Small and successful
Jay Watson and his son Jobie are co-owners of Twin Oaks Environmental in Opelika, Ala. The company provides services in hydroseeding, erosion control blankets, dust control, temporary seeding, permanent seeding and tree barriers. The company also sells erosion control supplies.
The keys to the company’s success have centered on several factors, including relocating to take advantage of better opportunities, cutting costs where necessary, expanding services in response to increased interest and an assertive marketing campaign that includes appearances at as many trade shows as possible.
“I started in erosion control in May 2003 in Florida with one part-time employee and grew to nine employees with two crews installing 6,000 linear feet of silt fence per day and one hydroseeding crew,” says Jay. “Then the bottom fell out in central Florida.”
He sold the silt fence operations and some hydroseeding equipment and moved his company to Alabama, where he started a hydroseeding service and erosion supply company with Jobie, who had graduated from Auburn University. The two now do all of the work themselves.
“We have had success in this economy and starting a new location. We felt with the central Florida market down so much, this was a good time for the move. We believed a smaller market and college town would recover much faster,” Jay says.
The company provides service throughout Alabama and Georgia, however the job must be big enough to merit going long distance, Jobie adds.
Some 70 percent of the company’s work is commercial, such as road work, and the remaining 30 percent is residential. The company has taken on several jobs for landowners who are building ponds on their property. After contractors finish constructing the ponds, the Watsons follow up by hydroseeding the banks.
Other jobs include hydroseeding after loggers come through a property. “It’s a site where they have loaded the truck and usually there’s a big mess there,” says Jobie. “We’ll consolidate the mess and hydroseed around it so they’ll have green spots, rather than big mud holes or mess.”
A typical job for Twin Oaks Environmental is exemplified in a recent project in which the company helped a customer who had not gone through the proper procedures of stabilizing the bank of a pond. Jobie instructed the customer to use his Bobcat to take out some of the slope and move the dirt to help capture the watershed where it needed to be. He then followed up by hydroseeding, establishing grass around the pond.
On the supply side of the business, Jobie says he and his father have marketed to contractors within a 50-mile radius of their business, intent on providing them with the supplies they need to do their work. He says while contractors are still not buying the quantities they were a few years ago, they are still buying.
Having a supply side to the company also enables Twin Oaks Environmental to provide comprehensive, rapid service. “When someone needs something, we’re going to be able to get it to them that day because we have a large inventory, unlike a lot of people who have to order from their supplier and then truck it down to their site. We take a lot of that lag time out of it,” Jobie says.
The Watsons guarantee their work and provide customers with education on how to maintain a hydroseeded area after the seed has been applied, but there are times when the Watsons will provide post-application maintenance. In one case, a hydroseeding job was quickly followed by a record 4-inch rain, so Jobie returned to the site to hydroseed it again and ensure the slope was stabilized.
“We want to make sure the client is happy,” Jobie says. “We just don’t spray it, leave it and forget about it. We do maintain it.”
The Watsons use Easy Lawn truck-mounted hydroseeding units. They recently sold one unit and own another, a 1,750-gallon tank mounted on an International truck with floatation tires.
It’s something their company offers that others in the area do not, Jobie says.
“It helps us get in jobs that most people can’t,” says Jobie. “These tires cause the machine to almost float and be able to get into wet spots and provide service, rather than have to wait for it to dry out. “
Jay notes that there’s been an increased interest in hydroseeding. “As far as contractors are concerned, I think it’s far superior to blowing hay and putting grass seed down,” says Jobie. “The hay that’s supplied around here is full of weed seed. With these jobs, they are worried about having certified seed and very low weeds when you’re seeding everything else.”
Additionally, hydroseeding can be more cost-effective. Jobie says sod can go for 14 to 17 cents a square foot, compared to 3.5 cents a square foot for hydroseeding.
Being involved in numerous trade shows has been advantageous to the business, Jobie says. He volunteers his time and materials, setting up displays that show different types of silt fence so contractors and other customers can get a hands-on experience.
“Customer awareness is very important so they know what’s a shady job and what’s a good job,” says Jobie. “Being at the trade shows demonstrates that we care and we do everything we can not only to understand the newest technologies, but show we have the best products out there.”
Going forward, Jobie says he and his father want the company to remain small.
“I’d like to have about four employees and one hydroseeder [unit] running at all times and work with my father. I would just like to do services within a 100-mile radius, know my clients very well and be able to meet their needs. The benefits of being big are ruined by the equipment and maintenance costs and neglect by your employees. I’ve known a lot of companies that did get big and just self-destructed,” he says.
“I hope it will become a more acceptable manner of grassing,” Jobie says. “Right now, so many people don’t know anything about it. States like Florida and Mississippi are getting a lot better. My goal is to help bring awareness to it. That is a far superior means of getting done what needs to be done,” he says.
Carol Brzozowski is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and has written extensively about environmental issues for numerous trade journals for more than a decade. She resides in Coral Springs, Fla.