Don't Let the Buzz Turn Into a Hangover

We’re coming off the heels of another GIE+EXPO. I blogged while at the show that there seemed to be a positive buzz that had not been felt in several years. Many of the attendees and exhibitors I’ve spoken with since tend to agree.

This is very encouraging to me. I’m also encouraged by the results of our annual fall reader surveys. Most landscape contractors and equipment dealers are growing sales and plan to continue growing next year. You can read about this in our Business Outlook report.

For this column, though, I want to dissect another interesting, perhaps not so positive trend. There is this group of contractors and dealers that is not growing. More importantly, this group seemed to lose ground this year—and they never saw it coming.

Landscape irrigation contractors were blindsided more than anybody. Just 3% expected to see a sales decline this year, but 27% ultimately did. A big disconnect emerged for installation contractors too (7%, 24%). Maintenance and lawn care were a little better (5%, 12% and 4%, 14%).

For dealers, there’s a sizable group (17%) that sold less equipment this year. On a bright note (if you want to call it that), roughly the same number of dealers (15%) planned on selling less. A bigger gap opened up with respect to parts sales and equipment repairs. Roughly 7% of dealers planned on lower parts sales this year, but 14% ended up with lower sales. And 8% of dealers planned on less service department revenue this year, but 18% ended up with less.

I could go on and on with a relentless barrage of business-management cliches accusing these companies of not having a good business-planning process in place, or how they are spending too much time working in their businesses as opposed to on them. In some circumstances, some of that is probably true. But for the 5, 10, or sometimes 20% of dealers or contractors that are not doing as well as they’d hoped, it’s still a matter of unpredictable market conditions.

The Green Industry is largely “local” in nature. You can’t control whether it rains or not, or whether a huge employer in your town lays off several hundred people. About the only thing you can control is how well you’re staying on top of trends in your local area. Then, make sure your sales forecast and subsequent budget reflect what your true potential is. Have a Plan B in the hopper while you’re at it.

The buzz at GIE+EXPO was real. The results from our survey are real. Things are getting much better. But that’s not an invitation to let your guard down or become too pie in the sky. Keep it real, and you’ll have a real good chance of having a real good 2014. In the meantime, hats off for a solid 2013.

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