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5 Questions: Russ Jundt shares how he founded Conserva Irrigation

September 15, 2021 -  By
(Photo: Jake Mathre)

(Photo: Jake Mathre)

Russ Jundt, founder and brand leader, Conserva Irrigation in Richmond, Va.

1. What do you want to tell me about Conserva Irrigation?

The driving principle is twofold: I founded the company to save the Earth’s fresh water, and I wanted to create a business model where we could create more financially independent business owners than what’s ever been created in the green industry. I wanted our owners to feel great about how they’re earning their money. It’s hard to argue; saving the Earth’s fresh water is a great call to action.

2. What did you do before you founded Conserva Irrigation?

My business partner and I have been best friends since fifth grade. We went into underground utility construction. It was called UGLI — Underground Logistics Inc. “No job too ugly.” We loved that business. It was dangerous, and we had a hard time building scale. All of our crews that ran the smaller equipment kept getting chased down, “Hey, do you guys do irrigation?” They kept pestering us for it. They’d be like, “Dude, we’ve asked nine companies, and they won’t come over. They ghost us!” Finally, I asked a client if he had irrigation, in case we disrupt it. He said no. I don’t know what prompted me, but I said, “Want one?” He said yeah. I said we’ll take care of it. That was on a Friday. So, we installed a system at my place on Saturday, at my (partner) Tom’s on Sunday and then went and installed one at the client’s on Monday. That was how we entered the irrigation industry. It was a few years later that we revisited the concept of building a scalable irrigation model — that’s when Conserva was born.

3. How did you go from a Minnesota-based irrigation company to an irrigation company franchisor?

I was the first franchisee of Mosquito Squad 17 years ago. I loved the experience of franchising so much, and I wanted to get back to irrigation. In 2009, 2010, there was no such thing as an irrigation franchise. It blew my mind. Because of that void, I started on my journey after going to the November 2010 Irrigation Association national show in Phoenix. My eyes were wide open. Smart irrigation was being talked about, high-efficiency nozzles, smart controllers. We hit the ground running. In the first 90 days, we had 305 clients. I knew I was on to something. In 2013, we started to expand across the nation. Since June of 2017, since we started franchising the model, we are now celebrating our 50th franchise owner, 121 licensed territories across the U.S. in 26 states. We believe that by Dec. 31 of this year, we will be the largest landscape irrigation company throughout North America.

4. What is the product that made you successful?

Our marquee product is how we productized our service offering. We developed a repeatable, scalable process whereby we could rate the efficiency of an irrigation system. We call it the SES — system efficiency score. That is the most important element of our brand. Everyone looks for that silver bullet, “What’s the absolute best rotor?” I happen to think it’s the Toro T5, but that’s not what’s building our business. The advent of the SES was the aha moment. To have a homogenous experience for the end user was ultra-important. How we drive, how we show up, how we dress, how we speak, the SES report that’s generated … that has been the driver to our growth.

5. If you had my job for a day, what would you write about?

I’d challenge the existing irrigation industry to depart from business as usual. Challenge the status quo. We view ourselves as contrarians, as disruptors. I don’t accept wasting water. There are a ton of highly professional folks, but I think we can all agree that the industry as a whole has labeled themselves as dirt plumbers. Rise to the challenge: Irrigation 2.0 is here. Wasting water is no longer acceptable. One of two things needs to happen: Raise your standards and rise to the challenge, or go find another job. If you’re not going to rise up, there’s no room for you in the industry.

Best advice: “Lead with passion. Lead with your heart. Hang it all out there on the field. That’s how we play ball. There’s no holding back. We have one chance to do this right.”

Seth Jones

About the Author:

Seth Jones, a graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. Seth has more than 19 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories. He is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. Jones can be reached at sjones@northcoastmedia.net.

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