Magazine article Landscape & Irrigation

Internet Opens Up to Landscaping Industry

Magazine article Landscape & Irrigation

Internet Opens Up to Landscaping Industry

Article excerpt

As we look at the state of the landscape contracting industry beginning this new millennium, it doesn't take long to notice the impact that Internet technology is staffing to have. Just take a look at some of the full-page ads that are sprinkled generously throughout your favorite trade magazine.

Yes, the Internet has been slow to discover landscape contracting, but it's making steady inroads. In the next year or two, we'll be able to tell whether the Internet is a viable addition to the average landscape contractor.

"The use of the Internet for purchasing could have a far-reaching impact, if the dot-coms get their act together," says J. Landon Reeve IV of Chapel Valley landscaping Woodbine, Md. "It'll take two or three years in the landscaping industry. In the nursery industry, however, you've got a ton of people who are slow to join, so you're looking at a 5-to 10-year period there."

Reeve claims that purchasing products on the Internet saves a huge amount of time -- 58 minutes on the hour. But that's only part of the promise the medium has today.

"Finding out how you can use the Internet to sell your own products and services will be the creative part of using the computer," Reeve admits. "The better companies -- small or large -- will use it, because there are definitely efficiencies involved."

Jonathan Strause of e-Colony LLC, notes that "e-commerce is all about reducing costs and serving customers better."

Tommy Aiello of Aiello landscape, Hobe Sound, Fla., sees both the upsides and the downsides of using the Internet.

"These green goods dot-com guys are popping up all over the place," he notes. "They all have full-page ads in every trade magazine, and they're spending thousands of dollars thinking that the industry will go on line to find plants. My concern is that you just can't go into the computer and order. This is a touch and see and feel industry. I just can't go on the computer; it just doesn't work that way. I just don't know that the concept is going to take off in our industry.

"Larger companies have a plant purchasing agent in-house who talks with everybody and visits the nurseries on a regular basis. The dot-coms believe they'll eventually do $4-5 million a week, but that's going to be difficult."

John Cochran, president of E-greenbiz.com, admits that "the e-commerce aspect of the Web is probably not for everyone." And Ted Gramer of GreenZebras.com adds that "this technology will not dramatically change how the landscaper does business."

What the Internet doesn't do is make the day any longer, though some time will be saved, as Reeve notes.

"The biggest problem is how you deal with the technology," he says. "The plus is that you can do it; the negative is that you've got 10 times as much to do, but you're still one person. It's just more stuff, and it goes back to the individual person's efficiency. You could spend your whole life looking at the stuff on the Internet. You have to be much more careful on how you spend your time. But the availability of information is huge."

Industry shake-out

Now that the biggest rash of buy-outs by mega-sized landscape companies has occurred, the landscape industry has a slightly different face -- meaning new strategies for the remaining independents.

Gone are many of the $5-$10 million companies that used to strike fear in smaller entrepreneurs. In their place are branches of TruGreen/LandCare and Brickman Industries and Environmental Industries. This actually creates some nice smaller niches in many communities, for landscapers who are attuned to individual client needs rather than prescribed design, installation and maintenance programs.

"We have TruGreen/LandCare and Brickman in our market," observes David Frank of David J. Frank Landscaping, Germantown, Wisc. "They are going to have substantial impact in a number of areas: the professionalism bar will be raised and--the scarier thing--the cost structure will change. …

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