Silver Lining

Contractor Jason Cupp was recently named president of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET). As head of the new 15-member board, Cupp says PLANET will focus more on issues impacting the industry, including economic and labor challenges. Below are some of his thoughts and insights.

Our industry is currently experiencing three difficult challenges:

  • There’s an ongoing labor shortage, caused in part by a shortage of guest workers and by the simple fact that the green industry is getting bigger and in need of more employees—in both production and management positions.
  • The country is confronting a credit crisis in the housing market. The credit crunch impacts landscape contractors in two ways: 1) new construction is down, and 2) homeowners are finding it more difficult to borrow money against their home equity for landscape upgrades.
  • In the Southeast, a drought has severely impacted nurseries, maintenance and installation contractors, and lawn care operators. The green industry in areas like Atlanta is down 30 percent by some estimates.

With all this negative news, one can only wonder where the bright spots are. The answer is that this industry still offers plenty of opportunity for contractors who take advantage of best business practices. Here are a just a few of them.

PROFESSIONALISM. Only a small percentage of the green industry takes advantage of national and state certification programs. Earning your certification becomes an obvious point of difference. Competition is very keen today, so being and acting professional, and employing certified and licensed employees, set your company apart and give you a leg up on competitors.

HONESTY AND INTEGRITY. Being honest and transparent with employees, clients and vendors will create opportunities in both good and bad times. These two words are the foundation for building strong business relationships that will outlive—and help your company outlast—any economic downturn.

COMMUNICATION. Unfortunately, our industry is guilty as charged when customers complain about lack of responsiveness. This less-than-favorable view of contractors presents an incredible opportunity for responsive companies. Having phones answered by people and not by a recording; responding to requests within the same day, if not sooner; and listening to customers and clients and following through on your promises are simple tried-and-true business practices. It is axiomatic: Small things can make a big difference.

LEADERSHIP. Successful companies require strong leadership, and that is no more apparent than when times get a little tough. This is not the time to, as they say, ride out the storm. Companies need to be proactive and develop strategies to find new customers, offer new services and capitalize on a new niche—all of which require sound leadership.

I joined PLANET 10 years ago. At the time, I may have possessed leadership instincts, but it took being a member of PLANET and learning from industry leaders to expose them.

This brings up one final “best practice” that I feel will help any individual at any time in this industry: networking. No matter what challenge you face, rest assured that you’re not the victim of reinventing an especially difficult wheel. Someone else somewhere in the country has experienced the same situation and found a solution, and that solution is just waiting for you.

If you don’t already, take the opportunity now to start networking. Obviously, I am a strong believer in the value of joining PLANET, but there are other networking opportunities out there in state and regional associations, with peer groups, and by meeting with friends and associates in other like industries.

Despite the current challenges with labor, the weather, housing and the economy, we work in a strong and growing industry. Opportunities are abound, and it’s just a matter of taking advantage of them.