Photos courtesy of Environmental Designs, Inc.

If you ask property managers what is most important for maintaining an attractive, healthy landscape they’ll probably mention fertilizer and maybe sunlight or a good mow. Water, yes – they might bring up water as a key for keeping their grass green. But chances are slim to none that a client will say, “water management.”

Still, Environmental Designs, Inc. (EDI) in Henderson, Colo., has been providing the environmentally conscious service for nearly 30 years and today it is 7% of total revenues.

Water management is as important as sun and fertilizer for manicured landscapes and natural spaces; but convincing property managers and owners of this case is tough. “You are selling them snake oil, in a way,” says Shawn Ryan, president of EDI. “To get people to convert (a system) before it’s broken is a challenge.”

But some impactful show-and-tell helps a lot.

EDI received the Associated Landscape Contractors of Colorado (ALCC) 2019 ELITE Award for Irrigation Management by saving a client more than 5 million gallons of water per year after an extensive irrigation overhaul. The property was Centerra Metro District in Loveland, which includes eight hydrozones and a city-mandated water budget. After an audit, EDI reported that half of the property’s irrigation system was in disrepair due to undetected mainline breaks, inactivated flow sensors, broken master valves and zones that simply were not operating.

The three-year water management project involved repairs and then upgrades so the new system includes 24/7 weather forecasting and provides real-time alerts of breakages or flow issues. Because of this, water usage fell to 24% below budget and the property saved 10 million gallons of water in two years.

“The advances in technology have helped us in this industry – smart controllers and changing nozzles for water conservation.” Shawn Ryan, president, EDI

Numbers talk.

Technology makes all the difference. And so does EDI’s team approach to identifying water waste and problem-solving solutions to improve a system’s efficiency and environmental impact.

“When we look at three and four years of water savings by properties with larger water bills – HOAs, commercial properties, apartment complexes – you can see the ROI,” Ryan says, relating that EDI forecasts potential savings when presenting water management services so property owners and managers can better understand the value.

Meanwhile, EDI has steadily grown its water management division. “We have been proactive with using the latest technology and I think that has given us the ability to grow the service and do a better job,” Ryan says, adding that client relationships plus leveraging internal and external resources is key.

EDI wants to educate clients on water management.

Selling Snake Oil.

Cost and speculation are the two biggest barriers to selling water management services. The reality is, unless an irrigation controller is broken, a valve busts or a pipe lets loose, property owners are not thinking about system upgrades and purchases.

“It’s hard to sell,” Ryan says. “I wish everyone would say, ‘Yeah, water management is great,’ but it’s no different than buying a new iPhone. Not everyone buys the latest model every time one comes out. It’s the same with irrigation technology.”

Selling irrigation upgrades is also a lot like buying a new hot water heater or toilet, Ryan says. “Unless it’s broken, most people don’t go out and buy a new one.

“So, we use client testimonials,” Ryan continues. “We share when clients say, ‘This worked for us, we are in the same place you are today and we didn’t think it was worth the money, and we are glad we did it.’”

When a client can attest to saving $3,000 to $4,000 every year, the dollars pocketed gain prospects’ attention. So, the key to sales is to inform. “I think it’s our job as landscape professionals to continue educating clients – that’s the really big thing,” Ryan says. “We educate clients on the technology that’s out there, encourage them to make decisions that are better for the environment and all of us, and just continue to stay the course.”

EDI invites its distributor and manufacturer partners to present to clients and explain how water-saving technology works. “We need to collaborate to be successful and not just rely on our internal team,” Ryan says.

Including external resources in client meetings improves trust. Rather than a sale, the session truly becomes an educational opportunity for property owners and managers. Plus, clients realize that EDI is already investing in them. “Obviously, we are there to sell our services first and foremost – that’s true,” Ryan says. “But at the end of the day, the vendor can help educate the clients so they can make the best decision.”

Environmental Designs’ internal team also plays a critical role in identifying opportunities to improve properties. Technicians perform property checks on a weekly or bi-weekly basis and bring issues to the sales staff’s attention. “We can then reach out to property managers and begin making recommendations, giving them solutions to problems we see,” Ryan says.

It’s a team approach. Account managers, the irrigation manager, technicians and vendors are involved in educating clients so they can better understand the value of water management. And because EDI invests in training its team, encouraging irrigation certification, clients have more confidence in the issues that technicians identify in the field. “It’s good for clients to know your people are certified, and it’s good for employees because they appreciate and respect the company’s investment in them and know we are trying to make them better and us better,” Ryan says.

“I think it’s our job as landscape professionals to continue educating clients.” Shawn Ryan, president, EDI

Training the Tech.

Technology is also making water management better, and EDI proactively learns about new irrigation innovations and puts those solutions to work in the field. “It’s all about smart controllers,” Ryan says. “The advances in technology have helped us in this industry – smart controllers and changing nozzles for water conservation.”

For example, on the Centerra site, old spray heads were replaced with pressure regulation / rotary nozzles. A control system downloads weather station data on a daily basis. Rain sensors ensure that the system only runs when necessary.

“We can program controllers to know if a zone is on a slope or grass so it will adjust water output,” Ryan says. “The smart controllers measure the amount of moisture in the air and adjust the clock and time it waters.”

EDI wants to avoid unhappy clients calling with a yellow lawn and instead offer solutions before problems happen.

Linked to a mobile platform that delivers real-time alerts to technicians, the new sophisticated irrigation controllers deliver information – and that’s powerful for saving water and realizing a return on investment for irrigation upgrades.

Because technology is ever-evolving, EDI relies on its distributor and manufacturer partners to learn about the latest. “In the landscape industry, sometimes we want to keep doing things the way we did 30 years ago, and a lot of companies are slow to make changes,” Ryan says. “Often, we don’t lean on people who can educate us.”

But EDI does.

“We invest in training and we are always looking forward to what’s coming out in the market,” Ryan says. “We want to say, ‘What is next?’ and try to stay ahead.”

Ultimately, that’s what Ryan hopes their clients and prospects will do, too.

“Clients tend to call you when their grass is yellow and it’s really hard at that point, when they are unhappy, to tell them they need to spend money and invest in their properties,” Ryan says. “If we bring an issue to their attention before it’s a big problem, there’s more trust. It’s an easier sell.”