This isn’t our first article on Artificial Intelligence, but for many people, this one might hit closest to home. Your front yard, to be exact. The lawn care industry is changing, and the way this week’s guests are approaching those changes offers great business lessons, regardless of your industry.
On this week’s show we talked about systems, culture, and the ways AI is changing business – and your lawn. I’m happy to welcome Dick and Josh Bare from Arbor-Nomics Turf. The company has been around for a long time, but they are dealing with technology just like the rest of us.
Self-driving trucks, satellite lawn measurements, self-driving mowers…the lawn industry is about to involve a lot less employees. Right now you can go online and choose from a variety of residential mowers that will groom your lawn Roomba style, contained by low voltage wiring around your property, which acts as an invisible fence. The technology isn’t yet up to the standard needed for a lawn care company, but it’s coming.
Right now a large public property that requires five mowers also requires five people to operate those mowers. In the next few years, those five mowers will be self-driven, and will only require one operator to deliver them and get them started. On the way to the job he may kick back in his self-driven truck and enjoy breakfast, or use that time to respond to emails from customers.
This will drastically change the bottom line for the company. Says Dick, “You’re going to have a $40,000 or $50,000 salary once, instead of times five.” His estimate on when this will happen is not far in the future – five to ten years.
Keep It Personal
Dick and Josh are big on the personal touch. They’ve created a culture that puts emphasis on the customer’s interaction with the staff at every level. They keep their equipment in great shape, and insist that technicians be clean-shaven and uniformed at all times.
We’ve heard from a lot of CEOs on the show that one of the key ways to differentiate yourself in today’s highly competitive world is through customer service. That won’t change, even as the business world becomes increasingly automated. Many lawn care companies now use satellites to measure properties, and give an estimate over the phone. Customers, in turn, expect estimates to be delivered quickly.
As in many industries, decades old ways of doing things have been upended. If this is happening in your world (and if it isn’t, it will be soon), find a way to welcome the changes, without sacrificing your ideals in customer service. For Arbor-Nomics, this means hanging onto the belief that estimates should happen in person – but they keep things moving by equipping their trucks with laptops and internet service so the sales person can send the quote as soon as they walk off the property.
Look for New Ways to Do Business
Even as the human workforce decreases in the industry, lawn care will, for the foreseeable future, still need a human touch, but those humans are going to have less to do than they did in the past. Josh says, “I think we’ll be innovating, and trying to figure out how we build on that strength of boots on the ground. Six or seven times a year we’re actually at your house, and not only are we at your house, but we’re walking all around your house to treat the grass.” This leaves an opening for new business opportunities – perhaps by providing visual assessments for other kinds of home care companies, or looking for more ways Arbor-Nomics can provide value to their customers while on site. In your industry, look for similar opportunities as you redefine your work force.
Bring in the Experts – and Trust Them
Josh and Dick are father and son, and work well together. Josh’s degree is in computers, and he spent several years working in technology before rejoining the family business. Dick says, “It’s hard to believe what he and his little brother can do with computers – and that’s what we need to do.” Josh has been instrumental in updating the technology used by the company, and this willingness to quickly adopt new technology will keep Arbor-Nomics at the forefront of the industry as technological changes are irreversibly altering the landscape.
This translates to your business, regardless of your industry. Even non-tech companies are beginning to bring on Chief Technology Officers. As the rate of change increases across industries, you need to look for ways to position your company at the forefront of your field – and technology will be a big part of that. Be willing to listen. Be willing to do something that scares you (as long as you’ve done a good, solid amount of risk-assessment, of course). You know yourself, and if trailblazing into the technological future is not your ball game – bring in someone you trust to take you there.
If you are the one leading the charge, make sure you use tact. Change isn’t always easy for people. Says Josh, “I’ve got a little bit of politician in me, so I leverage that to know when to be quiet, and when to gently introduce an idea.”
Technology is becoming an increasingly larger part of the business world – even in an industry as intertwined with nature as lawn care. As you make the changes you need to make, do your research, focus on your mission, and stay true to your customers. And, as Josh says, “Then you’ve got to be willing to roll up your sleeves, and jump in yourself to prove that something works.”