Products are only part of the story at Harrell’s

Anyone who’s ever gone into a department store knows that you may find a wide array of products, but you’re unlikely to find anyone working there who can help you select the right one, explain how to use it or provide any other helpful guidance or support. It’s one thing to pick out your own alarm clock, but things can get much more complicated when it comes to understanding soil science, choosing the right chemical to control a pest or insect problem, or selecting the right type of fertilizer for a specific turfgrass application. That’s why Harrell’s, a national fertilizer and chemical manufacturer and supplier with a wide array of products to choose from, emphasizes knowledge before sales.

Harrell’s offers a complete array of chemical and fertilizer products, and is the exclusive formulator in the eastern U.S. for Polyon controlled-release nutrients.

Expert consultations

“It doesn’t do any good to position a solution if folks don’t understand the problem to begin with,” says Mike Jackson, director of business development with Harrell’s. “A lawn maintenance company has to be an expert in everything, but nobody can truly be an expert at everything. That’s why we try to take a consultative approach, and come in to provide advice and testing and those sorts of things on the fertility side of things.”

Bringing in this outside expertise not only benefits the lawn care professional by helping them arrive at the proper turf treatment, it also presents them in a positive light to their customers, says Jackson. When a homeowner or commercial property facility manager sees that a lawn maintenance company cares enough to seek advice and explore solutions, it reflects well on their commitment to success. “For some of our [lawn care] customers who work with homeowners’ associations, for example, I’ve even come out to meet with their customers [the HOA representatives] to educate them and explain to them what’s going on,” states Jackson. “It all revolves around the idea that we’re not trying to sell fertilizers and chemicals as much as we are trying to help our customers be successful – whatever it takes to do that.”

When it comes to selling those products, in some cases there is literally an unlimited selection. “Primarily what we do is custom-blended fertilizers. We don’t open the catalog and say, ‘Here, you have to pick one of these,'” explains Jackson. “We take a consultative approach with our lawn and landscape professionals to formulate the best fertilizer for the turf and our customer.”

As part of the consultative process, Harrell’s typically doesn’t charge for soil testing. “Within reason,” says Jackson. “If someone has 1,000 properties, I can’t go out and do 1,000 soil tests, but we can come up with a blend that’s going to address their needs and add different things that might be found to be deficient. We have people whose sole job is to provide technical service from a consulting standpoint – Ph.D.s and people with a lot of years of experience that we can bring to bear if there’s a particular problem that needs to be addressed.”

Harrell’s takes a “consultative” approach when working with its green industry customers. Technical experts can meet with lawn care and landscape pros to take soil samples and discuss the particular needs of specific sites. “It all revolves around the idea that we’re not trying to sell fertilizers and chemicals as much as we are trying to help our customers be successful,” says Mike Jackson, director of business development with Harrell’s.

Choosing the right product

In addition to the needs of the soil, the specific turfgrass application and equipment used by the customer also plays in to selecting the right fertilizer product, says Jackson. “We have very broad capabilities on particle size, from granular fertilizer to mini size prills to greens-grade material,” says Jackson. The company has been in business since 1941, and one of its core markets has long been the golf industry. Jackson says Harrell’s is able to leverage the knowledge and expertise gained working in this exacting sector for the benefit of customers in the lawn and landscape industry.

Harrell’s carries a line of spreaders that are available if a customer requests one, “but we’re not trying to sell equipment,” says Jackson. “We’re really good at understanding fertility solutions, and disease and insect and weed management. We can supply pretty much anything somebody needs to spray or spread. When we get to the equipment side of things, we’re getting a little out of our area of expertise – we’re not mechanics.”

On the chemical side, Harrell’s produces a variety of combination products with chemicals such as commonly applied herbicides and pesticides like Dimension, Ronstar, Barricade, Merritt, Talstar, etc., applied on the fertilizer. “We also carry a full line of straight chemicals from the major manufacturers, including Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, Dow and DuPont,” Jackson explains. This gives lawn maintenance companies access to a complete selection of turf care products without having to search out individual providers. “We also have a full line of ornamental products, as well,” he notes. “We have a large presence in the large production nursery environment, and as such we have all the products and expertise to address that side of things as well.” This proves helpful when lawn maintenance firms, which may have experience in turfgrass, decide to branch into caring for landscape shrubs and plantings, which they may not be as familiar with.

Cutting-edge materials

Harrell’s covers a territory that ranges from Maine to Key West and throughout the Midwest, with facilities throughout this area – including new facilities in Chicago, Ill., and Charlotte, N.C. – with expertise in local and regional conditions. “There is a very broad range of agronomic differences throughout our territory,” Jackson points out. In addition to one-on-one consulting with its customers, Harrell’s conducts seminars, turf academies and other educational events around the country to bring lawn care operators in and provide information so they return to the job with a greater knowledge of turfgrass science.

Thanks to the large variety of products available from Harrell’s, customers have access to cutting-edge materials. For example, Harrell’s is the exclusive formulator in the eastern U.S. for Polyon controlled-release nutrients, a line that Jackson says offers many advantages. “Polyon is more expensive than conventional fertilizer,” he explains. “The difference is that Polyon is strictly controlled by the thickness of the coating on the granule, and by the temperature. It’s not controlled by how much water or rainfall is applied. So it’s very predictable, and it can be formulated to last for a specific amount of time, depending on the time of year and your location.” While there is a greater cost to buying this product, there’s much lower nutrient loss to the environment through volatilization, leeching or runoff. That means more nutrients are getting to the plant. Since the fertilizer releases slowly on a daily basis, it’s possible to get by with fewer applications, which saves money.

Harrell’s also offers foliar fertilizers, which provide great results in certain circumstances, says Jackson. “Some people choose to use a lot of foliar applications; some people go strictly with granular; and some people use a combination of both. There is a place for foliar, and it’s becoming more popular,” he explains. Foliar fertilizer makes sense when you’re going out to put down an insecticide spray – adding some foliar nutrients to the tank is easy to do, he says. Jackson notes that foliar fertilizers are particularly good at supplying turfgrass with minor elements. “You can deliver micronutrients in a foliar spray and probably get more to the plant than you would putting insoluble micronutrients in a fertilizer blend.”

Providing lawn care professionals with exactly this type of information is what Harrell’s specializes in. “If you’re not educated about what you’re buying or why you’re buying it, your tendency is often to gravitate toward something that might not be the best solution, but it might be the cheapest price,” says Jackson. “Then you don’t get the turf response you desire. If you buy a bag of fertilizer and you don’t get the turf response you want, then it really doesn’t matter how cheap it was, you wasted your money. And if your customer isn’t happy about the results from the material you put on the ground, then you’ve really got a problem.”

Patrick White is a freelance writer and editor who has covered every aspect of the green industry in the past 15 years. He is based in Middlesex, Vt., and is always on the lookout for unusual stories.