Oct. 1 2006 12:00 AM

 A GOOD BUSINESSMAN IS ALWAYS LOOKing for ways to make his business even better. Sometimes, this can mean expensive or risky investments, acquiring new skills, or offering new products and services. What a brilliant businessman knows is that he can expand his business and increase his profits with the skills and products he already has.

Take irrigation, for example. You might not realize it, but there are several water-oriented opportunities available to boost your bottom line, aside from simply breaking your back digging trenches (hopefully, youre using a trenching machine). Many irrigation contractors dig up the property, install the irrigation system, program the controller, and leave, off to find their next job so they can do it all over again. But you dont have to simply load your truck and move on. Why not try to keep the customers you already have?

Keeping customers is easy if you offer them a service contract. You can create an entirely new revenue stream with minimal effort by forming a service division within your company. When a customer signs a service contract,he pays a flat, annual fee (or a monthly fee) for you to come out a certain number of times a year to service and maintain his irrigation system.

Contractors in certain parts of the country may already provide a version of this service. In freeze zones, its common to offer to winterize your customers irrigation systems. This usually entails blowing water out of the system at the beginning of the winter season to prevent it from freezing and cracking pipes, and blowing out the system again at the onset of spring. 3_6.jpg

You may already be making two service calls a year; why not add two or three more? Its an easy sell to customers if you show them the benefits: just like they change the oil in their car a few times a year to keep it running smoothly, a little preventative maintenance can also go a long way in keeping an irrigation system functioning.

This can be as simple as doing a walk-through on a property and adjusting the sprinkler heads to make sure, for example, that the hardscapes arent getting sprayed. Homeowners will be shocked to realize how much water these small adjustments can saveand even more shocked to realize how much water they may have been wasting.

Many homeowners have been told to irrigate at night so the sun doesnt evaporate the water before the soil has a chance to soak it up the downside of that is the fact they may never actually see their irrigation system in operation. They have no idea whether or not their driveway is getting more water than their turf, or if their roses are getting any water at all.

If the homeowner is on a service contract with you, your periodic visits will catch these kinds of problems. No one wants to waste water, and keeping systems functioning properly can save homeowners a few bucks on their water bills. Imagine getting a call from a customer thanking you for their water savings, instead of an angry one screaming that their flowers have died.

You might also re-program the customers controller so that it waters in a more seasonally-appropriate manner. Grass hardly needs the amount of water in November that it required in Augustthis too can positively impact customers water bills, and, therefore, pocketbooks.

Keep in mind that none of this means that youre giving the customer freebies. The service contract they paid for is only to get you out there; it doesnt include the materials and products youll need if something has to be replaced. If you run the system and notice that a sprinkler head has to be replaced, you can still charge the customer for the new head. The benefit to the customer is that the problem head has now been replaced, whereas if they didnt have the service contract, the head might have continued to water improperly for months, wasting water and stressing plants.

1_7.jpgFertigation helps profits bloom

If you have irrigation service contracts with your customers, and will be servicing their landscapes five or six times a year, you might also consider selling them a fertigation system. Fertigation is a combination of the words fertilize and irrigation, and in fact, thats exactly what it doescombine the process of fertilization with the process of irrigation. Instead of you having to spread a granular fertilizer product over a customers turf, a fertigation unit delivers liquid fertilizer automatically through the irrigation system.

A fertigation unit can attach easily to any in-ground sprinkler system, providing a precise amount of fertilizer over a period of time. Since its all done automatically, you never have to wonder again if youre over-feeding or under-feeding a lawn, and the customer can enjoy a landscape that always looks its best. The thing is, the bottle of fertilizer the unit is using will have to be replaced every four to six weeks with a fresh bottle. If youre already visiting a customers property every month or two anyway, what a perfect opportunity! It makes things easier for you by removing the guesswork out of fertilizing. Selling the system, as well as periodically replacing the fertilizer, gives you another source of revenue.

Fertigation is also better for plants. Usually with fertilizer, its either feast or faminethe plants have an abundance of nitrogen right after it is applied, and then must survive for weeks or months without any. Fertigation gives plants an opportunity to thrive, because they have a constant supply of the nutrients they need to look their best.

Additionally, youll never have to manually spread a granular product on that lawn againall the time and manpower that would normally be spent fertilizing can now be spent performing other tasks. This means that fertigation can make you more productive. Why pledge your workers energy and time to a job that can be done more efficiently by an automatic device?

Lighting the way

The benefits of a service contract dont end at fertigation. If the client has landscape lighting, you can service that system as well. Lights face a lot of hazards in a landscapethey can get hit by mowers, knocked around by kids, and even kicked by pets. Any one of these impacts is capable of knocking a light out of position, misdirecting the beam. Suddenly, a palm tree that might have once been centered in a ring of light now appears to be off to the far left. It looks awkward and imbalanced. But if youre regularly servicing the system, it wont have to look that way for long.

Another reason for the need for this service is that bulbs burn out. Servicing the system means youre checking for and replacing burntout bulbs on a regular basis, to keep the landscape looking as great at night as it does during the day.

Other maintenance a landscape lighting system requires can include cleaning the lenses. A clean lens helps the lamp operate more efficiently, extending lamp life. Inground fixtures and fixtures in low-lying areas may require particular attention as far as cleaning. Another service idea: you can spray sockets with silicone to help prevent corrosive oxidation between the lamp and its socket, giving them a better connection.

By scheduling a visit at a customers home on a regular basis, a service contract also gives you the particular opportunity to make additional sales when your client requests it. If youre properly servicing the customer, when he/she wants to add to the landscape, youre Johnny-on-the-spot. Chances are, youll get the job.

Irrigation service contracts are part of the future. Enhance that with landscape lighting services and fertigation services, and youve got a winning combination for success.