Hydroseeding Takes Root

As a result of its growing popularity, the purchase price and operating cost of hydroseeding equipment has been reduced, creating a more cost-effective potential add-on service for maintenance contractors who want to strengthen relationships and grow sales.

Hydroseeding—a technique for spreading a liquid mixture of grass seed, fertilizer and hydro mulch—began with the interstate highway system. "All of a sudden, instead of the highways going over the hills and around them, they started to go through them," explains Ray Badger of Turbo Technologies. "They needed a way to seed the steep banks that were created."

Hydroseeding was discovered to be a remarkably effective way to grow grass, and the technique's popularity continued to expand. "The hydroseeding industry keeps growing," shares Larry Birch, vice president of sales for Bowie Industries. "Sales have grown, manufacturers have grown, and competition has grown. It has definitely proved to be a growing industry."

With the continuous growth and popularity hydroseeding has seen, purchasing and operating hydroseeding equipment has become more cost-effective. "The original machines cost over $100,000," says Badger. "As the machines have evolved, they've became smaller and more affordable." According to Badger, quality hydroseeding machines can now be purchased for under $10,000.

COMPARING HYDROSEEDING TO OTHER METHODS

Hydroseeding is just one of the options for applying grass. Another popular choice is sod. With sod, grass that has already developed is transplanted to the lawn. While sod can offer homeowners a lush lawn in as little as one day, it is very costly compared to hydroseeding and does not always guarantee the desired end result, according to Badger.

"At about 1/3 or 1/4 the cost, hydroseeding is much more affordable than sod," Badger adds. "Usually within four or five weeks you've actually got a healthier lawn with hydroseeding." With sod, grass grown on one soil is transplanted into another sampling of soil. The differences in soil may mean the sod doesn't take as well as it should, leading to the need for more water and care.

A less-risky but less-instant technique for growing grass is laying the seed and covering it with fertilizer and straw. This method is both time-consuming and labor-intensive. "You are involved in a multi-step operation when you use straw," explains Badger. "You have to broadcast and drill the seed, and then broadcast fertilizer followed by straw, creating a three-step process." Typically, the straw installations are done with a crew of five to six, doing what one person could do in half the time with hydroseeding.

In addition to the lengthy process involved when using the straw method, there are other disadvantages. "The drawback to the straw is the ravages of the wind and rain," says Birch. "It just doesn't hold as well as hydroseeding does. There is nothing to blow away when you hydroseed."

Cost-effectiveness and ease-of-placement when hydroseeding are great selling points on their own. An even more impressive advantage to hydroseeding is the fact that the seed's germination process begins before it even hits the ground. "When you are doing your seed, mulch and fertilizer all in one step, the seed is soaking in the water, which jumpstarts the germination process," says Badger. "The mulch layer does a great job of holding in the moisture and further aids the germination."

GETTING STARTED IN HYDROSEEDING

Getting started as a landscaper in hydroseeding is simple because most hydroseeding equipment is the same. Knowing your target audience will help in deciding the size of hydroseeding equipment you need. "You have to really look at who your target customer is," advises Birch. "Are you going to be doing residential, commercial or athletic complexes?"

The outdoor power equipment dealers who carry hydroseeding equipment tend to be more specialized, and there aren't many of them. Badger suggests checking with the manufacturer to find out where equipment can be purchased. "Probably the best thing to do is go on the Internet and visit the various hydroseeding websites, and get information directly from the manufacturer on how to buy it."

It may also be more cost-effective to buy equipment directly from the manufacturer. Any maintenance that needs to be done should be simple enough for the equipment operator to handle. "The machines are not very service-intensive," says Badger. "Basically anybody can work on them and there is very little that can go wrong."

In addition to the hydroseeding equipment, it is important to have the right tools to prepare the soil for seeding. "You definitely need to have equipment to prepare the soil for the seed," urges Birch. "Just going out there and spreading a bunch of seeds—however you do it—on compacted or hard soil is not going to work." Tilling the soil before spreading the seed is essential to the seed's successful germination.

Once the soil is ready, it is time to apply the seed mixture. It is imperative that the right seed is chosen for the climate and region. "Using the proper seed for the proper conditions and location is very important," says Birch.

SELLING STRATEGY

For customers to get a chance to enjoy the success of the hydroseeding application, they have to enlist your services. Selling this lower-cost method can be done aggressively. Most commonly, landscapers target people building a new home, but there is also a market for people who are unsatisfied with the quality of their existing lawn and want to tear it up and start fresh.

Birch, who was once a contractor, suggests mailing a flyer to everyone in your service area that needs seeding. "I went to the building and zoning department for my county and got a copy of everybody building a brand new house—and sent them each a letter," he shares. "I explained the differences with the sod, strawing and hydroseeding so they were able to make an educated decision." Birch followed his letter with an estimate and received a strong response from homeowners.

Many contractors will also send mailings directly to homebuilders or leave door hangers on the new homes themselves. They can also benefit from posting signs in lawns they are already working on. "If people see a lawn come in really fast and can see who did it, they will hit them up," explains Badger. Many times contractors will find they are working on a lawn in a development area with a lot of new homes. This is when word of mouth and a sign accompanied by a lush lawn can be very influential.

Many contractors will also pay for a listing in the Yellow Pages, highlighting their hydroseeding service. Another listing that has proven to return a lot of results can be obtained free with the purchase of an International Association of Hydroseeding Professionals (IAHP) membership.

The contractor membership cost is only $100 annually and provides many benefits that offset the cost. IAHP will provide all contractor members with a free listing on hydroseedingexperts.com. Many businesses and homeowners consult this site when looking for a hydroseeding professional in their area.

"The guys who take advantage of the free listing are getting maybe 20 jobs a year off that $100 investment," says Badger. "It is probably the best return they could ever make." The IAHP website, hydroseeding.org, is a great resource for more information on hydroseeding equipment and the industry.

As the popularity of hydroseeding continues to rise, the purchasing and operating of equipment becomes more reasonable. When broadening your service offering with hydroseeding, it is important to market the services effectively in order to get a return on the equipment investment. Hydroseeding with the proper materials and procedures to successfully grow a lush green lawn can lead to future referrals and maintenance contracts, further increasing the return on investment.

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