Conserva Irrigation Finds Women-Owned Franchises Perform Better Amid Pandemic
“Conserva is on the leading edge of water conservation, which is so critical everywhere and absolutely here in Florida," said Vanesa Ellis, a 'zee of Conserva Irrigation in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.
Vanesa Ellis immigrated to the United States from Argentina when she was a little girl. Her parents told her “whatever is in your head, you can get it done,” and that positive reinforcement never left her. Now, in addition to running a successful Mosquito Squad business, Ellis opened a Conserva Irrigation franchise in March 2019 and is one of the top performers in the system.
“Coming to the U.S. was kind of a dream come true, so now to have two businesses as a woman in such a man-dominated industry has been a huge accomplishment for me,” Ellis said. “Women can get anything done they want to do.”
Prior to the pandemic, the landscaping and irrigation industry saw a steady uptick in women business ownership. In her first year of owning the Conserva Irrigation of Northeast Florida in Ponte Vedra Beach, Ellis had a topline revenue of more than $140,000 with a 280 percent sales increase since last year.
However, The National Women’s Law Center reported women were hit hardest by unemployment caused by pandemic business closures. Though women make up 49 percent of America’s workforce, women also accounted for 55 percent of job losses in April. Women of color were affected even more so, with the unemployment rate for Black women increasing to 16.4 percent and Latina women 20.2 percent. By comparison, the unemployment rate for white men was 12.4 percent.
Despite the ongoing recession and rising unemployment rates across the board, Conserva Irrigation documented a 40 percent increase in year-over-year sales as of June. The brand has also found its women-owned franchised territories to be some of the most successful in the system amid COVID-19, averaging at a range of 62-278 percent in YOY sales increases. Case in point: Ellis reported her sales grew by 157 percent from last April to this April.
“With COVID, because clients are staying at home and trying to enjoy their yards so much, we’ve gotten just a flow of calls to get irrigation fixed,” Ellis said. “It’s absolutely great for us even though we hate why it’s happening. It’s definitely a mixed feeling, but the business has been thriving.”
Ellis noted that the money people usually spend on vacations is going back into their yards, as well. Her greatest challenge has been taking every precaution necessary to ensure both her employees and customers stay safe by monitoring the pandemic every day.
When governors started issuing stay-at-home orders, Ellis was scared every business would shut down, “but then the phones started blowing off the hook and we said, 'OK, I think we can get this done in a very professional and careful way,'” Ellis said. Though Conserva Irrigation was classified as an essential business, Ellis and her team were advised by their franchisor Outdoor Living Brands to apply for a PPP loan, which they received but haven’t needed to access yet.
“The support from our franchisor has been amazing. I’m so thankful for Russ Jundt (founder of Conserva Irrigation) and his team and their weekly calls and daily emails,” Ellis said. “You don’t get that support if you’re just a business owner without that franchise backing. In a time like this, you really learn to appreciate it.”
Irrigation and water conservation concept
In addition to Conserva Irrigation, Outdoor Living Brands offers franchises including Archadeck, Outdoor Lighting Perspectives and Renew Crew. The franchisor sold Mosquito Squad to Authority Brands in December 2018. Owning a Mosquito Squad franchise was one reason why Ellis chose Conserva Irrigation.
“The reason I got into the business was first because of Outdoor Living Brands. I felt comfortable with them since I owned Mosquito Squad, one of their sister companies, and I knew the model of Conserva was a great one,” Ellis said. “I also felt the Florida market for irrigation is so strong year-round. We’re the Sunshine State, so irrigation is crucial to keep lawns green.”
July is Smart Irrigation Month, an Irrigation Association initiative to celebrate the social, economic and environmental benefits of efficient irrigation technologies and practices. Another reason Ellis was drawn to Conserva Irrigation is because it’s the only national outdoor irrigation company founded on the concept of water conservation. About 1.5 billion gallons of water are wasted daily on irrigation alone, but Conserva Irrigation’s technology can reduce water usage from irrigation by up to 60 percent, not only saving water but also money for homeowners and businesses.
“That aspect totally piqued my interest. It’s such a niche and it’s so appealing,” Ellis said. Her husband is an environmental consultant, so eco-friendly practices are a priority for the couple. “Conserva is on the leading edge of water conservation, which is so critical everywhere and absolutely here in Florida because the population is growing at such a rapid pace, the resources for water are less and less. I wanted to be a part of the solution.”