Despite challenges, the green industry will survive and prevail

(Photo: MariuszBlach / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images)
Photo: MariuszBlach / iStock / Getty Images Plus / Getty Images

When I first started in the lawn care industry, it was the Wild West. You could rent a reverse phone directory (organized by address instead of names), get some rolls of dimes from the bank and set up shop inside a phone booth. Telemarketing was at its zenith and with some basic sales skills and determination, you could build a million-dollar company out of virtually nothing.

Mistaken identity

I am old enough to have met and worked with some of the industry’s pioneers. One such gentleman was named John Kenney. John, the founder of Turf Doctor, was a bear of a man both in stature and personality. I came to know him when his firm went belly-up, and the company I worked for purchased the assets and gave him the title of regional manager. Much of what I know about the industry comes from what he taught me.

John and I spoke every day, sometimes multiple times. When I’d get back to the office, there would be a message from John to give him a call, and I would. One day, I noticed John seemed surprised and annoyed that I was calling him. This continued for a couple of weeks until one afternoon, the office manager popped her head into my office to let me know that John Kenney was here to see me.

“Great,” I thought to myself. “I always enjoy seeing John.” To my surprise, the man appearing at my door wasn’t the John Kenney I knew. He was as mad as a wet hornet and displayed a badge.

“Why haven’t you returned my calls?” he bellowed. Flummoxed, all I could think to say was “Who are you?” He impatiently replied, “I’m John Kenney, the pesticide inspector for the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources!”


After a quick explanation, we both enjoyed a hearty laugh and got down to business. After a quick check of some pesticide records, he went on his way. Until he retired, John and I enjoyed telling that story anytime we met up.

Some things never change

As you can see, I love going down rabbit holes. I start reading and come across something that catches my interest, and once I finish reading the first thing to catch my eye, I notice something else. Before long, I completely forgot my original inquiry. I’m not kidding, and I think it may be time for an intervention — someone needs to take away my keyboard and mouse.

Such was the case when I prepared to write this column. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember someone’s name, so I began stringing together words and phrases in Google, hoping to find something that would jog my memory. That’s when I encountered this:

“Environmental groups are organizing on the local as well as federal level. Environmental groups are attacking potential registrations while the EPA is processing them rather than waiting for them to reach the marketplace. There is also a shift in attacking pesticides for urban use rather than agricultural use.”

I could understand if you assumed I plucked a quote out of a news story from this year. Yet, that quotation comes from a news story in the January 1984 issue of Weeds, Trees and Turf (now known as Landscape Management). Ray Russell, the then government relations director for Dow Chemical, said that quote at the Professional Lawn Care Association of America’s Fourth Annual Conference in Indianapolis, Ind.

What he said way back then is every bit as accurate today as it was 40 years ago.

I got a phone call this week from someone concerned about the future of the lawn care industry. Looking at the challenges our industry faces today, including labor, regulation and efforts to ban anything and everything to do with the landscape industry, I don’t blame him for his concern.

But I realized I’m not worried. Somewhere deep inside that rabbit hole, I ran across that 1984 account of the state of our industry. It’s exactly the same today as it was back then. We’re a tenacious bunch. We’ll survive just fine.

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Bob Mann

Bob Mann, LIC, formerly the agronomist for Lawn Dawg, is the director of state and local government relations for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

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