Thoughts on the state of the landscape industry Email
Written by Colorado Green NOW   
Wednesday, January 27, 2021 03:00 AM

Colorado Green Now

Each year at ProGreen EXPO, business leaders have had the opportunity to meet at a VIP breakfast or lunch gathering to network and share, and to learn about issues affecting the Colorado green industry. While ProGreen’s online format this year doesn’t allow for a traditional face-to-face, catered event, Colorado Green spoke with John McMahon, Chief Executive Officer at ALCC, and with other industry professionals to gather input on the state of the industry and offer thoughts on the Colorado economy as a precursor to the state of the industry panel discussion that will take place during the ProGreen Experience.

“Economic forecasting is especially challenging right now, so we choose instead to focus on the world we’re in and what’s on the mind of industry leaders today,” said John McMahon.

Lessons learned in 2020 will continue It was an unpredictable year of unprecedented challenges, but the green industry fared better than many. “We had record breaking sales and were blessed that we could keep all of our 70 staff and crews fully employed,” said Stan Brown, Alameda Wholesale Nursery, though he noted that “the inefficiencies of adapting to social distancing took a heavy toll on our staff and crews. To help with the mental health of our staff we closed our sales office on Saturdays, which was the first time in our 75-year history.” He expects that the Saturday closures will continue next season as well.

Though demand for landscape services remained steady in most markets and increased in others, when considering supply chain disruptions, growth in the industry may not have reached its full potential. Industry professionals expect to deal with many of the same challenges into next season, but some have developed new tactics to address them.

At Designscapes Colorado, not getting their usual 150 H-2B seasonal workers was a blow. But by recruiting from hospitality and restaurant workers displaced by pandemic restrictions, they were able to fill those positions.

CEO Phil Steinhauer noted that the unusual circumstances had the unexpected benefit of having more women apply to work on crews, adding to workforce diversity.

Pain points
Each year, ALCC takes the pulse of the Colorado landscape industry by surveying its members about what issues are most important to them. Those issues are discussed at ALCC’s annual fall forum, when leadership comes together to share ideas and create a strategy for the year ahead.

“In surveying members and meeting with leadership at the fall forum, we identified the key issues that are top-of-mind now and will continue to be important as we head into the 2021 season,” said McMahon.

Fall survey results were no surprise, as workforce availability remained the top issue for about 75% of respondents. In fact, fall forum leaders noted that the top issues facing landscape professionals have not changed much over the last decade. Workforce availability, advocacy, sustainability, and technical training remain important topic areas that should be a focus for the industry, according to the company leaders who responded to the survey.

“ALCC continues to tackle the issues of skills and knowledge development with our Landscape Career Pathways program, the Sustainable Landscape Management Colorado initiative and programs such as our popular irrigation boot camp series,” said McMahon.

“Regarding advocacy efforts at the local, state and national levels, we will continue our collaborative work with our members, community stakeholders and other GreenCO associations to develop solutions to these issues so industry businesses continue to thrive. Drought/climate is another top challenge.”

The good news
Coming out of 2020, businesses are placing more emphasis on automation and leveraging technology to make companies more efficient and help bridge the labor gap. Software solutions and virtual meetings have become standard in many businesses and will likely continue to be an integral part of business operations.

Consumer demand appears to be steady, as the additional time spent at home allowed homeowners to see opportunities to improve their outdoor living space. Waitlists begun in 2020 will be addressed in the coming season, and continued efforts to attract new people to the landscape workforce may increase service capacity.

And if there is such a thing as too much of a good thing, Phil Steinhauer shared that a challenge for Designscapes “has been how to keep full-time employees over the winter. [By hiring displaced Colorado workers,] we doubled the size of our company. We are looking for ways to adjust our operations in order to work on a year-round basis.” There is, as always, the concern that some will return to their previous careers once restrictions are lifted or that they will find other jobs over winter.

Going forward, landscape company leaders seem hopeful about economic recovery. The increased demand for landscape services is driving growth, and consumers are recognizing the importance of sustainable landscape services.

“I am optimistic we will get the economy back on track,” says Shawn Ryan, Environmental Designs, Inc. He anticipates increased supply costs and continued struggles with workforce but feels that those are obstacles that the industry can overcome—provided we see some drought relief in the near future.

“It looks to us that next year will have great sales, and we are constantly trying to improve our efficiencies and ways to keep our staff and and customers safe,” echoed Stan Brown.

This story originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of Colorado Green.

Read more in this issue of Colorado Green NOW:
New utility locates ordinance now in effect in Colorado Springs
Colorado sales/use tax portal now available
How do you sell when the world is shut down?
CO legislature on recess until Feb 16