Turfgrass mow-strip in Chester County in need of a sensible and cost-effective fall renovation” Photo: John P Wodehouse, 2017
Fall is the optimum time to renovate cool season turf stands and fertilize them with slow release nitrogen. However, now is the time (July) to begin talking with your customers about the many benefits of renovating turf in September and October. According to research, the (turf) grass is greener, when planted in the Fall. Bid jobs more accurately by knowing and managing your costs. Here are a few lean management business tips to help with labor efficiency and bid accuracy.
Fill the Pipeline
Having a weeks-worth of fall turf renovations is only beneficial if they are priced right and fit into your company's mission. To exceed customers' expectations, I recommend you take pictures of successful past awn renovations to show the customer. Since most turf grasses in our region are cool season varieties, fall and early spring are both great times to take terrific turf pictures. As far as seeding & feeding, fall is also the ideal time of the year to perform these services. While I have seen most estimates varying between 4 to 7 (or more) cents per sq.ft. depending on the number of steps required. I do not recommend bidding on a per square foot basis until you have more experience selling turf renovations. Other conditions such as your customer's budget, weed density, the amount of soil compaction, poor drainage factors, soil types, and other cultural conditions also will impact the bid.
Educate your Customer
A differentiated blend of services, priced right (meaning they cover all direct and indirect costs and include some profit) and done at the right time, is essential for any business for sustainability and growth. I recommend talking about turf budgets with your customers now, mid-July. Educate them on the costs and cultural benefits of Mid-to-late August thru mid-September lawn care and renovation services. Encourage them about the many cultural and economic benefits of renovating and maintaining cool-season grasses. From an economic perspective, one great benefit includes saving them money. Culturally, increased germination and faster green-up can be expected in fall due to cooler temps increased rainfall. Also, reduced evapotranspiration (ET) occurs in fall in most cases, rendering fall turf jobs less likely to experience drought losses.
Measure Job and Bid Accurately
Try not to get caught by surprise this fall and quickly hipshot guess aerate/over-seed jobs by quoting them based on a look from Google MapsÒ or inaccurate per square foot guesses. While eventually you may be able to establish a per 1000 sqft or per acre per service quotes that will cover your costs of materials, overhead and labor and profit margins, first it is imperative to measure the job. Next, calculate live seed rates. Add to the bid all indirect costs. It is important to know your cost of production and know how much in materials will be used each job, and how long will the job take-- in terms of labor, relative to production rates and overhead costs. For overhead, I recommend adding up all fixed expenses and dividing by the total number of forecasted man hours you see working into the next calendar year to get you close to a cost of overhead. The more you understand and can manage your overhead, the more accurate you will bid. Establishing hourly labor rates and per-job material mark-ups and margins can then be generated. To reconcile, compare bid to actual and look closely at the accuracy of production rates. Compare all estimates and bids to as-builds.
Include Travel Time
Some landscape companies use concentric zone rings from the shop to recover travel, with the jobs located in the nearest ring having the smallest travel cost added to the bid. While others use a minimum travel for nearby jobs and increase the further away. I recommend calculating the exact time to and from the job and include that amount it in each bid. Monitor and manage unnecessary stops at convenience stores to fuel up machines. Unforeseen, and sometimes unknown to the boss, are pricey profit-steeling pit stops to fuel up bellies and machines. Fuel up each afternoon before to save on travel time in the morning and reduce costly morning pit-stops. The seeding window is so small, I think every day, especially fall, should be used wisely.
Include Loading and Off Loading, Transport and Dumping Time
Logistical costs, if left out, will reduce your profit margin. This includes all time to pick up and deliver all machines and pick up and return rentals. Aerators and over-seeders and other un-owned rental equipment direct expenses often go unrecovered in fall, if detailed job sheets and production records are not kept. Truck expense as well as labor expense should be included in the load-offload portion of each job. To lean things out and avoid wasted time, keep tools in secure locked boxes on the trucks. For multiple day jobs, leave the box trailer or a secure site-box onsite in a safe area. The morning load-up time can be greatly reduced by having just one foreman dedicated to loading up the trucks the night before. Having a line at the topdressing pile can also be reduced by staggering start times for different crews. Schedule nearby jobs on the same day to spread out the rental costs. Remember to think ahead, and include any dumping fees for dethatchings or any other deleterious material taken from the job in the estimate.
Fall turf renovation services will not only green up the ground, when bid and installed accurately, will green up your cash-flow and add working capital to your business. Take time to listen to your customer, but don't forget to make seasonal-timing suggestions. Identify and calculate your production rates, and get familiar with your overhead costs, so that when the turf renovation season arrives, you are ready to bid with confidence.