Seeing it through: A persistent approach to irrigation

Photo: Bianco Landscape Management
Photo: Bianco Landscape Management
Bianco Landscape Management crews working
Steady Focus
Bianco Landscape Management takes care to use the same best practices and procedures on each landscape. (Photo: Bianco Landscape Management)

Over the course of two years, John Bianco worked patiently, yet persistently, with the property managers of a Mather, Calif.-based homeowners’ association (HOA) to upgrade 127 outdated irrigation controllers to smart models. The controllers he encountered on the property were anywhere from five to 20 years old, and none of them were in good working order. Bianco spent countless hours educating the client about the benefits of upgrading and discussing options to get the project funded. In the end, his patience paid off for everyone involved.

“So much in this industry is patience, but you also have to be persistent because the customer doesn’t always know what is best for them,” says Bianco, president of Bianco Landscape Management in Sacramento, Calif. “You have to keep educating them so when they are ready, you are ready.”

Bianco applies this thorough approach to all aspects of his business. Whether it’s taking the time to adopt and implement the latest technologies, or making the effort to educate his clients on how they will benefit from his services, Bianco is sure to see it through.

“You’re going to receive many ‘nos’ in this industry when you start out, even after you have been in business for 15-plus years,” he says. “There are projects that I have done two, three, four times in my 35-year career due to a number of reasons, but being persistent and keeping the same procedures and best practices for your business pays off over time.”

Bianco Landscape Management project
Use Wisely Bianco Landscape Management avoids overwatering with technology and education. (Photo: Bianco Landscape Management)

Bianco’s experience in the landscape industry began in high school, when he and a friend worked for a contractor doing custom installations. He found the work exciting and thought it was a great way to make extra income. Bianco’s employer had a degree in soil sciences, which inspired him to explore higher education programs to further his knowledge base. With a degree in ornamental horticulture from California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo and an irrigation water auditor certification under his belt, Bianco went on to work for a national landscape company, working his way up from a crew leader to a branch manager.

In 2005, Bianco says he had an “entrepreneurial seizure” and decided to start his own company, Bianco Landscape Management. Today the company provides 70 percent landscape maintenance, 25 percent construction and irrigation and 5 percent tree services to a commercial client base.

“The national company I was with went through some monumental changes, and there were decisions being made at the upper level regarding profitability and efficiencies that I just didn’t agree with,” Bianco says about his decision to start his own operation.

Since then, Bianco has run his business with the mindset that it’s more important to find a niche at which to excel than to try to be everything to everybody. In college, it was drilled into Bianco’s head that “nothing grows without water, and if you get that right, everything else falls into place.” He began his business with the understanding that water is a precious commodity and that most landscape companies overwater their landscapes, which leads to dull, nutrient-starved plants. By using water correctly, Bianco can help improve a landscape’s overall health and vigor, minimize insect and disease issues and decrease his clients’ water bills.

“Irrigation has been our focus since the day I started my company, and we have evolved into the niche that we are really good at,” he says. “We are good at things like programming and solving problems, backflow testing, etc. We have those in-house capabilities that are uncommon for a small company.”

Embracing new technologies has played a big part in the company’s success in the landscape and irrigation market. For example, Bianco is a big fan of the new low-volume nozzles, which offer a 20 to 30 percent savings on his clients’ water bills.

He also has embraced Rain Bird’s new LXME Enhanced Controllers, which start out as affordable, basic irrigation controllers but can be modified to smart controllers over time or as a client’s budget allows. Bianco says being on the cutting edge of new irrigation technology allows his company to bring more to the table for its customers.

“Not everyone can spend $3,500 on an irrigation controller,” Bianco says. “But if the base product is affordable, you can install that and then later you can upsell the client to go to the next level to make it a smart controller. Then down the road, you can maybe upsell them again and make it a centralized system that can run from a home or office.”

But Bianco knows that embracing and adapting new technology is only half the battle—the customer also needs to understand the technology and how it will benefit them in the long term. Bianco does not hesitate to take the time to educate his clients about how to save money by saving water. He also knows that education varies among his clients in different areas. For example, he notes that folks in California’s Bay Area seem to be more knowledgeable about the “latest and greatest” in irrigation compared to clients in Sacramento, who may need a bit more information about what’s available.

“It’s an education process—people only know what they know,” Bianco says. “In California, we have been living in a drought—this is really the first year we’ve been out of it. We know down the road, we will be in a drought again and preparing people for that is our job.”

When it comes to customer education, Bianco is a big proponent of the lunch and learn process. Particularly for large HOA properties, he feels this is an efficient way not only to educate new customers but to stay in front of existing ones. Three or four times a year, Bianco will sit down with property and office managers, bring in lunch and give a presentation. These vary based on the time of year and include topics such as plant health care, tree trimming and fall cleanups. During the drought in 2016, Bianco held several lunch and learns about the benefits of low-volume nozzles and smart controllers, along with ideas to help the landscape survive.

“We are always kind of pitching ourselves to everybody. Turnover in property management is pretty high so you want to make sure everyone hears you,” Bianco says. “They get the benefit of a lunch, and you get to pitch yourself and why you are the best person for the job.

“Persistence comes in having a vision,” he adds. “And not letting other factors bring you down.”

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Emily Schappacher

Emily Schappacher is a freelance writer based in Cleveland.

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