Weather is just one element of lawn care that will always be unpredictable. To try to circumvent the effects of the drought in his Austin, Texas market, Luke Hawthorne, owner of Emerald Lawns, added irrigation services to his existing lawn care business.
“It’s not a hugely profitable service line, so I’m hoping to break even, but that’s another added benefit for the customer,” he says. “It’s another layer of customer service and it makes lawns look better than their neighbours. It’s pretty competitive here, so it always comes down to that.
Although Austin is a booming city, Hawthorne says its lack of water has made business more difficult lately.
“Water is a big problem here,” he says. “It’s growing fast. The potential for growth is great, but the future is a bit murky just because we have a main water source and are very susceptible to droughts here. And they did nothing to improve the water situation. We have a lot more people moving in, but the water situation is the same. It’s a little worrying right now. »
And without being able to count on a regular flow of rain, lawns can suffer even if they are treated. That’s why Hawthorne has made water retention and conservation a priority.
“We serve from San Antonio to Waco, and six years ago we were in the 100-year drought,” he says. “And in a lot of our markets, you couldn’t even wash your car in the driveway, let alone water your lawn. There were significant water restrictions. So I started looking at what the golf courses were doing and how they were dealing with the drought and the restrictions.
“We launched into water retention products and also into our top dressing, instead of putting compost, we also started offering topsoil. There are some parts of the city where there isn’t much land, so it’s impossible to keep it properly irrigated. If you offer a top dressing service, that improves the ground,” adds Hawthorne.
In the three years since Emerald Lawns began offering water retention products and irrigation services, Hawthorne says most of its customers have taken advantage of it for the added benefits to their lawns.
“It’s made us a better business and made us more profitable because even when we’re not in a drought, those are things we can include in our service lineup,” he says.
Currently, teams are going out and doing quarterly audits of irrigation systems to adapt to seasonal changes in weather and to compensate for any water restrictions. But even doing that, Hawthorne says there’s still cause for concern.
“I can’t budget based on a potential weather pattern or anything,” he says. “I have to go on and keep spending as usual, but there’s always this kind of dark cloud hanging over everything.”
While the drought is tough, Hawthorne says it’s preventing his team from getting comfortable or just going with the flow. Being able to react quickly and accordingly to change is key in the lawn care game.
“You budget like everything is fine and the weather is going to be great, and we’ll get enough rain and the lakes will stay level, but that’s not always the reality,” he says. “And you’ll need to be able to pivot, which we’ve always done very well in the past.”