person can operate it,” says Thompson. The remotes and transmitters are compatible with their new line of controllers, introduced earlier this year.

The year 2000 marks the beginning of a new era in the irrigation industry. Many manufacturers have successfully launched their products, but the major hurdle is yet to come: Marketing these products to the contractor, and coaching the contractor on how to market it to the consumer. It’s the consensus that in the next few years, the snowball effect will take place. Once a remote-controlled system is installed in a neighborhood, it will not take long before the guy next door’s going to want the same convenience. Carowitz recommends to Hunter’s contractors that they sell a residential remote as a “system upgrade” to their existing customers. The low cost and convenience it offers makes it an easy-sell item, generating additional revenue for the contractor.
Gary Castillo of Sprinkler Works, based in Pasadena, California, has been installing remote controls for his commercial customers since 1993. Having developed the expertise from the commercial market, Castillo was able to introduce his residential clients to residential-grade remote controllers since its introduction in the spring of 1999. “Sprinkler Works customers span from Texas to Hawaii, and we’ve never had a complaint on our installed remote controllers,” notes Castillo.

Sprinkler Works field tested remotes from Hunter and Weathermatic prior to offering them to their customers as an additional feature. Castillo em-phasized that for his residential clients, the remote controllers should include features such as simplicity of use, dependability, and good technology. “If the remote controller is difficult for a contractor to use, he has no business offering it to his customer.”

Sprinkler Works includes a remote on every job they bid. For customers who do not want a remote at the time, Sprinkler Works will make the controller remote-ready for the future.
As with televisions, VCRs, stereos, etc., remote controllers do make life easier, and now they can make residential irrigation easier. For the final flushing of the lines after the installation of an irrigation system; for the homeowner “walk through” of the system; for maintenance of the system when the homeowner is not at home or your helper is off; for winterization of the system using one employee; and spot watering during exceptionally dry periods by the homeowner; all these spell convenience and convenience sells.

The next time you are caught at 3:00 in the afternoon, in 99 degree temperature, with three more systems to service before you can call it a day, wouldn’t it be nice to stand in the shade to diagnose the problem, remote control in one hand and a cold drink in the other?