Jan. 15 2020 06:00 AM

Use our annual survey report to map out a successful year for your business.

Welcome to Irrigation & Green Industry’s 2020 Green Industry Outlook. This year’s survey builds on the success of last year’s status report with brand-new market insights and ways to benchmark your business. It also uncovers the current industry trends and challenges, from day-to-day labor struggles to the impact of regulations.

We once again reached out to our readers to get the lay of the land for the landscape and irrigation industries as we head into a new decade. We wanted to find out how industry demographics have shifted in the past year, including business size and services offered. But we also wanted to find out more about how professionals dealt with some major issues such as average crew pay and safety. We modified some questions in this year’s edition of the survey based on responses and reader suggestions to last year’s survey, to make the results as relevant as possible.

This year, a total of 782 of you completed our survey — a huge jump from last year’s final total. We’re so grateful for your help in laying out the most important issues you’re facing, as well as where things are going well. You came from a wide range of job titles, from CEOs to service crew members and specialists, and every one of you helped us report a more representative image of the full landscape and irrigation industries.

We had such a strong response to the survey that we collected more information than we were able to fit in the print edition.

If you’re starting 2020 looking at company growth projects, our report is a map to where others are finding the biggest challenges and best results. Use these responses to plan ahead and make this year your best yet.

To download a PDF version of the 2020 Green Industry Outlook, click here.

Developing demographics

This year’s survey respondents cover the U.S. in almost exactly the same distribution as last year’s. We see about 33% coming from the West, and nearly equal representation in the upper Midwest, Northeast and lower Midwest. With almost twice as many respondents as in our 2019 outlook survey, it looks like we have a representative demographic breakdown.

Roughly the same number of companies are listed as year-round (84%) rather than seasonal (16%). More companies report “lawn maintenance company” as the primary business than last year, taking the top spot at 29%.

This year’s survey brings in a wider variety of respondents by job title, as 66% considered themselves the company executive compared to 75% last year. We had greater representation from managers and slightly more industry specialists.

This year’s demographics also cover a wider experience range, though not by much. The majority of respondents have been directly working in the industry for more than 31 years, at 42%. We see a stronger presence from professionals who have been in the industry between 11-20 and 21-30 years, but you have to add those results together to match the older group by just two points.

The age range of respondents remains similar, with exactly the same percentage of those in the 60-plus range as compared to last year. The greatest change was in the 30-39 group.

The full report online shows that family ownership is the most common company structure at 57%, which lines up with an industry of experienced professionals. Private holding is the next most common at 33%, followed by government at 8%.

A total of 43% of respondents’ companies have been in business for more than 31 years, again outpacing both of the next two categories added together. Considering the responses to the age range and company structure plans, some in the industry could be looking into retirement or succession plans within the next few years.

Growing strong

While there are some concerns about available labor and other obstacles, the industry outlook continues to look strong. A total of 14% of respondents expect to see growth of about 16% or more in 2020. The combined number of those who expect their business to remain flat or decrease still falls short of those who expect to see between 6%-10% growth.

Similar to last year, 65% of industry professionals expect moderate growth in demand for company services in 2020. Also similar to last year, more expect flat demand of services (18%) than high growth (14%).

Labor continues to be both the largest expense and biggest obstacle for the industry. It’s fitting that labor/H-2B regulations cause the most problems, even compared to water regulations.

Good help is still hard to find

Finding and keeping quality employees has always been a tough job in the industry, and it seems to be just as difficult now as last year. Even with nearly twice as many respondents in this year’s survey, results for “Does your region offer enough qualified workers to meet your company’s needs?” changed only by 1% between years. Regardless of respondent company size or regulation, the labor question is the smallest change between survey results from year to year. This is still the top concern across the board.

This year’s survey also has a similar overlay on full-time employees at peak season. The 1-5 range dropped a few percentage points compared to last year while larger companies gained some ground. It’s still the largest cohort represented at 40%.

Also like last year, 64% of respondents pay crew members 11% or more over the local minimum wage. The majority (84%) of companies have never participated in the H-2B program, and about the same number did not use it last year despite having used it previously. That’s not likely to change, as using the program continues to be challenging.

About a third of respondents say between 1%-25% of their employees speak Spanish either as a primary language or otherwise. Almost the same number reports having no Spanish-speaking employees in the company.

One of the new questions on this year’s survey finds a total of 57% of respondents do not have crews using job management apps or software to streamline the process of working with clients in the field. Those services could potentially help with managing labor issues, but they require some setup and buy-in throughout the crews to be effective.

Another new question about employee development shows that the majority of respondents encourage technical training and licensing for employees, at 89% affirming. That lines up with an industry looking to develop some of its younger crew members to be able to take on more responsibility when effective labor is tough to find. It’s also good news as professionals are making certain that knowledge is being passed down in the industry.

On a related topic, 42% of respondents say they perform weekly or biweekly crew safety checks or training. Though it’s not reflected in the results, a comforting number of write-in responses assured that checks are done daily. One respondent writes, “I work with my crew every time we go out. I constantly train them.”

Bright future

With a generally positive outlook on the industry, professionals are looking forward to new opportunities in 2020. Some are looking at investments in new equipment or branching out into new services, while a comparatively low number are reducing available services.

“Because there is a good amount of work out there, we see the best opportunity is to raise prices and increase margins,” says one respondent. Others report more commercial contracts and jobs requesting renovations and tree planting. A low rain year could increase the demand for improved outdoor spaces and also provide a larger market for drought-tolerant landscaping. Though unlicensed competitors are an issue in some markets, their mistakes can be an opportunity to capitalize.

For most respondents, though, labor is key to getting leverage on what 2020 can offer. As one writes, “There’s room to grow everywhere if you have the people to get it done.”

Methodology

The 2020 Green Industry Outlook Survey was developed in SurveyMonkey, with three email invitations to respondents between Nov. 7 and Nov. 15. Each invitation included information on the drawing for a $500 Home Depot gift card. Survey results were closed Nov. 15 with 782 responses. IGIN staff analyzed the survey results.

A special thanks

Thanks to everyone who participated in our survey this year; we couldn’t have offered this snapshot of the industry without you. It’s not easy to take time out of your day, even for a short survey, so we wanted to make certain you understand how much we appreciate it. We provided an incentive to respond to the survey with a drawing for one $500 Home Depot gift card. Thanks again for your help in putting together our industry outlook!

To download a PDF version of the 2020 Green Industry Outlook, click here.