Framing water management

September 20, 2015 -  By
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Water managers can more effectively sell their services when they think about what the savings could mean for property managers in the long term.

One irrigation pro says selling water management on ROI is not the best approach.

When I started my business I thought return on investment (ROI) was the best way to frame water management.

But I quickly learned that’s not how it works in the property management world. Why? Bigger numbers sound, look and feel better. These are the same numbers you’d find with ROI, but they’re spun differently. Understanding the spin could help other water managers start selling better projects. Here’s my approach.

Step 1

What’s the scale of the project? How much water in dollars is being used and how much can you conceivably reduce that number by?

Think in dollars and always think in dollars. Think about plants lost per year (material and labor), an empty building or an angry employee. A property manager once told me I was there so the person in that office (whom he pointed at) doesn’t call him about the grass. I have a feeling the person in the office made a decent salary and it wasn’t in his or her job description to be preoccupied by turf quality. But because water management wasn’t what it needed to be, it was costing the company money.

Step 2

Remember, think differently because ROI doesn’t matter. If you can save $x,000 this year and water will increase by y% for the next 10 years then you can save $zz,000 over the next 10 years.

Here’s the difference. The ROI argument says, “If you spend $3,000 with me this year, you will get that back in the first year.” A savvy water manager says, “If you spend $3,000 with me this year, you will save $40,000 over the next 10 years.”

To commercial property managers, that amount of money could be a project they might not otherwise be able to do or a bonus they might not earn. Breaking even means hitting zero. Placing a positive value on your work means much more.

Step 3

Develop a water savings level you believe is necessary to make your project a success. This is a very subjective piece, but I think in the relative short term and I try to look at what would happen when I start taking more “risk” or when plants are less dependent in years three and four. Look three to five years out and see what you could realistically do as far as savings, subtract your management costs, add in some healthier plants and predict what the benefit will be.

As you can see, this concept isn’t complicated; it’s just a different way of thinking. One property manager client told me he spent more on landscaping last year, and he credited the available money to water savings. He said he decided to plant more flowers at the front entrance because he wasn’t 
worried about them dying. This winter the building’s tenant renewed a five-year lease and specifically mentioned this year’s flowers. You decide: How much was water management worth?

Photo: Smart Water Management

McNerney is owner at Smart Water Management based in Hopkinton, Mass.

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