PHOTOS COURTESY OF GIE+EXPO

LOUISVILLE, Kentucky – The Lawn & Landscape team was in Louisville Oct. 20-23 to cover the industry’s biggest tradeshows and conferences, and our takeaways have been positive.

The GIE+EXPO and Hardscape North America, the largest product shows in the country, both broke attendance records this year with a 4 percent increase over last year for HNA and an 11 percent increase for GIE+EXPO.

The National Association of Landscape Professionals’ conference is also growing, and the association is making new efforts to promote and expand the industry in its own right. Here is a wrap up of our week in Louisville.

1. It was the biggest show ever, which bodes well for the industry. Any tradeshow is a bellwether for its industry, and in Louisville we had about six of them. Attendance at GIE+EXPO and Hardscape North America are both up – more than 21,000 people came this year, according to show management – as is the amount of booth space exhibitors are buying. Despite great weather all week in Louisville, the show always felt crowded inside the hall.

That’s a good indicator that the landscape and hardscape industries are healthy, and that contractors both have the money and the time to attend.

2. Manufacturers are starting to bring a wide range of contractor-grade batteries and equipment to market, and electric equipment is only getting bigger. Makita was at GIE+EXPO for the first time with some powerful battery-powered handheld equipment. DeWalt returned with an expanded lineup of its own. And even Stihl – a stalwart among small engine equipment companies – had a robust lineup of pro-grade electric equipment.

Attendees took full advantage of the outdoor and indoor displays at the GIE+EXPO, which had record attendance this year.

3. Chatter on the show floor was positive among attendees and exhibitors. We have reams of data showing the landscape industry is growing and that contractors across the country are seeing markets return to pre-recession levels, but it’s always heartening to hear that message straight from the horse’s mouth on the show floor.

In short, it’s a good time to be a landscaper. What we see here at the show and what we hear in the hallways helps us get a handle on where things are headed in the next couple of years.

It’s not always totally accurate, but it’s a solid indicator of the tone and feeling of a few thousand of the industry’s most engaged people. And right now, they’re feeling good.

The dates for the 2016 show in Louisville are Oct. 19 for dealers, distributors, retailers and media, and Oct. 20-21 for everyone in the industry.

HNA, which first co-located with GIE+EXPO six years ago, has agreed to co-locate through 2018. HNA has outgrown its space and will relocate to the North Wing in 2016.

This will allow GIE+EXPO to move the Dealer Resource Pavilion onto the show floor and will provide space for GIE+EXPO and HNA exhibitors to expand.

new products

New, tried and true

It’s more fun to cover the show when there’s a lot of activity, and we saw plenty of new exhibitors and some old friends with new products. That’s another good sign that suppliers continue to invest in the industry, and innovate what they currently have. Below is a rundown of some of the products launched at the show.

Briggs & Stratton

Briggs & Stratton Commercial Power introduced its Vanguard air-cooled V-Twin Big Block EFI engine with the increased fuel efficiency of a closed-loop electronic fuel injection system. The new engine joins a growing lineup of Vanguard EFI engines, including the closed-loop 810 EFI engines for zero-turn commercial mowers. The new EFI technology is available in its 33 and 37 gross horsepower Big Block engines. It features an automotive-based closed-loop EFI system for up to 25 percent better fuel economy compared to the carbureted Big Block engines.

Caterpillar

For the first time, hand and foot controls will be offered on Caterpillar skid-steer, multi-terrain and compact track loader models. Single-axis joysticks were chosen in order to provide the fore/aft movement operators are used to. In addition, the shorter joystick travel compared to traditional hand levers means operators can fully use the armrest for increased comfort and reduced fatigue. The hand and foot controls offer multiple control modes that allow operators to tailor the drive and implement response to their skill or task.

Dewalt

The DeWalt 40-volt backpack blower generates up to 450 cubic feet per minute of air volume at 140 mph and peaks at 63 decibels. It will be available with one or two of the new 40-volt 7.5 amp hour lithium ion batteries. Only one battery is required to operate the tool, but the backpack blower features two battery wells for extended runtime. The activation switch on the handle allows the user to choose which battery to pull energy from or to lock the tool off for transport and storage.

Ferris

Ferris announced that it is breaking into a new category for 2016 with the introduction of the Soft Ride Stand-on (SRS) Z2 mower. The operator platform features suspension technology that is adjustable and helps lower operator fatigue. The Z2 is available with either a 52- or 61-inch iCD Cutting System, and features either a Briggs & Stratton Vanguard 810cc EFI or Kawasaki FX801V engine.

Gravely

Described as a modern version of the older Gravely machine, the Pro-QXT two-wheeled tractor is a compact walk-behind tractor for contractors working on smaller properties. When the Pro-QXT launches in January of 2016, two attachments will be available: a 44-inch power brush for all-season work and a 48-inch blade, available with an optional poly scraper edge.

Honda

For 2016, Honda has launched the VersAttach Multi-Purpose System, which features two powerhead options and six different attachments. The two powerhead models are the UMC425, powered by a Honda GX25 Mini 4-Stroke engine, and the UMC435, powered by a GX35 Mini 4-Stroke engine. The six attachments include an edger, line trimmer, blower, hedge trimmer, pruner and cultivator.

Kohler

Kohler Engines is expanding its electronic fuel injection (EFI) technology with the introduction of the Confidant EFI, Command PRO EFI ECH440 and Command PRO EFI 999cc. All three models offer the benefits of Kohler’s highly regarded closed-loop EFI technology, including enhanced fuel efficiency, greater overall reliability and easier starting in a wide variety of conditions.

Makita

Makita is opened its tool box to the power equipment market with an expanding range of solutions for landscaping, hardscape applications, forestry and related maintenance. Included are MM4 four-stroke engine products, MM2 two-stroke chain saws, and an equipment/tool line-up powered by an 18-volt lithium-ion slide style battery. The GIE+EXPO also marks the re-integration of Makita U.S.A. and DOLMAR power equipment. Makita, which has owned Dolmar since 1991, said it will integrate the brand into its own line. The combination means Makita has an expanded line of two-stroke gas powered chain saws, including entry-level 32cc saws, 45-50cc mid-range (model EA5000PR) and larger saws for the forestry professional, as well as an expanded line of two-stroke concrete cutting saws.

For mower releases at GIE+EXPO read our mower round-ups in our 2016 January, February and March issues.

ASK THE EXPERTS

Don’t lose sight of systems

Q: Systems or processes have large buy in initially and prove themselves to make our business more effective on all fronts. The problem lies months down the road when management realizes that a business process that made everyone’s life easier is no longer being performed.

What are the best methods to make sure they are embraced and stay in place?

A: Great question and a common challenge that most companies face. Systems, policies, procedures, best practices, standard operating procedures (SOP’s) or whatever you wish to call them are critical to a company’s success. These are especially important if there are multiple offices or yards involved with your business.

After reviewing the challenge, here it was discovered that many of these systems were installed and implemented over a short period of time by the owner of the organization and the team has had a hard time digesting them.

Below are some ideas to help get systems to stay in place.

Build a culture of systems thinkers.

All key team members especially all of your leaders need to know and embrace the importance of having the right systems in place. They need to see the relationship of solid systems with solid results, which in turn affect them in positive ways as in promotions, better pay and job security as well as the company achieving their vision and mission. And hopefully making their job easier at least once they are in place.

Go for leverage.

Decide on the systems that have the most leverage to success for your company or which ones will prevent bad things from happening at your organization BEFORE bad things happen: examples would include safety programs, estimating, sales, customer satisfaction, recruiting, cost tracking, HR laws and regulations, ICE or OSHA visits, etc.

Identify the Desired Quantitative Outcomes.

What measurable results will you expect when these systems are in place? As in lower Worker Compensation rates, making more gross margin, keeping your customers longer, pricing your work so you make a profit to name a few.

Have people participate in developing systems.

Build task forces to help design and implement the systems. Get consensus and buy in from the top down and bottom up.

Have a Great Launching and Roll Out.

Have a very clear path for rolling new systems out. Be very diligent on monitoring their usage and conduct regular in-service training and certification.Remember to keep it simple and in phases and only try to launch 1 or 2 per year.

Assign champions.

You as the leader can’t own every system or program. Try for people who have a passion or good knowledge of the system. Maybe even have a co-champion assigned as well. Check in regularly and assist where needed, and reward or bonus the champions once the system is in place and working.

Perform audits/reviews regularly to verify.

Have a check-up process to verify all is in place and working. Adjust where and if needed.

You should focus on two key systems this year – build a Safety program and a quality sssurance program as your highest leverage points for your organization. Also, review and adjust your employee manual and your performance management process.

Bill Arman, The Harvest Group Trailblazer, National Association of Landscape Professionals

Ask the Experts is brought to you in partnership with NALP, the national association of landscape professionals. Questions are fielded through NALP’s Trailblazers, the industry’s leading company mentoring program. For more questions visit Landscapeprofessionals.org.

your fees in 2016

L&L caught up with three industry experts to get a feel on pricing.

More than 70 percent of contractors who took our 2015 State of the Industry survey said they are very confident or somewhat confident they will increase revenue next year. With that in mind, we asked Tom Fochtman, Jim Huston and Ben Campbell about how you should approach pricing services in 2016. For more in pricing, visit bit.ly/soiprice.

Q: Is the economy improving enough where now is the time for landscape contractors to start raising prices?

Ben Campbell: The economy has seen some improvement over the last couple of years. The question about raising prices is not simple as prices are highly dependent on location and competition. For instance, areas that are seeing increased housing starts – a good indicator of economic well-being – would be primed for potential increases as workload increases. However, in areas with high competition, the ability to raise prices is harder. Firms looking to raise prices need to understand their specific market and clientele as this decision is firm specific.

Jim Huston: Definitely. Pricing is a factor of the supply-demand curve. As demand goes up so does pricing. I’d blame the increase on something that clients can relate to – higher labor costs, the minimum wage increase, the lack of qualified labor.

Tom Fochtman: Yes, and they should have done a minimum of a year ago and in many markets, two years ago. The economy will bear it. Customers are keenly aware of what the downturn did to many businesses and industries, and they certainly know what it did to the landscape industry. Some customers have new contractors because their old one is out of business and did not make it through our recent Great Recession.

Here is an analogy I use around raising prices:

A maintenance contractor is about to submit a bid for $1,000 month. Could he submit it for $1,050 and get the job?

The same contractor is submitting an enhancement proposal for $30,000. Could he submit it for $31,500 and still get the job? A residential design/build contractor has met with the homeowner three times and is now submitting the bid for $100,000. If he submits it for $105,000 will he still get the job?

In all of these instances my general response is hell yes they will get the job. Through good selling, you would get the job in all instances if you raised the price 5 percent. Everyone should raise all their prices a minimum of 5 percent yesterday.

You put an irrigation tech out for $75/hour. The customer won’t flinch if they get an invoice for $78.75. They won’t even care. Raise your prices 5 percent now.

Q: Are there certain states/locations that will see or of an economic improvement than others?

BC: Looking at single-family home starts over the last year has seen the U.S. increase, but the rates vary by state and region.

For instance, the Northeast has seen less home starts while the Midwest, South and West have seen increases. Within the Northeast, Vermont and New York have had the only positive home start growth.

These areas are more likely seeing a bigger economic uptick and thereby be better able to handle a price increase. But, generalizing to a whole state, also has issues as Hartford/West-/East-Hartford have positive single family home start growth while other areas in Connecticut have seen negative growth.

“Customers are keenly aware of what the downturn did to many businesses and industries, and they certainly know what it did to the landscape industry.” Tom Fochtman, Ceibass

So based on this, the economic growth and subsequent price increase potential is highly dependent on location. This being said, areas outside the Northeast, especially the west and south, would be better bets for overall economic improvement.

JH: The ultra-high-end market rose first about four years ago and it is going crazy right now. The uber-rich cannot spend money fast enough.

This year commercial markets are taking off rather strongly and the middle class residential client is spending lots of money.

TF: Sure. Colorado, and specifically Denver, is off the charts, low unemployment, 56,000 projected to move here in 2015 (according to the 2015 Colorado Business Economic Outlook) – housing is booming.

All the great lifestyle cities are doing very well. It’s easier to raise prices in Denver than Detroit or maybe a Louisville, Kentucky. But, our national economy is doing quite well and most markets can handle price increases.

syngenta ceo resigns; Ramsay named ad interim

Mike Mack has stepped down as CEO and executive director of Syngenta after rejecting several buyout offers from herbicide giant Monsanto.

John Ramsay, chief financial officer, has been appointed CEO ad interim.

“On behalf of the board, I should like to thank Mike for his very significant contribution to Syngenta,” said Michel Demaré, chairman of Syngenta. “Under his strong strategic and operational leadership, Syngenta developed and implemented its innovative integrated strategy and the commitments behind The Good Growth Plan.

“His R&D investment strategy has enabled the company to strengthen its leadership and the rich pipeline in crop protection, seeds and traits will continue to produce results in the decade to come.”

Mack, who had been with Syngenta for 14 years, said he believed it was time for the company to benefit from the perspectives of a new leader.

“Syngenta is a great company with outstanding prospects as the only truly integrated global player in the industry,” Mack said. “While the current market conditions are challenging, I am confident that the strength of the company’s products, promising pipeline and talented people will deliver significant value in the years ahead.”

Ramsay was Syngenta’s group financial controller from 2000-2007.

Prior to that, he was Zeneca Agrochemicals finance head Asia Pacific (1994–1999), financial controller ICI Malaysia (1990–1993), and ICI Plant Protection Regional Controller Latin America (1987–1990).

Lawn & Landscape launches education conference in Mid-Atlantic

FREDERICKSBURG, Virginia – Lawn & Landscape will present a half-day education program for landscapers and lawn care operators at the 2016 Mid-Atlantic Turf Expo in Fredericksburg, Virginia, in January.

The turf and landscape show is a joint effort by the Maryland and Virginia turfgrass councils. All proceeds from the show benefit turf research at the University of Maryland and Virginia Tech University.

The Lawn & Landscape conference is sponsored by Horizon Distributors and takes place the afternoon of Monday, Jan. 24. It consists of four sessions designed to help contractors of any size grow in 2016:

  • Implementing technology to improve your sales and productivity, Matt and Chris Noon, SmartLawn. The Noon brothers will coach LCOs and other landscapers on how they can implement simple technologies to make their operations more profitable.
  • Taking advantage of the outdoor living movement, Bruce Allentuck, Allentuck Landscaping. Allentuck will share how landscapers can enter or expand in the thriving design/build market.
  • Labor and recruiting strategies for 2016, Kory Beilder, LandCare. Beilder is a key recruiter at LandCare, a $205-million company with locations across the country and 4,500 employees. He’ll offer specific strategies on how landscapers can find – and keep – the best employees in their markets.
  • The state of the landscape industry, Chuck Bowen, Lawn & Landscape. Bowen is the editor at L&L magazine, and will share key research on the biggest and most important trends that are impacting the landscape and lawn care industries, and how contractors can use them to grow.

For more information, and to register, visit www.turfconference.org.

Trugreen dips into irrigation

Memphis, Tennessee – TruGreen is expanding its offerings with the launch of a new irrigation system maintenance and repair business, TruGreen Sprinkler Repair and Maintenance.

Currently available in select cities in Florida, Missouri, Nebraska, Arkansas and Tennessee, TruGreen Sprinkler Repair and Maintenance will be launching in more than a dozen markets in 2016.

“Expanding into irrigation system maintenance and repair is a natural fit for us, and brings customers an added level of convenience and efficiency,” said TruGreen Vice President Brent Armstrong.

“TruGreen Sprinkler Repair and Maintenance is not only a perfect complement to our core business, enabling us to grow and expand, it also underscores our core purpose of helping customers live life outside on beautiful, healthy lawns.”

Stark joins bruce wilson & company

SCOTTSDALE, Arizona – Pam Stark has joined Bruce K. Wilson’s consulting team, Bruce Wilson & Company. Stark, a 40-year veteran of the green industry and 2011 Lawn & Landscape Leadership Award winner, is a professionally trained horticulturist and former senior vice president at ValleyCrest.

In her new role, Stark will oversee large projects and assignments focused on operations management, customer loyalty strategies, leadership coaching, team training and professional development.

“Our clients know that we put their interests ahead of ours and so we continually seek new and better ways to serve them,” Wilson said. “Pam will help us create and drive new capabilities and tools which will allow our clients to improve service performance and build their customer relationships for the long term.” To read Stark’s Leadership Award story, visit bit.ly/llstark.

Zino, other executives leave Brightview

ROCKVILLE, Maryland – According to an internal memo obtained by Lawn & Landscape, Roger Zino will step down as vice chairman of BrightView at the end of the year.

Zino had served as CEO of ValleyCrest before it was acquired by KKR in 2014 and merged with Brickman, and was president of ValleyCrest Landscape Maintenance since 2001.

“I have both the deepest gratitude and respect for all that Roger has done for us over his 15 years. Let me simply say that Roger has contributed immeasurably to what BrightView will become, and on behalf of the Board and Management Team, we sincerely thank him for his tireless efforts toward building the business we have today,” BrightView CEO Andrew Kerin wrote in the memo.

Along with Zino, several other executives announced their resignations, according to the memo, including Andy Mandell, CFO and president of ValleyCrest Group; Gena Ashe, chief legal officer; and Jennifer Mintman, chief strategy officer and head of Brickman Facility Services.

As part of the executive changes, Joseph Tinney, a former executive vice president at Brickman, will serve as chief growth officer and president of Brickman Facility Services, with responsibility for national accounts, estimating and sports turf.

Tom Donnelly, former president of ValleyCrest Landscape Development, will serve as president of ValleyCrest Group with responsibility for the nursery and golf businesses.

The merger of Brickman and ValleyCrest was finalized in June of 2014 after both were purchased by private equity giant KKR. BrightView has approximate annual revenues of $2 billion with more than 20,000 employees nationwide.

L&L