COVID not over for landscapers

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Pictured is an original outdoor space created by Sonnenberg Landscaping Material & Supplies located off Hanover Road north of Waterloo. 

With test positivity rates and active COVID hospitalizations dropping in the region, many are eager to declare the pandemic over. 

Yet, many in the landscaping industry are finding the pandemic is having lasting impacts on their field. 

Chris Sonnenberg, co-owner of Sonnenberg Landscaping Material & Supplies, said demand for the materials and landscaping services his company supplies naturally rises with the first couple days of spring weather. 

The pandemic exacerbated this effect, he said.

“Ever since COVID hit, a lot of people stayed home and focused on their outdoor living areas, so there was a lot of demand that caused material shortages,” Sonnenberg said. 

Just because life has returned to normal for many and less are spending all their time at home does not mean landscapers saw relief from material shortages, Sonnenberg said. 

As he and Adam Linnemann, CEO and president of Linnemann Lawn Care and Landscaping, explained, there are many factors causing material shortages. 

Linnemann said his company has seen a shortage of everything from retaining wall blocks to weed barrier fabric.

“The labor shortage in general has made the production of those products more difficult,” Linnemann said. “It’s not that they don’t have enough concrete and gravel to make the block, it’s that the companies don’t have enough labor to make the product in a timely manner to keep up with our demand.” 

Between this, the shortage of truckers and other transportation personnel and key supplies being held up at ports, lead time for many materials is much longer than normal. 

“Lead times that were usually 1-2 days are now anywhere from 1-3 months,” Sonnenberg said. “It’s just an ongoing battle between the suppliers not having the inventory, limited trucking and (more) that has just added costs to everything.” 

Linnemann said fertilizing services have borne a great brunt of rising prices. 

“Fertilization costs have gone up about 25-30 percent,” Linnemann said. “A combination of that plus labor (costs) in general going up in order for us to keep good help has caused us to have to raise our prices drastically on our lawn care programs where we go out and fertilize and spray for weeds and all that.” 

Sonnenberg said his customers too have paid more for his materials and services during the pandemic. 

“Last year alone we had suppliers increase their prices two different times, then this year we’ve already seen another price increase,” Sonnenberg said. “Unfortunately we cannot eat that. (If we didn’t raise prices) we would not be here to sell you guys rock anymore.” 

And, with changing prices, quoting a job has become frustrating for both landscapers and customers alike. 

“It used to be that we would get a price list from our vendors at this time of year and we would be able to use that price list as we quote our jobs. Now, the prices are changing week to week so we’ve been staying on top of our vendors to get an updated price list almost on a monthly basis or so to make sure that we’re quoting our jobs accurately so we’re not losing money,” Linnemann said. 

The pandemic has made it so vehicles’ prices have been fluctuating too, seemingly increasing more every minute as their shortage warrants so. This has led many in the business to be wary of replacing them. 

“We usually replace equipment every couple of years and upgrade our equipment,” Linnemann said. “Now we’re facing having to replace equipment here soon, and I’m trying to hold out as long as I can because I kind of refuse to pay the ridiculous prices of new vehicles right now – if you can even get them.” 

Due to it being hard to find additional help and needing to raise pay to incentivise the small group of individuals they attract, both Sonnenberg and Linnemann operate thin, yet reliable and knowledgeable, teams.

This means one person getting sick could greatly impact work timelines. 

“With COVID it was a little bit challenging whenever you had a team member who contracted it and would need to be off work for a week or 10 days, whatever the quarantine period was at the time,” Linnemann said. “When you’re trying to run a lean company and … COVID takes out a good qualified team member that you count on and then maybe a couple months later another one gets it, it hurts production of our work.” 

Sonnenberg said the best thing customers can do to beat the business of the season and the lead time for materials is to book labor in advance, as reputable contractors will be booked quickly. 

“I would recommend that consumers plan ahead,” Sonnenberg said. “If they’re having anybody install their work, make sure that they are licensed, insured and know what they’re doing because we’ve run into a few issues with bad contractors installing bad work and basically ripping off these homeowners.” 

For more information on Sonnenberg Landscaping Material & Supplies, visit sonnenberglandscaping.com or call 618-939-9121. To learn more about Linnemann Lawn Care & Landscaping, visit linnemannlawncare.com or call 618-939-4769.

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