Traditional media has been a big part of the effort. ACLS is using a combination of TV and print. “We spent $40,000 by July,” De Lany points out, “and will end up spending around $100,000 by the end of the year.” That last $60,000 will focus on the tree service division, along with some new water management programs the company will be rolling out over the next several months.
“Traditional media marketing is very effective for tree care and water management,” De Lany says. “It’s important to build awareness and be seen as the go-to company. This type of advertising also helps separate our company from the competition—especially all of the cash guys in the tree business.”
The cash economy is a big problem in California, De Lany says, which is why he and a few other Fresno-area members of the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA) are collaborating on a way to circumvent it. A potential solution is simple: a sticker.
A blue sticker on your truck means you are a licensed and insured sole operator, so you don’t need to carry worker’s comp insurance. A red sticker means you do. If you don’t have a sticker, are you legit?
“Consumers need to know who they’re dealing with,” De Lany says. “If there’s a contractor with a blue sticker who’s running a three-man crew, that’s a problem. If there’s a contractor with no sticker at all, that’s an even bigger problem. Anyone could call the California State Licensing Board to report him. We have to bring these cash economy guys into the light of day.”
Certified water consulting
ACLS’s Certified Water Consulting division is another way the company has created some separation. It’s actually helped secure several new maintenance contracts—to the tune of roughly $125,000 a month over the past two years.
“We go into client presentations with graphs showing how we’ve helped other clients save 80% on their outside water usage,” De Lany relates. “When we show this data, prospects look on in amazement. They don’t get this from the average mowing contractor.”
ACLS recently retrofitted 6,500 irrigation heads at an area hospital. The new-style head (Toro Precision Nozzle) helps reduce water consumption by 30%. “Then, the web-based ET controllers we use from ET Water Systems helps clients save even more,” says Jamie Rust, general manager of ACLS. “In all, the client is saving roughly 22 million gallons of water a year. Plus, since they are on a well, they are using a lot less electricity because they’re not wasting it to pump unneeded water.”
“Now we’re moving toward a model of managing sites from right here in our office,’” De Lany adds. “The web-based flow sensors and controllers make this possible; it’s amazing. We’ll soon be able to dispatch technicians to repair valves, etc. before the client even realizes there is a problem.”
Making propane pay off
Another sustainability measure ACLS has recently adopted is the use of propane-powered mowers. They worked with a company called Metro Lawn to convert their gas-powered mowers. Another company called Heritage Propane helps manage the refueling program.
ACLS now runs 12 propane-powered mowers; one 72-inch mid-mount was propane-ready, while six 21-inch walk mowers and five 48-inch mid-mounts required conversion kits. “Each kit was about $800,” Rust points out. “Each conversion also required six to eight hours of technician time to install the kit and fabricate brackets to hold the tanks in place.”
The total cost to convert the 11 mowers was more than $10,000. However, ACLS was able to take advantage of a rebate from the Western States Propane Council worth 20% of the cost of each conversion kit. More importantly, the potential cost savings over time have both Rust and Delany very excited.
The company expects to save at least $100,000 over the next five years. “Much of that has to do with the simple cost of fuel, since propane is generally 30% lower than gasoline,” De Lany says. “Then we factor in things like reduced oil consumption and longer engine life. Finally, once we back out technician cost as a result of the reduced maintenance needs, the money starts to really add up.”
“We’ve also found that it’s pretty much gallon to gallon,” Rust adds. “By that I mean we aren’t burning anymore propane than we would be burning gas. So we’re not losing productivity or consuming more fuel. My initial fear was that we might lose a little power, but that hasn’t been the case at all.”