Saturday, January 28, 2006

Shaken not stirred

Where's the snow? Where's the ice?

All of us here in the Great Lakes are wondering . . . what's up with the weather?

While I'm not complaining about a January that averaged 12 F. above normal and, in my neighorhood, just a dusting or two of snow, if all my snow plow jobs were "by push" I might be thinking that next year I would be lining up some seasonal contracts, too. You know,the kind where you get paid a certain amount whether it snows or not. It's like snow plow insurance for property owners.

The only other people singing the blues in my neighborhood about this winter's unseasonably warm temperatures are the ice fishing guides. Their little shanties haven't moved from their yards.

I got to thinking about all of this this morning over coffee in my favorite Burger King when I saw a Chevy S-10 pulling a 16-foot Starcraft through the drive-thru. I can't recall ever seeing an open boat on Lake Erie in January before. Hope the three fishermen in that truck stay close to shore. That water is still mighty cold. — Ron Hall

Friday, January 27, 2006

Point and counterpoint

Took some time off this past week to do a little fishing in south Florida, visit a kid brother and attend the Sports Turf Managers Association Conference in Orlando. This is one cool group of guys and gals that don't get near enough credit for what they do. Money? Heck, most of them know they aren't going to make squat going into this gig. But they love what they do.

To the point, though.

Two of the educational sessiosn at the conference couldn't have presented the pesticide issue in more different lights. The first was by Chip Osborne. He's in charge of all the parks and city properties in Marblehead, MA, which prohibits the use of chemical pesticides. Osborne is a veteran horticulturist and he made no apologies as he layed out his "organic" program. There might have been 100 or so grounds managers in the audience.

The following day Erica Santella, Florida regional manager for TruGreen, gave an equally compelling presentation on the pesticide issue, this one focused on how grounds managers can communicate effectively with the press. Unfortunately, her presentation was going head to head with the long-anticipated roll out of the STMA's Synthetic Turf report, so she found herself presenting to just four people, myself included.

They say that "timing is everything." Maybe or maybe not. What a shame her presentation didn't follow Chip's. — Ron Hall

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Pretty is as pretty does

I just read a column in a Florida newspaper asking for entries in an "Ugliest Subdivision Contest." One of the criteria was that the subdivision had to have terrible landscaping. So I got to thinking about what constitutes terrible landscaping. Is it puny trees? No trees at all? Brown grass? No grass at all? Often I see new housing divisions (sometimes filled with million-dollar homes) that have no landscaping at all. They might have lawns, but zero trees. What's the reasoning there? Sure, once the owners move in they can hire professionals to plant color, and shrubs and install patios and pathways, but these neighborhoods never have trees, and the new owners rarely plant them, unless they're small ornamentals.

These places contrast sharply with the older neighborhoods in my area where century-old homes sit on tree-filled lots on wide streets that used to accomodate streetcars going downtown. These houses themselves are worth a lot less money-wise than the brand-new ones, but the total package is a lot more aesthetic in my opinion. Why? Because of the big trees and the natural landscaping. I'm sure many of those homeowners complain about roots from the old trees pushing up their lawns, and squirrels moving the foundation of the old house, but I can't help but thing they'd still prefer their lots to the brand-new neighborhoods with no landscaping. — Stephanie Ricca

Monday, January 09, 2006

Those wonderful, flashy LED billboards

A former boss once advised me — "Never try to solve a simple problem with a complicated solution." In that spirit I offer the following observations concerning landscape and lawn care advertising.

Most landscape and lawn service company owners know that getting new customers is a numbers game. Assuming the services they offer are comparable to the market, their prices are in line, etc., the amount of new business they acquire from year to year will depend on the number of qualified contacts they make and pursue. For lawn care in particular the time-tested way to attact new leads is through direct mail pieces, telephone solicitations and door hangers. Put out X number of messages and get Y number of responses and a somewhat predictable number of new customers. Simple, right?

But, some of us prefer the more creative (i.e. more complicated) solution to the advertising challenge, If you have an adventuresome side, consider flashing your message on one of the the new electronic billboards. These electronic marvels come in two flavors — roadside and mobile.

I saw my first LED roadside billboard a couple of weeks ago on Woodville Road in Toledo, Ohio. It's colorful, high-definition and eye-catching. It has the ability to change messages instantaneously, from what I understand, so it can fit the message to the season or time of day even.

But hey, that ain't nothing, as they say.

Some LED billboards installed along busy highways in the San Francisco Bay area can actually profile commuters. They pick up which radio stations people are listening to and then tailor an eyecatching message on the billboards to that particular demographic slice of America. Say, most of the commuters are listening to ESPN for the weekend's football happenings, then the billboards might flash advertising for a popular beer.

Another advertising option are traveling EDS billboards. These box trucks have LED messages on three sides of the box. Apparently, you buy advertising space on the truck and the driver then cruises busy highways with the bright LED message alerting everybody on that particular highway of your service. Or, the truck parked at a busy intersection or location and everybody that passes there gets a load of your message.

Sure, direct mail and door hangers work . . . but why rely upon the tried and true (even it is a bit worn about the edges) when you can strike off boldly in another direction? — Ron Hall

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Random Science, Non-Landscaping News

Here are a couple science stories I've been looking at this morning on the Web that probably will have no impact whatsoever on your life as a landscaper, but may be kind of interesting anyway.

Some whale species sing in different dialects depending on where they're from, a new study in the journal BioScience shows. Blue whales off the Pacific Northwest sound different than blue whales in the western Pacific Ocean, and these sound different than those living off Antarctica. And they all sound different than the blue whales living near Chile.

These findings could forever change the way we look at Star Trek IV.

In other news, researchers at a Missouri university have identified the largest known prime number.. The number that the team found is 9.1 million digits long. It is a Mersenne prime known as M30402457 — that's 2 to the 30,402,457th power minus 1.

"We're super excited," said Steven Boone, a chemistry professor. "We've been looking for such a number for a long time."

What's frightening is that I don't think he's kidding. I hope that the study was at least partially federally funded, so that I could have the pleasure of knowing that I particiated in some small way, and that my tax dollars are being used on such a worthy cause.

And I know you are all wondering, is there a global cooling problem on Pluto? Could it be the setting of The Day After Tomorrow II: Dennis Quaid in Space? Possibly, as Earth-bound astronomers taking Pluto's temperature have confirmed suspicions that the planet is colder than it should be. It's thought that the planet's lower temperature is the result of interactions between its icy surface and thin nitrogen atmosphere.

One scientist explained planets like Venus and Earth experience a natural greenhouse effect, where sunlight energy striking the surface is absorbed and used to heat the surface. On Pluto, the opposite happens. Pluto is a dynamic example of what we might call an anti-greenhouse effect, explained one scientist.

Maybe I shouldn't joke about these studies. Maybe they truly will have a practical application to our daily lives sometime within the next 2 to the 30,402,457th power minus 1 years. Then again, those scientists probably don't see what the big deal is when we have a new zero-turn mower or variety of grass seed. To each his own, I always say. Though I can't help but wonder what that phrase would sound like if I were a whale. — Mike Seuffert

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Companies getting tough on smoking

With the new year comes new resolutions. I suspect "Stop Smoking" tops a lot of lists.

Some of my local landscape friends are getting tough with their smoking policies. Or more correctly "no smoking" policies. They tell me that they've forbidden their employees to smoke on customers' properties. They say it looks bad to clients, and they feel that it leads to too many "smoke breaks" during the day.

One owner friends has even put little "no smoking" placards on the dashboards of his three company pickups. A former smoker himself, he says he now hates the smell of stale tobacco and got tired of seeing ashtrays filled with butts.

More employers, given the choice, are going to hire non-smokers over smokers, especially if they're footing most of their employees' health care costs.

It would be interesting to find out what percentage of landscape/lawn service company owners have policies on tobacco use on company time. We'll survey our readers and see what kind of response we get. — Ron Hall