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State of the Green Industry

December 3, 2020

In this episode of the Green Industry Perspectives Podcast, Ty Deemer welcomes Brian Horn to the show. Brian is the editor of the Lawn and Landscape Magazine. Brian spends his time on the show sharing what Lawn and Landscape found in their 2020 State of the Industry Report. Tune in to hear about the cautious optimism that has been found in their conversations with the industry and get a pulse on how your business compares to others in the Green Industry.

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On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How Green Industry Proffessionals are cautiously optimistic going into 2021.
  • What other industry professionals are most concerned about.
  • How the market performed during 2020.
  • What trends took place across hundreds of companies surveyed.

Links to love:

Full Transcript:

Ty Deemer:

You are listening to The Green Industry Perspectives podcast, presented by SingleOps, a podcast created for green industry professionals looking for best practices, tactics and tips on running their tree care or landscape business. All right, everyone. Welcome back to Green Industry Perspectives. Today we have the awesome chance to talk to Kristine Crawford from Northwest Tree Huggers. Kristine, welcome to the show. 

All right, everyone. Welcome back to Green Industry Perspectives. My Name is Ty Deemer. I’m the marketing manager at SingleOps and I’m your host. Today we get the awesome opportunity to welcome the editor of The Lawn and Landscape Magazine, Brian Horn to the show. Brian, welcome. 

Brian Horn:

Thanks, Ty. Thanks for having me. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. So, Brian, we always like to start our show off with the exact same question to provide some immediate value to our audience and as someone who talks to a lot of Lawn and Landscape professionals every day, you’ll have probably some great insights to this. What are the top three things, common threads that you see in successful Lawn and Landscape companies? 

Brian Horn:

I think the first thing is they really do love what they do. They do speak about a passion for it. A lot of them started with a truck and a mower and sort of did it on their own maybe in high school or college. That’s the typical story. So, I don’t hear ever, talk to a lot of landscapers who sound exhausted. They all sound sort of upbeat, like happy in their job. I’m sure there are some out there that don’t like it. But most of the successful ones embrace it. They love the outdoors. They would be doing it for free if they weren’t getting paid for it. That’s the first thing. The second is they can’t find labor. That’s obviously a trend that’s been going on for decades. So, that is what it is and they try to find creative ways around it but that’s a huge, huge issue. And they’re willing to help everyone even the competition down the street. I find that the contractors who are excelling are willing to share their information with their competition with the thinking of if you’re better and she’s better and he’s better, well, then we can all raise our prices, we can all help the professionalism of the industry. And that attitude I think is priceless. You can’t get better than that attitude. And it’s a risky thing because you’re supposed to be competing with them. But going back to the labor thing, there’s enough work to go around because there’s not enough labor to do all the work. So, maybe someday when the labor shortage ever gets solved and they’re looking for scraps, they won’t be as giving of their information. But right now, that’s just not the case. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s great insight. I can definitely affirm what you’re saying in the terms of just kind of the community that this industry has, going to like anybody who’s been to GIE or the TCIA conference or even the Lawn and Landscape tech conference that y’all put on February, there’s such a strong community around this industry. It’s like when you walk through a conference room, you just see people going off to the side and having really detailed conversations about their business and sharing things with one another. I love that point. 

Brian Horn:

I was talking to a, I remember an association director of a state association had done the same job in a previous industry. And he said at his first meeting, he was just stunned because he said in his old industry everyone would be at a separate table, giving each other dirty looks. Whereas four or five of the people in the same area were sitting there eating lunch together and just having a good time. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, it’s one of my favorite parts about being involved in this industry. So, Brian, for people that might not be familiar with you, I’d love if before we kind of get in to our conversation today, for you to just share your background. How you got involved with Lawn and Landscape, how long you’ve been there and kind of like what does your everyday look like as the editor of a major green industry publication? 

Brian Horn:

Yeah, I started there in 2010. I got a journalism degree in college. I went to work at a couple weekly and daily newspapers. Just got out of that because that just beats you down. Discovered B2B publication. Didn’t know that was a thing really in college. They don’t really tell you that. But that’s where the better pay is and it’s sort of more relaxed. So, I worked at a business magazine and then moved over to GIE media and they’re the parent company for Lawn and Landscape. Got hired there as an associate editor and worked with managing editor and then became editor in 2017 I think. And the everyday, it’s checking email obviously, what everyone does. But just not just the checking in. That’s something I want to improve for next year is getting more on the phone with landscaper than just having a 30 minute call with them. I try to respect their time. So, I don’t want to be bothering people. 

But it’s getting the magazine out, making sure it’s edited, working with my other two editors Jimmy and Kim. Assigning stories, going back to them and making sure the stories are better and just trying to make stories and find angles that our readers will want to read about. You’re going to have the story on zero turn mowers that we might do every year but you also want to find features that are just interesting of a contractor who’s doing something different or just has a cool story to tell. So, that is a lot of my days. It is a desk job. Obviously, we haven’t been traveling since March but I do get on the road probably once a month to different conferences or suppliers will have events, launching new products and it’s good to get their point of view on things because we’re so used to talking to the landscapers that it’s interesting to talk to a product manager or someone who’s making the mower or making the skid steer on what they view the industry as. Because they might not just be working with landscapers. They’re working with other industries to make their products. So, but being able to get in a group with business owners and landscape company owners, that’s always the best. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s great stuff. I really have always appreciated when I look at y’all’s magazine and the different stories y’all cover because you do a really unique job of highlighting just really unique challenges that the people in this industry face every day while also making sure there is somewhat of a news aspect of your magazine. You’re always putting out the newest equipment updates, the newest acquisition, And I’ve always appreciated it how there’s a pretty good balance with what y’all put out there is that you don’t just cover the stories but you also keep people up-to-date on what they need to know. 

Brian Horn:

Right. And we’ve been doing a lot of that with COVID. Our website in April had the highest amount of traffic ever. It was nuts. I mean we were—I shouldn’t say we were stunned but you still don’t expect to see it that instantly like when all the lockdowns started. It was like bam. And it’s reassuring to know that they came to us for the information. And I always say even when we get a complaint, they’re still reading and they’re still taking the time to point something out. So, it’s like great. I’m sorry we made that mistake or sorry you don’t agree with what we said. But still appreciate you writing in. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. In April, y’all like dedicated part of your website to like COVID news, correct? Like it was basically, if I remember correctly, it involved like all the different things that was going on in certain areas of the country, even showed light on maybe who had been named essential and who hadn’t, stuff like that. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah, that was topic number one for everyone. I think we still actually still have it on our site. We still have a little button for COVID news. It’s died down obviously a little bit. Because isn’t everything COVID news right now? 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah.

Brian Horn:

[inaudible 00:07:23] the state of the industry which I think we’re going to talk about in a little bit. I don’t think we even asked really too many specific COVID questions because it was just assumed that every question we asked, that’s going to play a factor into it. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, definitely. In April and May, it was like everything was centered around COVID. It was very specific with how you were responding in those moments and we saw at least on our end, I think there was a little fatigue at some point. 

Brian Horn:

Oh yeah. 

Ty Deemer:

With the questions, I was like all right, can we just go back to running our businesses? Like we’ve put the hand washing stations and we’ve made the policies in place. Like can we just go back to what we like? 

Brian Horn:

Yeah, we did I think four COVID specific surveys and by the fourth one, I felt like putting up—I think I even did—we put an apology in there, like sorry, we’re sending you this again but we’re just really trying to keep up on how businesses are being affected compared to when things started in March. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. Well, I know we talked before this episode and you kind of know what we’re going to dive into. But Lawn and Landscape every year puts out a state of the industry report. You’d recently just put out your 2020 report. And for maybe listeners in the audience that aren’t familiar with that and what we’re about to go through, I would love for you to provide a little background on kind of what the state of the industry report is, where are you pulling the information from for it and just kind of like give us the broad history of how long y’all been doing it and what it covers. 

Brian Horn:

Obviously, we’ve been doing it since I’ve been here and probably long before that. But we use a third party company and we send out a survey. We don’t do it ourselves because of the scope of it. But we send it out to our audience and basically just asking them what what’s going on. What is your revenue like? Are you going to grow next year? Are you confident? And we get usually between depending on the year 300 and 500 responses. Obviously, that’s a small portion of the industry but still for a survey, it’s a good turnout and I think it really does give some insight into what the state of the industry is. So, you just try to develop trends, you try to put compare it to last year, compare it to three years ago just to give the reader some insight into, it’s not always necessarily lessons in there. It’s more of like, oh, okay, my area is comparable to this or my area is not comparable to this or this is what’s going on nationally. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, I love the idea because it gives people the ability to just kind of benchmark themselves against the survey and even if that isn’t necessarily in a numerical sense but more of just like a oh, like you know what? I resonate with that idea or that trend and how people are feeling about the upcoming year. For those that are listening, in the show notes of this episode, you’ll be able to pull up the state of the industry report that Brian and I are kind of talking through right now. To kind of kick off our discussion on it, you started out with a few paragraphs that are titled cautious optimism and I would be curious to see why y’all went that route. Because at least in our space, the people we talk to every day, we’ve actually heard there’s a lot of nervousness at the beginning but a lot of people have come back to us and said actually 2020 has been great because all these people are sitting at home and that vacation they canceled, they’re using to work on their backyard. Did that resonate with y’all as you all got these responses or what was kind of the tone that you set with writing this? 

Brian Horn:

The reason why I went with that was because yes, landscapers were having record years. Even if they weren’t essential in the beginning, that didn’t last very long and as they opened up, the work was there, people were at home, residential, special. Commercials did get hit and it’s probably going to take a little bit for that to come back. Commercial companies were doing bare bones. They weren’t doing enhancements or anything like that. The cautious optimism was because it was like this is going great. When’s the shoe going to drop? When is it going to dry up? Did all this work coming in one bunch and then in March and April of next year, are people going to be out of work and not buying landscaping or people, if they do have a job working from home and commercial isn’t going to do anything? So, but no, to exactly what you said, we would check in since March/April/May and we would hear some like, oh, we broke even, we did okay, we had to go lean and then other companies said that it’s been their best year ever, they can’t believe it. There really is no one reason. There is that factor if people did stay home and notice their yard needed to clean up. But that can only really take you so far. I just think it is an essential business and you have to have healthy lawns and trees fall down and you got to have the trees picked up, the grass still grows. So, overall, this industry came out I think a lot better than that sort of nervousness there was in the first couple weeks of March. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s one of the biggest takeaways and I think you talked at the beginning of the episode of one of the things you’ve noticed over the years is that there’s a lot of people in the green industry that love what they do and they love just their jobs and their companies. I don’t think that was ever more true than the last six to eight months. Because not only were they looking at it as like I’ve always loved what I’ve done but they’ve looked at it and said, man, am I blessed to be a landscape owner or a lawn care company owner. 

Brian Horn:

One other good sign is there was a huge private equity in M&A action going on before all this happened. It stopped a little bit but there is still tons of interest in this industry. That did not really stop from the consultants that I’ve talked to and some of the companies. It’s still a great time to sell your company. Like this is the market to do it in. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. And some of the people we’ve been talking to, it’s almost like they’ve got good problems to have right now. Like the discussion isn’t like we need to sell more work. It’s more like are we even going to be able to complete the work we’ve already sold? Like did we take on too much? And that is a headache but it’s a better headache to have than the other side of things. 

Brian Horn:

And I think that and there was also that, I don’t this is funny, but there was the thought that with all the restaurants closing that the hospitality industry would open up this huge pool of workers and from what I’ve heard it did not. We just did our state of the industry webinar and two of the business owners actually did find, they found one each and they’re both great workers but it wasn’t this influx of talent that I think was assumed would happen. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s an interesting point because when we did some of our webinars early on, that was a topic that got brought up is there was talk about like optimism. I think a lot of owners thought man, maybe we’re going to be able to attract some more workers but we’ve kind of heard the same thing. The labor issue definitely seems like it’s here to stay. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. I’m sure there are companies that did go out of business and that just couldn’t make it or like I was talking about, maybe they were exhausted and this just shut the door on them. But there’s plenty of jobs out there. If running a company wasn’t for you, someone’s always looking for a middle manager or another executive or a foreman. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. That’s one of the more interesting conversations I’ve had on this podcast was a landscape company in Georgia that we talked to and to date the most important hire they brought in was an operations manager that came in from a different industry. He just sold him on how he could translate his prior experience into their business and it’s paid dividends in their company. The labor market’s so interesting because for those upper to middle management positions, yeah, I think a lot of these owners would love to bring in someone with industry experience. Because who wouldn’t? Like that’s a match made in heaven. But some of these people, like you mentioned, are having to realize I’ve got to get creative with how I go out and hire. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. And horticulture programs are getting sliced. Those are dying. You are going to have to go to other industries to find and also change that perception of people look at landscaping as a job. They don’t look at it as a career. And I think if you start exposing that to a 24, 25 year old who’s in sales or something, okay, come sell for my landscaping company, there’s plenty of work and there’s plenty of ways to move up the ladder. But one thing one of the contractors said during our state of the industry webinar was he’s doubling down on his market. He’s increasing it because if work does dry up and there is less work, he wants to be the most visible person in town to get that work. So, I thought that was an interesting take where you might lose some money but you’re still going to spend on marketing to get what’s out there. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, that’s a great point. That’s definitely something that we’ve seen some of the people we talked to really start embracing for the first time. A lot of people for a while there, you had to like pull their arm and leg just to have them create a website or a Facebook page and now they’re understanding especially in like really condensed markets like Atlanta, you’ve got to do those things because when someone Googles like landscape company near me, you’ve got to show up on that page. That’s how people are finding you. And the other way that we’ve heard a lot of people doing it is kind of more like grassroots marketing where you’re like making sure that you’re on pages like Nextdoor or like Moms of Atlanta Facebook group and making sure your current customers or potential customers are finding you there when someone goes in and asks hey, I need a tree care company, make sure that your name is known in those circles because a lot of people go to find their future lawn care or landscape company there. 

Brian Horn:

It really forced people to do things that they either wanted to do and didn’t have time to do or they were forced. One of the owners I was talking to said she could never get her foreman and her crews to drive directly to a job site. Well, now they had no choice because they were not going to meet at the office. And she said they’ve saved hundreds and hundreds of hours in the truck. Because it always drove her nuts at how much time was spent driving. So, now they had no choice. The foreman had to be organized, they had to figure out a way to do it and she says we’re never going back to the meeting like that. It’s just too valuable to go right to the job site. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s awesome. Well, let’s go into some of the numbers that is in the state of the industry report that y’all produced. The first kind of top-line question that you have in there is did your location turn a profit in 2019 and 87% of the people that responded to your survey said yes. I guess we could talk about that response in a few different ways. But off the top of your head, were you surprised by that? How did it compare to last year? What was the takeaway there? 

Brian Horn:

I think that number normally stays the same. I don’t have last year’s or a couple years ago pulled up. And sometimes I even question that number because I do find a healthy amount of times that a lot of landscapers don’t know their profit, don’t know if they’re making money and that’s coming from just talking to consultants who work with these companies and even companies that are not successful saying five years ago, I thought I was making a bunch of money and it turns out I wasn’t. Revenue was coming in but I was taking on every job thinking that was the thing you do when one of the lessons you have to learn is to say no to unprofitable jobs. Hard to do. Sometimes you need the cash, you need that revenue but when you step back and look at it, you’re really spinning your wheels if you’re not making profits. But 87%, I think that’s pretty been pretty normal in that range throughout the years.

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. You bring on a really good point of understanding your profit margin. One of our guests recently talked about that. And he’s a green industry consultant and what he talks about is like just preaching to his clients that you have to become almost like a data scientist about your business. Like you have to know everything or you’re just operating off of all these assumptions that you’ll look up one day and finally understand your numbers and be like, oh, no, I didn’t know anything. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. And again, it’s understandable because they aren’t business majors. They didn’t get into this because of finances and economics. They got into it because they love outdoors. And I’ve talked to companies that were four or five million dollars. These aren’t like small companies. These are huge companies that were not making the profit they should have been. They were sticking with jobs that weren’t making the money and one of the lessons that I’ve taken from it is that you just have to say no sometimes. If you if you estimate a job and it’s not at the profit margin you want it or they’re not willing to pay your price, then recommend them to somebody else and chances are in a year, they’ll probably call you again because you’re doing better work and you’ll get the job. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. And more than just like declining work that doesn’t work for you, really focusing on bidding work or looking for work that is profitable for you. So, it’s like really publicizing yourself as like the best like lawn care, chemical application company in your area because you know the profit on that’s good. Like we’re going to publicize that more. That’s one thing that we’ve heard successful companies doing well is really just owning what they can make money off of. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. I always tell the story, I was here about three years and we were going to hire a landscaper and my wife said, well, you work for landscaping magazine. Do it. I said, well, the one thing I know is you don’t hire the cheapest. You don’t take that one. So, we got three or four proposals and she goes, well, this one’s the best. We got the cheap one. Tree planted, never grew, died. The yard was shoddy. And I said, well, we got what we paid for. We went with the cheap one and we got that. So, the companies that are charging fair and not saying, we get into low ball competitors in the SOI. You have to start somewhere so I’m sure there are companies that do it on a budget that do a good job in hopes that in a couple years you can raise your prices. But for the most part, you do get what you pay for in this industry. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s kind of a good segue when we’re talking about knowing which services you can make profit off of, what to offer. In light of that, one of the questions you asked in your survey was which of the following services does your location currently offer. And as I’ve gotten to know people in the industry, one of the things that I’ve like realized over time is like there’s really two opposite ends of the spectrum. There’s the type of company that will show up to the house and say, hey, we pretty much do it all if it’s on the outside of your house. If it’s not like maybe decking or fencing, we’ll do it. And then you have your other companies that say, no, like we really specialize in this area. So, I’d be curious when people responded to that question of what services does your location offer, what was the breakdown there? How many checked all of the boxes and said we do it all? How is that factored into some of these responses? 

Brian Horn:

Yeah, you can never get into the mind of how someone’s answering it. We try to be as clear as possible on what is lawn care, what is design build, what is maintenance. So, I hope that their answer, I don’t think they’re checking off the boxes. The company we use does give a pretty methodical version or method I should say of getting the questions answered. But to your point, I’ve heard good arguments on both sides of those of we’re going to specialize in these three areas and that’s it. And I’ve heard of the ones that we’re going to do everything because if A and B start to suffer, C, D and E will help us maintain. Or the other argument is I’m not going to spread myself too thin and we can really focus on these two things and if it does suffer, it’s not going to suffer a lot because we’re paying a lot of attention to it and we will be the experts in those areas. But I think this year, lawn care was the most common, was 87% percent. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah. I’ve got it up. So, for those that are listening, if you want to know what services were offered the most broadly, lawn care came in at 88% of responders said that they offer a lawn care chemical application service. And then closely behind it though was landscape maintenance at 87%. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. That’s usually, yeah, here it is. Right. And then design builds after that and then tree care I think. 

Ty Deemer:

Yes, correct. Tree care came in at 63%. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. And those don’t really change all too often. Lawn care and maintenance sometimes flip-flop whereas maintenance is the most common but I think that lawn care is more of a skilled, you need more license to do that and stuff. So, I’m always surprised that lawn care is that high on the list. It is more profitable from what I understand compared to maintenance. You can definitely get higher profit margins on lawn care than you can mowing. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. And going back to kind of what you mentioned about the arguments on both sides of like the a la carte service offering or really focusing in, I don’t really think there’s a right or wrong answer. I think a lot of things go into it. One of them can just be the area you serve in. Like if you are the company in your area and competition isn’t as high, then why wouldn’t you offer everything because you are everything to everyone and if you’ve built that brand over time, that makes sense. But then in other cases, if you’re going into a really competitive market and even if it’s just offering one specific type of tree care service, maybe you need to really hone in on being the plant healthcare person in that area because there’s a ton of other tree care companies. It’s unique to everyone but it is interesting to see kind of the layout there across the board. 

Brian Horn:

And in 2008, I wasn’t at the magazine but the stories we hear is that design build took such a hit that people who really focused on design build had no choice. It was either go out of business or we need to start doing maintenance and irrigation and chemical applications to keep afloat. So, yeah, like you said, there’s really not a good answer. What works for you works for you. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. So, going kind of onto the next topic the state of the industry report covered, you asked the people you surveyed, how would you rate your concern with each of the following issues and their impact on your location’s business in the next three years. And the first one was obviously quality labor shortage. I don’t think we necessarily need to go into much more detail there. We’ve talked about that some. But the second and third are the economic recession in the presidential election. I’d be interested to see your take or when you were talking to some of these people on the webinar—when was the webinar run by the way? 

Brian Horn:

What was that? Couple weeks ago. 

Ty Deemer:

Okay. Was it pre-or post-election? 

Brian Horn:

It was post-election. 

Ty Deemer:

Okay. So, was the feeling towards like kind of what was to come still there based on the economic recession and the presidential election? Or what was your take on that being such a high rated issue? 

Brian Horn:

I think even before even with the election as it’s been, people were preparing for an economic recession. One thing also that I find is that a lot of the successful companies don’t really—what happens in politics doesn’t really affect them. They’re going to run their business the way they want to. Obviously, there might be policy changes that do affect them. But for the most part, the companies that have the attitude or we’re going to make the best out of what happens, those companies succeed. So, I wasn’t that surprised to see the recession brought up. The three panelists we had were planning for it anyways. I think it’s in the back of their mind anyways. You always want to plan for that rainy day. I don’t think they were doing anything especially different. You always want to have cash on hand and just be ready for that rainy day. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. The one right below that and this one was really interesting to me was lowball competitors coming in at 33% of people marked that they were worried about lowball competitors arising in their market. I’d be interested to see what you hear when you talk to people about that topic and how you really see successful lawn and landscape companies combat that issue. 

Brian Horn:

A lot of them just let them do their thing and they’re not going to lower their prices to compete with that. I think, as I said, you have to start somewhere. So, not all these lowball, I like to call them cost affordable contractors that they’re going to do it for half the price. Sometimes it’s going to be a bad job and the expensive company will get the call back. Maybe they do a great job and you’ve got a future business owner who’s going to hopefully learn that they need to price accordingly because it’s better for everyone. But definitely we did hear a lot of people getting laid off, out of work, they’ve got a mower ,maybe they rented one or invested in one, threw it in the truck and did lawns just on the side. A lot of people, we just started a November cover story, was a fireman who started landscaping on the side. He’s still a fireman but his company’s over a million dollars. So, you can do both. I tried to get the secret to his success. He just kept saying he doesn’t sleep a lot. So, like that’s not really great because you need some sleep. But it can be a successful side gig and if you learn to do it the right way, there’s nothing wrong with maybe in the beginning being a little cheaper to get some work. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. Well, before we kind of move on past the state of the industry report, I’d love to ask you as you were going through all the data from this year, was there anything that like you felt really stuck out that was unique about what you saw this year, anything that maybe you felt validated in after talking to some people or that you were caught off guard by? 

Brian Horn:

There wasn’t anything really that stood out. I think was last year, high fuel prices came in like top three and everyone we talked to just wasn’t concerned about it. So, I don’t know where this little pocket—or not that little, it was a pretty big pocket of people who are concerned about fuel prices. Obviously, that hasn’t been the case recently. Fuel has not been that expensive at least here in Ohio. So, but this year, no, it pretty much for as wacky of a year as it has been, we had talked to enough people that we knew when the numbers were going to come in, it wasn’t going to be all doom and gloom. There was a little bit of a lack of confidence but nothing that that I stood out to say, oh, it’s not looking good. I think overall we were prepared for the results that we saw. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. And with all the conversations we’ve all been having, I feel like you probably had a good a good feel after all the webinars and the conversations to be able to understand what was happening. So, thanks for diving into that. Again, for those that are listening, you can access the state of the industry report through the show notes or on the Lawn and Landscape website. 

Brian Horn:

It’s always in our October issue. So, if you just go to the magazine tab, bring it down to archives, you can get the whole thing there. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. And we didn’t even cover all the topics there. There’s a ton of good stuff that you can use to kind of just benchmark what you’re feeling versus what others in the industry said. For the last 10 minutes of our conversation, Brian, I’d love for us to just kind of go through the Lawn and Landscape tech report that y’all put out earlier this year. SingleOps was actually able to sponsor it and you all went through and really talked about how technology is really affecting the green industry and what companies are kind of going through the right approach. And I think the audience can kind of go through the numbers on their own time to really see how other companies are focusing on tech. But I would love for you to kind of highlight maybe one or two of the stories that you brought up in the report. Specifically, I thought the one with Janet Davoli from The Greenery was really super interesting. Really just talk about how you see successful companies tackle the issue or the opportunity of technology. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. Well, first, thanks to SingleOps for sponsoring that. We appreciate it. Technology goes back to labor. You can’t find the labor so you need to invest in software and technology to make yourself more efficient. That can replace the labor. It’s not removing positions. Those positions weren’t filled. So, you’re needing to find ways to do this and what we’ve always found is that if a landscaper does invest in software or invest in technology, they don’t have the time to really learn how to do it. They’re maybe using 20% of what that software is capable of or the software they bought isn’t a fit. And what I find it’s great in talking to the software companies is that they understand that. They’re not out to get everyone. They realize that this is our group that we’re going to help. If we have a customer that’s not a fit, then it’s not a fit. It’s not like they’re trying to grab every last landscaper. So, we just kept hearing over and over and over again technology, technology, technology. So, we even launched our Lawn and Landscape technology show in February of 2020. Got that in right before everything shut down. And it was great. There was such a buzz in the room. People were excited. It had never really been done before. The Janet story from The Greenery, I believe her title is Chief Technology Officer or something similar to that. And who would have known that was a title in this industry? And it turns out it is. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. Before you go on, that was my favorite part about the Lawn and Landscape tech conference because when we were going around, we had a booth there, our CEO Sean McCormick got to have a presentation there. It was great.But the most exciting part about it for me was getting introduced to like CTOs of green industry companies, tech advisors for green industry companies. And I’m sitting there, I was like, I didn’t even know that any of y’all invested in this role. And it was incredible and really encouraging too because a bunch of really bright people that were passionate about the green industry, love what they do but see the need or the ability that tech can have to improve their business. It was a really fun conference to go to. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. And we’re still working on announcing details for 2021. So, we can’t announce anything here. But Michael Mayberry who spoke and was on our advisory board, I had asked him how many CTOs do you know. And he said, well, one. Me. I don’t think that’s his exact title. But it’s like they are out there. There’s all sorts of companies and that also goes back to the private equity interest in this industry. As they’re investing money and you can hire a CTO, you can hire someone to manage your technology. It shouldn’t be something that three people do on the side. If you’re getting big enough and you’re serious about it, you’re going to need to hire someone to manage all that. And then after that, maybe they’re hiring someone to work under them and you’ve got a little department. But having someone to learn that software and to teach the software is so important because the owner buys it, uses 20% of it. Three or four years later, says, why am I wasting my money on this? Well, you’re not wasting your money on it. The software is good. You just have to take the time to learn it. And in their defense, they just don’t have time. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. And I think software too can be a really complicated or it feels like a complicated word to a lot of people. But technology isn’t just software. Some of it—I really enjoyed one of the articles in the tech report this year that really just talked about like search engine optimization and allowing your customers to pay for their services online, all of those things that are bringing the green industry kind of into the 21st century with technology and like really just meeting your customers where they’re at and that’s online these days. Like that’s where people do everything. And at least my take based off of the report is that y’all are hearing that a lot of companies are starting to embrace that. 

Brian Horn:

Isn’t that nuts? It’s 2020 and they’re just starting to embrace having a website? A lot of companies don’t have either an updated website, they don’t spend money on pictures, they just sort of go and throw some stock art on there and we’re good. But like you said, it’s not just software. There’s robotic mowing. There’s drones. Robomowers is something I was skeptical on a few years ago. I didn’t think it would have come here. Like it’s very popular in Europe. But it is. We are seeing more and more companies start to invest in this and again, goes back to the labor thing. You can’t find someone to sit on a mower. So, have the mower do it itself. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, there’s actually an Atlanta-based company that we’re pretty familiar with called Greenzie and that is what they do. They do automated robotic mowers and their entire marketing strategy’s behind what you just said. Like hey, labor’s short. here’s a piece of equipment that can take an aspect of the job site away from a labor source. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah, we’re going to be doing a virtual event, I think it’s December 15th where we have three, they provide the service of the mowing. Robin Autopilot’s one of them and TurfBot which is Jen Lemcke and Chris from Weed Man invested in this. And basically, if you are a design builder, even if you provide maintenance, if you’re interested in getting into robotic mowers, you work with them and they kind of set you up with the mowers. They don’t manufacture them but they will work with you to put them on the lawn and work with customers. So, it is becoming more popular and like I said, drones for design build, taking pictures and stuff like that. But back to what I was saying, the whole like it’s 2020 and we’re still figuring out hey, if we have a nice website and if we’re a little bit active on social media, we might get more customers. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. And not only can you get more customers with doing some of that stuff, it might be even easier to keep your current customers. People now, like we talk about it, like everyone expects everything to be like Amazon Prime. Everyone expects that every interaction is going to take a day or two at the most. Like they just want instant gratification with service providers. So, if you give someone the ability to pay their proposal online instead of mailing in a check, just make things easier for your customers and technology can really solve that for you. 

Brian Horn:

And also, like technology is great but I think there is still the mailing that does get customers’ attention. I mean how many emails do we get a day where it’s like delete, delete, delete, delete or you’re getting the ad on the side of the Facebook page where you’re just trained to ignore it. You don’t look at it. So, getting that piece of paper does also help. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. Especially when it’s creatively done. We talked to someone at the beginning of this season who talked about their direct mail strategy and it was basically like they don’t even spend that much money on it. But it’s just very timely and it speaks to more the solutions they’re offering to the homeowner instead of the services which like that in and of itself sounds pretty simple but it is. It’s because you sit there and you go, you know what? I’m not really selling you a lawn service. I’m selling you a free Saturday with your family or something like that. And there’s really easy ways when someone gets that in the mail to be like, oh, yeah, this is great. Like I’ll give you a call for a quote. 

Brian Horn:

I still hear that door-to-door works which shocks me because I don’t want, I’m not answering my door when people knock on it especially now. But even technology is involved then because they’ll go door-to door-but the person will have an iPad with them or they’ll be showing them something on there. That’s one thing I still can’t believe that contractors I’ve talked to said, yeah, we still get a fair amount of business from just going door-to-door. We’ll be in the neighborhood, treating a few lawns. We’ll knock on the neighbors’, say we’re doing so-and-so’s lawn over there and before you know it, we have four or five new customers. 

Ty Deemer:

Wow, that’s awesome. Yeah, that’s really unique. And I do kind of like the point you make there where it’s not either/or that technology can fully replace anything. It’s just it really can aid in what you were doing before. So, when you’re doing that door-to-door sales with a software, you could create a proposal right there and just say, hey, it’s in your inbox. Sign it, approve it whenever you want but it’s there before you even leave the doorstep. That’s really great. Well, we’re starting to wrap up our conversation here, Brian. For those that are listening, would really encourage you to go check out the Lawn and Landscape tech report they put together. It’s got some great stories and use cases of how other businesses are using technology but also, it just provides some raw data on how companies in the industry are using it. It’ll maybe give you some ideas of hey, maybe I could implement a technology solution to make my job easier or to kind of stay ahead of the competition. So, really impressed with what you all put together there. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. It’s one of our favorite things to do. We actually do a flip cover with it. It’s one of the rare times—for anyone who doesn’t know, you have the cover of Lawn and Landscape and the back cover is a whole technology report cover. Yeah, like I said, it’s one of my favorite things to do. I love seeing the numbers. I think this is the third year we’ve done it just because it is a niche but it’s just fascinating to see how this industry is finally figuring out that hey, we can grow this industry with investing in technology. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. So, Brian, I always like to wrap up every episode with kind of the exact same question and it’s pretty simple. It just asks kind of what comes next for you, what are you most excited about and what is Lawn and Landscape most excited about going into the rest of the year and 2021? 

Brian Horn:

I’m interested to see how the industry does do as we enter 2021. Is it going to continue to be a record year? And also, how are they adapting? We’ve heard of companies who added on cleaning services to clean areas for COVID. Is that going to take off? Did it start another vertical that this industry can really get into? So, yeah, and just seeing, like we talked about before we were recording, like let’s get back to normal hopefully here pretty soon. And like I mentioned before, our technology show, we should have details on that pretty soon. But really looking forward to being able to do that and hopefully in person again because like you said, it was just lots of energy, lots of buzz, just a lot of fun. And other than that, just getting the magazine out every month. We’re working on our December issue right now and hoping we can continue to educate the industry. 

Ty Deemer:

Yeah, absolutely. And I definitely think you’ve done that today. I love the chance to go through the state of the industry report with you and the tech report. For those that are listening, you can definitely access those through the show notes on our website. We’ll have links to both of those. But Brian, for those that are listening, maybe they’re familiar with Lawn and Landscape, maybe they aren’t. What are some ways they can start consuming all of the great stuff that y’all put out? 

Brian Horn:

Yeah. You can sign up for a print edition. People still love print. 92% percent of our readers still prefer it over the digital edition. We’ve got designers and writers who work real hard to make it look nice. So, Google LawnAndLandscape.com and sign up for a subscription. I believe you hit the magazine button. We’re on Twitter, Facebook, all the normal social media places. And like I said, LawnAndLandscape.com has all the articles. We post news, press releases there every day, any past reports we have are up there, we do some podcasts, videos. You name it, we do it. And I also just want to thank the industry because all we’re doing is pulling together what you’re telling us and we’re just giving it to everyone else. We’re talking to someone in Boston. We’re putting that story together and hopefully, someone in California can learn about it. That’s the way I’ve always looked at us is that we’re just a vehicle to get knowledge from point A to point B. 

Ty Deemer:

That’s great, Brian. Yeah. Really encourage anyone listening to have LawnAndLandscape.com save to your bookmark. Check in every once in a while. Ton of great stories. People with great lessons to learn on y’all’s website and just up-to-date news on the industry. But Brian, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today to go through those reports. I’m sure the audience got a ton of value out of it and I’m excited to see what Lawn and Landscape does over the next couple of months. 

Brian Horn:

Yeah, thanks for having me, Ty. And any other time you want to do this, I’m open. 

Ty Deemer:

Absolutely. Thanks, Brian. 

Brian Horn:

Thank you.

Conclusion:

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