Before Joe DiBlasi joined the Navy or started an irrigation company, he learned service in a delicatessen on Long Island. One of his first jobs at the age of 15 was bagging groceries and then running outside to load customers’ cars.
“If I didn’t hit a customer for her car, I’d be in trouble,” he says. “Once a lady hit me next to her car and the owner gave it to me. I’ll never forget it.”
Forty years later, that lesson still drives DiBlasi to stay one step ahead of customer needs at JKJ Lawn Sprinkler, the irrigation company he founded in Denver in 1984. When people ask how he makes a living, he says, “I take care of people. Putting in sprinkler systems is what we do, but my job is to take care of customers and make sure they are happy. ”
Affinity for irrigation.
JKJ Lawn Sprinkler has steadily grown to $ 1 million in sales through its specialization in irrigation.
“We are primarily concentrating on maintaining the irrigation,” says DiBlasi. “We grew cautiously by doing a good job and looking after our customers. … We have the option of installing an entire installation, but then we don’t go away. ”
After the sprinkler systems have been installed, the DiBlasi crews return to switch them off in autumn and activate them free of charge next spring. Afterwards, many new customers invite JKJ to come for maintenance on a regular basis.
“When you have more than 700 people you already know and trust, you hardly have to spend on advertising or marketing.” Joe DiBlasi, founder
Others request services for their commercial real estate and are slowly increasing JKJ to a mix of 80 percent residential and 20 percent commercial customers. DiBlasi didn’t just keep track of watering because he enjoyed the outdoors, even though he did – as a kid, he kept multiple paper routes and mowed lawns in his neighborhood. Because of his technical background, he turned to the technical aspects of sprinklers. DiBlasi spent 22 years in the Navy and the Naval Reserve, where he learned “a lot about pumps, valves, accessories, diesel engines” and so on as a Navy engineer before retiring as Senior Chief.
When DiBlasi moved to Colorado in 1984, he found a gap in certified irrigation companies.
“Nobody liked it so I saw an opportunity,” he says. “I found that there are only 14 certified contractors in the entire state, so I became a certified irrigation contractor and certified landscape irrigation auditor through the Irrigation Association.”
Since JKJ Lawn Sprinklers was founded, DiBlasi has continued to focus on irrigation. However, if loyal customers request corresponding services, DiBlasi can make exceptions. From almost 750 irrigation customers in residential areas, DiBlasi mows a handful of lawns – mainly for older women, to whom he simply cannot say no.
After the sprinkler systems have been installed, the DiBlasi crews return to switch them off in autumn and activate them free of charge next spring. The company also performs maintenance on the system.
© Carlos Neto | Dream time
“I’ll do it if I have to, but I’m not trying to grow it. (Mowing and landscaping are) just too competitive in the Denver area, ”he says. “We take care of customers’ sprinklers, and if they need a tree or a ledge or a deck or a fence they give me a call. Either we do it or I bring in a trusted subcontractor to do it for me. ”
Over the years DiBlasi has put together what is known as the “team with the gray beard” – a group of experienced contractors like him with industry certifications and decades of experience in their respective professions.
When he needs to hire an electrician, plumber, landscape architect, or planner / builder, he gives one of them a call.
“It helps to work with other contractors,” says DiBlasi. “It uses your time and money.” It also expands its ability to take on larger projects than JKJ could do with just eight employees.
A new pipeline for growth.
DiBlasi outsourced plumbing to his friend Dave, a licensed master plumber, for 20 years.
When Dave was about to retire – and DiBlasi’s son Joey became interested in plumbing after growing up in the family business – DiBlasi saw an opportunity to use Dave’s skills.
‘Jobby’ work becomes a small profit center
When Joe DiBlasi saw his son Joey making a sign out of an old picket fence, he had an idea. DiBlasi combined the ingenuity of his son with the cunning of his wife and began to transform discarded materials in the form of painted wooden flags into garden art.
The stripes of each flag – decorated with either U.S. or Colorado emblems – are cut from cedar fences pulled from customer yards. The hangers on the back are made of barbed wire from a friend’s ranch. Even the paint is reclaimed.
At first, DiBlasi only made a few flags as a customer gift. Then he and his wife, Kelly, began taking them to craft fairs across the state. After the flags were sold out at several shows, the small side business flourished.
“It was just a small project, something I could do with my wife, and it really has grown into just another small profit center,” says DiBlasi, whose staff popped in to build and paint flags two years ago when the weather did it prevented irrigation or snow removal work. “It’s just fun. We call it “Jobby” work – job / hobby – so it’s not really a business model; It’s just getting money back that we invest to make it. ”
DiBlasi doesn’t even measure the labor cost of making flags, as his family usually paints them while they watch movies or hockey together in the winter.
While they may not be a significant source of income for JKJ Lawn Sprinkler, the flags bring enough profit to give something back.
“I donate 10 percent of my earnings to veteran organizations like the USO and Disabled American Veterans,” said DiBlasi, who served 22 years in the Navy and Naval Reserve. “I had to find a way to still help (those who serve) for our country. Everyone has to do a little more. ”
He hired Dave to lead JKJ’s plumbing division and mentored Joey, a certified landscaping technician through the ALCC who is earning his plumbing license.
“Now we can take over the connection point for the sprinkler system and the interior installation,” says DiBlasi. “People think that external plugs are external installations or irrigation systems, but they are actually internal installations. You have to have the right license and insurance for that, and we have that now. ”
The new division is helping JKJ tap a steady flow of years of plumbing to offset the seasonality of the sprinkler business. DiBlasi sees growth potential in the plumbing industry that will increase JKJ Lawn Sprinkler sales.
“The margins on plumbing are astronomically better than on irrigation and landscaping,” he says.
“Everyone has a water heater, toilet, and faucet, and when you have 700+ people you already know and trust, you hardly have to spend on advertising and marketing.”
Upgrades that save.
During the irrigation maintenance, the JKJ crew can suggest water conservation suggestions. As a certified water protection specialist, DiBlasi writes customer case studies to document these upgrades – and the resulting drop in water bills – to illustrate the benefits and act as a sales tool.
“Water bills are pure math that shows people the return on investment,” he says. “You can show them right on their water bill how they are saving 2,400 or 3,200 gallons of water in one season. You really save 30 percent by swapping parts. ”
“We have the option of installing an entire installation, but then we won’t go away.” Joe DiBlasi, founder
Customers aren’t the only ones benefiting from water-saving upgrades. DiBlasi also rewards employees with sales incentives. A rain sensor makes $ 25, and for more complex system upgrades, the reward increases as a percentage of the project cost.
With Denver water rates increasing, JKJ is able to serve water conscious customers.
“We live on the plateaus and are always just waiting for the next drought cycle,” says DiBlasi. “The Front Range population has doubled since I moved here in 84, and it will double again in less than 10 years.
“The water supply is not doubling. So what’s going to happen? We’ll see more cities offering discounts to remove lawn grass and do Xeriscape landscaping – but that also needs watering. ”