The Agronomist: Reviewing the Year’s Successes and Failures - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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The Agronomist: Reviewing the Year’s Successes and Failures

It’s been a long, hard season, hasn’t it? Every year it’s something: last year, it was armyworms eating half of the lawns in America; this year, for most of us, it simply did not rain. Will it be a plague of locusts next year? Who knows? On the one hand, the challenges we face in the green industry are formidable and difficult to overcome. On the other hand, if it were easy, we wouldn’t enjoy doing it so much.

Now that the trees are bare and the lawns are brown, it is instructive to take stock of the preceding year while it is still fresh in our minds – a debrief of sorts – with a focus on improvement for next year. Everything that transpired during the season can be broken into two categories: 

  • Things that worked; how can I do them better? 
  • Things that did not work; how can I capitalize on my mistakes? 

Our task is to list those things and contemplate them so that you and your business improve in the next season. To get us going, here are some examples from my past experiences: 

WORKED: Focusing on prospective cancelations. When customer service representatives were given leeway to solve some issues at first contact with upset customers, many angry phone calls and emails were diffused. How might we do this better? Next season, we might start off with enhanced agronomic training for our CSRs so they can better recognize issues earlier. 

WORKED: Preventive maintenance on equipment. Before hitting the road in the spring, trucks are inspected and issues such as oil changes and tune-ups were done. For application equipment, those parts that frequently fail are addressed. For instance, impellers on spreaders tend to wear out with use. Swap out the worn ones before failure occurs. 

DID NOT WORK: Failure to handle sales leads when they’re ‘hot.’ In the modern sales environment, your potential customer has already done their research on both you and your competitors. The lead you get has a level of qualification that was not possible in the pre-internet age. If you do not respond immediately, you can be sure that your competitor will, and you’ll lose the sale. You may wish to dedicate one person on your sales staff that does nothing but hit these sales leads out of the park the minute they land in your inbox. 

DID NOT WORK: “Wrong lawn” is a term to describe performing services at a property you do not have an agreement to service. This is also known as chemical trespass. You can and will get into a lot of trouble with both the property owner and state regulators when this happens.  

Geocodes in routing software are subject to the ‘garbage in, garbage out’ rule of data. If the geocode is wrong, and the lawn specialist can’t read a map, it won’t be long until you’re getting out the checkbook to pay up. Having someone confirm the location of the property against the geocode is a good practice. Adding a photograph of the property to the customer record is also helpful. Another great idea is to include steps in your company’s procedures that ensure that the lawn specialist checks the address against the address of the house with every production stop. 

DID NOT WORK: Last year, your product usage was way off base for virtually everything you applied. Aside from issues surrounding labor costs, there is nothing that will turn the black numbers on your income statement red faster than not paying attention to product usage.

The old-school way of calibrating – once in the spring and forget it – will not cut it any longer. For instance, if Mr. Smith’s lawn is 4,000 square feet and what you are applying goes down at the rate of 4 pounds per thousand square feet, you need to ensure that 16 pounds – no more and no less – are applied. I call this constant calibration.  

One tactic is to have the lawn specialist total up the square footage for all properties to be treated the next day, then load only the amount of product necessary to accomplish that square footage on the truck, with a small amount of extra to account for error. At the beginning of each stop, only add as much granular product to the spreader to complete that one lawn. Then, if you’re not doing this already, record exactly how much product was used at each stop. Yeah, this does take extra time, but given the cost of the products that you’re using, do you really have a choice? 

This article was published in the Nov/Dec 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.