Can Battery-Powered Lawn Care Equipment Give Your Landscaping Company A Competitive Advantage?
Have you ever thought about using battery powered lawn care equipment... but you've got range anxiety? Worried your run time is not going to last and you're going to be high and dry without any power?
Watch today’s interview with Nelson Lee, a professional landscape contractor with 30+ years of experience running a multi-million dollar landscaping company in New Jersey, Landscapeworks Incorporated, and president of the NJLCA to hear:
- How Nelson is slaying it AND reducing his carbon footprint with recent changes and improvements in battery technology
- How you can potentially gain a competitive advantage by using battery-powered equipment
- Which MAJOR national commercial landscape company invested in battery-power
Jack Jostes: Have you ever thought about using battery powered lawn care equipment but you've got range anxiety, you’re worried your runtime is not going to last and you're going to be high and dry without any power? Well in today's interview with Nelson Lee, the president of the New Jersey Landscape Contractor Association, and also a professional landscape contractor with over 30 years of experience, you'll learn how you can potentially gain a competitive advantage by using battery powered equipment and how recent changes in battery technology will get you through the whole workday. So check out today's interview and you'll see which major national company is investing in battery power and where's the industry headache?
Here we are with Nelson Lee, the president of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association, and he's also a landscape contractor who's been in business for over 30 years. He's the president of Landscapeworks Incorporated in New Jersey, Nelson and I met back at the GIE EXPO a few years ago and we've kept in touch and I’m really excited to come and speak at the Landscape New Jersey Trade Show and Conference. And one of the things that we've talked about that I want to interview you about today was electric and this whole shift in the industry to battery powered lawn care equipment. So Nelson, tell us a little bit about your background. Who are you, where are you from, and what kind of landscape work do you do.
Nelson Lee: Thanks for inviting me over to have this interview with you. I appreciate the opportunity to speak on my behalf on this. So I've been landscaping since 1988, started off, all three of us meet myself and I so I grew the company from that point to present to a little over $4 million in revenue, which I'm extremely proud of my team and what we've done. We do a lot of landscape maintenance, commercial and residential as well as some light landscape construction. I’ve enjoyed being the president of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association for the past five years and I'm looking forward to the next few more years that I will continue to be the president. So, as far as electric, I know you and I've had discussions about it in the past. I'm very excited about it.
I'm actually a user of electric products myself, started using the products about seven years ago, weed whackers and at that time handheld blowers. Batteries weren't very efficient back then. So the runtime we’d get is maybe about a half hour, 45 minutes between charges. That was when we started using electric about seven years ago.
Jack Jostes: And how has that changed now in 2020? What's it like now? What kind of run time can you get for some of the same equipment?
Nelson Lee: Oh my gosh, it's exponential. The amount of runtime with the ion lithium batteries now that they're using as opposed to back then. We're able to get at least an hour to an hour and a half, depending on which type of equipment we're using. An example would be weed whackers. We were able to get at least an hour to an hour and a half depending on the season. So in spring time in New Jersey grass grows extremely quickly. So it reduces the run time a little bit, which is expected. Summer time, my guys go an hour and a half, hedge trimmers, totally different out of a hedge trimmers we can get at least four to five hours on one time.
Jack Jostes: Wow. On one charge. And how many batteries do you have in your truck? On a day, on a normal workday, what would one of your crews have for each piece of equipment?
Nelson Lee: We like to have at least four batteries, depending on the size of the batteries because they do offer different sizes. So say from the smaller size where you may only get an hour and a half to two hours on one time on a hedge trimmer, we'll carry about eight batters. So we know at least we're getting a full eight hours.
Jack Jostes: And are you able to charge them in your vehicle or how does that work or is it all done back at the shop?
Nelson Lee: It's actually pretty neat right now. So a lot of the trucks are coming with inverters and what that does is convert your 12 volt battery power, which is what your trucks are to one tech. So literally you could plug in, an invert, you know, you plug into the charger through the truck and as you're driving the truck, it's charging the battery. Now there are companies out there that offer complete setups where it's solar power. So you're literally harvesting sun rays while you're doing your work and you're putting in your batteries right into the charger and the sun is feeding that. So it's awesome.
Jack Jostes: Yeah, that is really cool.
Nelson Lee: You were talking about zero carbon footprint. You can't ask for any more than that.
Jack Jostes: Carbon footprint is kind of a buzzword right now. What does that mean and why is it important to you, to decrease your carbon footprint as a contractor?
Nelson Lee: Well, carbon footprint should be important to everybody. I mean, anybody who's living on this planet should really consider what their carbon footprint is. And it's really how much material you actually take away from the earth and what you use. Plastic is another sort of carbon footprint kind of thing that people don't really think about. And they utilize it every day. We're talking about electric equipment right now. And if you can reduce the amount of use of gasoline and diesel through the use of electric you're going to reduce your footprint substantially. And one of the big things that I've noticed with my commercial maintenance is the fact that they know they're looking for contractors that can offer that type of service. Cause this way they're actually helping themselves with their lead credits, those complexes. And the fact that they have air, a lot of office complexes, hospitals, uh, industrial sites. They have air intakes that purify the air before it goes into the buildings, right? So for them to utilize contractors that use electric, you're reducing all the fumes that could get taken in through those air tanks and cause issues. I mean, there's literally hospitals that really want to see people using electric. So for sure. And that's really a push right now.
Jack Jostes: Yeah. So for sure with hospitals, absolutely. That safety and air quality is a bigger concern for them. What about for noise, right? I know that there's a big trend, especially with HOAs and just a lot of even other commercial work office centers where they don't want big noisy equipment coming by and disturbing people. Tell me a little bit about the sound impact. Is the battery powered equipment less noisy or is it the same as gas powered? What's that like?
Nelson Lee: No, it's absolutely less noisy. Oh, absolutely. You know with right now the use of blowers there's a lot of municipalities restricting the use of gas powered blowers within certain timeframes, especially during the summer when people are home enjoying their yards. And, you know, it's understandable. It's a little controversial right now. We're kind of on the forefront of what's going on with the use of battery power and trying to find a happy medium of allowing contractors to be able to utilize both pieces of equipment. And it should be a contractor's choice. But the noise is definitely one of the major factors as to why municipalities are going to electric. Why, you know, hospitals, why schools would really like the use of electric. Another major factor that goes along with the carbon footprint situation is the reduction of maintenance on the equipment.
The fact that they don't require any gasoline or oil. So the maintenance is reduced substantially. So now if you think about every piece of equipment that's being, uh, utilized, that's gas powered requires, especially if it's a four stroke engine, it requires oil changes, it's certain intervals, usually that intervals about 50 hours. So if you think about the time that you're saving and the money that you're saving of not utilizing or in any of your equipment, and you basically just plug it, plug and play right there, there's no waste. So not only are you not using the natural resource that comes out of the earth, but you're not having to figure out what to do to recycle it. So you're reducing your carbon footprint even more.
Jack Jostes: Yeah, that's awesome. So you've been doing this for about seven years and I know a handful of other landscape contractors who are using battery powered equipment. Do you know of any larger firms you know who are employing this with their fleets? That you know, cause I haven't, I wouldn't say that it's quite… It's definitely a trend. It's still kind of up and coming. It's not the norm yet, but I think it could be because of the reasons that you just shared. Have you seen any larger maybe national companies make the switch to battery powered?
Nelson Lee: I actually just had a conversation with the vendor that I utilized for my own battery powered equipment right now. And they mentioned to me that Brightview had just signed a contract with them to take it on a substantial amount of handheld battery powered equipment. And you know, they're paying for it, but it's, I guess it's going to be a beta test for them too, to see what the acceptance is, I mean obviously like a company like them, who you know has regions throughout the country. I mean, they cover almost 50 States. It's a $2 billion corporation. They see the benefits of going to battery. You know, I'm hoping that it's going to trickle down to the average landscaper. You know, I mean it's right now, and I understand the cost may be a little limiting for people to make a major switch immediately.
But I think what's happening is the fact that the municipalities are putting restrictions, the noise could be a factor. The amount of energy that's required with a gas and the decibels and the amount of pollutants that they claim that it causes is, you know, maybe opening up people's eyes and seeing that, you know, same with cars. Tesla is a huge innovator in what's going on. My belief is that a lot of the car manufacturers are not trying to play catch up and the people that are in it right now, meaning the battery powered equipment, I mean they were in it for the home and you know, and even going to the GIE where we met, I was probably about two or three years when we met the amount of vendors that are offering gas, you know, electric power as opposed to gaps. It's quadrupled.
Jack Jostes: It has, you know, I remember walking the showroom floor and a few years ago was primarily Greenworks had one of the biggest displays of battery powered equipment. And I love their booth because you can, you can try out chainsaws and you know, talk with them and it's really a cool booth. And you know, this year, yeah, you're right, there were a ton of people that are getting into that battery powered space. And I think the overall attitude towards batteries is starting to change. Because a few years ago it seemed like it was kind of a joke. You're kind of a hippie if you're using a battery power. This isn't a real tool, but now you know, people like you are getting amazing run times of several hours of these things and the technology just keeps getting better. So Nelson, for people who are listening who are thinking like, wow, this is really cool but I'm not doing anything with batteries, there is that initial hurdle of investing in the battery and honestly, once you get the battery, you're kind of stuck with that brand, right? What would you recommend to contractors who are thinking about using battery powered equipment but aren't yet? How can they try it out? How can they get started?
Nelson Lee: I think number one is if they have a relationship with your dealer who they usually buy their equipment from. A lot of dealers have those products on hand tomorrow. That's why actually you mentioned Greenworks and I think they're a great company. That's actually the company that I purchased my equipment from personally. I have accolades to talk about what their products offer and what we can do because I mean, I've had nothing but success with that particular manufacturer myself. So I think what the hurdle is with the average contractor, maybe as you mentioned, the cost being cost prohibitive. And I think if people get out of the mindset of the initial costs and think about the amount of money that they're spending on gasoline throughout the year, not a money that they're spending on the gas to power that equipment, the amount of money that they're spending for the guy trying to start that weed wacker in the morning, that may take 1518 poles every time they go to a job site.
You know, the man hours are going to save from that aggravation. You know, the aggravation of buying oil and did the guys on the crew mix the oil properly. If they over mixed it, you're adding more pollutants in the air because of the cause of the smoke and oil. If they didn't add enough, you're wearing the equipment down faster than it should be prematurely. To put a battery in and pull a trigger on a weed whacker and have it work instantaneously is amazing. And if they can get over the hurdle of the initial investment and they actually start using it, I think they'll see the benefit within three months and they'll wonder why they didn't switch to battery from that point forward. You know, I think it will be an immediate shift once they recognize all the benefits of it.
Jack Jostes: So Nelson, tell us a little bit about what you do with the NJLCA and, why should people join? Maybe not the NJLCA if they're not listening from New Jersey, but from a different state. Why is the state association important?
Nelson Lee: I think the state association period, whether it's NJLCA or any other state association in their state is a huge benefit because of what it does is it gives you the opportunity, number one, to network with like minded individuals who are maybe experiencing what you're experiencing as well. If you're a smaller contractor, learning from the larger contractors, maybe how to get to that next level. The only benefit is you get to learn all of the things that are going on in the industry that are cutting edge. For instance, this battery power. If you didn't have it in front of you and you weren't able to discuss it with other people, you may not know anything about it. If you had questions about it, I mean, other than going on the internet, there's really nobody physical that you can speak to. Maybe your dealer, but they're not going to give you an answer because they're not using it.
They're selling you. So to be part of an association allows you the opportunity, number one to network with people, you know, like minded people. Number two to find out about what's important in our industry. Cutting edge information legislation that may be going on in your state that you don't even know about that may prohibit you from doing something that you may or may not be able to do in the next two, three, six months that you may be against or for. I mean there's so many reasons to be active in an association. I'm also a member of all these associations in my own state. And the reason why I like to be active in other associations is because you never know what their take is on what's going on in the state. You know, their president may be advocating for other things that maybe we don't advocate for that people don't think about because maybe our association is geared towards one thing as opposed to other things, you know, I mean each association has their own niche and they provide products and services and information based on what that association offers, even though they're in the same industry.
Jack Jostes: What are some trends that you're seeing specific to New Jersey in landscaping?
Nelson Lee: One of them is definitely the use of battery power as we spoke about. It's kind of near and dear to my heart because of the carbon footprint reduction. So that's really important to me. A lot of the trends that are going on right now in New Jersey are legislative, so we're working right now to hopefully allow more people in to the country to work and provide labor because right now everybody knows labor is also a major buzzword in any industry. Forget about landscaping, any industry throughout the country. Labor's hard to come by. You know, we're trying to attract people and we're competing against others who are doing the same thing. So labor is definitely a major, major discussion. Another is, for those in the white industry, what we call the snow industry, how to work synonymous with landscaping.
You always talk about the two when you talk about landscaping, when you talked about snow landscapers, if I were to use percentages, I would probably be underestimating if I said 60% of landscape contractors also provide snow plowing. And you know, right now New Jersey has a little bit of a situation with slip and falls and you know, being a very litigious state, working on that forefront to change some of the language that's going to protect the contractor. So there's a lot of stuff going on, Jack, and I think people need to come to our trade show to find out everything that we're talking about. That's what's going to feed your head and make you a better contractor for sure.
Jack Jostes: Yeah. I can't wait to come. I'll be the keynote speaker this year at the Landscape New Jersey Trade Show and Conference. It's on February 26. So make sure you guys register online and Nelson thanks so much for doing this interview. If people want to network and contact you learn more, how can we get ahold of you?
Nelson Lee: The best ways that you can actually reach me, my email and that's email@example.com or you can reach out to the NJLCA and I'm sure Gail who is our Executive Director can get ahold of you and reach out to me. So very accessible.
Jack Jostes: Awesome. Nelson, thanks so much. And everyone, thanks for listening.