How I Stopped Being a Frog in a Slowly Boiling Pot - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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How I Stopped Being a Frog in a Slowly Boiling Pot

This article is written in an “As Told To” format. Jeff Rossen is the visionary/CEO of Rossen Landscape, a $7 million firm specializing in high-end residential design-build, installation and maintenance in Great Falls, Virginia.

In 2001 when I was just starting out, we would cut lawns 28 to 30 times in a growing season. By 2008, we had increased our mowings to 32 a year. Just recently, I had to increase this number to 36 times a year.

While a 9% increase in mowing doesn’t sound like a lot, it’s had a ripple effect in our business.

As the growing season has progressively started earlier and ended later each year, I’ve found we’ve been performing more mowings for our clients in order to execute their contracts. The increased mowing frequency has also impacted our equipment maintenance, causing us to service them more often.

But enough was enough.

Rather than be a frog that is oblivious to an increasingly hot pot boiling it alive, I’ve taken action by updating our contracts and our pricing. I decided to stop absorbing all of these increased costs like some of my competitors.

Thankfully, our existing clients are understanding and happy to pay the increased prices when I explain the reason why.

However, with new clients, I’m finding they don’t understand why our bids are so much higher than others, and we’re sometimes pricing ourselves out of jobs. I’ll often point out to these potential clients that my contract says up to 36 mowings per year, while the competitor is only promising 32.

They don’t understand that if it’s warm in March, that contractor will not be cutting their lawn if they’re not paying him for those extra mowings. I’ve seen some companies opt to charge a la carte for these additional mowings. Others are making contract changes like us, and some are eating the cost entirely.

I encourage other landscape professionals to have conversations with their clients and educate them on their options. Some of our clients have been fine with having shaggy grass in the spring and fall to keep their mowing frequency as is.

I’ve also had some customers push back over price increases saying my 7% increase isn’t in line with inflation being at 3.5%. That’s because they’re not just experiencing increases from inflation. They’re also being driven by environmental changes. We’re simply spending more time doing jobs than we did 10 years ago.

And it isn’t just mowing frequency that has been impacted by this subtle climate change. We’re having to treat for weeds earlier in the year as well. We used to put down pre-emergent in late February. Now we’re doing it four weeks earlier because it starts warming up on March 1 in some cases.

Similarly, my clients are expecting spring flowers two to three weeks earlier than ever. By May 15, we were already 50% complete with our annual flower installations, which is the date we usually start installing them.

Speaking of flowers, as the temperatures change in our area, I’ve found we have a new palette of plants that can survive here that previously would not live north of North Carolina. For instance, we can now install canna lilies. Also, gardenias, which previously we’d never plant, are living through the winter here.

Those mild winters that spare the gardenias have also significantly impacted our snow work. I have 11 snow plows and two sanders that have hardly worked in three years. Three of those plows have never even touched snow.

As a result, I no longer budget for snow as part of our revenue. I also used to buy a new snow plow whenever I bought a new truck. That is no longer the case.

Our crews are now doing mulch prep in mid-February instead of snow removal. They prefer this because snow is not as reliable as landscaping. They don’t have to wonder if they’re coming to work for the whole week.

As you can see, climate change is slowly but surely impacting the whole business. While I’ve woken up to the reality and reacted (or jumped out of the pot you might say) I fear other landscape businesses aren’t following suit.

The best thing the industry can do is update their pricing as necessary, educate clients about these changes and adjust our horticultural programs to suit this new reality.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.