One of the most profitable additions to your lawn care service business can be the repair of irrigation and sprinkler systems. Although plumbers may do this work, it is not their area of expertise and their hourly rates are often prohibitive for this type of work. There are irrigation companies that do installation that also do repair and maintenance and this is their speciality. As a lawn care operator you have an advantage with your immediate contact with an established client base, your own customers!
Most lawn care operators include minor sprinkler repair as part of the service. Parts should always be charged separately. Major problems should be handled as separate jobs and charged by the hour. The repair of irrigation and sprinkler systems is not something that can be estimated prior to the start of the job. The problems often lie underground and cannot be seen. You may be able, from experience, to look over the problem and give a rough idea of what is involved, but always charge by the hour for the work, plus parts.
What you charge will vary from area to area. Generally irrigation repair is charged at a slightly higher hourly rate than lawn care service, but much less than what plumbers would charge. An example would be:
Lawn Care hourly man-hour rate: $25.00 per hour Plumber hourly rate: $85.00 per hour Irrigation repair hourly rate: $40.00 per hour
Have a minimum charge of one hour's work and stick to it. Tell the client the minimum up front. Before you actually start working you never know if it will be a ten minute job or a whole day. I could fill pages with the stories of what we've found underground once we started digging, but at the same time it's been more than once that I found the problem was the time clock was shut off or had no power.
Buy your parts at a wholesale supplier that sells to the landscape contractor market. Mark your parts up a minimum of 30%. Always check the discount hardware retailers in your area, like Home Depot, as they will often have better prices. When you buy at the wholesale supplier you will not get the best discount unless you have a contractor's license, so sometimes places like Home Depot will have better prices.
Keep a small stock of the most often used sprinkler repair parts on your truck. Running to the supplier for every repair job will waste time and eat into your profits.
The first question many lawn care operators ask is do they need a landscape contractor's license to do irrigation and sprinkler system repair work? You will need to check with your State Contractor's license board to be sure, but in most cases you do not. You would need a contractor's license to do installations of new systems that exceed certain dollar values (which vary from state to state in the U.S.A.).
How to Get New Repair Customers
People who need sprinkler systems repaired generally want it done NOW! They will often take the first bid from the first repair service to show up (as long as they like the person's presentation and price). The best form of advertising I have found for this work is a local classified ad direct mailer. In my area this is called "The Pennysaver". Most towns and cities have something similar. It will be a small magazine or tabloid format publication that consists of classified and display advertising. It usually is direct mailed to all houses in the city or county. You can usually advertise by zip code area which makes for very good targeted advertising. I usually combine several services to make the ad more useful and cost effective. An example ad for a lawn care service might be like this:
Add your name and phone number and place the ad. The sprinkler repair work and yard clean-up jobs will easily pay for the advertising and bring in extra profit. Meanwhile you also benefit from building your regular maintenance route.
Tip: Is your regular maintenance route full? Not planning on adding employees? Then continue advertising. Look for better accounts, ask for higher hourly rates on the new accounts. Always continue to improve and refine your maintenance work. As you add better accounts you can drop the lower-paying or higher maintenance accounts for the better work and improve your profits at the same time.
Use the tools we have today to stay on top of your marketing efforts. Have a cell phone and use it's number in your advertising. You can take your calls in the field and schedule to see new clients faster (they may be just down the street). I've taken a call for sprinkler repair while doing maintenance a short distance away. I'm usually the first one there and I get the job done the same day (sometimes within an hour of the call). Competitors with answering services or that scheduled a meeting with the client later that day or evening lose the job.
If you have never done any work on sprinkler systems or with drip irrigation then get some good books on the subject and learn the basics. Your wholesale supplier is also a very good resource for information. They will have booklets and other material from manufacturers like Rain Bird, Irritrol Systems, Toro, Hunter, Rain Master, Weather-Matic, Champion, Superior and more.
Some other good websites with information on irrigation and sprinkler systems are:
Jack Stone is a Contributing Editor for ProGardenBiz Magazine, an online magazine for professional gardeners and landscape contractors. Visit ProGardenBiz to find out how you can get a free subscription, start-up guidance, business ideas and inspiration at http://www.progardenbiz.com. __________________________________________
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Jack Stone is a Contributing Editor for ProGardenBiz Magazine, an online magazine for professional gardeners and landscape contractors. Visit ProGardenBiz to find out how you can get a free subscription, start-up guidance, business ideas and inspiration at http://www.progardenbiz.com.