Owner, Tri-Asian Enterprises
We met up with Bob Makimoto, a landscape maintenance contractor and owner of Tri-Asian Enterprises in Loomis, at Roseville’s Hillsborough Park. You can often tell a lot about a landscaper’s philosophy and values by looking at the work they do “up close and personal.” The park looked beautifully cared for but didn’t give any glaring clues that new technology was on the scene. He pointed out that new weather-driven “smart” controllers had been installed on this property as well as many others, thanks to generous Cash for Grass, Smart Controller and other rebate programs available to landscape contractors through the City of Roseville and San Juan Water District.
Bob maintains over 900 acres of commercial properties, trees, shrubs and turf in the Johnson Ranch area and takes great pride in the fact that his clients who have upgraded to the new controllers are seeing significant savings over last year. We often wondered who maintained these properties in such pristine condition! Little did we know that Bob and his crew were on the scene changing outdated modalities of irrigation to highly efficient, cost-effective systems while saving his clients at least 25 percent and up to 40 percent in water costs.
We asked him how and why he became interested in the new technologies and how he had convinced so many of his clients to change to weather-driven controllers and low-precipitation nozzles. “After I found out about the fantastic rebates available to my customers, I began presenting the idea to clients’ property managers, based directly on cost savings,” he said. “I pointed out that they would be on a tiered water-rate beginning in 2012, and since many had monthly bills in the thousands of dollars, they listened. The rebates were an added incentive that worked well—the ‘go words’ for my clients were ‘save money’ and ‘rebates’!!” Makimoto added with a smile, “Up until then there was little or no interest in changing—they just wanted everything to look green.”
But before he went to his clients, Bob needed to be convinced himself. Having been a landscape contractor for installation and now maintenance over 30 years, he learned from “the old school.” Laughingly admitting he is not computer savvy, Bob was skeptical but decided to check out the floods of information touting smart controllers and the other new irrigation hardware breakthroughs. He had attended seminars by the makers of different controllers but found himself with too much technical information and not enough practical. Working with his two sons and business partners who are more familiar with computers, however, they sought professional support from various manufacturers of the new controllers and found there were products suited to virtually any situation, hard-wired or battery operated. The new low-precipitation nozzles were a big hit, as was the ease and low cost of changing them out. “They use two-thirds less water and it goes deeper!” Bob had been using shrub sprays for years but found the new rotator nozzles to be more efficient; with a little adjustment period during equipment changeover, he saw remarkable results he did not expect: The landscapes were healthier, grass rooted deeper and required less frequent irrigation, disease and insects were now minor issues and consequently maintenance costs went down. “Savings at this site alone are 37 percent over last year.”
We found Bob’s enthusiasm very promising, to say the least. He continued to share his surprise at applying irrigation in a whole new way. “As the turf roots more deeply and is watered exactly when it’s needed, we also use less fertilizer. We have started using organic fertilizers on some of the properties. It’s cheaper and requires less frequent application—which lowers labor costs.” He has some test areas in progress now to monitor results of the organic products. His company recently had the opportunity to work with the owners and architects for two office buildings on Douglas Boulevard that were being totally renovated to LEED standards. Removing the “old school” landscaping and installing a highly efficient water-wise environment is something Bob takes great pride in—because it works.
We asked Makimoto what the biggest surprise was for him since he started using smart technology in his business and he responded with a hearty laugh, “I thought this was all a marketing ploy by all those guys in irrigation—just pushing something that probably didn’t work at all! But it does work, and I am totally amazed.” He then gave us his three tips for water savings: smart controllers, rotator nozzles and mulch. “So much water is wasted by evaporation and just a two-inch layer of mulch will save money and reduce watering. If you aren’t using mulch you are just throwing your money away.” We also asked about whether he uses mulching mower blades. “I’ve been using them since the 80s before they were even popular. You just have to remember to mow more often in spring when the grass grows so fast because when grass is too long, you defeat the purpose of the blades.”
His closing thoughts were valuable: “I do what I love—It’s not like going to work anymore—I love what I do. It’s a process, and even though I am not what you’d call a ‘green person,’ I want my sons to continue these practices so they can have the company for another 32 years.”