Turf Magazine - October, 2008
How to keep on schedule after weather-related disruptions
Photos by Steve Trusty.
Much of the region faced a wet season. Many days were
too wet for mowing. And, even on days when the sun was shining, the turf
was often wet and the soils were soggy.
Most lawn service companies made adjustments in their
preplanned schedules to attempt to mow all the properties of their existing
clients. Strategies designed to accomplish the same amount of work in fewer
days may be successful for the short term. It’s much harder to
accomplish when difficult conditions persist for weeks and months.
Mowing clients, both residential and commercial, pay
for the service because they want their lawns to look well groomed all the
time, without having to invest their time and energy into making that
happen. Most expect the mowing to take place on a specific day, and often
at a set time during that day.
|While part-time or temporary crew members may be added to crews to save time
while catching up on missed mowing, an experienced mower operator should be
assigned to this area because of potential problems: a hillside, a fenced section
of lawn and landscape features bordered by turf.
|Clumping is a problem when rain delays mowing and the grass is long.
Clumps of grass on top of the lawn surface are unsightly when green, and even
more so when they turn brown.
Missed mowing strategies
While clients generally understand that crews
can’t mow during a downpour, many expect their properties to be first
on the mowing schedule when the weather clears. It doesn’t matter to
them that the crew that mows their property on one day has a full schedule
of other properties to be mowed on the other days of the week.
First missed, first mowed sounds good in theory, but
generates the greatest number of complaints in practice. When crews hit the
missed accounts first, they will disrupt the scheduled mowing for that day,
thus putting more accounts on the “missed list,” which then move to the first-mowed list, disrupting another day’s schedule.
Many lawn care services have found the extended day
strategy the most effective in handling missed accounts. The same crews
cover the properties they have missed, but mow the accounts before or after
their already scheduled properties for the day have been mowed. The crew
also may work on a weekend day to fit in all the missed
properties. This strategy puts the mowing in the hands
of those already familiar with the property, and it requires no additional
equipment. The downside is it puts extra stress on the crew members, and
working longer hours may make them less effective overall.
When equipment and personnel allow it, splitting crews
can be a workable strategy for covering missed
accounts. For some companies, an existing crew and its equipment are
divided between two sites, so the work at each site does take longer, but
both clients are being served.
|When weather-related missed
mowings add up, it's easy to slip up on some of the little details, such as scalped berms like this one.
Other companies split the crew, with a lead person,
regular crew members and some of the equipment on each team. Extra
equipment and part-time or temporary personnel are added to each team so
that the size of the crew at each site is not reduced. This strategy puts
some personnel familiar with the property on each site. If the additional
personnel are experienced with the equipment and the company’s
operational standards, the work can be accomplished fairly close to the
time required by the regular crew. If the additional personnel are
temporary workers with little experience with the equipment, more time will
be required at each site. The downside is the extra cost for equipment and
personnel. However, if those costs are balanced by a higher level of client
satisfaction and client retention, they may be worthwhile.
They also can bring new clients. When one lawn care
company consistently finds ways to get the lawns mowed despite challenging
weather conditions, those whose properties are not getting the same level
of service are sure to notice.
Whatever strategy is used, it will be even more
effective if the client is notified during the contract negotiations that
this is the lawn service company’s standard procedure for
weather-related missed mowing, and the client understands and accepts those
terms when signing the contract. A proactive approach in addition to that
can eliminate the majority of no-mow complaints, such as a courtesy call to
the client immediately following the first missed mowing to assure them
that their property is on the revised schedule and will be mowed as soon as
Attention to detail
When weather-related missed mowings add up, and crews
are stretched to the max, it’s easy to slip up on some of the little
details of a mowing job. Unfortunately, it’s often when the regular
mowing schedule has been disrupted that clients are the most likely to
notice those problems and complain about them. A few minutes spent
reminding crews of this will help them sharpen their attention to detail.
Some companies find it beneficial to provide a checklist for one crew
member to review while walking the property before leaving the site.
Clumping is one of the most frequent problems when rain
delays mowing and the grass is long. Clumps of cut grass left on the
surface of the lawn look unsightly right away, and even worse when the
clumps turn brown. It’s time-consuming to collect and dispose of the
clippings during these situations, but if the clippings are excessive that
may be the best approach. If mowing decks can be equipped for more
effective recycling, that may eliminate the problem. In many instances,
where clumping is only a problem in a few spots, a light touch with a leaf
rake will disperse those clippings into the lawn with no adverse effects
and little additional time.
On commercial properties with a large expanse of lawn,
clumping may only be a problem in high-visibility areas, such as along
walkways or the parking lot. If large sections of the property are highly
visible, a brush or drag mat pulled behind the mower might eliminate
clumping with no additional time expenditure.
|When crews are stressed and pushed for time while trying to get back on schedule, it's easy to forget to trim the tall grass around landscape features, but missing this one step affects the overall impression of the quality of the mowing job.
Obviously, safe operation is the first thing to stress
during any training session, and no employee should be allowed to operate a
piece of equipment unless he or she has been thoroughly trained on it. Crew
leaders still need to be vigilant about the assignments they give to the
mower operators with less experience than their regular staff. Some areas
are especially problem prone, such as hillsides, fenced sections of the
yard and the strips of lawn bordering landscape features.
Scalping on berms is a common problem for
inexperienced mower operators, and even some
long-time operators if the ground is even slightly wet. Because berms
usually are a landscape feature in a high-visibility area, the damage not
only makes a bad impression, but also frequently prompts complaints. Many
companies prefer to use small, walk-behind trim mowers operated by their
most experienced crew members to avoid scalping berms.
The finishing touches may be the most skipped of all.
Neglecting to sweep or blow grass clippings from walks, driveways, steps
and patios will always be noticed by the client, especially if someone
tracks those clippings into the home or business. Forgetting to trim tall
grass at the edges of landscape features, such as flowerbeds, fences or
rock walls, is obvious to the client and to everyone else viewing that area
of the property.
Focusing on details even more closely during
challenging seasons will enhance your company’s reputation and
attract more clients.
Suz Trusty is a partner in Trusty & Associates, a
communications and market research firm located in Council Bluffs, Iowa.