We were fortunate to win an award at this year’s California Landscape Contractor’s Association North Coast Chapter Awards against some of the best companies in the North Bay. Thanks to the Morgan Residence for a great project. See the project video below.
After a recent ongoing customer service headache with AT&T, the website Dial a Human, featured on Channel 7 on Your Side, jumped out as a good resource. It gives the numbers to press to shortcut the interminable phone trees that are the hallmarks of most customer support.
Your call is very important to us, that is why we have optimized our system to delay you getting to speak to a real person. That real person will be in India and won’t have the training or ability to help you anyway, please continue to hold, while holding please enter your account number, so that when the agent comes to the line, we will ask you to restate your account number…
We are doing work for a larger client for some landscape work that was installed by another contractor. The other contractor was cheaper than we are, but as we put in this benderboard along a crooked lawn edge, you can see what the installed product of the cheapest bid looks like.
We have uploaded and reorganized our design portfolio examples. Take a look at construction drawings, installation details, elevations and conceptual and master layout plans at our design portfolio.
This is the time of year for aphids and other pests to be causing problems with roses, annuals and perennial plants. Rather than spray a chemical pesticide we have been using Fish Oil based Organocide. It carries no restrictions on the label (caution, warning, danger, indications) and is suitable for organic production of fruits and vegetables. You may have to apply it a bit more frequently, and it may smell a bit fishy, but it works quite well. It has it’s limitations, but works quite well if properly applied (always read and follow application instructions). Safer Soap is another good option for a less toxic option for pest control.
For More: See Harmony Farm Supply’s Website of Pest Control Options
While making some updated video slideshows for our website I ran into a problem- finding a nice soundtrack that I didn’t have to pay royalties for. After all, classical compositions from before 1923 are in the public domain right? Sure, but their recordings are not. Fortunately there’s Musopen.com, a website that has .mp3 and sheet music of public domain performances. A great concept and one that will hopefully continue to grow!
We were discussing this a bit in the office today, while reviewing and debating the latest daily events at our company and thought it was worth sharing. Sometimes you just have to step back from the hectic busyness of each day and take a moment to express gratitude for what we have and the times we live in. A few things to be grateful for:
We live in one of the most prosperous, freest societies on the planet
We are living in the golden age of man kind. Witness to the greatest technological innovation in history, dwarfing all previous periods in richness, scale, and complexity. All while benefiting from being the longest lived, healthiest people to ever live.
We have unlimited information at our fingertips at an instant. Your smartphone can access information that would dwarf the Library of Alexandria.
A too large portion of the world lives on $1-2 per day. Has limited access to clean water, lives in poverty, lacks education, and is subject to all manners of disease that most of us do not even have to consider.
It seems like at times all people have an all to great capacity to take things for granted. To use one accomplishment as stepping stone for larger, greater accomplishment. Take a step back, a deep breath, and use your perspective to express some gratitude for all that we have. The poet Derek Mahan expressed this beautifully in his poem Everything is Going to Be All Right:
This intimate back yard on the west side of Petaluma was an underused lawn area and deck with poor ground clearance and usability. The solution was to install a new permeable paver patio area, with matching block seat wall. Instead of using a permeable paver, a traditional paver was used, but downspouts and catch basins are directed into a permeable gravel field below the pavers, insead of the usual paver foundation of impermeable baserock.
This project in Belvedere was completed earlier this year and has already started to grow in nicely. The clients wanted a space that created a stronger front entry, seating area, and a solution that pushed back the exsting hillside to create more space. The Bluestone Patio is complimented by a Rox Pro stone veneer that picks up the geometry and color of the bluestone.
There’s no better “green” lawn mower than an old fashion reel mower. Trouble is, reel mowers can be a lot of extra effor and take extra sharpening of the blades to be effective. New designs are helping to address some of these shortcomings. Fiskars new Momentum Reel Mower helps to solve this problem by incorporating a flywheel, meaning less effort to push the mower through the grass, and better blades that need to be sharpened less often.
We are happy to announce Turned Earth’s 400th post! For the last 5 years we have been blogging about landscape issues and our ongoing work. We look forward to continued exploration, reflection, and provocation!
I just spent the weekend meeting with vendors planning an upcoming event. What fun to be on the other side of the table during the consultation process and see the presentation and portfolio elements, which elements worked and which didn’t.
We have been bidding on a lot of projects lately. On some of those projects we win the bid, and on others we don’t, that’s the nature of the process. One interesting aspect of estimating process as a whole is what I call estimate etiquette. There are two parts to estimate etiquette, that of the contractor and that of the client. Like any aspects of courtesy these are subject to interpretation and depend on the context applied.
In general good etiquette by the contractor means being punctual for meetings, creating a detailed and pertinent estimate, and delivering it in a timely manner. Good etiquette by the client means respecting the time and effort bidding contractors put into estimates on their projects (which can be substantial), and updating clients as to the status of the project and their final decision moving forward.
For our estimates in general, these are done at no charge. They usually include an in personal on-site consultation and subsequent proposal presentation with the creation of a detailed estimate, and often supplementary materials information, specifications or conceptual designs. Client responses to the estimate can vary, but clients are usually either responsive and update the bidding contractors on the status of their project, or they fall off the face of the earth and do not only not update the contractor, but don’t respond to follow-ups via phone, email, carrier pigeon, etc.
Now, all this being said, we aren’t always perfect in the process of soliciting estimates for our projects with sub-contractors. The purpose of emphasizing good estimate etiquette is to help encourage some common courtesy and professionalism on both sides of the estimate process.
This post gives an overview of a volunteer project at the Cotati Co-op Preschool-
Dear Cotati Co-op Families,
I met with the board last night to discuss a volunteer project to re-landscape the Mark Roberts native garden beds at the entrance to the school. Sherry and I have been discussing this work since last year. I own a landscape firm in Petaluma and would coordinate the work and solicit donations to the school of required materials at no cost. The board voted to move forward and discuss in more detail next week at our parent club meeting. I hope this will be a nice enhancement to the front of the building and be a good educational demonstration of native plants.
Planting Overview: The new plantings would be divided into two themes for the existing planter beds. The section under the Walnut tree near the parking lot would be a native grass garden and would feature Deer Grass, Berkeley Sedge, Blue Fescue, and Reed Grass. The section closer to the front entry gate would be the blooming section. Plants here would be low maintenance native perennials featuring California Fuchsia, Artemisia, California native Sage varieties and Yarrow. At the sidewalk lower groundcover plants would replace the existing shrubs, which have become overgrown. You can read more about the plants to be installed in the Plant Palette PDF.
Work Scope: The work scope would involve two distinct phases. First would be new plantings, which would require the following steps-
Remove existing plantings
Cap and convert existing spray irrigation to drip irrigation
Prep and grade new beds
Plant new plantings with amended soil and slow release fertilizer
Install new drip irrigation tubing and emitters to all newly installed plants
Install a thick new layer of bark to finish the area, retain moisture, hide drip tubing, and reduce weeds
Install botanical signs giving the common and latin names of newly installed plants.
Fencing Phase: The second phase would be to install a new extension of the perimeter fence to encompass both entry walkways from the front sidewalk, all the way to the parking area. This would have the benefit of enclosing the entire front of the school in a secure yard area and has been on Sherry’s wish list. As part of this work, the existing sign would need to be either relocated closer to the street, or replaced with a higher visibility sign that would face West Sierra Avenue.
Timing: Work would take place over winter break and be completed either sometime in December or January. I estimate 3-4 volunteer days being required for the planting phase, depending on the number of volunteers we have.
I look forward to discussing this more next week.
Michael O’Connell, O’Connell Landscape
(Zoe O’Connell, Butterflies)
We just changed our blog software from Movable Type to WordPress. What a difference! WordPress is faster, more user friendly, open source and popular- all great features for a blog platform. For the non-professional web developer Movable Type wasn’t the right fit for us.
The best part of Wordpess is the photo management. Unlike Movable Type you can upload multiple images and organize them in galleries.
Our post on our pricing and the pricing of our vendors was referenced in a story in this month’s Lawn and Landscape magazine.
Just goes to show that these type of pricing issues are critical to being profitable in a difficult economy.
In other blog related items, we just rebuilt our blog, combining an older platform of the blog with a new rebuilt interface. This means that over 350 posts from 4 years of Turned Earth can be found in one place and searched. Enjoy!
As a result of slower times in the economy we have lowered our prices and found ways to cut costs on overhead to become more efficient and pass savings on to our clients.
I wish I could say the same thing about our materials suppliers. We have seen little if any change in prices for many of our suppliers. In some cases costs are going up. How about those delivery and fuel price increases when gasoline costs were above $4.00? In many cases they have remained as well.
How are we adapting? We are shopping around all our major materials purchases, negotiating with suppliers, and purchasing from suppliers we wouldn’t have used before that have cheaper prices. In some cases that means even discount chains like the Home Depot. On a recent order of mortar for a flagstone patio they were 30-40% less than large landscape material supply chain in the area.
Personal relationships with our clients and excellent customer service are two ways we distinguish our company. When customers refer family, friends, or neighbors to O’Connell Landscape they are paying us a great compliment. In appreciation for your referral, we have set up a new thank you program. Just have your referral mention where they heard of us, and when we start the referred client’s landscape project, we’ll contact you to discuss your thank you gift. You can be a past client or simply someone familar with our work, either way, we have established this program to recognize our efforts and pass our name on to other clients. Our Thank You Gifts
-Dinner for 4 at Buckeye Roadhouse
-A Weekend Get Away for Two at a West Marin B&B
-Or a Napa wine tasting tour
We will be at the Marin Homeshow at the Civic Center this weekend Saturday and Sunday May 30-31. If you are planning on going to the show make sure to stop by our booth. We will be raffling off a free water feature installation.
There is an article in the Marin IJ today about homeowners in Mill Valley that build their landscaping and pool house on open space and MMWD land. Over 7,000 sq.ft. of improvements ended up in the Homestead Valley open space, sparking the outrage of neighbors and open space advocates.
This is a good example of why in many cases homeowners should consider surveys when working on fences, large parcels, or other landscaping near property boundaries. Should adjacent properties sell or if neighbors want to expand, encroachments can lead to frustrating legal conflicts and the possible removal of improvements.
We have moved our administrative offices to an exciting new location in Petaluma. The address is: 3028 Petaluma Blvd North, Petaluma, CA 94952
We still have an office and construction yard in San Rafael, but this new office has more space and room for landscape demonstration areas and will allow us to better serve both our Marin and Sonoma clients. More details to come soon.
Our contact phone remains the same: (415) 462-9729 or you can dial our Sonoma County number (707) 313-5320.
We love technology around the office, and what better way to embrace new technology than by upgrading to the newest and latest smartphone. This was my plan at least when ordering the new device, a Samsung Saga. One day later, in was in the box ready to be sent back (thanks to Verizon’s 30 day trial policy), and a Blackberry was ordered in its place. The problem- too much of a good thing. The Saga combines an optical mouse similar to the trackpad on a laptop, with a touchscreen, Palm Treo like stylus, and keyboard. This would all be great if you were using the phone as a complete PDA, and a laptop replacement, but not ideal for quick navigation and email on the go. None of these navigation methods worked flawlessly, and coming from the Blackberry like Motorola Q9, it was all too much technology.
We were reconfiguring some of the hardware in our office recently and needed a connector for one of our computer components. After not being able to find anything locally, we found the Cyberguys, a great website with all sorts of useful and ingenious gadgets for computers and around the house and office- definitely worth a look
For years tracking time on our construction projects was a bit of a challenge. We used a paper time card with different activity codes for the construction activities on our various projects. Rather than a simple clock in, clock out, this is what is known as a time and attendance system. Last year we implemented a new digital time tracking system, Pocketclock by Exaktime. Exaktime has been developing time tracking solutions for a few years, but we found their Jobclock system, that used a special padlock that was placed on the jobsite, didn’t work well for the way our projects and crews were organized.
Recently, they released the Pocketclock system that was based on a Palm or Windows Mobile device. Rather than track time on paper, our employees enter their work actions on a PDA in the field. The difference has been noticeable. We can more easily track, analyze and bill our clients for the time we spend on projects, and it has streamlined our whole payroll process and simplified entering and bookkeeping tasks.
This a definitely worth a look for contractors or anyone who tracks individualized tasks out of a typical office environment.
We wanted to follow-up on our previous posting on our upgrade and customer service experiences with Mindjet and the Mindmanager planning software. Following our previous posts, we contacted customer service via the web to tell them about our experience. We quickly received responses from customer service letting us know that they would issue a courtesey upgrade for the newest version of Mindmanager. We also received a message from one of Mindjet’s customer advocacy representatives following up our issues:
We take our relationships with our customers as the utmost priority and I deeply apologize on behalf of the Mindjet team for your negative incident. With new product introductions, there will be special situations which we will consider on a case-by-case basis, such as yours. We are grateful to have such passionate customers who care
enough to let us know when they are pleased and more importantly to let us know when they are not. You have provided us with valuable feedback and we hope that you will give us a chance to improve and earn back your trust.
In this era of limited customer service, we appreciate Mindjet’s efforts to satisfy our concerns with their upgrade process for Mindmanager and quickly respond to our concerns.