Irrigation Professionals Benefit from a
Spring and summer are critical for the green industry.
As an irrigation contractor, the next few months are likely your busiest season, when your customers depend on your expertise to assist them in keeping their landscapes green and healthy.
Customer relations are the lifeblood of contracting; small businesses rely on repeat customers and word-of-mouth referrals. Loyal clients can leave positive online reviews resulting in business growth and increased service opportunities.
Customer Service Basics
Let’s start with a review of the basics straight from the customer service textbook:
First impressions are critical. You must present yourself professionally whenever you’re meeting potential clients. Never be late — ever. Remain courteous at all times.
Be accessible! Make it easy for your customers to reach you. Return phone calls and emails promptly. Keep all communications clear and concise.
Manage an angry customer with tact and finesse. Always remain calm, recognizing that the client is most likely mad about the situation – not you personally. Listen carefully so you can properly address his concerns. By successfully resolving such conflicts, you’ll make life-long customers.
Mistakes happen. But you can turn a misstep into a positive customer experience by addressing it promptly and responsibly. Don’t make excuses. Ask how you can fix the mistake and then do it.
Respect your client’s property by cleaning up as you work. Never leave your customer with a mess.
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Going Above and Beyond
Upgrading your customer service from good to exceptional will help your irrigation business stand out from the competition. If you’re ready for that, here are some of the most important ways you can go the extra mile for your clients:
Empower Your Crew
Take as little time as possible to make the right decisions for the job. Make sure your crew members use their time efficiently. It helps to train and empower them to make critical decisions. Customers should not have to ask the crew leader, who then must ask the account manager, who then must ask you or someone else. Properly trained crew members should be able to answer those questions and repair that sprinkler head.
Is Your Company’s Culture
You can take your company’s customer service standards to the next level by ensuring that your company culture reinforces the critical value of the client. Here are some tips for creating a customer-centric culture for your irrigation business:
Define the behaviors and skill sets that support exceptional customer service and align those behaviors with your business practices.
Identify areas where your current business culture does not reflect a “customer-first” approach. Realign these areas to support the desired behaviors.
Advise your staff of the ways the organization is changing its structure and business strategy to become more client-focused. Then enlist their help.
Ensure all employees are engaged with their work, especially front-line workers. Employee engagement and customer satisfaction are closely correlated.
Reward exceptional customer service. Even small gestures or recognition by peers can have a big impact.
Hire individuals who uphold your service goals. Create a profile for hiring with input from employees who provide the best customer service, and evaluate applicants for both service aptitude and irrigation experience.
Spend Time at the Site
Arrange for you or your account managers to visit client properties regularly, especially if a landscape is sophisticated or the customer is highly involved. Spending time on the property boosts the customer’s confidence in your work. You can drop the homeowner a quick note explaining any issues you’ve identified and your plans to address them.
Keep in touch with your customers, even during the off-season, so they remember your business. Regular communications provide opportunities to evaluate the property and make suggestions, such as system upgrades. Social media posts and monthly newsletters are great ways to keep your clients current on your business, the irrigation industry, or general landscape information. Encourage referrals and repeat customers by including discount codes.
Customize Your Services
Cater to each client’s individual needs. Don’t treat them generically. Make an effort to assure your customers that you and your team know exactly what they want. Build rapport by welcoming client feedback and then implementing it. Your whole crew should know your customers by name.
Putting It All Together
In today’s competitive environment, it takes more than common sense and courtesy to rise to the top of the customer service game. Extending yourself and empowering your crew to go the extra mile on behalf of your clients will position your irrigation business as an industry leader.
The popularity of landscape lighting for residential properties shows no signs of slowing down.
Whether it’s used to illuminate pathways, highlight landscape features, improve security, or create an inviting atmosphere for guests, outdoor lighting has become a go-to improvement for homeowners. Here are five of the latest landscape lighting trends:
Not surprisingly, more homeowners are switching to LEDs for energy efficiency and longer lifespan. LED bulbs last around three to five times longer than conventional fluorescent bulbs and 30 times longer than incandescent bulbs. [See sidebar, “Incandescent Bulb Ban.”]
By switching to LEDs, your customers can expect lower utility bills, less maintenance, reduced carbon emissions, and less waste from the disposal of burned-out bulbs. And since LED lights are now available in a variety of colors, you can customize architectural lighting to match the style of your customer’s home.
In May of last year, the Department of Energy issued a new ruling that requires lighting products to meet new standards. As a result, the manufacture and sale of most incandescent and halogen products will be phased out by August 1, 2023.
The new measure bans the sale of bulbs that produce less than 45 lumens per watt. However, incandescent and halogen bulbs purchased before the phase-out date may still be used.
Directional LED lights can be used for dramatic effects, such as highlighting an accent area or creating contrast. Also, LEDs are more durable and much cooler than other bulbs, so they’re safe around children, pets and plants. What’s more, they don’t attract insects, making outdoor living spaces more enjoyable.
Homeowners looking for the most cost-effective and sustainable way to enhance gardens and walkways have made solar lighting very popular right now. The huge advantage of solar is the zero operating cost. While the initial outlay for a quality solar fixture can be high, your customers can recoup this cost pretty quickly.
There are a couple of drawbacks, however. Solar lights recharge just fine in direct sunlight, but partial shade, rain or overcast skies can diminish their effectiveness, resulting in low light output or short running time.
Most solar landscape lights are less bright than electric fixtures. They provide ambient lighting, tending toward a bluish hue. In other words, they’re ideal for garden pathways, but their use as security lighting is limited. According to Bob Vila, the average solar path light delivers the equivalent of a 40-watt light bulb.
Smart outdoor lighting systems allow homeowners to control their lights by phone, tablet or computer. All lighting can be adjusted by app instead of a control box. Timers can be set, lights can be brightened, dimmed, or color changed with a few taps on a smart device.
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Smart lighting systems offer increased security, as they can be pre-programmed to turn on and off automatically, whether your customer is home or away. Notifications can be sent directly to the homeowner’s phone in the event of a lighting malfunction.
Smart systems can also be equipped with motion sensors — perfect for illuminating pathways.
Color-changing lights add a unique touch to your outdoor space. Your customers can choose from a variety of colors — even create custom combinations. This type of lighting is often reserved for special occasions, such as holidays, but can be used at any time of year.
Christmas, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, and Independence Day can all be colorfully celebrated with just a few clicks on a smartphone. Sports enthusiasts use color-changing outdoor lights to root for their favorite teams on game day.
The warm, welcoming effect of downlighting is very trendy right now. Downliights are designed to simulate the natural light emitted from the sun, moon and stars. Mounted on walls, ceilings, or trees, they highlight a property’s ground-level features by creating a downward illumination.
Downlighting is used less for security and more to create ambiance and accentuate a home’s exterior layers and textures. It can be installed on just about any overhead structure. An added benefit is that downlighting keeps light pollution at a minimum.
EPA Program Has Transformed
Landscape Irrigation Industry
Over the last 16 years, the EPA’s WaterSense program has transformed the landscape irrigation market with products that save water, energy, and money.
The program’s accomplishments include:
Helping Americans save 6.4 trillion gallons of water – the equivalent of water used by all U.S. households in eight months;
Saving more than $135 billion in water and energy bills through the use of WaterSense products and practices;
Reducing the amount of energy needed to pump, treat, and heat water by 754 billion kilowatt hours – enough to power 70 million homes for one year.
Irrigation Certification and Labeling
WaterSense began certifying and labeling weather-based irrigation controllers in 2011 and sprinkler heads in 2017. Soil moisture sensors joined the suite of WaterSense-labled irrigation products in 2021. All of these WaterSense products can be combined to achieve even more efficiency and savings.
Fix a Leak Week
This year, the EPA’s annual Fix a Leak Week runs from March 20 through 26. This is the best time to remind your customers to plug those water-wasting household leaks, including any leaks in their irrigation system.
Encourage them to schedule their Spring tune-ups early before the seasonal rush. The sooner you correct any problems, the better!
Also, refer your customers to the EPA’s Fix a Leak resources page for information about identifying and repairing common household leaks.
The EPA estimates that replacing a standard clock-based irrigation controller with a WaterSense-labled controller can save an average home up to 15,000 gallons of water annually. An additional 5,600 gallons of water can be saved by switching to a WaterSense sprinkler head.
To date, more than 1,100 product models of sprinkler heads, irrigation controllers, and soil sensors have earned the WaterSense label for efficiency and performance.
In 2018, WaterSense created two drip irrigation guides, offering design, installation, and maintenance tips. The guides were designed to assist homeowners and irrigation professionals in maximizing outdoor water efficiency while enhancing the health and beauty of the landscape.
Ohio IA Represented
at Advocacy Day
JC Wheaton, Tom Barrett, and Scott Knowles represented the Ohio IA at Ohio Green Industry Advocacy Day on February 22, 2023. The Ohio IA members met with their local legislators to discuss issues most pertinent to the state’s irrigation industry.
In addition, WaterSense developed new social media tools to help promote the use of mulch and drought-tolerant plants. And a new turf grass page on the EPA’s website promoted smart lawn management decisions.
Also in 2020, WaterSense collaborated with the Alliance for Water Efficiency (AWE) to offer a series of free public webinars on various outdoor water topics. More than 400 attendees learned about plant choices, soil amendments, landscape transformations, and the benefits of soil moisture sensors.
Want to Become WaterSense Certified?
Becoming a certified WaterSense professional demonstrates to your customers that you have the knowledge and experience to help them save both water and money. Click Here to learn about the program’s benefits and requirements.
Do you know an enterprising college student who’s interested in pursuing a career in irrigation?
He or she may be eligible for an Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship, available through the Irrigation Association and sponsored by Rain Bird.
The IA created its Workforce Development scholarship program in 2017 to help promote irrigation education and provide financial support to worthy candidates pursuing irrigation-related degrees. These scholarships range from $1,000 to $2,500 and are awarded based on:
Students to Pursue Irrigation
Out of 107 Irrigation Association scholarships awarded since 2017, only two Ohio students have received the prize. We can do better!
Help position our industry for future growth by encouraging students at local two- and four-year institutions to pursue careers in irrigation. Spread the word that these scholarships are available for worthy individuals.
Don’t delay! Application deadline is March 31, 2023.
Student’s letter of intent,
Student’s financial need,
Three reference letters,
Student’s resume, and
Student’s current or completed irrigation-related courses.
About the Scholarship
Through 2026, the IA’s scholarship program is being sponsored exclusively by Rain Bird Corporation. The program has been renamed the Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra Scholarship Program in honor of Rain Bird’s late president and CEO. The two top scholarship recipients will be designated as Anthony W. “Tony” LaFetra scholars. Last year Troy Bowman, a Cincinnati State student, was one of those top recipients.
Eligible students must:
Be a U.S. citizen;
Be currently enrolled (undergraduate or graduate) at a U.S. vocation or technical school, university, community college, or similar institution of higher learning with a graduation date of December 2023 or later;
Have completed or be currently enrolled in a class with an irrigation-related curriculum;
Not be a prior recipient of this award;
Have a cumulative grade point average (GPA) of at least 2.5 (on a 4.0 scale); and
Demonstrate financial need.
Scholarship applications, instructions, and additional information are available here.
Join Us February 22, 2023 at the
Ohio Statehouse for Advocacy Day!
Join the industry partners of OhioPLANT in the upcoming Green Industry Advocacy Day scheduled for Tuesday, February 22, 2023 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Show your organization is part of a multi-billion dollar industry in Ohio and the importance of having a presence with Ohio’s new 135th General Assembly.
OhioPLANT is a coalition of pesticide, landscape, agriculture, nursery, and turf professionals who collaboratively advocate on behalf of those professions represented. This unified voice has made OhioPLANT the go-to resource for our state agencies and elected officials when discussing matters impacting these industries.
Tentative schedule of the day:
8:30 – 9:30 AM
Legislative Breakfast Reception
9:30 – 10:00 AM
OhioPLANT Update – Tony Seegers. Esq.
10:00 – 10:30 AM
Guest Speaker TBD
10:30 – 11:00 AM
Guest Speaker TBD
11:00 AM and on
Appointments with legislators
Boxed lunch at your convenience
Ohio Green Industry Advocacy Day is hosted by industry partners of OhioPLANT.
Don’t miss this unique opportunity to network with green industry colleagues, meet with your state legislators, and make your voice heard on issues critical to irrigation professionals.
This year, our participation in this grassroots effort is more important than ever before.
House and Senate term limits mean there will be many new faces in the state legislature, as well as in committees and chairs. Let’s make ourselves known to them!
Free to Ohio IA Members
Ohio Green Industry Advocacy Day is FREE to Ohio IA members.
As one of the events sponsors, we’re counting on you. Legislative and regulatory advocacy is one of the key benefits of Ohio IA membership which is strengthened by your active participation.
Advocacy Day provides a unique opportunity to build relationships with both green industry business partners, and members of the Ohio legislature and their staff. After all, who can tell our story better than you?
Free to Ohio IA members
What to Expect
The morning session will feature key legislative speakers, after which attendees will be briefed on discussion issues for the legislative meetings scheduled in the afternoon.
The afternoon meetings with elected officials provide an opportunity to discuss key irrigation issues (like water quality, water quantity, and environmental reforms) and state policymakers. Our legislators must hear from us in order to make informed decisions about issues critical to our industry.
The Most Eco-Friendly Way to Control Pests
in Your Customer’s Landscape
If your irrigation business also provides landscaping services, now’s the time of year to think about controlling spring pests. Grubs, billbugs, and dandelion seeds lurk beneath the snow, waiting to attack as soon as the first green appears.
Integrated pest management (IPM) is an effective and sustainable approach to pest control that employs a variety of techniques for managing common lawn and garden pests. It’s an eco-friendly alternative that can help prevent infestation from occurring.
IPM was first developed for large-scale agricultural operations, but its basic tenets also apply to residential landscapes. It incorporates an understanding of plant biology, insect pests, and plant diseases, taking into consideration a landscape’s entire ecosystem – not just a segment.
IPM Control Strategies
IPM involves four general control strategies: cultural control, physical control, biological control, and chemical control. Each of these strategies should utilize natural solutions for the least-disruptive pest management measure possible.
Not a Landscaper?
If your irrigation business does not provide landscaping services, you may wonder why IPM matters to you. The fact is, poor irrigation practices can sabotage your customer’s IPM strategy, significantly increasing the likelihood of lawn and garden pests, particularly:
Leaf spot and other fungal diseases
White grubs, spittlebugs, and garden slugs due to overwatering
Sod webworms, bluegrass billbugs, and spider mites due to under watering.
In addition, customers who employ IPM techniques will benefit greatly from a periodic irrigation audit to ensure maximum effectiveness.
Cultural control measures modify natural environment to reduce the potential for pest problems. An example would be removing old plant material, infested plants, and weeds that may harbor pests.
Optimizing plant health is another cultural control method. This would include proper irrigation, fertilization and pruning to reduce plant stress. Two of the most effective cultural controls are selecting native plants (which are naturally resistant to native pests) and hydrozoning.
Physical controls are activities that physically remove or block a pest from your customer’s landscape. These controls are most effective when pest populations are low. Examples of physical controls include spraying plants with water to dislodge pests, installing barriers such as row covers or nets, setting insect traps, and hand-pulling weeds.
Physical controls can also be employed for pests that build nests or feed together. For instance, pruning out web-infested branches can reduce pest populations and damage.
Biological control involves using a pest’s natural enemies (e.g., beneficial insects) to reduce pest numbers. There are two different kinds of biological control: conservation and augmentative.
In conservation biological control the landscaper provides the resources needed to attract and keep a pest’s natural enemies within the landscape. Such resources might include nectar and pollen, alternative prey, water, and nesting sites.
For augmentative biological control the landscaper releases the pest’s natural enemies directly into the environment. Lady bugs and praying mantises are popular choices for this purpose. For weed management, the seedhead and rosette weevils have proven to be effective biological controls.
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Chemical control is used in IPM only as a short-term solution and only after all other options have been explored. There’s a reason for this: pesticides or herbicides can often do more harm than good. For example, pesticides can kill natural enemies along with the pest, causing pest populations to rebound more quickly than their natural enemies do. The result can be a “pesticide treadmill,” where you’re always trying to stay one step ahead of the pests.
When utilizing chemical control measures, be sure to choose “selective” insecticides and herbicides that are less persistent in the environment and affect only the targeted pest. By leaving natural enemies in place you’ll help control more pests in the long term.
The National Pesticide Information Center recommends these additional IPM Techniques to prevent future pest problems and reduce the long-term need for pesticides:
IPM Standards in Ohio
Ohio companies that offer IPM services must meet governmental standards as established in the Ohio Administrative Code. These standards apply to all pest control, landscaping or lawn care companies operating within the state.
Under Ohio law, every non-agricultural IPM program must include the following four elements:
A comprehensive site assessment
A needs assessment and comprehensive plan for pest control
A schedule for ongoing pest monitoring and site reassessment
Irrigate at ground level wherever possible; wet leaves are more susceptible to disease.
Dead plant material can harbor disease; be sure to remove it before spring.
Determine fertilizer needs by testing the soil for nutrients and minerals.
Inspect plants regularly to detect problems early.
Contact your local university extension for help identifying and managing pests.
Ready to Expand Your Menu?
If you want to include integrated pest management in your menu of landscaping services, bear in mind that you’ll need to make two to three additional site visits per season, depending on environmental conditions. A successful IPM program requires that the contractor examine the overall health of the turf, trees and ornamental plants on each property. You’ll need to assess weed infiltration and identify signs of pest damage, or any other harbinger of larger plant problems.
Also, be sure to determine your customer’s tolerance for imperfection. Integrated pest management will not eradicate every weed and insect pest from a landscape, but it will keep them below damaging levels. So if your client is seeking an insect-free lawn and garden, he may be dissatisfied.
It’s important for contractors and clients to have a frank conversation so they can establish threshold levels and set realistic expectations.