Friday, December 30, 2005
To find out how the move is being seen in Erie, PA, go to www.GoErie.com. Type in "Snow-removal" in the search box. You will have to register (it's free) but, until we can get more info, this is a pretty good look at the situation. — Ron Hall
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Thursday, December 22, 2005
Then, on a city bus heading for a park and ride, I heard about a REAL Christmast party. Turns out the guy sitting in the seat behind me had a terminal case of cellphoneitis. By the time I stepped off the bus, a trip of about 20 minutes, I knew more about this guy than I did about some of my in-laws. In fact, everybody on the bus, which was about half full, found out more about this character than they really wanted to know.
But the good stuff involved his company's Christmas party, held that afternoon. As he told it, he and a group of co-workers chipped in a total of $210, which they offered to a colleague if he would eat a "a case" of chocolate, or as he described it, "about 90 little bottles of chocolate" that the office staff had received as a gift from a client.
It seems the chocolate lover got about two thirds through the case, or about 60 "little bottles of chocolate" before . . . well, you can guess the rest. It wasn't pretty, and I'm talking about the bus guy's description of the event.
What is it about Christmas parties that prompts us to do these things? — Ron Hall
Tuesday, December 20, 2005
But as a magazine editor, I'm in the service business so I've got to return the e-mails and the messages. It's not like I'm a government employee who can just let everything go to voicemail, haha.
I thought about this last week when I was trying to secure a Christmas "gift" for my dad, who had serious surgery this year and really doesn't need to spend his whole winter shoveling the driveway. I got a referral for a local landscape and snow removal company and called. Several times. I understand that this is the busy season for snow removal services and that many companies have a voicemail system for their calls.
But I never got a call back. I called three times, leaving detailed information and I never heard a peep. Now it's been longer than a week, and I'm really soured by the company's lack of a callback. Yes, I got a great referral and have heard nothing but good things about the techs, the pricing, and so on.
But if they never call me back, I'm not going to take the time to chase them down anymore. Next!
— Stephanie Ricca
Friday, December 16, 2005
Cops there say they generally don't enforce the law unless somebody complains. Complains?
Yea, that's the reason why I've gotten so many parking tickets over the years, a neighbor who doesn't have anything better to do than play traffic cop on our street. Hey pal, go play with your petunias.
What say we give these home service people a break. What else are they going to do with their trucks, drive them up into homeowners' yards?
Here's the link to the article. — Ron Hall
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
"Why would we admit someone into this environment when they're passing risk along to everyone else? Our view is we shouldn't and we won't," James Hagedorn, the company's chairman said in the AP news report. -- Ron Hall
Monday, December 12, 2005
This is the Web site of an ambitious project known as the Urban Landscape Ecology Program. It is the brainchild of Dr. Parwinder Grewal an entomologist and associate professor at The Ohio State University. He and a sizable number of colleagues (researchers, academics AND industry figures) are delving deeply into the role of lawn and landscape care in today's urban communities, and how it can be made sustainable. What you'll learn from this Web site will surprise you. — Ron Hall
Friday, December 09, 2005
Stopping in at my favorite local coffee stop before sunrise this morning, I asked the manager. a friendly young lady, if she was happy with the job her snowplow guy was doing. She says with a shrug: "Yea, he does a pretty good job." She says she gets to work just before 5 a.m. and he's usually there and pushing snow when she arrives.
Grateful for the restaurant's warmth and the hot black coffee in the bitterly cold predawn, I looked out over the empty lot, cleared of its snow, and count about 30 parking spaces. The restaurant sits on about a half acre of property, I'm guessing. The manager tells me her "snowplow guy" charges $50 every time he pushes out the lot.
On an adjacent property, another restaurant, I see a F-250 with a plow, but it's parked. What's surely a young lady dressed up like an Eskimo is pushing a broadcast spreader back and forth, lengthwise, across that lot. I suppose that she knows that she can attach a small spreader to the back of her pickup and save a lot of walking. But maybe she doesn't mind walking. And she doesn't seem to be in any hurry. It could be her last job of the morning, or her only job. Who knows? — Ron Hall
Thursday, December 08, 2005
That is the farthest east the voracious Asian insect had been found and puts it closer to Cleveland, where, like in many cities, ash trees are popular street trees."
Lorain County is just east of Cleveland's Cuyahoga County. Thousands of people commute between the counties every day. It wouldn't be difficult for the EAB to hitch a ride. Just when we were getting comfortable here, too. — Mike Seuffert
Monday, December 05, 2005
When the question arose as to whether it would be wise not to spray a wasp nest near a city park, a local official offered this alternative — take a watermelon about 50 feet away and smash it open. Then dump five pounds of sugar on it."
"The bugs'll come. You haven't killed a thing, but it solves your problem," he was quoted as saying in the news report. — Ron Hall
I already have my pet peeve figured out for the winter. Does that make me sound like a Grinch? Anyway, we recently had our first significant snow events here in Cleveland and I noticed this. In fact, I've noticed it every year but this is the first time I'm saying anything.
People, if you're going to clear off your front and back windshield, then for pete's sake, clean off the whole car!
You've seen these cars, trucks and vans out there, I know you have. The driver, in his hurry to get on the road, hastily scraped a hole to see out the front and another to see out the back, leaving a good six or more inches of powdery white stuff on the hood, on the bumpers and on the roof, making his car look like a doughnut. Then when I'm driving behind him and a good wind kicks up, as it is wont to do in winter, all that powdered sugar blows off onto my windshield and I'm blinded. Does he think his defroster is that good that it's going to melt snow on the roof?
Is this a teenytiny problem in the wider world of problems? Oh, definitely. But if you live in a snowy part of the country (and if snow and ice management is part of your business, then 'tis the season for you), try this: keep a cheap broom in your trunk or trailer. That's usually a good way to clean off the roof in one fell swoop (or at least brush it onto the next guy's parked car!)
Tuesday, November 29, 2005
Let's leave the teaching of science people educated and knowledgeable about science, which brings me to another concern.
I can tick off about a dozen families (friends, neighbors and acquaintances) that are "homeschooling" their children. I'm not saying its a bad thing, not by a longshot. In fact, you've got to hand it to moms and dads (usually more moms than dads) so committed to their offspring. But, I'm convinced that some of these people are making the wrong call. They're not qualified to teach. They have very little knowledge of basic science and they're intolerant of any idea that goes against their ingrained beliefs. They won't even consider or investigate alternative ideas.
It seems to me that they're not teaching their youngsters as much as they're indoctrinating them to some very personal ideas about today's world, some of it admittedly, proudly and loudly anti-science. --- Ron Hall
Wednesday, November 23, 2005
The compromise measure would have allowed spraying of pesticides up to a maximum of 20% of a property owner's lawn, with the amount reduced to 10% by 2010. It would have also required lawn application companies to register with the city, etc.
Cudos to council members in London. For once common sense rules.
Having spent the first third of my 30-plus years in journalism covering local, regional and state governments,I'm convinced that lawmakers(and most of them mean well, I'm sure)spend too much time telling homeowners and small business what they can and can't do within their respective jurisdictions.
Hey lawmakers, provide police and fire protection, make sure our roads are in good repair and that our water is safe and our sewage system is up to snuff. . .then let the free markets work. They will. --- Ron Hall
Tuesday, November 22, 2005
Did you hear about the landscaper out in Oregon who won a giant lottery last week? We're talking a national, multi-million dollar win here, and the man and his family appeared on "Good Morning America" last week to talk about it. They all had that glazed, "can't believe it's us!" look that all lottery winners seem to have. It's the attitude that comes after the super-excited state when they get photographed with a giant check, and before the panic stage sets in and all sorts of unknown "relatives" start calling looking for money.
Diane Sawyer asked the typical question: "Will you go to work tomorrow?" And you know what? He said yes. He talked about how much he liked his job, and how he wouldn't want to do anything else, and how he's really happy doing what he's doing.
How many of you would say the same thing? Sort of an interesting test, isn't it? Would you keep your job if you won the lottery? What would you do to make it better? Buy another company? Invest in the business you have?
I'll definitely keep my job when I win big money (note the "when," not the "if"). I like it even better now that Landscape Management has picked up and moved to downtown Cleveland from the suburbs. Change is exciting.
-- Stephanie Ricca
Monday, November 21, 2005
One of the owners told us the incident taught him two lessons — he’ll fence in his company yard and he’ll install GPS systems on his trucks. Besides helping with routing, the GPS will make trucks easier to locate if they’re stolen, police told him.
The thieves drove a stolen van to the first location; it was still running when our landscape friend showed up just before daybreak. He wondered, “What in the heck is that van doing in our lot?” When he looked around he found two company pickups missing. The window of a third had been smashed.
It didn't take police long to recover one of the stolen trucks and arrest its driver. He was pulling a trailer with a backhoe on it, reportedly stolen from another site. The officer stopped the driver because the trailer lights weren’t working. When questioned by police, the driver claimed he “just found” the truck and backhoe.
Another favorite haunt of equipment thieves are regional landscape field days and trade shows. We’ve heard several discouraging stories about equipment, usually on trailers, being spirited away, sometimes in broad daylight. The thieves keep track of the events. They cruise the streets around a convention center or field day looking for trailers that they can hook onto their vehicles and drive away. Hotel and motel parking lots offer no security from these buzzards. — Ron Hall
Wednesday, November 16, 2005
After months and months of seeming far far away, the dreaded day is finally here: Moving Day.
LM's parent company, Questex Media Group, is moving out of our ancestral home at the Middleburg Heights headquarters of Advanstar Communications. On Monday, we're moving to newly refurbished offices smack in the middle of downtown Cleveland.
<--- My boss, Ron Hall, still trying to be productive in his torn up cubicle.
I walked in the door of Advanstar Communications in September 1993. Ever since, I've worked in one editorial capacity or another for nearly a dozen different B2B magazines. And since 2001, I've been Web Editor for Landscape Management, which became part of the new Questex Media Group last May.
I hadn't realized how poignant this moment of parting would be. Certainly I'm excited about moving to our new offices in downtown Cleveland. But I also find myself flooded with memories of "les temps perdu" -- bygone times.
-- The crazy Italian chef that ran the cafeteria my first year here.
-- The yearly arrival in spring of those fluffy but messy Canadian goslings.
-- The fleeting glimpses of small herds of deer flitting through the woods behind our headquarters campus.
-- My favorite lunch haunts, especially Nam Wah, a humble Vietnamese/Chinese restaurant with great food and bad decor.
-- The dozens and dozens of colleagues and dear friends with whom I've spent so many of my waking hours.
Even Ron's wife, Vicky, has been pressed into service sorting through bins we haven't looked into for years! ----->
This move wakes me up to how life is just racing by and how lucky I am to be alive — right here, right now.
Even the season seems to echo the message. After a long slow burndown this fall, the trees have shed nearly every leaf in preparation for tonight's predicted deep frost.
But spring, my friends, is right around the corner.
^ TEAMWORK! My buddies Michael Seuffert, Stephanie Ricca and Ron Hall load up the moving boxes. We're outta here!!
— Lynne Brakeman
Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Oh sure, we no longer get calls pitching us a new credit card, a different telephone provider or lawn care service (actually we got very few of those to begin with since our yard is mostly garden), but the number of requests from colleges, children's funds, police and fire benevolent societies — you name it — is incredible.
You know how we can tell? Once the answering machine starts its familiar message — "Sorry, we can't take your call now, but please leave your name and number" — there is silence or the call (probably automated) is terminated.
Occasionally, in a second of forgetfulness I will pick up the phone and the caller launches into a scripted plea for money.
Hey, we give a fair bit of our resources for things that we care about and that we understand, but somehow we've gotten on a list and have been targeted as fair game by just about every type of "charitable" organization known to man.
At least in our household, the number of telephone solicitations haven't decreased; they've actually increased. It almost makes me wish for the good old days before the Do Not Call list. At least the solicitations offered things that we understood. — Ron Hall
Monday, November 14, 2005
Tuesday, November 08, 2005
Almost two weeks ago the eye of Hurricane Wilma passed about 20 miles south of where I write this. This region is mostly cleanup and repair mode, and not rebuild or relocate like it is in places wiped out by Hurricane Katrina. Had Wilma made landfall here or north of here, the story would have been different, the damage much greater. But it didn't.
Contracted labor is crawling all over the place. Nobody is leaning on a shovel. Everybody's working. Everybody's getting top dollar for their services, a good friend tells me. This is "gravy work," he says.
Signs posted along just about every off ramp of I-75 warn that providing contracted services without a state license is a felony. I can't speak to the other trades, such as roofers, etc., but I didn't see any landscape trucks or trailers that weren't local.
-- Ron Hall
Monday, November 07, 2005
Looking back at the Green Industry Expo (GIE) that finished up Saturday evening it's difficult for me to describe its success. Even after 21 years in the business it's tough for me to give these types of events a final grade; everybody shows up with different expectations and leaves with different experiences.
Judging by the numbers of attendees at the GIE at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, it was successful. The unofficial number I heard was 5800, including exhibitors.
Most of the buzz came from landscape contractors. One of the staffers told me that each of the three morning "Breakfast of Champions" drew 900 attendees. That sounds about right. Sprint with the herd into the huge breakfast room or you risked not getting a seat at a table that dealt with the topic you wanted to discuss.
Also, the educational sessions that I attended were lively and most of the seats were filled.
Every year it seems that fewer of the attendees use the GIE as an excuse to mix business with vacation. Most are there strictly for business and to network. Probably the biggest reason for that the GIE is so early in November that just about everybody is still working to finish as much work as they can by the end of the season. They know the revenue they can gather now until year's end will make a huge difference in next spring's cash flow picture or how much they can reinvest in their companies.
But there was the usual amount of whining, mostly about the distance between the PLANET headquarters hotel, the Renaissance, and the massive Orange County Convention Center. Some folks found it difficult to get back and forth. Some of the events were at the convention center, some at the Renaissance and some at the Rosen Centre Hotel.
The '05 GIE is over. I'm taking a few days off and seeing some of the damage done by Hurricane Wilma here in south Florida. Palm fronds and oak limbs, broken plastic lawn furniture, piles of pink ceiling insulation and a surprising number of destroyed barbeque grills litter the tree lawns.The steeple that graced the top of the church down the block is a big heap in the adjacent parking lot.
But compared to what Katrina did, the folks here consider themselves some of the luckiest people in the world. Walking the neighborhoods and seeing the size of the homes, the beautifully manicured landscapes and new luxury or sports cars in their driveways, I say amen to that.
— Ron Hall
It started with the opening speaker, corporate comedian Greg Schwem, who poked fun at the industry, in a nice way of course, and reminded everyone to take a step back and laugh at yourselves and your jobs every once in a while.
The humor continued in one of the educational sessions I attended. The presentation by Rick Segel of Rick Segel Associates was called “How to Differentiate Your Business…Techniques to Stand Out in a Crowded Marketplace.” I just knew there was something funny about this Rick Segel character. He looked and sounded like a gruff, tough, no-nonsense New Yorker. So it was funny to find out that he makes his living running a dress shop. (He’s also written several books, including "Laugh and Get Rich" and the "Retail Business Kit for Dummies.") Segel said the most important thing in business is to make your customer feel important, and one of the best ways to do that is through humor. (For example, he listed some of his favorite titles he has seen on business cards including Head Honcho, Brains of the Operation, Bone Counter (it was for a dog biscuit manufacturer) and VP of Non-Productive Services. These are titles that people remember, and help customers remember you.)
And finally, though we were all there to do business, there was plenty of laughing on the show floor as new relationships were forged, and old friendships rekindled, showing once again that the greatest asset of these shows are the people.
Still, I didn’t find it that funny when the fire alarm went off in my hotel room at 3:30 a.m. and ended up standing outside for an hour on Thursday when I had to get up for a 7 a.m. breakfast, but maybe in a few weeks when I look back on it, I may laugh.
— Mike Seuffert
Friday, November 04, 2005
People told me to arrive by 6:30 if I wanted to get a good table for the 7 a.m. breakfast. Huh? So I was a little late at 6:45 and by then it was a zoo.
And now I know why. This was a fantastic opportunity for participants to knock ideas around, ask questions and even commiserate. My table focused on strategic planning and we had participants from landscape, design/build, construction and lawn care companies big and small chatting about how to make a plan, when to make it, who to put in charge of the plan, etc. etc. Nobody held back.
Sure, it's easy to share ideas with people from across the country who you'll never compete with, but why not put this planning idea to work within your company? Set up a time to meet over a meal with a set topic in mind (could be strategic planning, could be route management, could be purchasing, anything) and just throw ideas around. I'd like to try it at our company too, so watch out Ron and Mike!
The first GIE was in downtown Nashville, TN. It had a decidedly "lawn care" flavor as PLCAA, the former Professional Lawn Care Association of America, had expanded rapidly in the 1980s and had established a trade show that, for all practical purposes, became the precursor to the GIE.
But PLCAA is gone (having merged with the Associated Landscape Contractors of America, ALCA, to form a new organization known as PLANET this year) and the personality of the GIE has changed. Each year "iron" becomes a bigger part of the GIE because of the growth of contract mowing and landscape installs and builds these past 10-15 years.
The leadership of PLANET is making every effort to recognize and serve its professional applicator company members, and has several lawn care pros on its board. But only time will tell how well this is accomplished. PLANET is not even a year old, after all, and is in the process of building a new identity.
What PLANET's new identity will be may be short-lived if it eventually merges with The American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA). It's a possibility although both groups are still in the "due diligance" phase and the PLANET folks insist that, at best, it couldn't happen prior to 2007.
Change, change, change.
For me anyway, it felt kind of weird not kicking off the GIE with the annual PLCAA Business Meeting and Awards Dinner. Sometimes it got a little bit raucous and a wee bit out of hand . . . but that's what made it so fun.
— Ron Hall
Sunday, October 30, 2005
About 9 p.m. last night, driving north on Ohio-4 after helping my daughter, Amy, and her husband, Ryan, move into their first home, I almost bought the farm, meaning it was almost the end of Renaldo (me). Fortunately I was driving the speed limit, 55 mph, on the two-lane road, Because there was no approaching traffic, I had my brights on. And I thank my lucky stars that I was paying attention to the road.
Out of the corner of my eye, ahead and on the east side of the road, I thought I saw something move. Instinctively I slowed my Chevy Blazer. Then I saw it, a huge buck with a big rack on his head. As I came fishtailing to what I hoped would be a stop I kept my eyes locked on him. Would he jump in front of me or not? My mind was clicking like an old IBM computer — hit the horn, stand on the brakes, brace myself for the collision.
Yep, he didn't disappoint. He bounded across the road literally over the front bumper of my Blazer. If I hadn't been paying attention me and Mr. Buck would have had a nasty, nasty meeting.
Folks, there are an estimated 500,000 car-deer collisions annually. They claim more than 100 lives each year. Most occur from October to December when deer are mating.
Friends, keep your hands on the wheel, your eyes on the road; whether you're driving your car or a service vehicle. Deer are most active at dawn and at twilight during October, November and early December.
Driving is the most dangerous thing you do every day and deer jumping onto highways makes it even more dangerous.
Wednesday, October 26, 2005
The people that have been attacking the Canadian lawn care industry are well funded, organized and motivated. You can bet they'll be beating the anti-pesticide drum loader and loader. U.S. lawn care, get ready. Agriculture, get ready. Here they come. — Ron Hall
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Monday, October 24, 2005
That's the question.
When David Zerfoss of Husqvarna told a group of editors at an OPEI EXPO event that they could get what they wanted if they wrote it down and posted it in a location that they would see every day, my first thoughts were of world peace, a Cleveland Browns Super Bowl victory . . . then I realized that it should be a dream that, in theory anyway, is attainable — tango dancing.
As a result of that fateful press conference hosted by Zerfoss, my wife, Vicky, and I, enrolled in a dancing class. So far, so good. David's one of those guys that lifts your spirits. Who doesn't want be around a guy like that? — Ron Hall
Friday, October 21, 2005
Often there will be several other people standing outside gabbing with phones to their ears, too. Strangers, we don't converse. The sun can be shining or we can be standing in the rain or snow; doesn't matter. It's like we're addicted our tiny phones.
It always reminds me of those folks standing and smoking singly or in small groups in designated areas outside of buildings. When visitors or co-workers come out and pass them by, they give them a look like — poor thing.
I'm starting to draw the same kinds of looks standing out in the rain with my cell phone to my ear. — Ron Hall
Wednesday, October 19, 2005
Those of you who have been to big trade shows like EXPO and GIE know what it's all about: The maze of booths inside, mowers and power equipment cranking up dirt and dust outside. This year was my first EXPO and yes, it was cool. It's a well-organized show. Informational sessions for us press people filled up a good part of the days, but I did get some good chances to hang around outside.
That's where the real fun was. Echo sponsored a carving competition, the final leg of its series pitting champion carvers against one another. This was something I had never seen before. These guys, some young, some not-so-young, do this full time, traveling around and creating masterpieces out of single blocks of wood. They don't know what kind of wood it will be, what imperfections it might have, and heck--they don't even sketch their designs out beforehand! Forty-eight hours after they started, they had works of art ready for auction.
And let me take just a moment here to bow down humbly before my editor, Ron Hall. Why, you ask? Ron was the fearless leader of Team Landscape Management, the raggedy bunch of us at EXPO who agreed to participate in the Ferris Run With the Winners 5K to benefit a local children's charity. Needless to say, Ron left the rest of us in the dust. We're considering a re-match at GIE.
— Stephanie Ricca
Monday, October 17, 2005
After Fred's presentation, as we were chatting, he told me something that his company does that you guys/gals can do and do it yet this fall, and you'll keep these residential customers for as long as you want them.
This is something that most customers seem to love.
If they have planting beds, give your crew guys a bag full of colorful early spring blooming bulbs and instruct them to find a nice little corner tucked away in the bed and, without the customer knowing it, plant the bulbs.
On the next invoice tell the client that they can expect a colorful surprise this coming spring — a secret bulb garden.
Hey, I know we're all busting our humps with production . . . but do customers care how hard or fast you're working? Heck no. All they care about is what you're doing for them. Do a little bit more. Be a little bit different. Join the profit club. And, think about it, wouldn't that be different from a lot of your competitors, too?
Sunday, October 16, 2005
Hey, why not? A couple of things are coming together to make that a possibility.
This year the GIE falls just two weeks after the Outdoor Power Equipment Insitutute's EXPO, meaning that a lot of the same suppliers who were exhibiting in Louisville, famous for its huge 2 1/2-day outdoor demo, have to pack up and hightail it to another major trade show, which this year is in Orlando. Obviously, they would love just going to one bigger show.
Also, the GIE has, for all practical purposes, outgrown some of its traditional venues. It requires too much exhibitor space to return to, say, Baltimore or Nashville. This year, for the first time, it will be at the huge Orange County Convention Center near Mickey Mouseland, next year in Columbus, OH, then in 2007 in Indianapolis. PLANET does not have a location, nor has it signed a contract for 2008, we've been told.
This is the 23rd year for the EXPO and the 15th for the GIE. The EXPO is rooted (no pun intended) at the rennovated Louisville Convention Center, the outdoor demo area just outside its doors. Its outdoor demo is much larger than the one at GIE. It has hundreds of mowers, utility vehicles, diggers, pusher, trimmers — you name it. The Louisville convention folks will do just about anything to keep the EXPO there.
The GIE has, historically, circled around five or six cities, in all but one occassion, east of the Mississippi River. So the question arises — assuming EXPO and GIE agree to merge, would the show stay in Kentucky or move to other locations? Remember, you would need a time and location that would continue to allow outdoor demos.
Keeping track of what's going on with PLANET is one fulltime job. It was formed from the merger of the Associated Landscape Contractors Association and the Professional Lawn Care Association of America just one year ago, and is also in discussions with the American Nursery and Landscape Association about a possible merger. The ANLA, of course, represents the "green side" of the business, the plant side, and has a very strong presence in Washington D.C.
Hold on folks, all kinds of things are happening and changing so fast you almost need a program. We'll keep you posted.
Tuesday, October 11, 2005
I wonder about this everytime I read another newspaper article about some family's dog getting sick after supposedly ingesting lawn chemicals. Heck, my son's beagle, Sparky, which I often have to watch, will eat anything — I mean anything! In fact I'm amazed at some of the things he will eat. In any event, accounts of dogs getting sick after a lawn is fertilized are almost always anecdotal as was the case is a recent article in a particular New York community. The families blamed lawn fertilizer, but not even the veterinarians were willing to make that claim. Even so, the event made big news.
Why is it that the public gives little thought to businesses that sell products that kill more than 40,000 Americans and cause billions of dollars in health care costs each year but gets bent out of shape about of lawn care products?
Monday, October 10, 2005
a) remind of us of that terrible things happen and often happen in a hurry ("Earthquake rocks Pakistan, 30,000 feared dead") and/or
b) terrify us into a semi-perpetual catatonic state ("Experts fear bird flu pandemic")?
Most of us are still so shocked by the images and screwups surrounding Katrina that our human empathy meters are waggling somewhere below where they should be, not to mention are charity. And the bird flu? That's still on the horizon; we'll wait and see what happens, although I'm not so sure that's a good idea.
What matters to most of us in the U.S. of A. (and this is where we get to the landscape angle) is our day-to-day well-being, i. e. our livlihoods. The announcement this past week that Delphi, the biggest automotive supplier in the world, filed for bankruptcy hit my neighborhood real hard. Our local Delphi plant is the third largest employer in the tri-county area. The plant opened in 1947 and for all the years since has paid its hourly workforce pretty nice wages and benefits. I know; I worked there for 10 months after my undergrad days and Delphi, in effect, paid for our first child, Amy. Had I stayed there instead of bolting for a $90-a-week job as a police beat reporter, I would be retired and drawing a generous GM pension (at least until Delphia can beat the UAW into submission) as are some of my friends. But, back to the main point of this post.
If Delphi is successful in getting the UAW to drastically rachet back workers' salaries and retirees' health care costs or, worse yet, close the local plant, it's going to hurt real bad. Gone will be about 1,100 local jobs that pay great salaries. That means that a lot of my friends and family are going to be cutting back big time. Meaning, I don't see a lot of growth or new opportunity for the landscape and lawn care companies in my neighborhood.
On a scale of human misery, this ranks way way below earthquakes, hurricanes and flu pandemics, but it's the news and, in this case, it's local.
Tuesday, October 04, 2005
Simple, explains, Bob Dolibois of the American Nursery & Landscape Association. In effect, they've become trapped here, he says. For decades there has been a huge flow of illegals crossing back and forth across the U.S./Mexican border. They sneak into the United States for work, then go back home, then sneak back again. Back and forth, back and forth. Now that the border has been buttoned up tighter than Anna Nicole Smith's sweater, they're fearful of going back to Mexico because they realize that it would be much harder to return to work here. Well, that's one explanation for what's going on, and it's sounds as likely as any others I've heard so far.
Some people argue that illegals are keeping wages artificially low and are soaking up social services that should go to our country's neediest; others argue that our economy must have them to keep expanding and that they're paying taxes and pumping money in Social Security, a benefit they'll never see.
From what I can see, without them we'd all be paying a lot more for a lot of the things we take for granted — things like the food we put on our tables.
I guess you could argue that if business owners offered higher wages they could attract more U.S. citizens to do the work that the illegals are doing. And even the work that the documented foreign workers do, for that matter. But if if employers are forced to pay higher wages (assuming they can find the U.S. workers to fill these jobs), I think it's reasonable to expect them to raise the prices of their products or services, too.
How many of us want to pay more for anything?
That's the bind that President George W. Bush finds himself in. He knows that the U.S. economy needs these workers, whether they're documented or not, to drive its consumer economy. But, the issue has become so politicized that, unlike President Ronald Reagan who pushed through what amounted to an anmesty for illegal workers in 1986, Bush is boxed into a corner.
Sunday, October 02, 2005
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Given how high gas prices are I doubt we’re going to see flying cars anytime soon. And engineers are still working out the kinks on the jet packs. But the latest in robot technology is here to make all of our lives easier. It’s the Electrolux Automower.
According to an article by the Bucks Free Press in the United Kingdom, “the Electrolux Automower which Electrolux says is a robotic lawnmower that fertilizes as it grazes. The Automower is designed to save time and make life easier. Once the boundaries of a lawn are set with a perimeter wire system, Automower can wander off on its own continuously munching away, rain or shine, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, recharging itself as needed. The short clippings from the Automower drop back into the lawn, helping to return moisture and nutrients to the grass.”
Still I can’t help but worry. Technology running amuck is a constant theme in many of my favorite Hollywood movies. The Terminator. The Matrix. I, Robot. (Well, I, Robot was OK, but not really a favorite.) In each of these movies, man’s downfall is caused by technology going too far, giving machines too much power, and allowing them to take over the world.
I can see it now. The robot lawnmowers conspiring against us. First your lawn. Then the world.
So until we also have flying cars and jet packs, I’ll just hold off on the robot lawnmowers too, and leave the job up to the talented, human professionals in the Green Industry.
— Mike Seuffert
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
(Image: Ambrosia artemisiifolia. Source: Weed Science Society of America).
According to the Society for a Ragweed-Free Hungary (it really exists!), ragweed covers about 12% of the country. About one million Hungarians (a quarter of the population) are allergic to ragweed and the country spends about $170 million a year in pharmaceuticals and hospital visits to treat ragweed allergies.
Ragweed is a North American native, and invaded Central Europe during the first World War. In the late 1990s, as land was privatized, ragweed took off as an invasive weed and now the most infested countries are Hungary, Croatia and parts of France and Italy.
Although Hungary even invested in a satellite imaging system to locate contaminated areas, some Hungarians say the new regulations will be ineffective because there will not be enough police around to provide enforcement during peak ragweed season. That's the traditional European vacation season.
According to a report published by Bloomberg, Budapest resident, Janos Soltesz, bought a goat in 1988 because the authorities were, even then, bugging him about the ragweed on his property. Now he has 48 goats -- who, nevertheless, still have plenty of ragweed to eat.
Apparently goats produce a biological antidote to the allergen that affects so many people. One witty Budapest observer observed that perhaps the government ought to look into ways to cross-breed immune goats with people.
"Sneezing Hungarians Battle Ragweed Plants With Mowers, Goats," Bloomberg.com, Aug. 19, 2005.
Virginia Tech's Weed ID Guide for Common Ragweed: Ambrosia artemisiifolia
"Ambrosia (Ragweed) in Europe," by Ondrej Rybncek, Siegfried Jäger, Allergy & Clinical Immunology International - Journal of the World Allergy Organization, March 2001.
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Monday, Sept. 19, Jerry Howard, CEO and Executive VP of the National Home Builders Association, and Dave Seiders, Chief Economist, discussed Katrina's effect on their members. It was enlightening.
In a nutshell, here are a few of the points they made:
1. Not only was a good portion of the Gulf Coast's housing stock destroyed in the storm, so was the region's homebuilding infrastructure. Most homebuilders in the affected region have been temporarily put out of business by Katrina.
2. Cement for rebuilding will be in tight supply, even tighter than before because the Port of New Orleans was the main port for imported cement.
3. Softwood-timber, a large portion of which is grown in the affected areas, will be abundant as damaged forests are cleared, but the long-term supply is uncertain since it will take growers years to replant and harvest again.
4. Plywood prices nationwide jumped dramatically on the heels of the disaster.
5. The NAHB will ask Congress to relax tariffs on Mexican cement, Brazilian plywood and Canadian-grown softwood.
6. If rebuilding follows the same path that other Hurricane-ravaged areas took it will happen in a slow, steady progression; it will take years and years; there will be no huge construction spike.
What's in store for the U.S. housing market nationawide post-Katrina? Seiders predicts a slight slowing of new home construction, at least through the remainder of 2005, but 2006 continues to look strong.
"I think the economy has enough forward momentum to get through this (Katrina) in fairly good shape," he said.
— Ron Hall
Monday, September 19, 2005
Friday, September 16, 2005
I was at a game the other night and around me people were asking, “How do they make those designs in the grass?” Designs range from checkerboards and stripes to an American Flag at Fenway Stadium and starburst at Comerica Park at this year's All Star game.
Those in the landscape business may already know all about lawn striping. But what interested me is how striping is catching on, not just at MLB ballparks, but at regular homes. I recently saw an article from a local paper, the Akron Beacon Journal, about it.
(I was also looking for a picture from the 2004 World Series with the intricately-designed Red Sox logo striped in the outfield. I actually couldn’t find a picture, but did find an article about the Red Sox field being completely renovated last off-season. It looks like the Sox wanted to cut down on their errors, and were blaming the field for their poor defense. Last year, they made 105 errors: 66 at home in Fenway Park and 39 on the road. Seems pretty convincing. But this season, with their new and improved field conditions, they have already made 103, the fifth worst in the majors. I’ll have to wait for the off-season and the Bill James Handbook to see how their errors broke down home vs. away. The point of this all is that it’s a poor player who blames his equipment, or in this case, the field. But I suppose there’s just no accounting for SS Edgar Renteria, who personally have committed 27, or about 1/4 of the team’s errors.)
In any case, I can’t wait until the playoffs. I just hope that I get to go down to Jacobs Field and see a big Chief Wahoo logo in the outfield grass come October.
— Mike Seuffert
Friday, September 09, 2005
It's Friday afternoon at 4:30 pm and boy am I draggin'! Three newsletter deadlines in four days. Whew!! Glad that's over.
But now I owe the company one more half hour (at least) of some kind of productivity and my mind is kind of like yesterday's wadded up newspaper.
When I get like this, there's one surefire way I know to reenergize my brain cells: looking at pansies. Preferably live pansies. But pictures of pansies will do in a pinch.
Pansies. I love 'em!
They're so simple, so plucky, so resilient. Here it is nearly mid-September and there's a couple of survivors from last March's planting still hanging on in my annual bed. They come in a practically infinite palette of colors. Most of them have got great names.
Here's my very favorite pansy: Imperial Antique (image courtesy David at Stecks Nursery and Landscaping; check out their beautiful Web site).
I know these antique guys are hard to over winter up here in northern Ohio. But this weekend I will probably go out searching for a greenhouse that will sell me some anyway.
One site I like to keep an eye on is the Ohio State University Extension's Floriculture OnLine. They regularly post the results of their pansy and viola cultivar trials. The 2004/2005 results are up there right now. The ranking tables include links to images of the cultivars they tested. Check out "Icy Blue Sorbet." I gotta get me somma these!!
So I hope you are encouraging your customers to spring for some pansies this fall. You'll be doing them a big big favor by fixing them up with these humble, cheerful companions.
— Lynne Brakeman
Tuesday, September 06, 2005
The temperature was 97 F. when we got off the plane — hey, it's a "dry heat" right? Even so, I don't have enough hair on the top of my head to keep my brain from boiling if I'm foolish enough to stand out in the sun.
The RISE Conference (Responsible Industry for a Sound Environment) is filled with all kinds of committee meetings and there looks like there might be a couple of interesting sessions, including one entitled "The Rachel Carson Syndrome" with guest speaker Alex Avery, director of research and education for the Center for Global Food Issues.
There's going to be some serious discussion about the environmental benefits of lawn care, too. This is timely in light of the anti-pesticide movement that seems to be getting stronger and stronger. I'll let you know what they say about that after the conference ends. (Sept. 9 update: "Silent Spring haunts the Green Industry").
Finally, some of the folks here are going golfing Thursday afternoon. There are many things that I don't do when the air temperature approaches 100 F. Golfing is just one of them.
— Ron Hall
Saturday, September 03, 2005
The neat part of yard sales, at least for me, is the socializing. Everybody has a story and most people are open and friendly at yard sales.
This morning I met Jim. He's 65. He mows lawns in his retirement but he calls himself a "handyman." Anyway, he's a nice guy and he says he charges $18 an hour. If the mowing doesn't take an hour, he does something else for the client, like washing a window or cleaning a gutter. He says he's so busy he has to turn away work. He says he keeps working to make enough money to pay the lot rent for his mobile home in Ft. Myers, FL, where he retreats in the winter.
There are a lot of "handymen" in our community. They do all kinds of services for their customers — from light construction to mowing to landscaping of one sort or another.
— Ron Hall
Friday, September 02, 2005
Like a junkie this past week, I've been addicted to every aspect of Hurricane Katrina's destruction. It seemed like I couldn't suck up enough of it, maybe because it seems so unreal. The human misery. The trash. Filthy water. Fire. All of it televised like some grossly out-of-control reality program. Each espisode seems more bizarre than the one before.
I hop on my ancient bicycle and thread my way through side streets to the local high school football field. Taking my place behind the sideline fence like one of the proud fathers there, I breath in the aroma of popcorn and icy hot and just let the colors and sounds surround me.
Stars fill the sky and the players, energized by the cool night air, compete with a ferocity that surprises me.
What a beautiful sight, that neatly lined grass playing field, and all my neighbors and friends filling the stands and enjoying themselves.
— Ron Hall
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
After getting mauled by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans' Superdome, the last refuge for more than 20,000 residents, now needs to be evacuated because of the unchecked flooding in the city (see "Governor: Everyone must leave New Orleans."). Check out this aerial view of the Superdome roof damage courtesy The Seattle Times and Getty Images.
While officials with the NFL and the New Orleans Saints fret about whether or not the damage will affect the teams' regular season home-opener against the New York Giants on Sept. 18, I can't help but think about the thousands of high school and college fields that may have been ruined by the hurricane. There's no way to quantify the value of safe and playable athletic fields to kids, parents, schools and communities. For one thing, kids who are playing in organized sports are not getting in trouble.
Right now, the federal and state emergency authorities are battling to take care of the people who are stranded in the emergency. So there's not much the rest of us can do except pray for the safety of the emergency workers and the residents.
But perhaps those of us who have dodged the natural disaster bullet this time can take thought now for what we might be able to offer after the emergency is over.
Do you belong to a state or regional landscaping or sports turf association that might organize a volunteer work day to help restore athletic fields? Can your company donate products or services to such an effort? If you hear of a project like this in the coming months, be sure and contact us so we can give it coverage in our e-mail newsletters, LM Week in Review and Athletic Turf News.
Monday, August 29, 2005
OK, I guess I'm the serious one on this editorial staff. Maybe that's because I think I've seen this scenario play out before. What I'm talking about is the cost of energy. My memory isn't so bad that I don't remember the '70s oil squeeze and the long lines at the gas pumps. We followed up that lovely few months with a stretch of some pretty horrific inflation. Folks, I don't want to sound like the voice of doom but the rising cost of energy (everything from the fuel that runs our cars and machinery to home heating oil and natural gas) is suggesting to me that we better keep our financial houses in order and our eyes open. When energy costs more, just about everything else is going to cost more.
Friday, August 26, 2005
My lawnmower died on me.
It was a slow and painful death for the old boy. Though reliable for many years, this summer he started to fall apart. Black, acrid smoke billowed from the engine, the wheels treads came apart, and the drive belt would pop off frequently. And once he got started, I couldn’t stop, because the engine would flood and I wasn’t sure when he would get back going again.
This became a problem because my dog likes to chase around the lawnmower, and though she never really gets that close (she just barks and growls at it from a distance) I’d occasionally have to stop before she put herself in front of my path.
This week, I gave the starter cord a yank and the engine gave a final wheeze before proclaiming, in lawnmower speak, “I give up. I’m done.” I tried to resuscitate him with a few more yanks of the starting cord, but it was clear he was gone. A small black cloud of smoke dissipating in the air symbolized his soul going to lawnmower heaven.
So now, just about one month after starting here at Landscape Management, I’m faced with a difficult decision, one that will put everything I’ve learned so far to the test. What lawnmower to buy?
Well, it’s not really that big of a deal. I have a pretty tiny yard. But what this decision makes me realize is how difficult it is for professionals in the mowing industry to pick which mower is right for them. I’ll spend maybe 15 minutes per week with the mower I buy, even less often in dry, hot summers like this one. But for professionals, they will spend 8-12 hours per day, 6-7 days per week on their mowers. The mowers they pick could help make or break their business.
Fortunately, in the September issue of Landscape Management, we will be looking at buying the right mower for your property. So in case anyone out there is facing a similar question to mine, although probably on a larger scale, this article should answer your questions. Keep an eye out for it.
As for me, I think I’ve figured out the best way to pick my mower. I’m going to bring my dog to the store with me. The one she barks at the most is the one I’ll buy.
Thursday, August 25, 2005
OK! Here's some real "news you can use."
Researchers at MIT have come up with The Cellular Squirrel (left). This cuddly looking squirrel is actually an Autonomous Interactive Intermediary (AII). It uses artificial intelligence to analyze your cell phone calls and alerts you by waving its arms, wagging its head and blinking its eyes. You can whisper to it to take a message, or you can talk to the caller by talking right to the squirrel.
No more embarrassing ringtones during client meetings! The squirrel is both cute and high-tech! Clients will see you as both warm and fuzzy and "wired."
The Cellular Squirrel was built by MIT researcher Stefan Marti for his dissertation. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like you can buy one on Amazon.com ... yet!
Tuesday, August 23, 2005
I was on a plane recently (big surprise there) and in one of the in-flight magazines I came across an article profiling a Texas- and California-based landscape architect named James Burnett. He recently designed an urban landscape for a new residential building development in Chicago called The Park at Lakeshore East. It's got dog parks, walking paths, water gardens, you name it. Urban landscaping intrigues me. At first I think about all the creative apartment dwellers in big cities like NYC that have developed ways to "landscape" their balconies and fire escapes, rigging together all sorts of pots to hang off the railing. Now all the major cities have caught on and come up with amazingly cool urban landscape plans for shopping avenues, public parks and new housing. The processes involved in truly progressive urban planning are interesting and it's great to see landscaping as part of those plans. I wonder how long it will take before urban landscaping is a necessity in every city, even the not-so-nice ones? I know it would make a big difference.
Sunday, August 21, 2005
I do a lot of driving and I also (like just about every other human on the planet) use a cell phone. Yep, I sometimes make or take calls on my cell phone when I'm driving . . . but not when I'm in traffic. It's dangerous, dangerous, dangerous. I know; I've had a couple of close calls and I've learned my lesson. Yet, every day I get some moron tailgating me on a busy highway and when he or she finally whizzes by me at 10 mph over the posted speed limit, as often as not they're yakking on a cell phone. Who can do two things well at the same time? The operative word here is "well". So when we're driving let's drive. And when we want to talk on the phone, and especially when we're in traffic, let's pull over and concentrate on that.
Friday, August 19, 2005