April 19, 2001

Going digital

  • TruGreen supercharges its sales presentations with the help of digital cameras.
    Special to the Journal

    The versatility of digital photography is helping TruGreen LandCare build and retain its client roster in the Puget Sound area. That roster includes a who’s-who list of local developers, municipalities and companies.

    Digital photography enables people with average camera skills to take sharp color photos, review them on the spot and load them into a computer. They can drop them into a Web site, e-mail them to clients, brighten a brochure or dress up a PowerPoint presentation. Many of the company’s offices have found that high-tech digital imaging is helping them build down-to-earth service performance at the grass roots level.

    “Site photos, for instance, can be incorporated in a contract proposal, creating great visual impact,” said Tom Burgess, business development manager for TruGreen’s Everett office. “We find this new medium invaluable in our presentations to prospective customers.”

    The technology also benefits clients who are based out of the state, and those in the state who find it difficult to visit all of their properties regularly.

    The dope on digital cameras
    TruGreen LandCare’s Everett branch manager Greg McDonald said the company’s Sony FD88 digital camera makes his marketing programs more productive with less effort, keeps customers satisfied and intrigues prospective customers. The $1,000 camera has a resolution of 1.3 megapixels, adequate for sharp color prints up to 3x5 inches, uses a built-in 8x telephoto lens and saves 25 to 30 low-resolution photos on a 3.5-inch floppy disk, unique to Sony digital cameras.

    Many digital cameras now offer resolutions of 2.1 or 3.3 megapixels, allowing prints from color printers up to 5x7 or 8x10 inches, respectively. A new Olympus model has reached 4 megapixel resolution, costing about $2,000.

    Sharp photos are easy with cameras starting at around $500 that provide at least 1.3 megapixel images, but the design and ease of use vary widely.

    The palm-sized Casio QV-2300UX ($700) produces sharp 2.1 megapixel photos but there is no viewfinder, only an LCD screen, which may be a disadvantage for some uses since the screen makes focusing difficult in low-light situations. Its 3x optical zoom is about like a 41mm-128mm zoom lens on a 35mm film camera.

    Nikon’s Coolpix 990 ($1,000) is a slim 3.34-megapixel camera that produces very sharp images and also has a sharp color LCD screen, plus a viewfinder for composing pictures. Some cameras’ LCD screens show grainy images, although the finished pictures are sharp. The Nikon 990 also has a 3x zoom and uses memory cards with varying storage space.

    Sony’s CD-1000 ($1,300) is a large 2.1-megapixel camera with a powerful 10x optical zoom lens that is equal to a 35mm-350mm lens on a 35mm camera. It has a viewfinder and LCD screen and saves photos to a mini-CD disk. The disk can be inserted in any computer CD-ROM tray to transfer photos to any computer without the need for transfer-software in the particular computer.

    Digital cameras are power-hogs, so buying an AC adaptor and rechargeable batteries is a good idea since the AA batteries that power digital cameras get drained fairly quickly, depending on use.

    Photo-management software programs bundled with the purchase of digital cameras provide options for downloading pictures from the camera to a computer, naming the photo files, organizing them into folders and editing them in a variety of ways, including cropping, brightening, sharpening and adjusting color saturation.

    Pictures can be easily transferred into PowerPoint presentations, e-mail, word processing documents or Internet Web sites, among other options.

    “They get excited about it when they receive an e-mail photo showing them what we’re doing for their properties,” Burgess said, pointing to pictures on his laptop computer showing TruGreen’s progress on a $350,000 landscaping enhancement at the Schnitzer North Creek Business Campus near Bothell.

    “When we prepare a PowerPoint presentation for a client, a proposal on annual planting, for example, we include views of their site and photos of similar landscape themes we’ve used elsewhere. We show them everything graphically on a laptop screen,” he said.

    TruGreen’s clients include property managers for office parks, retail centers, hotels, resorts, municipalities, high-tech campuses and large residential developments, providing them with landscape design, installation, maintenance, renovation and repairs. The company also works with landscape architects in the area.

    Customer response to the visual impact of digital photos has been so strong that Burgess said each of the company’s Northwest offices is building its own library of pictures, including before-and-after photos of developed sites. The pictures are readily available for dropping into colorful marketing brochures, impressive bid proposals and the company’s Web site.

    “It’s a great way to help property managers think of landscaping as marketing instead of just maintenance. In the last five to 10 years people have begun realizing how much landscaping can impact their lease rate. More property managers are now budgeting for landscaping to create curb appeal, rather than suddenly realizing, ‘My God, we’ve got to get someone to mow the bloody grass,’” Burgess said, his native England accent showing through.

    Another aspect of the company’s business is helping clients to plan ahead for their landscape needs, according to Greg McDonald, TruGreen’s Everett branch manager.

    “We want to help property managers protect their investment so we send what we call ‘budget letters’ to clients, with photos, to remind them toward the end of the year about next year’s work. It’s kind of a proactive property review. We use our photos to identify problem areas, drainage issues, the kind of work that is separate from regular maintenance. Property managers like it because they don’t want to get into the new year and find they haven’t budgeted for these items because they weren’t aware of them,” he said.

    TruGreen’s approach to creating proposals and presentations is attracting more and more attention, Burgess said.

    “In our industry, it’s more common for clients to get a single-page proposal. For our larger accounts, we present several pages, plus a contract page. It’s amazing to see people’s reactions. We provide them with photos and a description of our proposal, along with sheets on safety precautions, company information and a contact list of branch managers and the supervisor who will be working on their project,” Burgess said.

    Burgess also takes a laptop computer with him to show photos of a client’s property and examples of similar projects TruGreen has done.

    “We can bring a powerful vision impact to our presentations, gathered around the laptop, without having to go into the field for site visits,” he said. “For larger customers with $40,000 to $50,000 a year contracts, a level we bid at, we can distance ourselves from our competitors. Professionally it puts us on a different level.”

    Terry Stephens is a freelance writer based in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at

    Terry Stephens is a freelance writer based in Arlington. He can be reached by e-mail at

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