One of my favorite metaphors in life is "adjustment of the rudder", making small but continual changes to keep one on course to reach a desired destination or goal rather than miss wide of the mark. Normally — and I hesitate to use that word as it’s rapidly becoming meaningless — small tweaks in a good management plan have usually been sufficient. But there are occasions when a hard pull on the tiller — a pivot in today's business-speak — is required to avoid impending disaster, particularly when navigating uncharted waters like we’ve been in since early 2020.
I was somewhat surprised to see that it’s been over a year since I wrote my last missive for this column. Only 'somewhat' because I have intentionally stepped back into the tall grass to watch and wait, observe and assess, take notes and keep my mouth (relatively) shut while the mayhem and chaos of the past two years plays out.
Watching and waiting is OK until those observations send up a flare that demands immediate action, sort of like seeing tufts of Pythium mycelium in the early morning.
Watching and waiting is OK until those observations send up a flare that demands immediate action...
Such was the case in early 2020 when Syngenta notified us that they were not going to renew sponsorship of our Superintendent's Best Friend dog calendar for 2021, after having done so for about a dozen years. The original dog calendar concept was Jon Kiger’s idea for SuperNews back in 2001 so he was "emotionally attached", but truth be told it had been copied twice and had lost its distinction, becoming a commodity in the eyes of many. After much debate and a bit of relief we decided to let it fade into oblivion, opting to instead feature many more of our "best friends" every week in our Tuesday email. No fuss/no muss, no solicitation or processing of photos, no graphic artist, no paper, printing or postage. Good to go. Lean and mean.
Several other larger advertisers cut back their "spend" with us in 2020 due to the uncertainty of the pandemic. Membership revenue lagged a bit as well, but that was no real surprise due to the COVID lockdowns and lack of play early in the year.
The full impact of the pandemic on our business hit home in September 2020 when I received our financial reports for the first eight months of the year. The red ink on the bottom line of that report was like the proverbial Gatorade ice dump down my back. I have never understood the concept of working hard only to lose money, and thankfully we have never done so. That said, if the trend of 2020 to that point continued through the remainder of the year, we would not live to play another round in 2021. A hard pivot was required.
Jon Kiger, John Reitman and I proceeded to take apart the business and examine everything with a cold-eyed stare. We blew it up, nothing sacred. We restructured our own compensation, dispensed with marginal programs, clamped down on non-critical expenses, and adjusted policies as needed.
It worked. We wound up 2020 at break-even with a shot of inertia going into 2021.
Our plan for 2021 moving forward was to do fewer things but do them better. Some decisions were made for us, like curtailing travel. Nobody went anywhere in 2020, and that turned out just fine. We had the expense of GIS Orlando (including our Beer & Pretzels Gala) on the books for 2020, but that money not spent in 2021 went right to the bottom line.
Our plan for 2021 moving forward was to do fewer things but do them better...
We also prioritized our efforts toward the small and medium advertisers who appreciate what we do and benefit from the expertise we offer. We expanded our relationships with them and added new ones. They became our meat and potatoes, and were pleasant and fun to work with. Fun is good. We all need to grab fun where we can.
As 2021 unfolded and we stayed put — no GIS, no sales calls, no regional conferences or trade shows — two things happened. The black ink at the bottom of our financials climbed steadily higher month by month back to pre-Covid levels, even though on a smaller footprint. Perhaps even more importantly, the three of us agreed that we were more relaxed, less harried and frazzled than we could ever remember.
Another whammy came mid-year when Syngenta told us they were moving on from their long-term sponsorship of our Superintendent of the Year (SOY) award program. Similar to the dog calendar, after much debate we decided that after 20 years it had indeed run its course, and heaved a sigh of relief.
For similar reasons we have decided to fold our Technician of the Year (TOY) award program, which had also been copied. Instead, we will be rolling out two new recognition programs in 2022 that will highlight individuals from interns to mechanics to assistants to superintendents who are doing a killer job and deserve recognition. We have some great partners lined up. These programs will be lightweight to administer, fun to execute, and include a lot more people throughout the year than SOY and TOY did.
These programs will be lightweight to administer, fun to execute, and include a lot more people throughout the year than SOY and TOY did...
That brings us to the shows. Looking ahead to GIS in San Diego, international travel hassles have obviated Jon Kiger’s Emerald Challenge golf tournament with Irish superintendents. We no longer have the obligation of a Thursday afternoon SOY presentation. With family considerations making travel difficult for John and me, we decided to skip GIS/San Diego altogether in favor of covering the show remotely. Unfortunately that means the 25-year run for Beer & Pretzels will come to a halt, but perhaps that’s run its course as well. Beyond next year, who knows?
The three of us are finding the new normal of this year to our liking. We simply do what we do, quietly and efficiently without a whole lot of running around. Our pivot brought us back from the unforeseen brink. TurfNet is healthy and viable, refocused and prepared for whatever unknowns lie ahead.