Sunday, October 30, 2005

A dangerous seasonal hazard

If you're expecting to read about some issue related to landscape or grounds care in this blog, you can stop. If you want to read something that might save you from serious injury or even death read on.

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.

— Ron Hall

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Canada lawn care — a world of hurt

Lawmakers in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, were supposed to vote on a bylaw to ban the use of lawn care chemicals. There are more than 1 million people in metro Ottawa. I couldn't find the results of the vote online tonight but the lawn care folks that do business in and around the city (and just about everywhere else in Canada) can't be very happy with what's going on there. The latest tally shows more than 70 town and cities in Canada that have passed regulations that prohibit or severely restrict the use of lawn care chemicals, mostly aimed at professional applicators. These include some of Canada's biggest cities, such as Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax. Now I hear that Victoria, the provincial capital of British Columbia, is getting on the anti-lawn care band wagon.

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

So what's not to envy?

We got a news release the other day about a guy by the name of Steve Sandalis. Not only has his face and/or chiseled body appeared on more than 700 romance novels (and everyone thought Fabio was a big deal), but he also happens to be the lead designer and CEO of Mystic Water Gardens, a company based in Beverly Hills, CA, that builds fantastic water features. Talk about having it all. If this guy can't sell landscaping to the lady of the house, nobody can. First, do a google search of Steve Sandalis, then go to the Web site to see what I mean. — Ron Hall

Monday, October 24, 2005

Tango dancing, why not?

Can an aging editor, one with a scarcity of hair but still somewhat lively of step, learn the tango?

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

I've become a cell phone pariah

The job requires that I stay close to my computer and the Web, which means I spend a fair amount of time in libraries and coffee shops that have wireless connections. And, like just everybody else, I have a cell phone that's also a part of my work-a-day life. What I find amusing is cell phone etiquette (or lack of it). For example, whenever my cell phone goes off I immediately rush outside of wherever I am (coffee shop, library, etc.) because I don't want to annoy everybody else with my conversation. Besides, it's none of their business.

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

EXPO — wow!

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

Do this to delight special residential clients

Thanks Mr. Fred Haskett, who along with his lovely wife Kelly, operate a U.S. Lawns franchise in St. Louis. He was the speaker we (Landscape Management magazine) sponsored at this year's OPEI Expo in Louisville, He told about 90 landscape owners why it's important to build an annual budget and what it can do for them . . .make them more money. You did a great job Fred.

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?

Hasta luego.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

One giganto fall trade show?

The buzz at this year's OPEI EXPO in Louisville centers around the possibility of combining it with the Green Industry Expo (GIE), the trade show put on by the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) and the Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS). In other words, there would be one fall trade show for the landscape/grounds industry instead of two.

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

The real killers

There's a new "smoke shop" on the main street of of our town. I walk or drive by it every day. It's a busy place. People are popping in and out of it at all hours of the day and night. As a former smoker I know the addictive power of cigarettes; I know it real well. But I realize that it's a terrible thing. I know that it kills tens of thousands of Americans every year. Everybody knows that. Even so, people accept the "smoke shop" as just another business. How often do you see a letter to the local newspaper complaining of a business who sells a product that's a proven killer? How often has your local newspaper written about the real and documented human suffering resulting from cigarettes?

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?

— Ron Hall

Monday, October 10, 2005

The news? Hey, I'm still numb from before

The headlines today trumpet the catastrophic and potentially catastrophic, the effect of it is to:

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.

— Ron Hall

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

So many illegals, so few options

How many people are living and working in the United States without authorization, so-called illegals? I've heard somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-12 million. How'd this ever happen?

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.

— Ron Hall

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Gas at $3 a gallon . . . who cares?

A beautiful weekend here along the south shore of the great big pond we call Lake Erie and everybody is movin' and groovin'. The roads are full of traffic and the lake is full of boats — sailboats (it's the weekend of the local annual Snow Flurries Regatta) and power boats of all sizes and shapes. Hey, the yellow perch are biting like crazy and the bars are still open at Put-in-Bay. Gasoline at $2.94 a gallon and marine fuel at $3.40 a gallon. Who cares? I can't see that anybody has cut back on their driving or their recreation. People are still cranking down the road in their Navigators and F250s, and enjoying life. Makes me wonder what price fuel will have to climb to before we change our fuel use habits. We're spoiled. We've always had cheap energy but those days appear to be over. It makes me think back a decade or so ago when Dr. Jim Beard was on the speaking circuit and predicting that the two biggest economic challenges we'd face in the future would be energy and water. The goodly Dr. Beard, as usual, was one step ahead of the rest of us.

— Ron Hall