Leisurely peddling my 1970s-era Ross EuroTour5 bicycle through a local strip mall at dawn one recent fine day, I saw a red Ford 250 equipped with a Schwarze parking lot sweeper mounted in its bed. The driver was just pulling away from the shopping center’s empty parking lot. The lettering on the passenger door of the pickup truck caught my eye. It read MJ’s Snow Plowing & Landscape.

A landscape company sweeping parking lots?

Slowly peddling on and reflecting, I surmised that MJ may, also, have the snow plowing contract for the strip mall. Snow pushing in the winter, parking lot sweeping the rest of the year; if that’s the case, it sounds like a good gig to me, that is if MJ can make the numbers work satisfactorily.

Heading to my favorite coffee shop, I began wondering if, perhaps, some of us may be too narrowly defining our businesses as strictly landscaping or lawn services businesses? I know companies that identify themselves as landscaping or lawn services that also provide pest control services (common in the U.S. Southeast), patch concrete driveways, clean gutters and hang shutters (I’m assuming they’re insured for using ladders) and, in fact, provide just about any outside property management service you can name short of roofing, painting and structural home repairs.

If these particular companies have the equipment, the employees and the knowledge to tackle the job, they’ll do it. That’s providing, of course, that the service offers the margin they want. Alternately, the owners of other landscape companies offering a broad range of property management services strike deals with reputable subs that specialize in the “non-landscape” services. The landscape company, taking a percentage of the resulting revenue off the top, markets the services, sells the jobs and provides the administration. The sub provides the services under the landscape company’s brand. It can be a win-win for both parties, assuming landscape company owners possess good networking and business skills, and have adequate administrative and quality control systems to keep everything running smoothly.

Still young and restless

All of this leads to the bigger question of where the landscape/lawn service industry is headed. The landscape industry, as part of the outside property management industry, is far from mature, in my opinion. It will continue to evolve into the foreseeable future and expand into other yet-to-be recognized service opportunities. The professional landscape/lawn service industry is still relatively young, at least in terms of what it can yet accomplish. There’s no end point in sight of how it may develop given the environmental issues facing our urban areas and, also, the demands and desires of the huge, service-hungry, Baby Boomer generation that will remain in command of tens of billions of dollars for the next decade, at least.

These thoughts came to my mind as I still recalled the excitement I felt attending my first Professional Lawn Care Association of America’s annual conference in the fall of 1984 in Tampa, and the first Green Industry Conference in Nashville in 1990. How much smaller and easier to define the landscape/lawn service seemed to me then.

Ecologically friendly landscaping/lawn service (one of today’s fastest growing service segments) was just getting attention in the market then. A generation ago, we, as an industry, didn’t fully recognize the importance of our fresh water resources and what we should be doing on our clients’ properties to protect them. That was also before snow and ice management services became so critical to so many of our companies; and before many of us realized that holiday lighting was a service that property owners would appreciate.

Finally, who was bold enough 20 years ago to predict the incredible popularity that outdoor living and entertainment would assume with our residential customers?

It might have been that only a few of us correctly envisioned how and in what new directions the industry would grow at that initial GIC.

I suspect only a few of us are any more able to see with any clarity just how large and diverse the landscape/lawn services industry (or should we call it the outdoor property management industry) will become 20 years hence when another participant like myself, leisurely riding a vintage bicycle, sees an industry service vehicle performing an unexpected service on a client’s property.

Ron Hall
To comment, contact Ron at rhall@mooserivermedia.com