The Agronomist: Dedicate Your Downtime to Careful Planning - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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The Agronomist: Dedicate Your Downtime to Careful Planning

Winter…Not the agronomist’s favorite season, at least in the northern states anyway. If it’s not brown, it’s covered in a blanket of white and in either case, it’s frozen solid.

This time of year, I love a trip down to Florida for a few days. Speaking of Florida, I headed down to Orlando in early November; I was graciously asked to speak at a conference, and I was genuinely looking forward to the event. As is my routine, I travel at least a day before I am expected to speak so I don’t get stuck in airport purgatory. So, I jumped out of bed at o-dark-thirty, headed to Boston, grabbed my flight and off I went.  

Not fifteen minutes after I arrived at my hotel room, my phone beeped – an email! I opened it up. “Conference canceled due to hurricane!” What hurricane? Befuddled, I looked at the weather forecast and there it was, spinning in the Atlantic Ocean. Where did that come from? Groan.  

Plan B! I opened my airline app and rescheduled my flight for five o’clock the next morning to head back. As much as I was disappointed, I wasn’t hanging around for a hurricane. I’m smarter than that (just barely).

Why do I bring this up? Well, in the green industry, winter is the time to plan. An analogy that I like to use to describe a lawn care season is to compare it to an airline flight. The pilots need to meticulously plan where they are going, how much fuel they’ll need, what altitude to fly at and at what speed, what compass heading and countless other parameters that eventually lead to the plane landing on a ridiculously small patch of runway thousands of miles away. If one of those parameters is incorrect or if the pilots miss something – like a weather forecast – there’s going to be trouble. How does that apply to professional lawn care? 

You may plan to begin making applications on April 1st and finish your first round by May 15th. That looks great on paper but imagine how many things can go wrong with that plan. There may still be snow on the ground on April 1st. There may be prolonged periods of rain. You may not be successful in fully staffing or in procuring pesticide licenses. There are countless things that can go awry, but none of your commitments change. Payroll is still due on Friday, the bank still wants their loan payment, and for some strange reason, your suppliers want to be paid too. All the while, looming on the horizon is the end date for the season, that day when nothing else can be produced. Hopefully, it’s because all the work is complete but if it’s a snowstorm that stops you, that’s a disaster.  

I am reminded of the military maxim that states that no plan survives first contact with the enemy. You have to have a plan for when your initial plan fails. Here’s an example to illustrate my point. In my lawn care operation, I used liquid delivery systems quite a bit. Because they are machines, they break and usually at the worst possible time. Absent preparation, you might be offline for days waiting for a part that costs less than twenty dollars. I always kept an engine and a pump on the shelf in my shop. Now, you might ask why I would spend $1,300 for something that collected dust on a shelf? As long as nothing went wrong, you’d be right to say that I wasted good money. 

But that isn’t the way that the world works. Murphy’s Law clearly states that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Breaking is what machines do best. If your plan calls for a truck on the road to produce $1,200 per day and it takes a week for a twenty-dollar part to be shipped to you, that mechanical failure has cost you north of $6,000 of production. You do not get that time back, ever. 

Compare and contrast: without prior planning, there would be no spare pump sitting on the shelf. A twenty-dollar part fails, and you are forced to wait until the replacement part is shipped, assuming that it isn’t back ordered or some other supply chain failure. With prior planning, you can swap out a broken pump with a new one in less than an hour. All of a sudden, that $1,300 dust collector seems like the best investment of all time.  

That is just one example; you can easily think up dozens of variations on a theme of this. The point of this is to use all of this frozen downtime to plan carefully to expect the unexpected. 

This article was published in the Jan/Feb issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Bob Mann

Bob Mann is the director of state and local government relations for NALP.