How to Survive the Coming Lawn Care Labor Crisis

Published on January 11, 2018

We’ve got a problem. A lawn care labor crisis is on its way down the pike.

It's a big, ugly, in-your-face problem.

There aren’t any visas. The H2-B program has been critically blocked for the 2018 lawn care season. Most of the visas went to Hurricane Harvey clean-up.

Lawn Care Companies will have too…

  • Drop clients (because they can't find any field employees).
  • Fire sales staff (because they can't take on any more work).
  • Owners who have been off the truck for years will have to go back... and work double overtime.

And, worst of all, companies... maybe even your company... will collapse under the weight of this critical “black swan” event.

What is a "Black Swan" Event?

A black swan event is something that happens far outside of the norm for whatever industry it takes place in.

It was invented to describe unpredictable, substantial downturns in the financial sector. Like a previously well-regarded investment taking a sudden nose-diving (*cough* the housing market *cough*).

Sometimes these events end up being very obvious in hindsight, but they typically catch a large swath of any industry off-guard.

With the impending lawn care labor crisis, you have the chance to act before a huge number of your competitors. You may even save your business.

How to Protect Your Business from the "Dry" Labor Well

The disappearance of H2-B visas for our industry this year is going to cripple hundreds of landscaping and lawn care businesses.

Many companies will simply not be able to find the labor to perform their jobs.

Everyone will be competing for the shrunken labor pool.

This will drive the average hourly cost of a field employee through the roof. The way you can get ahead of this is to pay more than your competitors. It’s better to be in business with diminished profits than to go under because you refused to pay someone $2 an hour more than you thought they were worth.

The only way you can afford to pay more for labor is by:

  1. Knowing how much a client is worth to you.
  2. Raising prices or dropping unprofitable clients.

Hire ASAP to Get the Best Candidates Before Your Competitors

Smart business owners (a.k.a, you) will start their hiring rush significantly earlier to avoid getting left out in the cold of the lawn care labor crisis.

As we've said on The Profit Roadmap, keep in mind that the best candidate may not be the most experienced person you can find.

Don’t wait around for sloppy seconds and dented cans. Find great employees as soon as you can get them. This will almost certainly mean hiring before your season actually begins.

Use this time to:

  • Take care of any maintenance around the shop.
  • Train employees on field procedures and the software you use.
  • Get to know new employees and graft them into your company culture.

The Best Way to Secure Labor During the Biggest Pinch This Decade

You’re going to need to branch beyond your usual watering holes here.

Think outside the box.

Mike Callahan in New York has been hiring people WITHOUT reliable transportation. They’ve turned out to be good employees. He’s paying for them to Uber to work each day.

This is the kind of box you have to leap outside in order to survive this lawn care labor crisis.

Who are the neglected potential employees in your area?

Can you work around awkward schedules? Bend your work hours the right away to adapt, so you can be a second job or hire people still in school.

Young People (the oft-maligned “Millennial” and, now, "Gen Z")

There’s a stereotype in the Lawn Care community (particularly in the Facebook groups) that millennials don’t want to work. They’re lazy. They expect too much money for not enough work.

You see 1995 on the application and throw it in the garbage.

Here’s the problem with that line of thought:

  1. Your parents’ generation said the same thing about you. Their parents thought the same about them. And so has every previous generation. It’s not a new stereotype.
  2. You don’t have the luxury of blindly dismissing a huge section of employable people. Especially not during an unprecedented lawn care labor crisis.
  3. They can find a decent paying job without you. One that doesn’t involve hard physical labor and getting sunburnt.

Remember to consider the proposition you’re laying before prospective employees: 10-12 hour days through the heat of the summer doing intense physical labor. And, then, depending on your winter situation, no work in the off-season.

If you’re paying minimum wage, they can get that and free sandwiches in the air conditioning at Subway. It’s not that this new generation is lazy and doesn’t want to work. It’s that they have well-paid options elsewhere.

Avoid the Top 12 Hiring Mistakes Lawn Care Companies Make

Think Outside the Labor Box

Keep looking where you’ve always found candidates previously.


Don’t stop there.

Every market is different. The one thing they have in common is that somewhere there’s a rock that neglected. Under that rock is an untapped labor pool.

  1. Talk to your material suppliers. They know your industry and the people in it. They’ll know when someone is looking for work.
  2. Post on your personal Facebook AND your business page. Offer a referral bounty for new employees who stick around.
  3. Use all of the strategies outlined in this post. Then rinse and repeat.

The Craziest Place to Find Employees:

If you’re paying more than anyone in your area, if you’ve got awesome culture (people love working for you) consider posting in the many industry groups online that you’re willing to help potential employees relocate.

There are a lot of young, single people who would be willing to give a new city a shot if it meant a job with good pay and a company they love working for.

Heck, there are probably some people with families willing to move for a pay bump and awesome perks.

Fit Small Business asked numerous business owners and executives for their off-the-wall hiring ideas. My favorite came from a restauranteur (an industry with a similar labor issue), he said that he is constantly talking to strangers. When he meets someone who seems personable and friendly, he asks about their work situation.

Be friendly. Talk to people you don’t know. If they seem like a good fit for your company, ask about their job. Ask if they enjoy what they’re doing. Ask them if they want to work at an awesome company.

In a Competitive Labor Market, Perks become King

If everybody is paying the highest amount they can while remaining profitable, companies start selling new employees on perks.

This is why places like Google have insane things like nap chairs and Olympic swimming pools on their campuses. They’re competing to get the best engineers.

You’re in a more competitive environment.

Let that sink in.

It’s harder to find someone to do manual labor for you than it is to find an engineer for a software company. And 2018's lawn care labor crisis is only going to make it harder.

You have to take their competitive methods and figure out how to apply them to your business.

Perk ideas:

  • Paid lunches and breaks.
  • Sporadic free lunch or coffee.
  • Company phone for personal use.
  • Use of company vehicle in off-hours.

Anything you can do to make your company an awesome place to work is going to help keep employees engaged.

Companies with engaged employees are going to keep those employees.

And during the labor crisis of 2018, those good retention rates are going to be rare.

Make your company a hard place to leave...

...and a great place to stay.

Stay vigilant, hustle, and push harder than anyone in your market, you can survive this “black swan” lawn care labor crisis. This season will be tough. You'll have to make sacrifices to stay afloat.


Don’t give in to fear or insecurity. Your business can not only survive, it can thrive on the other side of an event like this. By reading this blog post, you’re acknowledging that you need to lay aside old strategies that weren’t working, adopt new ones, adapt others. You’re already a step ahead of the competition.

On the other side of this event, you can be stronger and you can be ready to pick up the clients who got abandoned during the crisis.

Related:[2018 Update] How to Hire the Best Employees for Your Lawn Care Company

Cody Owen

Cody is a copywriter with Service Autopilot. He was writing before he could read, dictating stories to his mom. Of late, he distills business principles and practices learned from his ever-increasing trove of books and his year with SA Support into digestible blog posts designed to provide maximum value to service industry business owners.


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