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SmartCon encourages irrigation pros to go to the next level

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Lex Mason, president of Weathermatic, welcomes the group to SmartCon 2024 and encourages them to get a “Texas-sized” boost to their company. (Photo: LM Staff)
(Photo: LM Staff)

Lex Mason, president of Weathermatic, had a question for attendees of the third annual SmartCon, held last week in Austin, Texas. He wanted to know if anyone knew the exact number of working days in 2024.

“Any guesses? There are 262 working days. You invested two-and-a-half days by being here. You made an investment of 1 percent of your entire working year to be here,” Mason told the audience. “One percent might not sound like a lot to some people in here. To others, 1 percent might be the difference between winning a bid and losing a bid. My challenge to you is, don’t leave here without capturing the value we’ve created.”

Over those two-and-a-half days, SmartCon offered attendees a wide variety of classes to help any irrigation professional overachieve in 2024. Mark Pyrah of Peak Landscape in Hillsboro, Ore., delivered a commanding presentation on the value of standard operating procedures to the SmartCon attendees. University of Texas professor Mike Peterson spoke to a packed room on the topic of strategic management. Other classes landed in one of two paths; executive or technical, offered in both English and Spanish.

“We bring together all of our premier partners, those landscape companies who are making water management a priority at their business,” Mason told Landscape Management, who served as the event’s exclusive media partner. “It’s a big event, we bring everybody together to share best practices. This year we’ve got a focus on how to focus on ourselves, focus on our team and how do we better our overall business.”

Jared Rice of Weathermatic (standing) moderated The SmartCon Q&A with Platinum Partners. Panelists included (from left to right) Niwar Nasim, Nasim Landscape; Bob Grover, Pacific Landscape; Mark Howell, Ideal Landscape; Michaela Rivas, Padilla Group; and Chase Cook, SMC Landcare. (Photo: LM Staff)
Jared Rice of Weathermatic (standing) moderated The SmartCon Q&A with Platinum Partners. Panelists included (from left to right) Niwar Nasim, Nasim Landscape; Bob Grover, Pacific Landscape; Mark Howell, Ideal Landscape; Michaela Rivas, Padilla Group; and Chase Cook, SMC Landcare. (Photo: LM Staff)

Leading the charge

Attendees came for a variety of reasons, but staying at the peak of their market was a common denominator.

“I especially came to network. We have our own plans in place, for the organization, and I wanted to hear and talk to other business owners and people in the industry to understand where they’re at and what they’re doing,” said Jose Contreras, CG Landscape, based in Anaheim, Calif.

“There’s a lot of best practices being exchanged, tools for the trade, that’s what we came out here to learn,” said Ben Lopez, GT Landscape Solutions, Keizer, Ore. “We want to get a better grounding for our division and build out a couple more branches. We’re a smaller branch so we’re seeing companies who have upwards of 300 controllers in the field, it’s nice to see what they’re doing, what we can do better, and maybe how we can help them be better.”

“Technology is really leading the charge on how we advance the industry and our company, and I just want to stay on top,” said Bob Grover, Pacific Landscape Management, headquartered in Portland, Ore. “I bring my team to this so we can learn from the providers and some of these people in here are my competition … I’m learning from them and they’re learning from us.”

Grover was one of four panelists who answered questions from the audience. Moderated by Jared Rice of Weathermatic, panelists included Grover; Niwar Nasim, Nasim Landscape; Michaela Rivas, Padilla Group; Mark Howell, Ideal Landscape; and Chase Cook, SMC Landcare. Topics included increasing irrigation numbers, properly integrating SmartLink, being more efficient and what brands they prefer. How panelists reduced the time from inspection to approval by using Smartlink was a major talking point.

Keeping up with the trends

It wasn’t all work at SmartCon. Attendees were bused from the AT&T Conference Center to Austin live music venue Stubb’s for a barbecue dinner followed by a concert by country music performer Coffey Anderson. Anderson, best known for his songs Mr. Red, White and Blue, and Better Today, also was featured in the Netflix series Country Ever After.

SmartCon attendees were treated to a country music concert by Coffey Anderson at Stubb’s. (Photo: LM Staff)
SmartCon attendees were treated to a country music concert by Coffey Anderson at Stubb’s. (Photo: LM Staff)

The singer belted out song after song while bantering with the crowd in-between, asking attendees where they were from, talking about a bad break-up that inspired a song and acknowledging that he knew his audience was filled with hard-working irrigation professionals who help make landscapes beautiful. “I love the smell of fresh-cut grass, you know that smell? The smell of money,” he said.

Mason says he was thrilled with the results of SmartCon 2024 and added that it keeps growing. He said it’s vital for Weathermatic, and for his customers, to keep adapting and staying on the cutting edge of the industry, something Weathermatic has been doing since the 1940s.

“If you look at the timetable of Weathermatic back to 1945? We started as a landscaping company. Then we started milling and CNC, brass and metal, then we got into plastic manufacturing, plastic-injection molding, then there was technology … it’s a sprint,” Mason says. “A lot of businesses don’t last that long in general. It is a constant evolution. If you don’t have your finger on the pulse of the industry, you can get left behind. It is a full-time job-and-a-half, keeping up with the trends, and trying to figure out where it is going so we can be there when it lands.”

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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