New rules at Longs Peak Landscape

Longs Peak employees hold a meeting while practicing social distancing. (Photo: Mike DePriest)
Longs Peak employees hold a meeting while practicing social distancing. (Photo: Mike DePriest)

When Landscape Management last spoke with Mike DePriest, general manager and owner of Longs Peak Landscape, Longmont, Colo., a few weeks ago, it was for a casual “Five Questions” interview. This time, the topic was much more serious.

“I spent all day in the office holding three different meetings … I’ve been doing a bunch of things I never thought I’d be doing,” DePriest says. “I’ve been regurgitating the same stuff three times, but we think this is serious, and we think it’s going to get to (our) work … we want to continue to grow, but we can’t if we’re getting each other sick.”

Of course DePriest is referring to the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, pandemic. DePriest fears things will soon be much worse in Colorado, and he is insisting his team takes action now to fight the spread of the disease.

DePriest unveiled a new set of guidelines for the company, which includes:

  • No field staff allowed in the office, no one allowed in the shop;
  • Only key personnel allowed in the office and limit to one person per room;
  • Direct ship to as many jobs as possible;
  • Clean vehicles, equipment and public items regularly;
  • Work smart with your division and crew; and
  • Avoid unnecessary expenses.

“I told everyone, this is the most people I want to see in the office (for the meetings),” DePriest says. “Don’t come here and be irresponsible. We don’t have the luxury of pressing pause on our season. Let’s go to work, but let’s be safe.”

According to DePriest, 5,500 Coloradoans have been tested for COVID-19, and 10-percent of those tests came back positive. Major metropolitan areas like Denver are being shut down in an effort to slow the pandemic. DePriest has advised his crew to shore up their inner circle and to make an effort to stay healthy by eating well and getting the appropriate amount of sleep. He is also limiting trucks to two people at the most.

“We’re going to struggle, some of our guys don’t have driver’s licenses, so how are we going to accommodate getting guys to job sites?” asks DePriest. “Our guys depend on their paychecks, so we’re going to try to keep going. The good news is, we work outdoors. The good news is, we work out in the sun.”

DePriest reports that not many of his customer base has canceled work, but he worries that it might be because they are preoccupied with other things. A recent snowstorm did see a suspension of snow service from 15 of his 400 customers. That might seem like a small number until he takes into account that it was not a small snowstorm, but a two- to three-day blizzard with whipping winds.

In order to be proactive, DePriest has challenged his sales team to win some big commercial landscaping accounts that can be backlogged.

“The entrepreneur in me wants to go out and grow. We’re the local employer, but state and federal mandates could take it out of our hands,” DePriest says. “But keep in mind, people aren’t going to want to see their landscapes die. The cost to maintain it is way better than the cost to replace it.”

The mood in the room for the meetings was nervous, DePriest says, but for good reason. But now they can move forward and everyone is on the same page.

“I had a couple guys reach out to me afterwards and thank me. They said thank you for being a good leader, and thank you for keeping us working, we’re here for you,” DePriest says. “My wife is a nurse practitioner, and my mom is a nurse. I’ve always had healthcare (employees) as part of my inner circle. When everyone in healthcare is really nervous? That means we should be really nervous. I had two guys high-five when they walked in. I told them, never again, we are not touching each other. Everyone stays ten feet apart from now on.”

Photo: Seth Jones

Seth Jones

Seth Jones is is editor-in-chief of Landscape Management, Golfdom and Athletic Turf magazines. A graduate of Kansas University’s William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications, Seth was voted best columnist in the industry in 2014 and 2018 by the Turf & Ornamental Communicators Association. He has more than 23 years of experience in the golf and turf industries and has traveled the world seeking great stories.

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