Man on a mission

December 16, 2015 -  By

Russ Jundt hopes to change the way people water their lawns throughout the U.S. and, eventually, the world.

Russ Jundt has an appreciation for water. After all, the Minnesota native is from the “Land of 10,000 Lakes.” So it makes sense that he founded his Richmond, Va.-based company, Conserva Irrigation, on the basis of saving water and with the goal of irrigating lawns as efficiently as possible.

“I’m not the guy out there hugging every tree,” says Jundt. “But I sure love the water and nature that we have.”

After nearly five years in business, Jundt is ready to take his company’s sustainable approach to irrigation nationwide in the form of franchises. In partnership with Outdoor Living Brands, a franchise brand family, Jundt plans to expand Conserva Irrigation to 10 locations by the end of 2016.

“The dynamics are changing in the industry,” Jundt says. “There is an increased demand for irrigation, but we have limited resources. The costs associated with water are increasing, regulations are increasing and we have climate change, too. The timing was exactly right to ride the wave.”

Backing in to irrigation

Jundt and his business partner “backed into” the irrigation industry in the early 2000s. The childhood friends owned an underground utility construction company and were solicited by irrigation contractors to help with high-end or difficult projects. They soon began installing irrigation systems themselves, but they were concerned with the industry’s lack of focus on water conservation at that time. With water becoming such a limited and valuable commodity, the partners decided the irrigation industry as it was just wasn’t a good fit, and they took their entrepreneurship elsewhere.

“I felt very uncomfortable about spewing water arbitrarily without rhyme or reason,” Jundt says.

In 2006, Jundt and his partner became the first franchisees of Mosquito Squad, Outdoor Living Brands’ mosquito elimination company. The pair has since also opened an Outdoor Lighting Perspectives franchise. As their enterprises grew, Jundt became fascinated with the business model and began thinking of a way to apply it toward building a better irrigation company. In 2010 he attended the Irrigation Show and was blown away by the new technology that had been introduced since he left irrigation.

“My eyes were just amazed with what had changed over the last five or six years since we left the industry,” he says. “So we started studying.”

Conserva Irrigation was founded in 2011. Today, the Ham Lake location, which Jundt runs, earns $500,000 in annual revenue. The company offers 90 percent system maintenance and upgrades and 10 percent installation services to an 80 percent residential, 20 percent commercial clientele.

Conserva focuses on professionalism, innovation and environmental responsibility. These values drive every decision Jundt makes within the business, he says, and they will be at the heart of every franchise.

Jundt first considered the idea of franchising on his own but decided that Conserva Irrigation could make more of an impact by using the teams and systems Outdoor Living Brands already had in place. Conserva Irrigation is now an official component of Outdoor Living Brands and shares systems such as marketing, branding and accounting.

Conserva Irrigation currently has pilot sites in Dayton, Ohio; Chagrin Falls, Ohio; Glen Ellyn, Ill.; Merrimack, N.H.; and Long Island, N.Y. Jundt plans to add five additional pilot locations by spring 2016 to perfect the business model, collect more data and further identify regional differences before opening fully functioning franchises by the end of next year. The goal is to reach 400 locations nationwide within 10 years.

Jundt says the ideal Conserva Irrigation franchisees are contractors who don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but who want to be part of recreating the way we use water. Another target is business leaders outside of the irrigation space who can identify smart business opportunities and attract good technicians.

Prospective franchisees can expect a first-year investment of $50,000 to $100,000.

Evaluate first

A unique aspect of Conserva Irrigation, and the process that helps the company save water, Jundt says, is its System Efficiency Score (SES). It’s a 12-part irrigation system audit that determines how well an irrigation system functions. The evaluation is part of the free inspection that takes place during the first meeting with the client. Through the SES, clients get a score based on a 100-point scale; each client is encouraged to have an efficiency score of 75 or higher. Conserva technicians educate clients on the reasons behind the score they receive, and Jundt says most scores motivate their clients to upgrade or repair their systems. Clients receive at least one SES evaluation per year.

“We wanted to establish a consistent approach so it’s the same message no matter who sits down with a client,” Jundt says. “We want the homeowner’s interest to be piqued about why their system is failing, and we want them to ask what they can do to improve it.

“The SES ultimately demonstrates to the client our professionalism, our innovation and that we are environmentally responsible,” he adds.

Commercial approach

The company’s tiered audit process is similar to the SES but is geared toward commercial clients who are more concerned with cost savings. Jundt developed an algorithm that uses property data to create a baseline for ideal water usage based on a normal weather year. Tier one educates the client about how much water they’ve been using compared to how much water they should be using. Tier two is an on-site system evaluation to identify the problems. Tier three is “really getting picky,” Jundt says, and is a very specific zone-by-zone inspection.

“In the residential market, the client wants a green landscape, they want someone trustworthy to show up and then they want to be water conscious,” Jundt says. “In the commercial market, it’s the opposite—they are all about bottom-line savings.

“The commercial sector has LEED certification and other conservation opportunities, but no one has grabbed the tail of the beast when it comes to water savings,” he adds. “This is how we are attracting national chains.”

Train to gain

Employee training is also an important aspect of Conserva’s business model. Using Irrigation Association (IA) programs and course work, Jundt is developing what he calls Conserva University, an operations manual of standard field protocols which will provide information about problems a technician may encounter. The curriculum will include topics like how to diagnose a wiring issue and reference guides on irrigation controllers, he says.

Conserva Irrigation techs, who will be required to obtain IA certification, also will have tablets equipped with information they can access from the field, and every location will conduct weekly training on problems relevant to the region and season.

“We’re going to home-grow the next generation of irrigation techs,” Jundt says. With no shortage of goals, Jundt will be busy making his vision a reality. And his enthusiasm for change and for introducing a better way to water will keep him going for the long term.

“I felt that there were two ways to affect change in regard to the use of landscape irrigation water: We could picket on the Capitol steps and try to make change with legislation or we could create a company that would ultimately change how we water the world,” Jundt says. “I’m always impacted by the quote, ‘If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.’ It’s a very simple statement, but it’s important. If we had created a company that was just like every other company, we would just get the same result.”

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