How a deliberate, thoughtful approach sets Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting apart

December 18, 2017 -  By

New direction When the market no longer demanded installations, Andy’s focused on irrigation system repairs and maintenance. Photo: Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting

When Andy Hulcy’s grandfather died, the job of maintaining the family’s lakefront property was passed on to Hulcy and his father, Deck. This included teaching themselves how to operate and maintain the dual-pump system Hulcy’s grandfather had engineered to bring water up from the lake to irrigate the property, which was situated on a small cliff. Learning the ins and outs of the homemade system was no easy task, but Hulcy put in the time and effort it took to figure it out, and he ultimately discovered a new career path.

“Word spread within the family that Andy and Deck knew how to install sprinkler systems, so they did just that for a couple family members in town,” says Bryan Lester, senior marketing executive for Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting, based in Carrollton, Texas. “Neighbors of those family members began requesting the same service, and the business was born.”

The thoughtful approach Hulcy used to figure out his grandfather’s irrigation system has stayed with him throughout his career. Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting was founded in 1987 as a part-time endeavor by Hulcy and his father who were both looking to leave the corporate world. They began by specializing in major irrigation system installations, as well as repairs and maintenance services, and became a full-time operation in 1993.

Over time, Lester says the market for older homes needing an irrigation system naturally declined due to irrigation companies like Andy’s retrofitting sprinkler systems for those homes. He adds that beginning around 1990, it became standard for new homes built in Texas to come equipped with sprinkler systems, and it was difficult for the company to compete with builders’ margins. So about 10 years ago, the company began to move away from installations to focus on system repairs and maintenance. Lester says the company occasionally does a new installation on a case-by-case basis.

“It’s not that we didn’t enjoy offering new installs, but the market changed,” Lester says. “It was a business decision to focus on repairs and maintenance, rather than compete for low-margin new installations.”

Lester says Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting is first and foremost an irrigation company, but the firm has methodically added services that fit into its portfolio. In the early 1990s, Hulcy learned about drainage at an irrigation conference, and he believed the service was a natural complement to irrigation. He began offering the service in 1995. The company also added low-voltage lighting services in the late 1990s to help fill the downtime of the colder winter months. Today, Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting is a $15 million company that provides 60 percent irrigation system repairs and maintenance, 30 percent drainage and 10 percent lighting services to a 70 percent residential, 30 percent commercial clientele.

Mindful hiring

Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting is also mindful when it comes to its hiring practices. The company recruits from the college of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M University and the Agriculture Sciences College at Texas Tech University. Students majoring in business and other degrees from the University of North Texas are also part of Hulcy’s team. All the company’s service technicians hold either a Texas irrigator’s license or an irrigation technician’s license and are required to receive ongoing education and training. The company has a robust internship program, and Lester says at least 15 to 20 former interns have joined the company full time and are now in leadership roles.

“The home is very important to a person, so (he) wants to trust the people providing (his) services,” Lester says. “Establishing trust begins with how we present ourselves—how we are dressed, our technicians’ facial hair, the appearance of our trucks. That kind of stuff is very important to us and helps us build a rapport.”

Despite the company’s focused approach to hiring, Lester says the seasonal nature of the irrigation business makes staffing an ongoing challenge. For this reason, the company has relied heavily on the H-2B guest-worker program for the past 10 years. The temporary workers come from Mexico and learn the business, return home for the holidays and are back to kick off the new season in January. The company is an active supporter of H-2B—in fact, Lester was recently in Washington, D.C., for a fly-in event to help “influence the powers that be” to continue to support the program.

“Labor is a struggle we’ve had for many years because the caliber of person we’re looking for isn’t going to be OK being laid off after 10 months of work,” Lester says, adding that members of the company’s management team are employed year-round. “It’s a process that works for us because we can’t seem to fill our labor voids with the American workforce.”

Franchise offerings

A few years ago, Hulcy began contemplating the idea of taking his brand to the national level in the form of franchises. The company went through the proper Federal Trade Commission protocols and legalities and officially began marketing its franchise operations in 2016. The first location opened this year in Charleston, S.C., and Lester says the company has potential opportunities percolating in Georgia, Florida, Colorado and Texas.

“We are looking nationally, but there are some parts of the country where an irrigation company makes sense and parts where it doesn’t,” Lester says. “We do a screening process for each applicant, too. We want that new franchise owner to be successful. It reflects badly on us if we allow a franchise to open and then it fails.”

Going forward, Lester says the company will focus on perfecting and growing its franchise process, while continuing to improve internal systems.

“Sprinklers, drainage and lighting are a good combo, but who knows, we may add to that in the future,” Lester says. “It’s not about quantity and money, but seeing it through and doing it to its fullest. Andy wants it done right.”

Photo: Andy’s Sprinkler, Drainage & Lighting

About the Author:

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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