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State of the Industry Report: Won’t back down in 2022

December 15, 2021 -  By , and
2021 State of the Industry respondants say the year was a good one, but not without challenges from supply chain issues and labor availability. (Photo: Marshall Evan Photography)

2021 State of the Industry respondents say the year was a good one, but not without challenges from supply chain issues and labor availability. (Photo: Marshall Evan Photography)

 

Goodbye 2021, hello 2022 and hello … 2032?

For our State of the Industry report, we surveyed readers on the year that was and we asked them about how they felt about the upcoming year. But as a first, we also asked them to think about what the industry might look like 10 years from now.

It turns out lawn care and landscape professionals are just as focused on the business of tomorrow as they are the business of today. Along with the results of our Industry Pulse survey, we present our exclusive three-part story on how readers saw 2021, see 2022 and predict what’s in store for 2032.

(Graphic: LM Staff)

(Graphic: LM Staff)

Part I: 2021 full of ups and downs

(Graphic: LM Staff)

(Graphic: LM Staff)

Throughout 2021, the same story played out for many landscape professionals around the country: The work is there, but the workers are not.
For example, the labor force at Professional Approach Landscape Service in Middletown, Pa., dwindled by about 30 percent, the equivalent of 10 to 15 workers, according to William Pfundheller, president of the company.

Pfundheller adds that throughout the year, Professional Approach Landscape Service turned down close to $250,000 of work. The company provides residential and commercial maintenance, turf care, design/build and snow/ice removal.

“We lacked the confidence that we would be able to get it done,” Pfundheller says. “It also starts to affect morale because those who are showing up to work every day and doing their job are working hard and they see a lot of turnover or an influx of employees.”

Nathan Sonafrank, general manager of Lakeway Landscaping in Clemmons, N.C., echoes Pfundheller’s sentiment.

“2021, it was an interesting year for sure, because last year with the COVID impact, most industries took a hit, but ours boomed and our business grew with it,” Sonafrank says. “And so, 2021, it was a little more the same, but we faced a little bit bigger challenge with labor. It was hard to get consistent, solid help. However, as far as positives, it’s been great. We’re expanding our business into different areas of the green industry.”

(Graphic: LM Staff)

(Graphic: LM Staff)

Max Darrington, an arborist at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, points to a lack of interest among college students in green industry fields as a contributing factor in today’s labor crisis.

“It’s not just in the field, but sometimes there’s not a lot of people out there who want to do actual physical labor,” Darrington says. “We have a landscape management degree on campus and we do have students that go through that program, but we don’t have a lot of students coming in because most kids are looking more toward IT stuff, something to do computer-wise.”

Down the road, Pfundheller hopes that new technology such as robotics will help provide some relief for the lack of labor.

“We continue to search for ways to make our landscape maintenance less labor-intensive,” Pfundheller says. “And we’re excited for the introduction of commercial-grade robotic mowers that we read about all the time. Those are things that are kind of stimulating hope for us.”

Like Pfundheller, Sonafrank says his company is looking to new technology to help shoulder some of the labor burden.

“I think the additions of the new technology that these companies are coming out with, such as the battery-powered and automatic equipment and software, it’s only going to boost what we’re able to do. We’ll be able to get more done quicker and require less labor at each specific job,” Sonafrank says. “That way, we can schedule more, make it more compact and generate more revenue.”

For other landscape companies struggling with labor, Sonafrank suggests not lowering their standards when it comes to what’s expected of employees.

“At some point, it sucks, but you’ve got to just grind and get through it and get through the labor shortage because it will come back around,” he says. “We’ve already started to see the turnaround as we have a very consistent group of labor, and it’s paying off for us that we didn’t sacrifice the quality of our workers.”

To get that consistent group of solid workers, Lakeway Landscaping adjusted starting pay to compete with other local companies, offered signing bonuses for new employees and referral bonuses to current crew members who bring new recruits in who stay.

The company also pushed its recruitment efforts through social media, Indeed and Facebook — along with the old-fashioned way: word of mouth.

“If I could have anticipated the labor shortage, I would’ve told myself to make sure we take care of our guys we’ve got,” Sonafrank says. “That way, you can build a very solid crew and your management system just throughout the whole company and you’re not suffering from continual turnover. Doing that would’ve also resulted in a more fluid transition to our expansion and it would have quickened our growth.”

He adds that he would have also adjusted scheduling to accommodate for the lack of labor and situational rain to allow more time to complete jobs.
Overall, he’s hopeful for what’s to come in the coming years.

“As an industry, we’ve been growing and this past year, it boomed. I don’t see any reason why it’s not going to boom anymore,” Sonafrank says, adding that he thinks the industry as a whole will start to raise prices for the services it charges. “The light bulb’s starting to come on that a lot of companies are starting to charge more. People are realizing that charging less not only hurts themselves, but it also hurts the industry, because they’re not realizing how much their time is worth.”

“Demand for services is strong in 2022, which should give companies pricing power to offset wage increases. The question is whether companies will use that power.”

— Greg Herring, CEO of The Herring Group, an operational and strategic finance consultancy, and LM columnist

This article is tagged with , , and posted in 1221, Business, Cover story, Featured
Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University. She can be reached at cherrick@northcoastmedia.net.

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