Where the irrigation industry is headed

Photo: Olin Unruh
Photo: Olin Unruh

At the 2019 Irrigation Show, LM sat with a few (relatively) new faces to the industry during the Young Professionals Breakfast to see where the industry is headed.

Olin Unruh, 28, owner and CEO of Wetlands Irrigation in McPherson, Kan., discussed what he’s encountered so far in his 10 years of working in the industry. Wetlands Irrigation is a $650,000 organization that provides 80 percent irrigation and 20 percent turf and ornamental services to a 75 percent residential, 25 percent commercial clientele. The company currently has six employees.

What initially drew you to the irrigation industry?

“I wanted to go into business for myself, and this was an opportunity that came up at that time.”

Were there any challenges you faced as you became familiar with the industry?

“I had to learn everything from customer relations to the work of adjusting sprinkler heads to designing sprinkler systems and everything that goes along with it. It was a learning curve that I had to overcome.

The most challenging aspect is probably the accounting side, the office work, the billing and maintaining accounts and cash flow. As a young person going into business, that wasn’t really my strong point. The past year, I’ve been dialing in on the business side of it and realizing that’s just as important as having techs in the field getting the work done.”

What are the issues facing the irrigation industry right now?

“In central Kansas, the biggest challenge is just educating the public on the best ways to use water in the most responsible ways. We’re in a place where water is pretty cheap, and the majority of my customers overwater. Educating them on proper watering techniques is one of the challenges I face here.

As part of our 2020 social media campaign, I want to start offering weekly or monthly tips to those who follow us or send a newsletter out to our customers outlining good watering techniques and general water requirements of a fescue lawn here. We are also trying to market and sell smart controllers that have some capabilities to adjust on their own.”

What do you get out of attending events such as the Irrigation Show?

“The classes I attended were primarily business-focused classes, and I got a lot of good information about pricing in our industry and good techniques of overhead recovery.

The networking was a big benefit. I met a lot of people there that I think I’ll continue to learn from. I can ask them questions as I go forward. The networking was what drew me to the Young Professionals Breakfast.”

What are your goals for 2020? Do you have a plan to achieve those?

“Our plan in 2020 is to increase our advertising. The last couple years, we haven’t done any advertising other than word of mouth. We have some adjacent towns that we are hoping to get a presence in this next year and then spend a couple days a week in those areas. Our expansion plan is to hire two to three new technicians in the coming year.”

What advice do you have for other young irrigation professionals?

“Make sure the business is profitable from the get-go. Don’t just assume that because the phone is ringing and there’s lots of work to do that you’re making money. Make sure you’re charging correctly and getting paid on time and keeping up with the things in the office so those don’t end up holding you back. That’s a lot of what’s kept me from growing as much as opportunity would’ve allowed.”

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb

Sarah Webb is Landscape Management's former managing editor. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Wittenberg University, where she studied journalism and Spanish. Prior to her role at LM, Sarah was an intern for Cleveland Magazine and a writing tutor.

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