Photo courtesy of Southern Touch

Brandon Means of Southern Touch in Appomattox, Virginia, has a lot of appreciation for law enforcement professionals’ service to their communities. Prior to starting Southern Touch in 2016, Means worked as a law enforcement professional at a correctional facility for immigration for four year.

“If you’ve never been in corrections, it’s hard. You have no idea what law enforcement has to put up with every day. We had hundreds of MS-13 gang members,” Mean said.

Means said he enjoyed the job, but it didn’t offer him good advancement opportunities. So, to better provide for his family, Means decided to leave law enforcement and start his own business. He had some experience growing up working for landscaping companies, so he went that route. He also acquired a small landscaping company nearby to gain some equipment and a few accounts when he was starting out.

Today, Southern Touch is a full-service landscape company that serves the areas around Lynchburg, Virginia. Means has a staff of four full-time employees and brought in about $300,000 in revenue this past year.

With an appreciation for law enforcement, Means decided early on in the business to offer a 10 percent discount to officers who signed up for his services. He also gives the same discount to teachers, EMTs, firefighters and veterans.

“Anybody who’s giving back to our community or helped our country, I feel the need to give back to them,” he said.

Within Means’ first year of service, he had the idea to take the discount a step further by offering free service to officers for one week out of the year. So, since 2016, Southern Touch has offered free maintenance for active and retired law enforcement officers. Means said he chose to make that a tradition during the second week of July.

“I know what police officers have to deal with every day,” he said. “It just came to me one day as something I could do to help them out and give them one less thing to worry about.”

Southern Touch promoted the program in the local news each year. He said he helped about four or five officers his first year in business, about 15 officers last year and he helped 20 officers this year. With the program being in its third year, Means adds that a few local landscaping companies also donated to provide money for fuel to help him service these officers for free this year.

While some officers are hesitant to accept Southern Touch’s free service, not wanting to take a handout, Means said all the officers who have accepted it appreciate the help. “Everyone who’s contacted me has been astonished that I’m doing this,” he said. “Everyone was happy and they thought it was a great thing.”

As a plus, a few of these officers then become recurring customers for maintenance or landscaping projects. Means said he’ll make sure to give all of them the 10 percent discount as well.

“I think officers are overlooked a lot,” Means said. “Unless you spend a day in their shoes, you really don’t know what they put up with. It feels good knowing we can help out in some way. I would encourage everyone to do it – it’s not going to cost you much to do it. It’s a way to give thanks to the officers for what they do every day.”

Lawn & Landscape selects 2018 scholarship winner

Jackson Chandler has maintained a 3.8 GPA despite plenty of work outdoors. By Jimmy Miller

For his diversity in field work and a strong commitment to educating the public about arboriculture, Brigham Young University senior Jackson Chandler earned GIE Media’s Horticultural Scholarship this year.

Lawn & Landscape tabbed Chandler the winner of the annual Richard Foster Award, which honors outstanding students planning careers in the landscape, lawn care or horticulture business. Chandler has maintained a 3.8 GPA and is still narrowing down his exact career of choice. His experience in the field is noteworthy: He’s tackled a variety of volunteer work, leadership positions and an internship.

Photo courtesy of Jackson Chandler

This semester, Chandler is a teaching assistant at a BYU arboriculture class, but to some degree, he’s been teaching those around him for several years. In 2016, he was a crew leader for Oregon State’s Teachers in the Woods program, which puts high school teachers in the forest so they can teach their students about forestry or environmental science with firsthand experience. Chandler also interned last summer with Bartlett Tree Experts in Oregon and participates in the National Collegiate Landscape Competition and Tree Care Industry Association challenges.

“Jackson’s passion for the entire green industry, not just trees, is evident in his essay and through his recommendation letters,” said Brian Horn, Lawn & Landscape magazine editor. “I look forward to seeing the positive impact he has on this industry as he grows into a professional.”

Though Chandler is focused on arboriculture, he acknowledges quality landscaping focuses on all the details, including turf. He believes good landscapers plan the right trees and shrubbery for their customer’s properties. Certain trees can lead to aesthetically pleasing landscapes, while poor decisions can degrade an area.

Chandler said arborists should collaborate with landscapers to create stunning scenery.

“Like a food web, the entire system suffers when one element is neglected,” Chandler said. “If landscapers had more arborists at conferences, and arborists had landscapers at their conferences, I think we would be able to work more effectively with one another.”

To be eligible for the $2,500 scholarship, students must be enrolled at a recognized two-or four-year college or university working toward a degree in horticulture, environmental science or other field related to a segment of the green industry.

First look at BOB-CAT’s new mower line

The next generation of mowers includes BOB-CAT’s fastest mower yet, capable of traveling 19 mph. By Lauren Rathmell

JOHNSON CREEK, Wisc. – BOB-CAT has created its fastest mower to date as well as a full line of new models.

Those models were on display during a media event at the Schiller Grounds Manufacturing facility in Johnson Creek, Wisconsin. The lineup includes five new models, including the Predator-Pro 7000, which tops out at a transfer speed of 19 mph and mowing speed of 13 mph. The Predator-Pro 7000 features a Kawasaki FX1000V engine and 26-inch drive tires.

Photos by Lauren Rathmell

John Gielow, regional sales manager, said advancements in technology like improved transmissions allowed BOB-CAT to make the Predator-Pro capable of the fast speed. To accommodate the mower, the deck needed to be heavier.

“The difference in the deck is key,” he said. “It’s all about airflow.” The deck is designed to move air efficiently throughout to accommodate the speed. To engage the 19 mph transport speed, operators won’t be able to be in the process of cutting. A foot pedal near the footplate of the mower allows the transmission to shift to a mode of travel suitable for transport.

With BOB-CAT’s focus on product improvements, Gielow said the design methods have changed. “First, (the industry) designed for the purpose of mowing,” he said. “Now, we design for actual (operator) use.”

Along with the Predator-Pro 7000, BOB-CAT introduced the ProCat 6000MX, ProCat 6000 and ProCat 5000.

The mowers feature a new look and improvements to the serviceability and maintenance of the machine.

The Predator-Pro 7000 and ProCat 6000MX include a new hitch and a swing-away back bumper, providing full access to the engine. BOB-CAT also redesigned the operator controls, angling them towards the operator seat for ease of use. The handles have also been redesigned with an almond-shaped grip to better fit the hands of the operator. The seat features a weight dial for contractors to select their weight for suspension purposes.

BOB-CAT has extended its AirFX mowing deck to the new ride-on commercial mower models as well.

The company expects the new models to be in the hands of the end users in 2019 and anticipates that dealers will be taking pre-orders in the coming months. The units will be on display at GIE+EXPO Oct. 17-19 in Louisville, Kentucky.

Factory updates.

The mowers are made in-house at the Schiller Grounds Care factory facility. The assembly line process manages each aspect of the mower creation with the help of machines that laser cut steel and weld parts together. Recently, the company began to package and ship mowers in steel crates instead of wooden crates. The crates feature a corresponding serial number that can be tracked with the mower. Distributors will collect six crates and then they will be picked up and returned to BOB-CAT for repurposing.

Kubota launches Sidekick utility vehicle

The model is designed to provide contractors with a multipurpose vehicle that offers both speed and durability. By Megan Smalley

For its latest RTV, Kubota focused on improving the vehicle’s speed, cargo and towing capabilities. The RTV-XG850 Sidekick features a 48-horsepower gasoline engine that travels at speeds of up to 40 mph, compared to the top speed of 29 mph for Kubota’s RTV-X series model.

The company showcased the new RTV at a media event this week at Lanier Islands in Buford, Georgia.

“Customers can confidently take on any task or terrain with comfortable, convenient and capable features, and with the speed to get there fast, up to 40 mph fast,” said Roger Gifford, Kubota’s product manager for utility vehicles. “(Customers) wanted speed, so we focused on getting speeds they were looking for. They really weren’t asking for 50 or 60 mph. The industry was giving them (the speed they wanted) but sacrificing durability. So, they wanted durability and the sweet spot of speed.”


Photo courtesy of Kubota

A full line of more than 50 new attachments and accessory options are specifically developed for the Sidekick, including a snow plow. Gifford said the company is testing the Sidekick for sprayer and spreader attachments as well for landscape contractors.

“We don’t have them yet, but we’re working on that,” he said. “We’re taking (spreaders and sprayers) from our X series and putting them on this.”

Kubota designed its Sidekick so that it can haul up to 2,000 pounds on flat terrain and 1,500 pounds on hilly terrain. The machine can tow about 1,000 pounds of material as well. In addition, the Sidekick’s cargo capacity allows it to carry up to 15.2 cubic feet or a half ton of gears, tools or material in its heavy-duty steel cargo box. The cargo box comes with optional electric hydraulic lift for easy dumping.

“Our beds are wider, less deep and hold 1,000 pounds,” Gifford said. “When you put 1,000 pounds in the back of our machine, all the payload is distributed evenly across the chassis to improve handling and take stress off the suspension.”

To improve steering ability, the Sidekick features electronic power steering. Tuned front and rear independent suspension allows for a smooth ride, and its engine-assisted braking allows for greater control and increased safety going downhill. Also, a selectable full-time 4WD system gives operators good traction and control on any terrain, even with heavy loads.

The Sidekick also comes with a continuously variable transmission with centrifugal clutch, the Sidekick’s rugged, water-cooled engine that provides torque for a quick, smooth start. The idle speed control and highland correction capabilities also ensure stable power for a variety of situations.

The Sidekick offers electrical power for a variety of equipment. The regulator and fully shielded generator are controlled by a microcomputer to use stable power for any attachment, including a work light, LED headlight, heater or wench.

For added operator comfort, shoulder guards on the ROPS keep riders within passenger area during tight turns, while half doors keep brush and other elements out of the vehicle.

The split-bench seat style provides working comfort and ample space for both driver and passenger, while offering large compartments underneath for storing tools and personal items. The glove box, cup holder and DC outlet offer convenient places to keep things secure and within reach.

Prior to the launch of the Sidekick, Kubota only offered its utility vehicles in two colors. For the Sidekick, the company will offer four color options: Kubota orange, RealTree AP camo, green and black. Gifford said the company introduced the green color model specifically for green industry professionals, so the machine could blend in better with landscapes and golf courses.

“They wanted something that was less distracting,” Gifford said. “So, the green one was brought in to support the green industry. We have our RealTree camo, as well.”

Increasingly, Gifford said landscape contractors are turning to utility vehicles for their versatility to perform multiple jobs year-round.

“It’s a tool for them,” he said. “They’re looking for more implements, more attachments.”

Utility vehicles are also more affordable options than pickup trucks for some applications, Gifford said. While trucks can cost up to $60,000 or more, contractors can purchase several UTVs for that price to get jobs done.

“They can put seven or so of these on jobsites for less cost, less fuel cost, less insurance cost,” he said. “They get their value in working industry.”

Ask the Experts: Give landscapes some attention

Q: Why is the grass so thin on some of my properties? The turf is on a lawn care program.

A: Many factors can contribute to thin turf, and each property may have a different set of factors affecting them. So you must play lawn scene investigator and ask many questions yourself. The first of which is, do I have the correct grass species for the location? Factors such as sunlight, water and wear and tear from use affect the turf. Water movement or erosion on a slope may also affect growth or constantly leave sediment on the turf area.

Most importantly, I would also look at the soil. Is the pH correct? Does it drain properly? Is it compacted? Remember, just because your property is under a lawn care program, one program doesn’t fit all turf circumstances. Analyze the situation carefully and come up with a plan for each property to get the turf back in shape.

Remember, replanting isn’t the answer. We must solve the problem of why the turf became thin in the first place.


© benedek | iStockphoto

Also keep in mind as properties mature that you might be encountering more shade as the trees on the property grow larger. Shade is often an enemy of lush turf. So again, analyze and determine if this is the problem. If so, a change in turf species may be necessary. Thinning the tree or raising the canopy of the tree may help. Or it may be time to increase the landscape bed and decrease the turf area. I have often said the best turf species for heavy shade is mulch.

Q: My customer wants more color in the landscape design. How can I include more color to make them happy?

A: Well, the customer is always right. You didn’t say if they wanted annuals and perennials or shrubs and trees. If they want more color, talk to them about what they want. Is it flowering shrubs or perennials or annuals or combinations of them? Walk through the project with them and talk about the possibilities. Show them pictures of possibilities. If you are unsure of how to add the color punch they are wanting, discuss the possibilities of the design with your local plant supplier. They will be glad to make recommendations. For long term success with this client and those in the future, look and see if you can take a design or plant materials course from a local college.

There is a wealth of possibilities to help with color: hydrangeas, azaleas, spiraeas, buddleias, camellias, loropetalums and many more flowering shrubs. Don’t forget shrubs with colored or variegated foliage can add color to the landscape. Shrubs such as barberries, loropetalums and abelia have colorful foliage. Also, small trees such as redbuds, variegated dogwoods and Japanese maples have colorful foliage. Iris, daylilies, salvias, coral bells, hosta, cone flowers, daisies and many more perennials can add color to the landscape. And of course, there is an abundance of annuals from begonias, salvia, lantana, impatiens, geraniums and more.

Ask a lot of questions of both your customer and your supplier and you will find the right choices to fill their needs.

Q: I always seem to lose a few plants on every new install job. How can I better ensure that everything survives?

A: I am not sure you will always have 100 percent livability, but you should be real close if you are doing everything correctly. First, make sure you are installing the right plant in the right place. Sun, shade, soil type, water amount, etc. are all important. Size, climatic conditions and insect and disease potential are as well.

Secondly, make sure your crews are planting correctly. The hole should be dug at least twice as wide as the root ball to ensure proper root growth and development. This may seem excessive, but if you are killing your profits through losing too many plants, this is often the problem. Also, the hole should be no deeper that the root ball. Remember, a $20 hole for a $5 plant! Make sure you water in the new plants as soon as possible so the soil doesn’t dry out and add mulch.

Walk through all of the possibilites with your customers when adding some color to a landscape to ensure they get what they really want.
© HuyThoai | iStockphoto

The other major problem is aftercare. Once the installation is complete, are the plants getting enough water to ensure they can get off to a great start? You can’t rely on the customer to water properly, so you need to build into your proposals some aftercare on your part to ensure a healthy landscape. Aftercare is essential to a thriving landscape.

Rex Bishop, NALP director of technical education

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.

TruGreen names new CEO

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – TruGreen appointed John Cowles as president and CEO. David Alexander will be retiring from the company after serving as the company’s president and CEO since December 2012 and 2014, respectively.

“I am honored to have had the opportunity to lead TruGreen through some of the most important periods of growth in its 45-year history, and I am very proud of what our team has accomplished together,” Alexander said.

Prior to joining TruGreen, Cowles was president and CEO at FXI, a producer for the home, healthcare, electronics, industrial, personal care and transportation markets. Cowles is a 30-year business veteran who has held senior leadership positions at major companies such as Touchstone Wireless, Kraft Foods, Campbell Soup Company and George Weston Bakeries.

“I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to build on the business momentum TruGreen has established over the past several years,” Cowles said. “TruGreen has a legacy of helping people live life outside. I look forward to working hand-in-hand with our associates to continue our commitment to creating green and healthy outdoor spaces for our (2.3 million) customers.”

John Compton, TruGreen chairman and operating partner at Clayton, Dubilier & Rice, the private equity firm that owns controlling interest in TruGreen, said, “We are grateful for David’s service to TruGreen. His leadership was instrumental in the successful transition of TruGreen as an independent company and through the merger with Scotts LawnService, while creating significant, sustainable growth. Cowles’ focus on service innovation, building a strong team and culture, and delivering best-in-class customer service will be tremendously beneficial as TruGreen enters its next phase of growth.”

LDI makes a pair of acquisitions

VALENCIA, Calif. – Enhanced Landscape Management (ELM), the maintenance division of Landscape Development, Inc. (LDI) with headquarters located in Valencia, California has concluded the asset purchases of Chateau Landscape, Inc. (CLI) in Santa Clarita and Quality Landscape Care (QLC), located in Ventura.

With the purchases, LDI’s annualized maintenance revenue now exceeds $25 million and the company brings its total annual revenues to more than $100 million.

CLI owner and founder Matthew Fredeking will stay aboard as a senior account manager, playing a key role in business development activities. During the transition, LDI will be rebranding the CLI uniforms and fleet to match that of the LDI team.

QLC has established a reputation for excellence in horticulture and customer service the past two decades in the public works sector. The staff of about 50 employees of QLC will be retained in this transition. Michael Robinson, founder and owner of QLC, will join the ELM executive team as the leader of its Ventura branch operations.

The QLC business will be branded as ELM immediately to ensure a consistent brand in the ELM service areas. As a result of this acquisition, QLC clients will benefit by being offered a broader range of services, including landscape construction, maintenance, water management, landscape architecture and erosion control in an expanded service area.

LDI also retained all employees, including field management and personnel, driving the total number of team members over 300. New team members were given a detailed orientation of LDI’s company culture, opportunities, benefits and emphasis on safety.

LDI was founded in 1983 by Gary Horton. He continues to serve as president and CEO. LDI currently operates from nine regional offices throughout central and southern California.

Metco receives private equity backing

DENVER – Westhook Capital, a new Los Angeles-based private equity firm, has made an investment in Metco Landscape, a provider of landscaping installation and maintenance services in Colorado.

This is Westhook’s first investment as a firm.

Metco will continue to be led by Mark Tomko, who will remain in his position as CEO immediately following the transaction. Metco ranks number 28 on Lawn & Landscape Magazine’s Top 100 list. Its services include the design, installation and maintenance of commercial landscape across the Front Range of Colorado. The company operates out of its headquarters in Aurora, Colorado, with two additional branches around Denver and one in Colorado Springs.

Tomko, who is also the co-founder Metco, said, “We are very proud of our team and what we have built at Metco. We are excited to partner with Westhook, who we know shares our dedication to continuing to build an industry-leading landscape business by combining relentless focus on customer satisfaction and providing value to all our customers and team members.”

Michael Hooks, managing partner of Westhook Capital, said the green industry is very attractive and the firm looks forward to supporting Metco’s next phase of growth initiatives, including strategic acquisitions.

“We see a very fragmented industry where well-managed and high-quality companies like Metco can distinguish themselves and grow both organically and through acquisition,” Hooks told Lawn & Landscape exclusively.

Westhook recently announced the closing of its inaugural fund, Westhook Capital Partners, L.P, with $140 million in commitments. The fund focuses on buyouts of U.S based lower middle market companies within the consumer, industrial, business services and healthcare services sectors.

Ceibass Venture Partners, LLC served as financial advisor to Metco.

Stanley Black & Decker to acquire 20 percent stake in MTD Products

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. – Stanley Black & Decker has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire a 20 percent stake in MTD Products, a privately held global manufacturer of outdoor power equipment, for $234 million in cash. Under the terms of the agreement, Stanley Black & Decker has the option to acquire the remaining 80 percent of MTD beginning July 1, 2021.

“This investment in MTD increases our presence in the $20-billion global lawn and garden market in a financially and operationally prudent way,” Stanley Black & Decker President and CEO James M. Loree said. “We have always viewed outdoor products as an attractive growth category for us to expand our presence beyond handheld electric products. This transaction gives us the opportunity to do that with a world-class partner. MTD has a first-rate management team, talented employees and a mission, values and commitment to innovation that are very closely aligned with our own, and we are excited to move forward with them.”

“MTD and Stanley Black & Decker are both proven leaders in our respective industries with iconic brands and world-class capabilities,” said MTD Chairman and CEO Robert T. Moll. “We're both passionate about innovation with complementary businesses. Ultimately, this will give us more resources to bring really exciting products to our consumers.”

With 2017 revenues in excess of $2 billion, MTD manufactures and distributes lawn tractors, zero-turn mowers, walk-behind mowers, snow throwers, trimmers, chain saws, utility vehicles and other outdoor power equipment for both residential and professional lawn and garden customers. Founded more than 85 years ago and headquartered in Valley City, Ohio, MTD's brands include Cub Cadet, Troy-Bilt and Remington, among others. MTD has manufacturing facilities in North America, Europe and Asia, and a global distribution network.

This partnership enhances Stanley Black & Decker and MTD's existing commercial relationship, which currently includes the manufacturing of select outdoor products under the Craftsman brand. Going forward, the two companies will work together to pursue revenue and cost opportunities, improve operational efficiency and introduce new and innovative products for professional and residential outdoor equipment customers, leveraging their respective portfolios of strong brands.

The transaction, which is expected to close in early 2019, is subject to regulatory approvals and customary closing conditions. In connection with the transaction, Stanley Black & Decker will appoint two representatives to MTD's 11-member board of directors. Beginning in 2021, should Stanley Black & Decker choose to exercise its right to acquire the remaining 80 percent stake, the companies have agreed to a valuation multiple based on MTD's expected 2018 EBITDA, with a sharing arrangement for any future EBITDA growth.

Jain Irrigation acquires ETwater

Fresno, Calif. – Jain Irrigation announced in September that it is acquiring irrigation technology company ETwater. ETwater patented technology integrates data science, machine learning and predictive analytics about weather forecast and environmental variables to automatically, optimally adjust site-specific irrigation schedules.

Connecting over the internet, ETwater smart controllers get their schedules through secure cellular data networks, and users are able to remotely monitor and manage controllers from any mobile or smart device.

“We’re very proud of the positive impact on outdoor water conservation we’ve had in the U.S. market and raising awareness to the necessity of irrigating in harmony with nature,” said Pat McIntyre, ETwater CEO. “Our customers, from Fortune 100 national retailers to conscientious single-family homeowners, entrust us with driving the automation of their water efficiency. We’ve kept their landscapes healthy and beautiful, while eliminating the waste, damages and costs that result from overwatering. The Jain acquisition will expand ETwater efficiencies throughout the U.S. and now worldwide to become a gold standard in sustainable water management globally.”

Aric Olson, president of Jain Irrigation said, “ETwater helps us make a bigger impact in reducing water waste in landscape irrigation. Jain is the technology leader for irrigation monitoring and control, and we are thrilled to have ETwater join our family.”

ETWater has made several other acquisitions in the irrigation technology market.

“The addition of ETwater, the pioneer of Smart Irrigation control, adds key technologies that can be deployed globally to our growing technology customer base,” Olson said. “I’m also excited to have Richard Restuccia leading this team now.”

Restuccia previously served as director of water management for ValleyCrest (now BrightView) and was a 2014 Lawn & Landscape Leadership Award winner.

He also served on the Irrigation Association’s board of directors and is a spokesperson for the industry on the Hill on issues involving water management and best practices,

Olson said, “he created real change in landscape irrigation and we expect it will accelerate even faster now.”

Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

ECHO partners with school district to test robotics

Lake Zurich, Illinois – ECHO Incorporated and the Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 kicked off a robotics-based partnership between the two organizations on Aug. 29. District 95 has agreed to be a test site for ECHO’s autonomous mowers, with one unit currently operating on one of the Lake Zurich High School baseball fields. This partnership provides students with real-world engineering and problem-solving experience while also helping ECHO Robotics test and trouble-shoot the autonomous mowers before they hit the U.S. market.

“The ECHO business-education partnership is a model for 21st-century learning: connecting students with real-world opportunities like the autonomous mower project, internships or job shadowing solidifies the learning connection while also developing the workforce of the future,” said District 95 Superintendent Kaine Osburn.

In addition to the partnership, ECHO has agreed to provide material support for the LZHS robotics program and give an annual $20,000 donation to the District 95 Educational Foundation for the robotics team, the Bearbotics.

The team competes annually in the FIRST Robotics Competition against other high school robotics teams from across the nation.

“We are very excited about our partnership with the Lake Zurich School District,” said Vice President of ECHO Incorporated Joe Fahey. “Through our robotics program, we will be able to engage students interested in engineering, robotics, computer science and business principles by allowing them to learn and participate in the development of our industry-changing technology.”