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Weathering the weather

February 17, 2015 -  By
From left: Josh Bare and Dick Bare of Arbor-Nomics; Brad Johnson, LawnAmerica; Matt Noon and Chris Noon of Noon Turf Care. Photo: Noon Turf Care

From left: Josh Bare and Dick Bare of Arbor-Nomics; Brad Johnson, LawnAmerica; Matt Noon and Chris Noon
of Noon Turf Care. Photo: Noon Turf Care

During the 2014 LM Lawn Care Forum, a panel of LCOs hit on how to handle unwelcome weather events.

When it comes to coping with Mother Nature, Brad Johnson puts lawn care professionals under the same umbrella as farmers.
“We’re going to have good years and bad years,” says the president of LawnAmerica, a $6 million firm in Tulsa, Okla. “We tell our customers and our guys constantly: ‘We’re just farmers, and we’re growing grass as our crop. We’re subject to the winds of Mother Nature and weather like a farmer is.”

But, as business owners, execs like Johnson must have a plan to pivot out of bad weather circumstances so they deliver the results customers ask for and, most importantly, get paid for doing it.

Speaking as part of a panel at the 2014 LM Lawn Care Forum, held at Reunion Resort in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 11-13, Johnson and other LCOs concur there must be a contingency plan for both the sales and production facets of any business.

“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” says Matt Noon, president of Noon Turf Care in Marlborough, Mass., of sales and production. “They’re equally important. With that said, production won’t be there until something is sold.”

Secure payment

Having overseen Noon Turf Care’s growth into to a nearly $8 million company, as a leader, Noon says he’s found it’s important to stay calm amid the obstacles that weather can bring.

“You can’t control a blizzard and certainly not a tornado or an earthquake,” he says. “But what you can manage is the emotions of people.”

That’s the same for setting the tone for customers’ emotions—mainly their anxiety over a lawn not being serviced immediately in the spring, CEO Chris Noon says.

“The urgency is there for the client, and you want to get out there right away,” says Chris Noon, who heads up Noon Turf Care’s sales efforts. “But having the salesperson not promise them ‘tomorrow’ has really bettered relationships in terms of customer service.”

A layer of Noon Turf Care’s weather contingency plan on the sales side is urging customers to prepay for their services—a strategy Chris Noon has emphasized.

Prepayments give you working capital to power through lost workdays due to weather, Matt Noon says.

Other business owners, like Dick Bare, veer away from prepayment. The CEO of Norcross, Ga.-based Arbor-Nomics Turf cites it as “a bad habit to get into” if you have to offer a discount to get the prepayment and says it’s better to have customers who prepay as a convenience, not to save money.

He cautions contractors to be mindful of their spending and stay on top of budgets if they do go the prepay route, as to not to burn through their cash.

One of the company’s greater challenges with weather, particularly in Atlanta, is how it affects marketing campaigns. The goal is to hit up as many prospects as possible on the brink of spring, CIO Josh Bare says. Arbor-Nomics has been using means such as billboards and radio advertisements to do that.

“We’ve struggled with getting that timing just right,” he says. “In Atlanta, we have very little spring. It’s winter, and then we jump into good ole hot summer.”

Make it up later

Working in Oklahoma, Johnson has had to make a habit out of making production adjustments to respond to weather. He recalls dealing with cold spells, heat waves, snow, rain, drought, 30 mph wind and tornados over the years. Then there was the time when Tulsa was rattled by a 4.8-magnitude earthquake in November.

For instance, in the event of strong winds, Johnson adjusts his approach by applying granular preemergent herbicides instead of liquid product.

“We were a little concerned about the longevity of it, but it worked great,” he says. “The product cost was a little more, but that was worth it because we were able to generate some revenue on a day when normally we wouldn’t.”

In the same vein, Johnson responds to rainy days by using QuickSilver herbicide to help absorption—“again, a little expensive, but worth it,” he says.

Arbor-Nomics tweaked its treatments some last year, too, when it took on “snowmageddon,” as Dick Bare puts it. Given Atlanta—and Arbor-Nomics’ technicians—rarely face snow, this scenario meant technicians received a beginners’ course on treating lawns in the winter.

The lesson is basic, Dick Bare says: “If there’s any snow in someone’s yard, don’t spray it.”

Still, the lawns had to be sprayed at a later date. And to achieve that, Arbor-Nomics ramped up production later, rewarding employees for working extra hours.

Noon Turf Care takes a similar approach, but strategizes ahead of time how to handle late starts and make up for time lost. In the company’s weekly meetings Matt Noon reinforces to his team that it’s up to the specialists to put in overtime and catch up on production—even if that means working on Saturdays.

Finally, Johnson has learned to use those testy times as “an opportunity that will benefit the customer and the turf.” For example, he has upsold aerations to customers during a long-standing drought.

“You just have to adjust,” he says.


A word from the wise

With around 30 years of experience in the green industry, Lawn America President Brad Johnson gives his advice on how to lead your team through tough times caused by weather.

“If you don’t want to work in an industry where the weather affects you, go open a taco stand or something. The weather affects every aspect of our business every year. That’s just the nature of the beast…but it all works out in the wash. You’re going to have bad days. You’re going to have good days. We do things to modify. One thing I’ve learned is to try not to worry about it. You can’t control it. You’re just wasting your effort if you worry about it. You need to plan ahead for bad weather. Have some contingency plans in case something happens. But you can’t worry about it, and you have to pass that off to your people. You just have to stay calm through the storm, so to speak, as a leader dealing with these weather situations. It’ll happen every year.”

About the Author:

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

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