Category Archives: General Commentary

The Price of Steel

While working on a recent project we needed some custom fabricated stainless steel brackets to reinforce some work we were installing. For a few dozen brackets the cost came to over $1,000 for the materials alone. Our metal fabricator out of Chico, R&D Hydraulics, stated that the price of steel has skyrocketed in the past couple of years, costing almost twice what it would have cost. Pressure from the Chinese and other developing markets has driven the cost up.

Our particular incident is a microcosm of larger pressures on businesses reliant on steel. From our metal fabricator to the auto makers of Detroit, companies are scrambling to deal with the high cost of steel. Here is a good article from the Detriot Free Press detailing the problem.


Landscape Transformations- Before & After

One of the great things about the design-build process of landscape construction is we get to take the projects from start to finish. We get to see some great transformations, and have a lot of fun with clients transforming their old yards into beautiful gardens in the process. It may sound like lip service, but few other segments of this or any industry allow that great client interaction. Each project is different and each has it owns challenges, which leads to interesting design and construction solutions for each project we complete.

 

Oil Prices & Energy Sustainability

With oil hitting $60 per barrel, one has to hope that eventually we will push for more sustainable energy sources on the small and large scale. The difficult thing to know is where we stand with our current oil based economy.

I have been following this issue closely for the past few months and the predictions give a wide range of possible scenarios. Some experts say that we reached a peak in oil production and that as the lines of supply and demand cross, with no extra production to fill the gap, that we will see a spike in oil prices. A few months back analysts at Goldman Sachs forecast the possibility of $100+ oil in the near future. That would obviously have severe ramifications for the US and world economies.

Conversely, US agencies such as the USGS and EIA (Energy Information Administration) predict oil supplies that will not peak until sometime between 2020-35. This is truly a different forecast than the pessimistic forecasts of the more conservative energy experts.

Unfortunately, it seems the only way we will know any thing conclusive is after we have gone past peak production. What we do not know is if there will be a prolonged plateau instead of a peak, when the peak will happen, and what other energy sources (Natural Gas, Nuclear, Hydrogen Fuel Cell, Wind or Solar) will be able to pick up some or all of the slack.

We do know that US production has peaked (early 1970’s) from around 10 million barrels of production a day to a current production of 5 million barrels. It is from this peak that many forecasters predict the world oil peak (using a model know as Hubbert’s Peak).

This is a very interesting subject for us. Obviously our fixed business costs and stream of work would be adversely impacted by such scenarios as $100 oil in the near future. It will be fascinating to see how it plays out.

ASPO_2004.png
The organization ASPO predicts that oil production will peak around 2007.
Copyright Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas Newsletter

Oil Links:
EIA
Hubbert’s Peak
Goldman Sachs “Is There Life after $60/bbl?”
Google News Oil Prices


David Allen- Learning Blackbelt Productivity

Here is another great resource that has been influential in our office that has helped us increase effectiveness and efficiency. Author and productivity master David Allen’s books Getting Things Done and Ready for Anything give a great system for organizing everything that needs to get done in a system that works. Allen’s basic tenet- get things out of your head (or your ineffective system) and into systematized processes that work consistently and effectively.

One of the things that differentiates Allen is that the books go beyond the theory of “Getting Things Done,” he walks you through the processes with some great tools. The tools are as simple as a basic tickler file to make sure you don’t forget your dentist appointment on Monday, to more advanced gadgets like his firm’s Getting Things Done Plugin for Microsoft Outlook.

As you can tell we are big fans. Find out more at the David Allen Company website or read David Allen’s blog for more information.


CLCA Awards

I attended the California Landscape Contractor Awards Last night (CLCA) for our region, which includes Marin and Sonoma County. We were fortunate to win an award for a design-build project we completed this last year. There was a lot of tough competition and beautiful projects. See photos of the project below.

CLCA1
Brazilian Hardwood Deck and Cable Railing

CLCA2
Arizona Flagstone Entrance Pathway and Deck

CLCA3
Brazilian Hardwood Entrance Gate and Arizona Stripstone Wall

 

Postcards from the Road

Well this is a feat of our mobile technology. I am posting this entry from I-5 on my Blackberry. We made the jump from regular Nextel Phones to Blackberries for our management staff. It has made keeping track of emails and meetings a breeze. It beats the days when we used to haul around a laptop and cell phone with data connection to check mobile email.

We have always been early adopters at our firm. We had some of the first digital cameras for consumers on the market and we were one of the first firms with a website in our industry and area.

It sure shows have computers have advanced from unstable and bug ridden machines, to stable and powerful communications tools.

Service Headache

Sometimes it seems like companies are just trying to beat off their customers with a stick. Take for example one of our large stone suppliers. Every time there is an adventure in itself; changing policies, incorrect billing, incompetent and untrained employees. The list goes on and on. We spend tens of thousands of dollars with this vendor every year. What it does do is make us do it look for other outlets for stone products and use the service oriented companies whose price may be a bit higher.

It’s something that we notice with contractors as well. Working with another contractor on a recent project was a frustrating experience. After unanswered calls and missed meetings it wasn’t a hard act to follow to look great in the eyes of our client.

Not to be overly promotional, but this is something we try to stress as a point of difference. With cell phones and Blackberries quick and seamless response has become even easier. I just wish many of the other companies we deal with had the same emphasis.


Great Planning Software

Wanted to share a great planning tool that we use in our office for brainstorming, planning and to-do lists. The software is MindManger by MindJet located locally here in Larkspur http://www.mindjet.com/. The software allows you to quickly brainstorm, lay out visually to do lists and planning. It also works well as it integrates directly into Microsoft Office and Outlook. We use it throughout our company for planning purposes and recommend it for anyone looking for a great planning tool. There is a full feature 21 day trial available on the MindJet website.