A Fresh Look at the Landscape Market

The arrival of spring typically brings an uptick in rental business from landscape contractors, but the recent economic downturn has thrown what's typical into a tailspin. To give our readers an insight into what for some is a primary customer base, we talked to Gregg Wartgow, editor-in-chief and associate publisher of PRO, a leading magazine for landscape contractors, to get his predictions on what landscape professionals will need from their rental suppliers this year.

RPN: How would you characterize the effects of the current economic downturn on landscape contractors?

Wartgow: The historically weak housing and construction markets have put a real hurt on the installation side of the landscape industry, including both landscape design/build and irrigation. On the other hand, the maintenance side of the market has held up fairly well, which includes mowing and landscape maintenance, irrigation system maintenance, and snow and ice management. But even in the maintenance sector, the weak economy has resulted in both homeowners and commercial property managers spending less on maintenance services. In other words, landscape maintenance contractors have been busy, just working harder for less money.

RPN: Looking into your crystal ball, what do you see for landscapers over the course of the next year? Beyond that?

Wartgow: Things are improving this year, albeit slowly. Most see 2012-2013 as being a strong market that's fully recovered. In the meantime, slow and steady is what we're dealing with. And this point is important to keep in mind: When we're fully recovered in 2012-2013, it will not be the same level we all enjoyed in 2004-2007. Those fat and sassy days are over.

RPN: Will they be renting more equipment than in the recent past?

Wartgow: I believe so. One trend we've seen is that contractors are looking at diversifying their service offering to fill lulls in their schedules. Renting equipment is always the best option when you don't want to go head first into a new service offering.

RPN: Are you seeing an increase in "fly by night" entry-level contractors coming into the market (i.e., people who lost their job elsewhere turning to landscaping as a way to make a living)? If so, what are your expectations for these contractors in the near future?

Wartgow: Yes we have, and this type of contractor generally starts with basic mowing and maintenance for everyday homeowners. The fly-by-nights have historically been a problem in this industry, though this type of "contractor" is not who reads PRO. PRO reaches 57,000 contractors; there are arguably another 150,000 fly-by-nights running around out there. This type of contractor does represent a legitimate prospect for a rental center.

RPN: When choosing a rental supplier, what is most important to landscape contractors?

Wartgow: Product availability. That's all they really want/need a rental center for - have the product I need when I need it, and in good working order. These days, with more contractors trying new services, a rental center that could offer some kind of quick training could have a leg up.

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