The landscape industry faces numerous challenges, including hiring, inflation and equipment delays. NALP touched base with members from across the country to see how they’ve been responding to these issues and preparing for them next year.
Hiring and H-2B
When it comes to hiring, it has never been an easy task, but most companies have had a slightly better experience with it this year.
“Labor continues to be an evolving area; over the past few years we’ve seen massive changes in wages, employment levels, the composition of the workplace and the broad spectrum adoption of remote work,” says Brandon Sheppard, a Weed Man franchisor in the Mid-Atlantic. “All of those changes, while challenging, have allowed us to access new swaths of talent that previously may not have considered a career in the green industry.”
Both Seth Kehne, president of Lawn Butler, based in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Nathan Dirksen, COO of Dennis’ 7 Dees, based in Portland, Oregon, say they have experienced an uptick in people applying to work at their companies this year. They both note these individuals have been better qualified, more experienced candidates as well.
“We always want more, but it’s definitely been a better year than it has been,” Dirksen says.
Ashley McLeod, president of Heritage Landscape Services, based in Gilbert, South Carolina, says they are continually struggling to find long-term team members but they are still increasing their hiring so they can grow the business.
Cole Weller, president and CEO of Weller Brothers Landscaping, based in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, says while it’s been tough this year, they haven’t had to deal with as much poaching that took place during the pandemic.
Kevin McHale, principal of McHale Landscape Design, Inc., based in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, argues that labor is available if proper wages are paid.
“We have an effective recruitment program that incentivizes our employees to recruit their friends and family,” McHale says. “We are always looking for additional experienced field staff and gaining experienced staff has been a huge benefit of the acquisitions we have done over the past few years.”
Yard Solutions, based in Groveport, Ohio, has invested heavily in their areas and is almost at one year with 90+% retention. President Eric Remeis credits this to being selective about who they hire.
All of the businesses say they are open to hiring individuals with experience and strong character regardless of an immediate need.
For the companies that utilize the H-2B program, Heritage Landscape Services and Yard Solutions received their workers on time, while Lawn Butler and Weller Brothers received their workers weeks later than planned. Weller and Kehne say they also received employees who had not worked for the company in the past, so there was a learning curve.
Pricing and Inflation
With inflation still impacting the cost of materials and wages, all the owners plan to raise their prices to some degree.
“We see this as something that is crucial not only for ourselves, but for the industry,” Remeis says. “Labor prices are rising 5+% along with materials etc. We will not just absorb that.”
McLeod says it has been challenging to adjust their long-term maintenance contracts to cover increased expenses with labor, fuel and supplies. Weller anticipates a 3% or less increase for his company. Kehne says despite price increases, the customer demand is still very strong.
“We’ve been consistently raising our prices every year,” Kehne says. “We always raise our prices every year, so we have a 3% minimum. The last two years have been significantly higher than that. A lot of people were getting 10% increases two years in a row. This year we’re seeing a lot of renewals get back to the 3%.”
Dirksen says the burden of expenses in Oregon, including the new paid family medical leave and taxes, are impacting their prices and they make small adjustments over time.
“As prices continue to go up around us, we have to watch,” Dirksen says. “We use Aspire. We’re pretty dialed into the estimating side of things. We adjust things at least quarterly or monthly on changing labor costs.”
McHale says while their material costs have remained steady, their price increases are focused on the recovery of money awarded in raises.
“We have raised our prices each of the last three years to alleviate some of the inflated prices,” McHale says. “Some construction material increased five times and we felt it for sure. Fortunately, it was just a 6–8-month period and we were able to sustain the impact.”
Extreme weather and equipment delays have been more limited to specific regions or companies.
For instance, Dirksen says one major struggle they’ve still been facing is delays when it comes to purchasing trucks and vehicles. They are still waiting on trucks they ordered a year and a half ago. Kehne says they’ve also had issues getting the necessary trucks and equipment.
Meanwhile, McLeod, Remeis and Weller say this has not been an issue for them like it was back during COVID.
When it comes to the heat wave, Yard Solutions and Lawn Butler have had to deal with precipitation more than high temperatures.
Weller says over the entire season, there hasn’t been a huge impact with the heat, but they have had to skip some weekly mowings and fertilizer applications due to the high temperatures. Sheppard says the exceptional heat has required them to make adjustments to the health and safety of their employees.
“The East Coast is fortunate,” McHale says. “We have a few days or a week every year where it is brutally hot. We have not had the extended scorching hot weather that other parts of the country have experienced. Our safety manager makes everyone aware during the extreme weather conditions and we shorten our work days accordingly. Weather is something our industry has always had to deal with and we account for it in our budgeting and pricing model.”