This is the first of a continuing series of interviews with green industry professionals. In this interview, an anonymous (he asked for his name and company to be suppressed) landscape contractor speaks off-the-cuff about his experiences in the green industry and installing artificial grass.
What is a typical day like for a landscape contractor?
The life of a general contractor can be very tumultuous.
They are working with expensive, often dangerous equipment. Depending on the
contract, they are solely responsible for any mishaps that occur. Still more
stressful is the fact that they if the site they are working on is residential,
the very material of their business just so happens to be their client's most
expensive article of property and sometimes their most prized possession -- namely their homes. So with all of this liability, and in this day and age, in
which your every action is susceptible to being recorded forever on the
Internet, the job can be difficult.
How does a landscape contractor accept a job?
Ordinarily, landscape contractors have to go to the
customer's location when the customer is available. It can be on the weekend,
in the evening, or during the day -- it just depends on when the customer would
like them to begin. However, once the customer has given them the go-ahead to
begin work, most contractors want to get started as soon as possible.
What is the most stressful part of being a landscape
By force of circumstance, the majority of them are deprived
of the privilege of being able to maintain their reputations. The reason is that the average contractor's
business is constantly in flux. Yes, it's feasible for a contractor with robust
resources to have as many as ten pending jobs in queue, but the majority of
contractors simply don't have that capacity. They only have one crew. And with
only one crew, the maximum amount of jobs you can take is three to four. So, the majority of contractors may have one
job to start with, and then take on a second job a few days later, and then
have a third emerge, and then perhaps a fourth.
However, for your average contractor with only one crew and
three projects in queue, what very often happens is that the queue is upset by
accidents. Perhaps their truck breaks
down. Or when the first job is almost finished, perhaps their vehicle leaks and
besmirches the pave that's just been painted. Or say an incident with the
irrigation happens while they are remodeling something inside and need to use
the pressure washer -- if the pipeline is malfunctioning, they won't be able to
finish the job. Mishaps like this are
very expensive and burdensome. Everything can be running smoothly and according
to plan, but if the crew says: "We hit the gas line," at the very moment when
the three pending customers have given green lights to start working on the
next projects, what can you do?
At that point the contractor has to call the utility to come
fix it, because his crew can't proceed until the gas line is fixed. And of course he can't just hire another crew
to do the new jobs.Thus, he's forced to move the crew out of the current
job and send them to the next job. And then, guess what? With every intent of
coming back to finish the first job, he probably never will. Perhaps the
customer will call him and say, "You're coming back; otherwise I'll sue you!"
And he may return to the first job briefly. It's a very hectic cycle and
business to be in. In short, with limited resources, it's difficult for a
contractor to maintain an impeccable reputation.
What about artificial grass installers?
With regard to artificial grass installation companies,
there are two types of arrangements they have with their personnel: one of them
is that they pay their crews by the hour. They say to their crew, "There's a
job today. You start today; you finish today." and then seven people are sent
to the job to get it done. By the end of the day, everyone receives a paycheck
at the hourly rate.
The second type of arrangement is when they pay their
personnel according to square footage. They say, "I am going to pay you two
dollars per square foot for this job. I don't care how you do it, or how long
it takes you to do it -- do it whichever way and however long you'd like. If you
finish in half a day -- Hallelujah! -- you make more per hour."
So, basically every artificial grass installer calls their
own crew, but they run them differently, based on how effective and efficient
they want them to be.
What about installing artificial grass is different than a
typical construction gig?
Unlike most contractors, unless there's an installation
problem, artificial grass installers don't usually have any hiccups during
installation. This is because the work involved isn't too complex. It's not
like construction where you're prevented from finishing a job because of, say,
a broken board. In construction, a broken piece of board only costs twenty
cents per linear foot; so five feet is just one dollar. But if you don't fix
it, the completion of the project goes nowhere.
With an artificial grass installation, on the other hand,
the consequence of finding a defective section of the turf isn't that serious.
It is just a product. That's what makes it so beautiful: a four-person crew can
make twenty-four-thousand dollars in a day and a half.
Is installing artificial grass a threat to lawn care
Lawn maintenance contractors shouldn't feel anxiety about
installing artificial grass. Their lawn care gigs are not being threatened.
Artificial grass installations only account for three to five percent of
residential yards these days. If you're a lawn maintenance contractor, and you
start installing artificial grass, you are going to be busy; you'll never run
out of artificial turf installation gigs.
Concerned lawn maintenance contractors often reply, "I
charge thirty dollars per week to maintain each yard, and I am currently
maintaining twenty percent of the neighborhood. If I install artificial turf,
there will be no need for my services." My response to this contention is, "Are
you crazy? Look at where you live. Just three to five percent of the homes in
the neighborhood have artificial turf. And even if that percentage was much
higher, say twenty percent, it wouldn't matter because you'd run yourself to
death before finishing installing all of them, anyway.In brief, in no
wise does the lawn maintenance contractor lose business as a consequence of
installing artificial turf.
How does a landscape contractor succeed?
Anyone with sales, business management and installation
abilities can make a lot of money installing artificial turf.
The other thing is that, like any business, you have to
commit to it and believe in yourself. You might not have any work on some days.
You might get discouraged. And then you might start to deviate from your plan.
You can't do that; you have to keep your eyes on the prize. In the competitive
business world, you just can't let your efforts abate. This world, this market,
doesn't grant anyone the luxury of being lazy, or deviating from their plan,
because there are too many people out there who are just as committed as you,
and just as smart as you, if not more so.
So, if suddenly, two months have gone by, and you still
don't have any business, and you're thinking that you have to put food on the
table, you still need to stick with your game plan. You need to have a plan.
You have to stick with it.
For example, I have an online friend in Billings, Montana,
who's been installing turf for two years. Who is he? He's a twenty nine year
old kid. How did he get there? He had guts and persistence. That's all it took.
And he's just one guy. You know what he does? In the winter time, he plows
snow. He works in the restaurant at Shell. And in the spring time he hits the
trade shows, he stops by all of the booths, telling people he installs
artificial grass and so on. And he uses his own money to make video
advertisements. He said, "I need to make a life; this is what I do. I
pick up every job I can get during the winter, snow plowing, etc. But when
spring hits, I am out one hundred percent installing artificial turf. I tell
everyone I know, every city, every department, every single person I know. I am
committed. You know what? He installs a lot of turf. If you are not committed,
you are not going to go anywhere. You must be determined. When we first met on
some forums, I didn't think he was going to make it. I thought, "Billings,
Montana?" If you are talking about Chicago, then there might be a chance. But,
he proved me wrong: by making a plan and sticking with it.