In the competitive world we live in, there are many ways for companies that offer irrigation services to add value for their clients. We don’t have to sacrifice or cut into our bottom line to make our businesses more attractive to property owners.
Offering your clients and potential clients additional services that your competitors may not offer could tip the scales in your favor. In talking with a few company representatives who provide irrigation installations and repairs to their clients, I found that all of them were adding value to their work, and none of them said that they were cutting prices.
We talk about adding additional services, especially in irrigation, so I think it is timely to rethink our position on what other services we can offer. Not only will this make it more convenient for your client, it will also generate additional revenue streams.
In Dover, New Jersey, the clients of All Wet Irrigation & Lighting make service contracts a priority, which is just how company partner Kelly Rozansky likes it. All Wet’s contracts include startup and winterization, and some include midseason inspections, where irrigation techs come out in the middle of the season and make sure that everything is working properly.
Service contracts offer a number of advantages to a company. They lock the client in for a year, which means a certain amount of guaranteed business, and if the property changes hands, you have a chance to impress the new owner. Guaranteed business also makes for neater scheduling than the usual rush of calls every fall and spring. You’re no longer at the mercy of the property owner, who only remembers that their system needs winterizing after the first frost.
Rozansky also likes contracts because his irrigation techs can see what irrigation systems look like in the summer, when the landscape really needs watering. “In a mid-season check, you adjust the timer for different conditions and you help the property when it actually needs help,” he said. “Otherwise, we generally don’t see the lawn under stress. A mid-season check lets us do that.”
There will always be some customers who won’t be willing to add an extra inspection or two into their contracts, but the prospect of efficiency gains can be quite persuasive.
Your clients count on you to be their expert. Having you or your employees examine their system when it is most needed gives them peace of mind. They know that any problems with their irrigation system will have been found and fixed.
Rozansky also makes use of irrigation inspections as a chance to let his customers know about his landscape lighting operation. “A lot of customers don’t see the correlation there between irrigation and lighting,” he said, “but for us it’s very similar. Wire is pipe and voltage drop is pressure loss. It’s a natural thing for irrigation guys to do lighting.”
LEDs have taken over the outdoor lighting industry, but there’s still a lot of work out there retrofitting systems that were originally made to run halogen lights. Halogens have a much smaller voltage tolerance than LEDs, which can easily operate between 8 and 24 volts. This means that a failing halogen system can often still run well on LED lights. LEDs last longer, but they still need a checkup at least once a year, to clean off the fixtures, and adjust them for a year’s worth of plant growth, if nothing else.
Not all valuable services require a great leap of imagination. In Austin, Texas, the Great Western Corporation offers its irrigation clients an add-on to their sprinkler system that repels pests. They install a device with its own controller that disperses a natural pesticide through the irrigation system when it’s not otherwise in use.
“The product is kid-friendly, it’s pet-friendly, and the system only runs for a few seconds on each zone, just enough to get it on the ground,” said company president Elizabeth Koehler-Gray. “You can set it up to only cover the zones you’re going to spend time in, but the big selling point here in Texas is that it’s not just for mosquitos. It also repels flies, fire ants and chiggers.”
Your clients already have an irrigation system, and they already count on you to help them run it. Making use of that system to protect them from biting insects is a logical move. That count doubles if you’re already familiar with pesticides, as many landscape maintenance professionals are.
Integrated pest management isn’t the only discipline that overlaps irrigation and landscape professionals; fertilizer can be spread through an irrigation system, too. Fertigation is a way of fertilizing through a client’s irrigation system.
Irrigation systems exist to provide turf a constant, steady supply of water, and fertigation systems do the same for plant food. A fertigation system can offer a trickle of food, encouraging growth in a way that’s slower and steadier than traditional fertilizer applications. Alex Cartwright, co-owner of CK Landscape in Danville, California, almost insists that his customers install a fertigation system, he loves it that much.
“We use living biology through mycorrhizae and biostimulants, the same stuff you find out in nature,” Cartwright said. “With that, we can recreate natural living soil structure in people’s yards.” Mycorrhizae is a type of fungus that attaches to plants’ root systems, and helps ferry nutrients and water to them.
South of Danville, in Aptos, California, Jeffrey Powers is also a big believer in the fertigation systems. The company he owns, Coastal Landscaping Inc., has a lot of large HOAs as clients, and Powers likes how having a stronger root system helps his clients save water. For both California-based contractors, saving water is a necessity.
Cartwright helps his clients save by installing graywater reuse systems. He also looks at the feasibility of installing rainwater harvesting systems whenever he encounters a drainage problem. If you’re already diverting water with a French drain, why not store it to water the landscape with?
Powers overseeds the properties he serves with a new variety of bentgrass that was developed by the University of California, Davis. “It gives you the same fescue look, but it uses half the water,” he said.
For real trouble spots, he also employs an organic soil additive that binds to plant roots and helps them draw water. “It was developed by the Israelis, it’s organic, and lasts about three months,” said Powers. “The roots can pull water out of the soil that they wouldn’t be able to reach otherwise. It can actually take some of the dew in the morning and bring that down from the surface, too.”
By stacking these efficiencies with an aggressive approach to irrigation maintenance, the landscapes he manages weathered the watering restrictions just fine. “On one HOA, we’ve reduced our water use by 70 percent, compared to the 2010 usage,” Powers said. “On another project, we were 60 percent under the rationed amount. When you’re dealing with 15 or more acres of land, that’s millions of gallons saved.”
There are a lot of ways that companies offering irrigation services can help their clients conserve. Back in New Jersey, Rozansky has been hearing about a whole new model of contract that is developing. It’s made possible by all the opportunities out there for upgrading irrigation controllers.
“Some guys are offering monthly plans, where they’re not actually selling the controller, they’re selling the service,” he said. “The customer gets the controller for free, but they pay $30 a month for the company to take care of their system.” Smart controllers are an evolving field, and may yet follow in the footsteps of Time Warner Cable and Comcast, discounting hardware as part of a service contract.
The point is that there are a lot of ways that you can make your services more valuable to your clientele.
Many people are looking for a onestop shop, a company that will serve all their outdoor needs. Landscape installation, landscape maintenance, irrigation work, mosquito control, outdoor lighting, holiday lighting and snow removal. All of these services have overlaps, and many companies discover that expanding into them opens up untapped markets.
The cornerstone of the American dream is the desire for self-improvement. Although the coming year is going to be a tough for the labor market, business owners are optimistic about their growth. Companies are going to be competing to attract employees. Those that can boast a wide range of different types of work will have an edge in appealing to people who want to learn new skills, and advance in their careers. These self-starters are the kind of employees that form the backbone of great businesses. A new year brings new challenges, and by adding value to your operations, you’ll be prepared to meet them.