On Tuesday, May 12, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced low-risk businesses including landscaping and gardening would be able to reopen statewide today.
Prior to this order, horticulture was designated as a non-essential business, with only landscaping for maintenance and pest control purposes being deemed essential. While this restriction isn’t as drastic as what Michigan landscapers faced, it was still an unexpected adjustment.
“Now we’re seeing where people are chomping at the bit. Just ravenous, they want us there immediately. They’ve been home for six to eight weeks now and they’re seeing what needs they want to get done on their property.”– Tony Capalbo, co-owner of The Phantom Gardener
Playing Catch Up
Tony Capalbo, one of the owners of The Phantom Gardener, based in Rhinebeck, New York, says being allowed to resume full operations is a double-edged sword.
“We’re excited that we’re able to go back and be able to get the projects going, but at the same time, it’s hitting us like a wave where everyone wants us now to start immediately,” Capalbo says. “We’re a little nervous as well because, for whatever reason, no one remembers that we were shut down for a while and not allowed to do it.” He says both he and his two partners have received numerous emails and phone calls from customers eager for them to start their projects now that they are open again. Capalbo says they’ll have to work seven days a week in order to get caught up.
“The largest impact to our business was the shutdown of our commercial development projects,” says Valerio Morano Sagliocco, lead project manager for Morano Landscape Garden Design Ltd., based in Mamaroneck, New York. “We are looking forward to get those running again as we lost valuable time within the spring planting window. This has thrown off our timelines significantly and has shifted many spring plantings to the fall.”
Sagliocco says they plan to work overtime to catch up and they have been hiring new personnel as well. He says they are also hoping for a cool summer that will allow them to extend their spring planting season. Capalbo says they haven’t lost a huge amount of time as the majority of early spring is dedicated to maintenance, which they could still do. He estimates they’re probably two weeks behind currently.
When it comes to scheduling projects, Sagliocco says it was a moving target until recently, but now they can reassess and contact vendors.
“When we have our vendor availability we can officially give updates on the timeline but I believe that by and large, the remainder of the year will be choppy to work through as vendors don’t have the ability to keep up with demand or are shut down themselves still,” Sagliocco says.
Capalbo says they are handling projects on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Initially, Capalbo was concerned they wouldn’t have many projects scheduled for later in the season with as homeowners might not have a budget for home projects. He says originally they ramped up their marketing to encourage homeowners to buy plant material on their online platform and to get scheduled for a landscape project.
“Now we’re seeing where people are chomping at the bit,” Capalbo says. “Just ravenous, they want us there immediately. They’ve been home for six to eight weeks now and they’re seeing what needs they want to get done on their property.”
Now, The Phantom Gardener has scaled back on their marketing to the normal amount they’d do for this time of year.
“Since our residential clients have been stuck home and have no travel plans, we have seen an uptick in projects that they would like to do around the property,” Sagliocco says. “They are certainly looking forward to us being able to implement those designs as soon as we are able to!” He adds his company has been promoting vegetable “victory gardens,” fruit tree plantings, DIY projects and have had a greater focus on maintenance as opposed to new ornamental plantings.
The Phantom Gardener has also seen increased interest in victory gardens with an influx of new customers coming to the retail garden center.
Implementing Safety Measures
The Phantom Gardener closed for a week in order to get their online shopping site up and running as well as determine what safety measures were needed to ensure everyone felt comfortable and safe reopening.
“We sat down with a lot of our core employees and said ‘Okay how would you guys think we get through this? What makes you guys feel comfortable and what logistically will work to get these projects done?” Capalbo says.
Currently, no more than two employees are allowed per vehicle and each employee is supplied with reusable, washable masks and gloves. Vehicles are sanitized at the beginning and end of each day while tools are not shared among workers.
Sagliocco says they are also providing face masks, implementing staggered start times, and not interchanging crew members. Supervisors also have thermometers.
“We are extremely cautious, and we pride ourselves in putting health and safety first,” Sagliocco says. As for The Phantom Gardener’s garden center, Capalbo measured the space and determined they could have they could have 30 retail customers in the area at a time. Customers are given an entrance card and then when they check out the card is given back and the next person can come in.
“All of our customers have been very good about respecting everybody’s space,” Capalbo says. “Everybody’s been pretty good. You get the occasional person who complains a little bit but for the most part, everyone has been great. It’s worked out pretty well, but they are waiting. They can’t wait to get in here.”
Planning for the Worst
If a resurgence of COVID-19 causes restrictions to rise once more, Capalbo says they will simply go back to promoting the online store and curbside pickup for plant material.
“You have to take it day by day and plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Capalbo says.
Sagliocco agrees that they plan to roll with the punches and adapt to whatever new challenges occur. “This company was founded by my grandfather in 1952 and seeing as how it made it after all these decades through wars and other pandemics, we are hopeful we will overcome this one as well!” he says.
For more information on state restrictions and COVID-19 related resources, click here.