ASK A PRO: Professionalism More Important Than Ever

Green Industry PRO magazine and the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) are partnering on an initiative in 2011 to help raise awareness of professionalism and the importance of certification among landscape contractors. The collaboration involves a series of articles and podcasts in Green Industry PRO magazine, and at greenindustrypros.com and landcarenetwork.org.

Articles and podcasts will focus on insight from landscape contractors who’ve recently earned Landscape Industry Certified Manager status.

Below is an interview with contractor Michael Becker of Estate Gardeners in Omaha, NE. Becker helped lead the PLANET effort to re-brand and re-launch its certification program in 2010.

Q: How do you see the landscaping services industry in the Omaha market? Big projects rule the day in Omaha. New construction is nonexistent. The typical middle to upper middle class client isn’t really spending, but the affluent community is alive and well when it comes to landscaping. Our year has consisted of clients doing very large projects, with additions of outdoor living spaces. Much of it is connected to larger home remodels. It is our fortune that we have always focused on the long-term homeowner. We have never pursued commercial or new construction.

Q: Now that the landscape industry has “matured” in many respects, how do you view the level of professionalism among landscape contractors? It is both the best of worlds and the worst of worlds. There is an element of the industry that is as professional as any other service industry, employing trained and certified staff, meeting high expectations and running well-managed companies.

With no real barriers to entry, though, there will always be less-than-professional individuals out there. If our industry can create a strong demand for certified individuals, both from the consumer and the landscape company owner, this long-standing issue will be minimized. However, current professional companies can set themselves apart to a point that they are not even really competing against the others. There is a hunger for quality and value that comes to the surface in down economies—as long as the professional can demonstrate his or her value.

Q: Provide a little background on PLANET’s 2010 initiative to re-brand and re-launch its certification program. The rebranding effort was born at a strategic planning session in 2007. After the merger of ALCA and PLCAA five years ago, there was an alphabet soup of certifications in PLANET’s inventory. It was difficult to communicate the certification process, not to mention the different designations, to both the general public and landscape professionals.

The plan called to develop a single marketable brand that all certifications would fall under, which would then allow co-branding with our certification partners like state associations and schools. We also wanted the Canadian Nursery & Landscape Association and its members to adopt the same brand, making it a truly international effort.

Q: Why change the “professional” designation to “manager”? The particular discussion of manager vs. professional was pretty in-depth. One reason manager won out was because the usage of the word professional had different meaning and even legal issues in the U.S. and Canada. In the end it was determined that the original goal of having the same brand on both sides of the U.S./Canada border was essential in building its strength and marketing power.

All this led us to Landscape Industry Certified. I am proud to have witnessed this process and feel stronger than ever that our industry is headed for even greater levels of professionalism and success. We need everyone involved with Landscape Industry Certified programs to “sell them” as often as possible. Always use the complete name, and proudly promote it to your employees, co-workers, clients and vendors. Tell everyone that you have obtained the status of Landscape Industry Certified, and use the tool kits available for PLANET, CNLA and participating state associations to get the message out.

For more information on Landscape Industry Certified, visit PLANET Landscape Industry Certified.

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