Keyword Site Search

"Down But Not Out"


The Irrigation Association

Thomas H. Kimmell has been executive director of The Irrigation Association since 1994, and has been in the irrigation field for 28 years. He served as a senior executive for both Hardie and Olson Irrigation, and pioneered the field application of drip irrigation in Florida, Georgia and Texas before moving to California in Sales Management. He was elected President of The Irrigation Association in 1992.

The business of irrigation contracting has been good-to-great around the nation for at least the last five years. 2002 looks like it will be more in the fair-to-good range. All signs point to a slow down in the irrigation industry. The general economy has slowed, but more specifically irrigation equipment manufacturers have reported production layoffs.

The recent International Irrigation Show in San Antonio did well but was still off by 20 percent in some attendee categories. Agriculture irrigation has been in the economic doldrums for the past couple of years and turf/landscape irrigation is meeting up with fewer housing starts, less in the way of major projects and a slowing home resale market. Discussions within the industry predict everything from 5 percent growth to 15 percent decline in sales; best estimates hover in the flat to negative 5 percent range.

What can contractors expect during the next year? Fewer competitors for one thing. Those contractors who have been bidding and getting jobs just for a wage will run into financial trouble very quickly. A couple weeks of no work will gobble up what little is in reserve and they’ll be gone. Before they disappear, however, expect bid prices to tumble as the drowning reach for the only lifeline they know: low prices.

The good competition that remains will become more savvy and aggressive. Since price won’t win the day, contractors will need an edge to continue to prosper. Reputation and knowledge are the best defense against a downturn. Customers in our industry depend upon these two hard-earned elements. Communicating these attributes to the customer is the hard part. Everyday my office receives calls from telephone providers seeking to handle our phone, fax, and Internet service. They all pledge they are technically adept and solid as granite. I don’t believe any of them! Your customers may not believe you are different, better than your competitors.

One positive way [to convince them] is to hold license or certification that says someone else recognizes your ability. State licenses for irrigation are the law in 6 states: New Jersey, Illinois, Texas, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and South Dakota. New York and North Carolina have licensing legislation pending. Certifications on the other hand are voluntary and generally individual. The best known of the irrigation certifications is the Certified Irrigation Contractor sponsored by the Irrigation Association. This certification is acquired by passing an examination on all aspects of irrigation contracting and is recognized nationally.

Several state irrigation associations have encouraged their members to become certified and set themselves apart from others in the field.

Another way to convey reputation is by having your customer write a testimonial letter about an installation done for them. This can carry enormous weight in a competitive situation as the big concern of a buyer is for a job done right at a fair price. Chasing after someone in a specialty unknown to them strikes fear in the heart of any consumer. Once they are convinced you won’t be a hassle to them, you’ll be awarded the bid.

The irrigation contractor is usually the last guy on the job, which means you are in position to make the biggest impression or suffer all the blame. Position yourself to finish each job with something special -- polished clean up of job site, owner walk-through by principal contact, presentation folder of operating instructions including as-built details, or something else extraordinary. Make the last impression the best impression.

Tougher economic times call for giving more not less. Now that you won’t be running from one job to the next, slow down and build on the customers you do have. The old saying that it’s easier by half to keep a customer than to get a customer is especially true when there are fewer potential customers.

Business in 2002 is slated to be down, but not to the level where the best will go backwards. So just plan to be among the best, the professionals.

Search Site by Story Keywords

Related Stories

June 16, 2019, 10:36 pm PDT

Website problems, report a bug.
Copyright © 2019 Landscape Communications Inc.
Privacy Policy