Weather is just one element of lawn care that will always remain unpredictable. To try and circumvent the effects of 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 it’s another added benefit to the customer,” he says. “It’s another layer of customer service and adds to the lawns looking better than their neighbors’. It’s pretty competitive here, so it always boils down to that.”
Despite Austin being a boomtown, Hawthorne says its lack of water has made business more difficult lately.
“Water is a big issue here,” he says. “It’s growing fast. Growth potential is a lot, but the future is a little murky just because we have one prime water source, and we’re very susceptible to droughts here. And they haven’t really done anything to improve the water situation. We have a bunch more people moving in, but the water situation is the same. It’s a little worrisome right now.”
And without being able to rely on steady rain flow, lawns can suffer even if treated. That’s why Hawthorne has made water retention and water conservation a priority.
“We service from San Antonio to Waco, and six years ago we were in the 100-Year Drafted,” 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 major water restrictions. So, I started to look at what golf courses were doing and how they handled drought and the restrictions.
“We got into the water retention products and also in our top dressing, instead of putting out compost, we also started offering topsoil. There are some parts of town where there’s not much dirt so it’s impossible to keep it properly irrigated. If you offer a top dressing service, it makes the soil better,” Hawthorne adds.
In the three years since Emerald Lawns started offering water retention products and irrigation services, Hawthorne says most of his customers have taken advantage of it for the added benefits to their lawns.
“It’s made us a better company and made us more profitable, because even when we’re not in a drought, these are some things we can include as part of our service line,” he says.
Currently, crews are going out and doing audits on irrigation systems quarterly to adjust to seasonal changes in the weather and to offset any water restrictions. But even with doing this, Hawthorne says there’s still plenty to worry about.
“I can’t budget according to a potential weather pattern or anything,” he says. “I have to go on and keep spending as business as usual, but there’s always this kind of dark cloud that looms over everything.”
While the drought is difficult, Hawthorne says it keeps his team from getting comfortable or just going with the flow. Being able to react quickly and change accordingly is critical in the lawn care game.
“You budget as if everything is hunky-dory and it’s going to be beautiful weather, and we’ll get enough rain and the lakes will stay up to level, but that’s not always reality,” he says. “And you’ll need to be able to pivot, which is something we’ve always done very well in the past.”