NCLC is heading to the nation’s oldest horticulture school for 2020.
Photo courtesy of Michigan State University

LANSING, Mich. – It’s hosted at the school with the nation’s oldest horticulture program, but there’s plenty of new things happening at this year’s National Collegiate Landscape Competition.

Whether it’s the trial run of a robotics competition event or the revival of a bus tour to nearby horticulture businesses, National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Jennifer Myers said the continually rising number of attendees will have more than enough things to do at NCLC.

“It’s not just getting more students and having more companies at the career fair,” said Myers, NALP’s director of workforce development. “It’s having new, exciting, relevant offerings for those that are attending. We want students to come potentially every year that they’re in school. There’s a reason for them to go above and beyond the competition.”

Myers said she anticipates one of the largest turnouts for NCLC ever, if not the largest attendance in history. The number of expected student participants for 2020 is hovering around 850, and she also said there will be more career fair booths and workshop sessions than ever before.

“I’m getting a lot of these emails saying, ‘We’re bringing our largest team ever, we have more students interested than ever,’” Myers said. “I think we’ve had a couple really positive (competitions) in the last few years. If you go to an event and have an amazing time with great weather and get five job offers, you’re going to go back to your classmates and share that news. The faculty can talk about it all day long, but it comes down to their peers encouraging them to go.”

Myers said that despite a busier schedule than ever, NCLC was able to add a tour of three Michigan horticulture companies so students and faculty can see some professionals in the industry at work. Myers said tours were previously part of the NCLC schedule, but the surge in the number of workshops meant less time to go on a tour. Now, participants can go on the tour scheduled for Tuesday, March 17 (they’ll see Walter Gardens, Spring Meadow Nursery and Kawasaki Motors) and attend workshops Wednesday, March 18.

The Robotics and Technology in Landscape Design and Maintenance event is new to the mix this year. Up to two students per school who compete in the event must answer questions about sample residential or commercial projects and how robotic mowers can solve those issues. They’ll also likely be tasked with drawing and design calculations in the event.

NCLC was able to add a tour of three Michigan horticulture companies for students and faculty.

Myers said this is listed as a test event on NALP’s website for a reason: They want to iron out all the possible issues with the event before it affects overall team scores. Students who compete in the event will still be ranked for their performances.

Michigan State professor Marcus Duck has seen plenty of new competitive events come and go, and he’s been around the competition long enough to have witnessed its growth firsthand. He competed for Auburn University in 1996 and 1997, and once he joined the MSU staff a few years later, he joined Bradley Rowe as co-coaches for the Spartans’ program.

Duck said he’s been mostly impressed with what NCLC has done to make it about more than just the competition. With the addition of a career fair and workshops, he believes there’s more benefits than ever before at NCLC. The workshops allow students to try things that maybe aren’t offered in their respective horticulture programs, and the career fair is one of the industry’s easiest ways to meet potential employers.

“It’s like a couple day interview process. The industry gets to observe the students, and the students get to observe the industry,” Duck said. “The focus has always been on the competition because that’s how you get the students excited, but when they’ve got all this excitement and energy and preparation for the competition, and you have the career fair before that… it makes for a completely different atmosphere for the career fair.”

Duck and Rowe will host the competition for the second time, their first since 2007. Though many of the same facilities used in 2007 will be used again this year, Duck said there’s plenty of work to still do. He’s helped with setup on a majority of the competitions over the last 13 years, which has kept him up to speed with what planning an ever-growing event like this can be like.

“Now that we’re preparing, there are fewer surprises,” Duck said. “The most difficult (part) is finding the space. If we had the event during our spring break, it’d probably be snowing. When we’re having the competition in March, we still have classes.”

Myers attended the previous competition at MSU and said the reunion at a historic program will be powerful.

“Since we rotate around every year, there’s always something unique about the location. I’m excited to go back to Michigan State,” Myers said. “It’s kind of got this homecoming effect for me and I think the planning team and a lot of others.”

Supervision and sales

Leadership and acquiring customers were two topics on the agenda at Real Green’s annual conference.

Nashville – In January, lawn care operators from across the country descended on Nashville, Tennessee for Real Green’s annual users conference – Solutions 2020. The event is designed to not only educate Real Green customers about the software, but also to help attendees with general business lessons. The 20th anniversary of the event it took place at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. Below are some takeaways from educational sessions.

Find that ‘super’visor.

One problem that plagues a lot of companies is the method in which they promote employees. You take a field worker or salesperson who excelled at that role and then promote them to a supervisor position, but you may later find they don’t have great leadership skills.

“That’s especially easy to do when you are in the middle of peak season and you lose someone,” said Chuck Williams, contact center manager at Senske Services based in Washington. But Williams said leadership skills can be taught. Here are three points to help you create the ideal supervisor.

1. Interpersonal skills – This is the ability to connect to people and then connect them to something productive. One way to do this is by genuinely expressing appreciation for someone’s work with details. Williams uses the Situation, Behavior and Impact Tool – for example, expressing gratitude to an employee who, during a busy time (situation), completed extra tasks efficiently (behavior) and it helped everyone get caught up on the work (impact).

2. Conflict management – Conflict is normal and necessary for growth because that means there are people in the room who want to succeed. Conflict is unhealthy when it’s not managed properly, Williams said. Properly managed conflict is one of the most beneficial things for an organization, and if you don’t want someone to disagree with you, you aren’t a leader, Williams said. When dealing with conflict, do your best to take emotions out of it.

3. Communication – Employees want to know what’s going on, and if you don’t fill in the blanks, they will fill the blanks in with the worst-case scenarios possible, Williams said. Keeping people in the dark will lead to fear, which isn’t productive.

Keep knocking.

With restrictions on telemarketing, like the national “do not call” list, old fashioned door-to-door sales are still a viable way to get new customers, said Ken White, owner of Hometown Pest & Lawn in Michigan.

“It can be fun and it can be frustrating,” White said of going door-to-door.

But before you or your employee start knocking, make sure you know the door-to-door solicitations rules of the area you are canvassing. Not only will it keep you from a meeting with the police, it could save you time.

“Door-to-door isn’t for every city. If it’s difficult to get a permit, that could mean the people in the city don’t want door-to-door sales,” White said.

Before you start canvassing a neighborhood, mail a brochure the week before you knock and place signs in the area a few days before walking. White said you can have salespeople with the company serve as the canvassers, or you can hire hourly employees specifically for the job.

If you go the latter rout, put a supervisor who spends five hours a day focusing on this aspect of your business – recruiting, role playing, organizing pickups and drop-offs, facilitating daily and weekly meetings.

White recommends going door-to-door over a 12-week period with work starting 3-4 weeks before production begins or when the sidewalks are clear of snow. Shoot for 6-7 days a week, with the option of avoiding Sunday. If you are going to door-to-door on a Saturday, have a truck in the neighborhood to service lawns that day if a sale is made. Don’t ask people to go door-to-door for more than a few hours since it can get exhausting.

“It can be grueling work,” Smith said.

You should have three teams of two with one person on each side of the street. Instruct them never to go into the house. The door-knockers could be the ones doing the selling, or they can just serve as the initial point of contact to inquire if the homeowner wants to meet with a salesperson. If so, Thomas said sometimes he can have a salesperson ready to visit the potential client later that day.

Smith buys company shirts for the canvassers to wear as part of a uniform and they are not allowed to wear sunglasses.

“It’s going to be our first impression,” he said.

NALP to separate from GIE+EXPO in 2022

Beginning in 2022, NALP will no longer host LANDSCAPES in conjunction with GIE+EXPO and plans to host its own conference.

FAIRFAX, Va. – The National Association of Landscape Professionals will separate its annual meeting, LANDSCAPES, from GIE+EXPO beginning in 2022 and will host its own stand-alone conference.

For more than a decade, NALP has held its annual meeting in Louisville in conjunction with GIE+EXPO. Before that, the association hosted an annual meeting and exposition (the Green Industry Expo) which traveled to different cities.

“We’ve enjoyed a strong partnership with the Outdoor Power Equipment Institute, and we continue to work together on government relations and other important industry issues,” said Britt Wood, NALP CEO. “But the time has come to provide members with a new annual meeting experience, so beginning in 2022, our conference will move to different cities.”

NALP has assembled a planning task force, including industry suppliers and manufacturers, lawn care, maintenance and design-build professionals, to provide guidance and input into the design of the new conference. Member input is also being gathered to ensure that the conference provides the best education and networking opportunities while incorporating local facility tours and the latest innovations.

“We look forward to opening up new opportunities for attendees as we create the future NALP Annual Meeting experience, beginning in 2022,” Wood said. “In the meantime, we are focused on providing innovative and exceptional LANDSCAPES conferences for the next two years in Louisville.”

In 2022, OPEI will move into 100% ownership of the GIE+EXPO, which in 2020 is set for October 21-23. Attendees can expect hands-on drone training, expanded tree care demonstrations, a UTV test track and a continued co-location with Hardscape North America.

“OPEI has signed an extension agreement for the show from 2022-2024 with the Kentucky Exposition Center and area hotels in Louisville for the future. GIE+EXPO has always been the industry’s family reunion, and the place to be if you’re in this business,” OPEI President and CEO Kris Kiser said. “We’re looking forward to continuing to work with our partners to provide the best training, education, and hands-on learning for the entire industry.”

BrightView acquires Top 100 company

The company acquired Signature Coast Holdings based in Napa, California.

BLUE BELL, Pa. – BrightView Holdings acquired Signature Coast Holdings, a commercial landscaping company headquartered in Napa, California. Transaction terms were not disclosed. Signature Coast ranked No. 55 on our 2019 Top 100 list with $33 million in 2018 revenue.

Signature Coast’s operations span nine locations in both California (Concord, Davis, Marin, Napa, Rocklin, Sacramento and Santa Rosa) and Nevada (Carson City and Reno). The company provides landscape maintenance, irrigation, enhancement, installation, arbor care, pest control and snow removal services under its three major brands: Coast Landscape Management, Signature Landscapes and C&R Landscape. The company’s 600 employees serve clients across the corporate, HOA, multi-family and municipal segments.

Andrew Masterman, president and CEO of BrightView, said this move was the second largest acquisition the company has made since the 2017 inception of “our successful ‘strong-on-strong’ acquisition strategy. I look forward to working with the team for many years to come.”

Kelly Solomon, CEO of Signature Coast, and her senior leadership team will remain with BrightView to guide the integration process and beyond. “Our shared values toward our customers and employees convinced me that joining BrightView was the logical next step for Signature Coast. In addition to sharing best practices and leveraging industry-leading resources, I am excited by the opportunities that we will create for our award-winning team members to continue growing while keeping the customer at the center of everything we do,” she said.

In addition to acquiring Signature Coast, BrightView also recently announced its acquisition of Summit Landscape Group in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Established in 2011, Summit serves the Charlotte, Charleston and Hilton Head markets in the Carolinas, as well as its clients in Nashville, Tennessee. Summit Landscape Group founders Mike Knabenshue and Steve Adolph will remain with BrightView to provide leadership continuity.

Loving acquires H&H Sod Farm in Orlando

In addition to the acquisition, Loving has created a strategic partnership with Scotts and Bethel Turf.

GASTONIA, N.C. – The Loving Group recently acquired H&H Sod Farm, which is located in Orlando. The Loving Group ranked No. 70 on Lawn & Landscape's Top 100 list in 2018 with $27 million in revenue.

“Although our company has been built solely through organic growth rather than acquisitions, we found that the shared values and belief in fostering strong communities made this opportunity a natural fit,” said Mike Haynes, founder and CEO of Loving. “We are excited for the continued opportunity to expand as it allows us greater opportunity to capitalize on our mission of creating a positive impact through our outreach efforts in the communities that we serve.”

Founded in 1969 by Danny and Lois Hall, H&H Sod Farm has grown to become one of the largest sod farming operations in the state of Florida.

In addition to the H&H Sod Farm acquisition, Loving has created a strategic partnership with both Scotts and Bethel Turf to join in the production and distribution of ProVista Turf throughout the state of Florida. “Bethel and Scotts are happy to welcome Loving into the ProVista network, we are excited about the numerous distribution opportunities that Loving provides through the strong relationships that they have created,” said Will Nugent, owner of Bethel Turf.

“We believe that this step is a major milestone in our effort to increase public awareness and education of ProVista Turf. We are thrilled of the numerous homebuilders throughout the state that have already committed to transition their new lawns over to ProVista Turf, providing their homebuyers a superior looking turfgrass, that requires a fraction of the maintenance.” Nugent added.

Loving is headquartered in Gastonia, North Carolina and offers landscaping, outdoor living and sod farming services to both local and national homebuilding clients throughout the Southeastern United States.

SiteOne acquires two suppliers to start 2020

ROSWELL, Ga. – SiteOne Landscape Supply recently acquired Wittkopf Landscape Supplies in Spokane, Washington, and Empire Supplies in Newark, New Jersey.

Wittkopf has two locations focused on the distribution of hardscapes and landscape supplies to landscape professionals.

It was SiteOne’s first acquisition of 2020.

“Wittkopf is a great fit with SiteOne as they expand our offerings in a growing market that we entered in 2018 with our acquisition of AutoRain, an irrigation products distributor. This addition aligns with our mission to be the best full-line distributor to landscape professionals in all major U.S. and Canadian markets,” said Doug Black, chairman and CEO of SiteOne Landscape Supply.

Meanwhile, Empire Supplies serves the greater Newark-Union, N.J. metro with three locations focused on the distribution of hardscapes and landscape supplies to landscape professionals.

Black complimented Empire’s company culture and said the move helps them improve their presence “in an attractive market.”