Photo courtesy of GIE+EXPO

Landscape contractors once again had all they could handle when it came to green industry education and products during the week of Oct.16. That’s when the industry convened in Louisville, Kentucky, for GIE+EXPO, LANDSCAPES 2017 and Hardscape North America.

More than 24,000 people represented a 7 percent increase in attendance compared to 2016. And, with an indoor footprint equal to 47 White Houses, exhibit space grew 9 percent. There were more than 1,005 exhibits indoors and out in GIE+EXPO and the co-located Hardscape North America, including 226 new exhibitors.

The indoor show floor was 50,000 square feet larger than 2016. The Outdoor Demonstration Area covered 20 acres, and attendees had two full days to test equipment. HNA increased in size by more than 16 percent over 2016. The popular New Products Showcase sold out, featuring more than 100 products that were introduced within the past year.

Next year, the indoor show floor will open exclusively for dealers, retailers and the media at noon on Wednesday. Then, beginning at 3 p.m. and continuing Thursday and Friday, the entire industry will be invited to visit the exhibits. The Outdoor Demonstration Area will be open Thursday and Friday.

Over the next few pages, we’ve compiled coverage from the events. For complete coverage, visit bit.ly/GIEEXPOcover.

A deep dive into the economy

Mary Kelly, leadership expert, economist and author, covered the current state of the economy and what to expect in the upcoming years at the LANDSCAPES 2017 CEO Forum.

At the event, hosted by the National Association of Landscape Professionals and sponsored by Caterpillar, Kelly said the economy is doing “okay.” Inflation is low, health care costs are up and the stock market is doing well, she said in her update.

“Inflation is very low so the good news for you is that the prices for what you need to run your business are low,” she said.

It’s also harder than ever to find workers. Nine years ago, seven people applied for each open job. Now, that number is 1.2.

Multiple studies predict that at least 40 percent of the workforce will be freelancers in the next few years, Kelly said. “With the vast mobility of jobs right now it’s hard for people to think about showing up to the same job every day.”

On average, people change jobs every 4.6 years. That number for Millennials is even lower at 2.1 years.

“Gone are the days when you sign up with one company and stay there for 30, 40 years. They’re just gone,” Kelly said.

She also gave ideas for where to invest in 2017: virtual reality, video games, elderly/older care health care services, physical therapy, translation and interpretation, biotechnology, VOIP, drones, green energy, water and water treatment.

Here are a few more takeaways from the forum:

“In a tight job market, you would expect wages to increase but that’s not happening.” Mary Kelly, economist
  • “There’s a difference between making more revenue and making more profit, and a lot of people don’t understand that,” she said. “You don’t necessarily need to make more money; you need to make more profit.”
  • Health care costs are up 5.6 percent from last year and it will keep going up.
  • The stock market is doing well. “If you have invested you should be feeling very, very cheerful about your investments,” she said.
  • Interest rates are going to go up, so buy a house now if you want to buy one.
  • Existing home sales were the best in a decade.
  • The median home price in the U.S. is up 3.1 percent and the median listing price is $254,000, while the median rent is $1,600/month. “People are paying more for rent and getting less,” Kelly said.
  • Wages are low and flat, and “because of this our employees have opted for looking at different things,” Kelly said. “In a tight job market, you would expect wages to increase but that’s not happening.”
  • Labor productivity growth is poor. “Look at your teams to see where your productivity is getting held up,” she said.
  • “People are spending like there’s no tomorrow,” Kelly said. People are buying a lot of large, durable goods but they’re financing them. “It’s not just our young people who want instant gratification,” she added.
  • The average cost of an employer-offered family plan in 2017 is $18,764, up 3 percent from last year.
  • “Credit card debt has skyrocketed in the last couple of years,” Kelly said. And today, Americans have the highest credit card debt in U.S. history. There’s also an increase in defaulting. “How does this affect you? When you get a credit card, it might not be so great,” Kelly said.

Five ways to motivate hardscaping crews

$74,000 – this is the money Frank Gandora, president of Creative Hardscape Company, managed to save his business by implementing a few strategies to motivate his crews in one year. According to Gandora, the jobsite is where many contractors and hardscapers lose money.

“Many dollars are lost or made on the jobsite,” he said. “That’s where it’s at. You can try to save money by calling a manufacturer to knock five cents off per square foot on a product, but your money is made out in the field.”

To profit better, he said to refocus on the jobsite and motivate crews. The following are five steps he said helped him to save money and streamline business:

Write a plan.

According to Gandora, about 98 percent of the people he talks to don’t have a plan for performing hardscaping jobs. However, he said this is critical to saving money on the job and in turn motivating crews. “Even if you just write a plan down on a napkin, write that down,” he said. “You need a plan that you can have in your back pocket.” This includes having a plan for what crew will do at a jobsite as well as paperwork for the homeowner where a hardscaper is performing a job. In addition, it means having a safety plan in place. Gandora recommended hosting weekly safety talks with crew members to further motivate them.

Provide offsite training.

Offer a few levels of training, both for the foreman and for the crew members. With the foreman, make sure he knows how to motivate people. “I would say the foreman or superintendent has the toughest job in the company,” Gandora said. “It’s all politics – you have moody crew members, men who call in sick every day and another guy who won’t clock in until 2 p.m. We’re in the people business, so spend time with the foreman to teach him how to reason with his guys and manage people.” With crew training, invest time in training them their first days on the job. He recommended having them do video training before having them out working on the equipment. Also, he said take some time to invest in an annual training day with an expert who can come on site to talk about different topics, like a manufacturer coming on to talk about their products.

Follow some production tips.

Boosting efficiency on jobsites by following certain production tips can also further help motivate crew members and increase revenues. According to Gandora, this might mean minimizing movement on the jobsite. “Movement doesn’t make you money on the job,” he said. “Our most productive ones are the ones where we move less.” So, he said to invest in equipment that helps to minimize movement to make things more efficient. In addition, he said to give foremen and crew members job startup procedures to help things move more smoothly. It’s also a good idea to let homeowners near the jobsite know about the work that will be done. “I call this our six-pack program,” Gandora said. “The foreman passes out a letter that says to neighbors, ‘Hey, we’re in the neighborhood and will be making noise. Here’s a number to call if we (make you mad).’ It’s a courteous thing, and sometimes it gets us one or two extra jobs a year.”

Have a crisis action plan.

Things fall apart on a jobsite sometimes. Four things that really mess a hardscaper up are weather, labor, architects and materials, Gandora said. He added that it’s wise to consider how to prepare for a people crisis, an equipment crisis, a material crisis, a safety crisis or an environmental crisis to alleviate extra stressors on the job to make operations run smooth.

Perform project reviews.

When a job is nearing completion, Gandora concluded that foremen and crew need to perform a walk-through on the site and ask the homeowner if there’s anything else that might need done before they leave. “So, if there is a problem, you can fix it right then and there,” he said. “The foreman can also explain issues to the homeowner and then collect the check.”