Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Trade Shows — what's the future hold?

You have to wonder about the continued health of trade shows. That’s not to suggest they’re going away soon, not the big ones anyway. These shows have strong educational and professional accreditation components planned around them.

But in these uncertain economic times, and with consumers (including business people attending trade shows) scrutinizing the need for every purchase (including travel), it stands to reason suppliers are looking hard and long about the level of their participation in trade shows — indeed if some of the shows they formerly supported continue to make economic sense to them, at all.

This trend isn’t new. The merging of the PLANET Green Industry Expo with the OPEI EXPO several years ago was a good example of what will likely become an accelerating trend, especially if this economy doesn't start brightening. And soon. You can’t blame manufacturers and suppliers for putting their resources where they feel they get the best return. Moving equipment and materials from place to place, and staffing show booths with grinning reps is expensive.

And there's another factor at work. It's changing the way many of us get our information.

The emergence of online networking and communication gives experts and educators an avenue to present information inexpensively and with relative ease via webinars and online video. It's no longer so necessary for folks to hop on a plane and sit in a classroom at a conference to get information. Why travel halfway across the country to learn about the latest advances in weed controls or see the newest mowers, when you can get the information in your den?

Yes, trade shows and conferences are still vital for people to kick tires, get face-to-face, make deals and trade ideas. Nothing can replace that.

And having attended my share of them over the years, I sincerely hope that they remain a part of everybody’s program. . . But as Dylan sang — “The times, they are a changin’.”

(What got me thinking about this was an enewsletter from the United Kingdom that I received this morning. It reported that in spite of equipment manufacturers Toro, John Deere and Jacobsen Ransomes not exhibiting in the Jan. 20-22 trade show known as BTME (Harrogate Week), the show had a lot of “buzz.” Was the publication just being polite?) — Ron Hall

Monday, January 26, 2009

Atlanta-area landscaper can pick'em up and put'em down

I’m familiar with Roswell, GA, and I know several people that live and work there in the landscape business, but I don’t know 37-year-old landscaper David Rindt. But, even if I did know him, I’m sure I couldn’t keep up with him. This guy can run.

I read in the Huntsville, AL, Times where he out-raced a field of 275 other runners in the 15th Annual Mountain Mist 50K Trail Run this past weekend. Yes, that’s 50K as in 31 miles of running. The race was run over trails in Monte Sano State Park and the Huntsville Land Trust. Rindt did the 31 miles in 4 hours, 7 minutes and 5 seconds. Actually, the time was almost certainly slower than he would have liked, since he and the other competitors found the going slick on the trail because of a light rain that morning, the newspaper reported.

Curious, I Googled “David Rindt” and found a University of Georgia e-yearbook mention of Rindt with a grainy 1993 picture of him and teammate Dan Tucker in full stride. “David’s hard work earned him the outstanding senior award,” said the e-yearbook. — Ron Hall

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Staffing your landscape company? 5 things you must ask

Mel Kleiman runs the Texas-based consulting business Kleiman/HR Exchange. I heard Mel speak at a Bayer “Healthy Lawns, Healthy Business” seminar a couple of years back. I was impressed with Mel, an energetic and entertaining presenter, and with his suggestions for hiring new employees. He laid out a plan. Having a plan is better than having no plan.

I kept asking myself, why didn’t I ask those same questions when I was interviewing applicants for a job in our company? As it turned out, I got lucky and hired a good editor and fellow employee, anyway. Yep, dumb luck. I admit it, just like in my selection of a wife almost 40 years ago. Sometimes things work out in spite of being clueless, right?

But, you can’t count on luck in the landscape business. Not now in this cutthroat environment you can’t. You don’t want to make mistakes in taking on new management or landscape field supervisory staff.

Consider asking applicants the following questions offered by Mel Kleiman (click on the headline to visit his Web site) for finding the best candidates to join your landscape company:

#1. "Tell me about your very first job." One key here is: "Don't watch the movie backward." It makes more sense when you watch it from the beginning. (There is also a lot of other great stuff you can learn from this question.)

#2. "How would you rank yourself on a scale of 1-10 as a [job title]?" This question, when used correctly, combines behavioral interviewing and situational interviewing into one question that is easy to learn and use.

#3. "Which work achievements or accomplishments to-date are you most proud of?" The number of achievements or accomplishments is not as important as the motivations that drove them. Capacity+Attitudes+Personality+Skills+ Achievements=Success.

#4. "Did your previous employer do a Performance Review?" If used correctly, this question will help confirm what has been learned and will also help you to get real, relevant references.

#5. "Do you have a question to ask me?" Faster than a speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive, this question will uncover those hidden motivators and drivers that help determine not only if the person can do the job, but if they will do it.

— Ron Hall

Monday, January 19, 2009

UK landscapers facing stiff challenges, too

If this is any comfort in this economic climate (and in the spirit of misery loves company), landscapers in UK are experiencing the same challenges as we are. A group of 15 landscapers met recently there, and Wyevale garden center trainer Neville Stein offered these 13 suggestions to keep them going:

• Overhaul your website – it needs to have great images and customer testimonials
• Stay in touch with customers, colleagues and industry experts

• Respond fast to every enquiry
• Word of mouth – astound customers with your service and they’ll talk about you

• Debtor ledger – keep on top of what people owe you, reduce your “debtor days” or the amount of time it takes for customers to pay you
• Negotiate discounts with suppliers for paying on time

• Internal cost cutting – examples are mobile phone contracts or vehicle costs

• Review your bank account

• Sell off assets you don’t use – eg a piece of kit you don’t need

• Set financial targets 

• Think about a five-year plan – it will help you stay focused

• Come up with a Unique Selling Proposition (USP) that sets you apart from other landscaping firms

• Get off the tools – it might only be for a couple of hours but use the time to think about your business and plan for the future

Source: (Click on the headline to keep track of what your colleagues in the UK are doing and to sign up for their weekly enewsletter.) — Ron Hall

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Monmouth University serious about going 'green'

WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ — College campuses are often venues for progressive ideas, and that’s certainly the case at Monmouth University as the school strives to enhance its environmental commitments through an agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The agreement, a memorandum of understanding signed Jan. 16 by university and EPA officials, outlines goals to improve the school’s energy, water and fuel use, waste disposal and landscaping.

“Monmouth University is already a leader among institutions of higher education regarding environmental commitments,” said EPA Regional Administrator Alan J. Steinberg. “This agreement with EPA will strengthen those commitments and identify areas in which the school can do even more to reduce its carbon footprint.”

"Monmouth University is proud to enhance its commitment to a greener, cleaner campus for all of its students, faculty and staff, as well as the surrounding community," said Monmouth University President Paul G. Gaffney II. "This agreement will yield results in the near term, but it also stands to help make Monmouth a better place to learn and live for the future."

Monmouth will join several of EPA’s voluntary programs, which provide trainings, online tools and technical support from EPA experts to program partners. Monmouth will report the progress of its goals to EPA every six months. Based on the reports, EPA will quantify the benefits of the school’s environmental efforts.

Through the agreement, Monmouth will enhance its commitments in the following areas:

· Clean energy: In 2005, Monmouth installed the largest solar power project at a university east of the Mississippi. Through EPA’s Green Power partnership, the school will explore options to increase the amount of green energy it uses.

· Energy efficiency: Monmouth has already taken steps to reduce energy usage across its campus, like installing energy efficient lighting in many buildings and dormitory roofs that absorb less heat. Through EPA’s ENERGY STAR partnership, which includes recommendations specifically for colleges and universities, Monmouth will reduce energy use across campus by an additional 10 percent.

· Water efficiency: Through EPA’s WaterSense program, Monmouth will install water-saving fixtures and appliances where possible. It will also educate students, faculty and staff about how to better conserve water. A WaterSense labeled fixture saves an estimated 11,000 gallons of water per year.

· Recycling and Waste Reduction: Monmouth already participates in EPA’s national Recycle Mania competition for colleges and universities, and it employs myriad recycling and waste reduction programs on its campuses. Through this agreement, Monmouth will join EPA’s WasteWise program, and will reduce waste, increase recycling, and utilize the program’s tools for streamlining material use and waste reduction.

· Cleaner vehicles and construction: Through EPA’s National Clean Diesel Campaign and Clean Construction USA program, Monmouth will learn how to further reduce emissions from vehicles and construction equipment on campus. The school will reduce idling from its fleet of vehicles and require the use of clean diesel-powered equipment at future campus construction projects.

· Landscaping: Monmouth will join EPA’s GreenScapes program, through which it will look to adopt more sustainable landscaping practices like reusing and recycling landscape waste, reusing industrial materials for landscaping, and planting drought resistant trees and plants.

· Composting: Monmouth will develop plans to compost campus food waste either on campus or at an off-site location.

EPA has established an agreement similar to those with Monmouth and Montclair State with St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., as well as with the New York Mets for the team’s new Citi Field stadium, the commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield and the Destiny USA mall project in Syracuse, N.Y.

Monmouth University, founded in 1933, is a private university and some 6,000 undergraduate and graduate students attend the school. Its Web site is

For more information on EPA’s voluntary programs like the ones incorporated in the Monmouth agreement, visit

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

7 tips for attracting more A-list clients

You know who your best clients are. They only complain when there’s a legitimate issue, they pay on time, they say good things about you to their associates. Your goal in these tough times is to find other customers just like them.

Heed these seven simple tips and you’ll land more of the kind of clients that will keep your company profitable and growing in these tough times.

1. Deliver a message that gets to the value of your services. Marketing is the process of educating people to desire the value that you and your company can deliver. Different clients have different perceptions of value; adjust your marketing message to fit the client.

2. Use a clear statement, usually just a sentence or two, which explains how your service will add to the client’s property and, by extension, their life. Keep this out front throughout your conservation with your client. You’re focusing on the benefits of your idea, design or service to your client.

3. Know when to shut up and listen. You can’t know what your clients want if you don’t listen to them. Beyond that, listening is the first (and often most important) indication that you give to clients that you really care about their needs. Ask questions, and then listen.

4. Emphasize the “warm & fuzzies”. You’re not just planting a deciduous tree, you’re giving your client shade in the summer
and a beautiful display of red and yellow leaves in the autumn. You’re not just going to mow and trim their property, you’re going to deliver a maintained property that pleases their spouse or makes their employer happy. People want to see, smell, hear and enjoy their landscapes. Describe to them what they will get.

5. Use good words. Use simple, descriptive and positive words. Avoid abstractions and professional jargon.

6. Empower the client to make the decision. It’s time to get down to business. Remember this phrase and use it: “What I’d like to do is walk you through our ideas on the project so we can show you how this design best achieves all the things you talked about. We then would like to hear your feedback and concerns, so we can move into the next phase of this project.” You’ve acknowledged the client’s role in helping you progress in the project. This simple act is acknowledging your respect for them and their authority, and they will be more likely to be open to what you have to say.

7. Yes, there will be disagreements. When disagreements arise align yourself with the client, not against him or her. Don’t let your ego over-ride your best interest. An argument will almost certainly destroy whatever goodwill you and your client had built to that point. — LM Staff

Friday, January 09, 2009

God look over the inauguration; we can fix the grass

WASHINGTON, D.C. —Most of us will be glued to our televisions midday Jan. 20, the third Tuesday this month, to watch Barack Obama take the oath of office as our nation’s 44th president here. The oath of office will be administered on the steps of the United States Capitol. At noon the president-elect becomes president.

Washington D.C. will be bursting at its seams with people, common folk (like most of us), dignitaries, the rich and famous, and power brokers from around the globe. Security will be incredible, as well it should be. The Associated Press reports that a recent internal intelligence assessment says the worldwide visibility of the inauguration and the historical significance of the swearing in of America’s first black president make the event a promising target to attacks. No specific threats were noted in the news article, but every precaution is being taken to secure the city against threats.

God be with our newly elected president.

More than a million people will be shoulder to shoulder on the National Mall. They will get a good view of the U.S. Capitol from the Mall, which is flanked on either side by the imposing row of museums comprising the Smithsonian Institution.

The Mall is one of my favorite places. I’ve been fortunate to have visited Washington D.C. and the Mall many times, my first trip being in the fall of 1964 on a high school senior class trip. About 40 classmates and me arrived there after an eight-hour, all-night bus ride from Ohio, and excitedly scrambled up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial that late-autumn morning. The picture of the mist rising off the pond and the crystalline, glasslike frost on the green grass as I looked toward the Capitol in the distance remains framed in my mind.

In subsequent trips to Washington D.C., I’ve walked and sometimes jogged the Mall’s 1.9 miles, both in the heat of mid-summer and when the snow is shin deep. The Mall and its surrounding environs are stunningly beautiful during and after a heavy snow.

I’ve visited the memorials — all of the memorials — under a blazing noon sun and also in solemn pre-dawn darkness. It’s during the quietest hours of the evening that the full emotion of the memorials emerges. They almost seem to whisper then.

I always leave Washington D.C. cognizant of the fact that I’ve walked on the streets and the pebbled paths of the Mall in the most powerful and politically important city in history. Not even Rome in its heyday commanded the world's attention to such a degree.

And I leave our Capital praying that our leaders — indeed leaders worldwide — cooperate and make wise decisions that advance peace and prosperity for all mankind.

I started this blog with the intention of pointing out the sorry shape of the Mall, in terms of the grass, in particular. Because of the heavy foot traffic, the National Park Service can’t keep grass there. By midsummer each year much of the Mall is a dustbowl. That's what visitors will be standing on during he inauguration. Those areas of the Mall still grassed will be trampled into oblivion by the end of the day. But, considering the magnitude of the challenges facing our society and our leaders, the grass at the Mall is not that big of a deal. We can fix that; of that I'm positive.

If you’re still interested in reading about the condition of the Mall and what needs to be done to fix it and spruce it up, click on the headline for an interesting article in the LA Times. — Ron Hall

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Unemployment picture could dim H2B expansion hopes

Proponents of the H2B seasonal guest worker program keep pushing for a Congressional fix that would expand the 66,000 visas now allotted to the program, giving U.S. companies access to more foreign-born laborers. Whether Congress, faced with much bigger issues, will revisit the Save Small Business issue is unknown. But there’s always hope. (Click on the headline to keep abreast of the issue.)

It’s almost certain U.S. businesses won’t need as many of these workers this season, considering the state of the economy. With unemployment approaching 7% in most parts of the country and expected to keep climbing, more U.S. citizens may start to look at a job operating a mower or laying paving blocks in a more favorable light.

Two experienced landscape company owners we’ve talked to this week — one in the Northeast and one in the Midwest — told us the same thing. Business was going along nicely until the fourth quarter last year. Then the bottom dropped out. Both said they ended up on the positive side of their 2008 projections and both said they’re confident they will remain profitable this year.

To that end, they’re taking aggressive steps to reduce overhead. This will probably mean reducing the number of their employees, laborers mostly. Sales people and account managers are safe. They’re too hard to replace.

If unemployment continues to rise, you’ll see increased pressure from anti-immigrant groups not to expand the H2B seasonal immigrant guest worker program. It will be harder and harder for legislators to ignore these voices. So, if your company needs these workers, partner up with Save Small Business and keep the pressure on your legislators. — Ron Hall