In Ohio, Reindl also has his eyes on the regulatory environment. He's seen phosphorus-banning legislation take place just north of him in Michigan. Reindl believes that any legislation should, at the very least, include provisions for soil tests, as is the case in both Michigan and Maryland. "If you let a lawn go for a while, it's probably going to need it (phosphorus)," he says.
Finally, rising fuel costs have just about everyone concerned. "If $5 gas happens this year, it will really squeeze profits," Schlossberg says. "It's very difficult for us to add a fuel surcharge since so many of our customers prepay."
Back in Nebraska, Burklund has built gas-price clauses into his contracts. If the price of gas climbs above a certain point (he has it set at $3.50), he raises the monthly contract price by 2%. So far there hasn’t been much blowback from customers. “We do get a little bit of pressure from apartment buildings, but that’s normal because they usually want to go with whoever can provide the cheapest price,” Burklund says.
In Mississippi, Collins has also instituted a fuel surcharge. If the price of gas rises above $3, he adds $5 per month to a contract; or $2 per visit for those who aren't on a fixed contract. "I've only had one customer who quit me cold turkey over this," Collins points out.
That alone has helped reinforce Collins' confidence in the landscape maintenance and lawn care business. Consumers seem to be a little more understanding—and willing to invest in more services.
"Last year I bought into the doom and gloom," Collins recalls. "We didn't buy any new mowers or anything … we were just holding on. But then April hit and we were overcome; we had to buy two new mowers in the middle of the season. This year I'm not listening to it. We're staying focused. We bought two mowers early in the year and will also be rotating a truck off of our fleet. Our gun is loaded this year."
Reeve is fired up too, saying, "We're pretty confident about our maintenance business. It's been stable and we expect that to continue. Our goal is to take care of our customers and maintain the quality level. Though the last few years have been tough, we've been careful not to compromise on things that would negatively affect the customer."