In our Behind The Drop Q&A series, we bring you brief interviews with some of the minds driving innovation at Aquatrols. We speak to a wide variety of folks who work here at Aquatrols, exploring topics from research, to conservation, to business.
Today we are featuring an interview with Duncan Stewart-Orris, who joined the Aquatrols team two years ago after a successful career in distribution in Florida with both Lesco and Howards Fertilizer. Moving to manufacturing is different, he says, but the essential function remains the same: “We always strive for what we need to do to make sure that customer can do their job. I really never changed. I’m the guy who wants to help them out of a jam, give them advice – sometimes personal advice – because they’ve become your friends.” Here’s our conversation:
How did you get started in the green industry?
At the young age of 13 I got a landscaping job right at the dawn of the Florida green industry boom and really never looked back. I worked in nurseries and even was interested in being a greenhouse grower. Eventually I went to school for engineering but quickly switched over to landscape architecture because I knew I loved the outdoors. I started taking horticulture classes as well and just decided to change my major and commit to the green industry.
But everything changed when I took an internship at Lesco in Orlando just as golf and turf management was really blowing up in the Sunshine State in the early ‘90s. Everything was growing so fast that the internship turned into a job. I started to learn more about customers – golf courses and lawn care – and really loved it.
How is working for a manufacturer different?
I saw an opportunity to focus more of my time on 20 or 25 products and be really good at the agronomy around those products. I think we’ll continue to expand our portfolio but I don’t have to worry about a thousand things anymore.
What’s the key to helping customers?
You learn how your products work within other people’s programs. That’s what I try to do. Find out what works and bring it to other people. Superintendents are not going to go all-in on every product the first time. It’s not reality. You have to build the confidence in the product line and you have to show them results. That’s what my whole goal is.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned over the years?
Treat people with respect no matter who they are. Competitors, interns, mechanics, crew members, all of them. Lift someone up beside you and you’ll often be surprised.
What’s it been like being part of the Aquatrols team?
It’s really been awesome. I’ve worked with some really good guys, but it’s pretty grounding when your new colleagues reach out and embrace you the way Aquatrols did for me. They really support us and our families. They care about the industry, they care about doing the right thing, they care about their peers…they just care. It’s a great atmosphere.
When you started with Aquatrols and really examined the technology, what did you decide was the most undervalued product in the portfolio?
Dispatch! It’s got uses for everything in turf and horticulture and lawn care. I’m still shocked at how few LCOs are using it. On the golf side, a little Dispatch in every tank mix. Always. It’s great with pre-emergents like Barricade. For mole cricket applications you can spray during the day with it in the tank, not water in immediately and still get control. Also if you have a tech who isn’t perfect at spraying, Dispatch will fix a lot of those problems.
Let’s do the math. You’re investing a grand total of $12 per acre. That will be offset by about a 20% increase in the effectiveness of what you put in that tank whether it’s PGR or fertilizer or active. It’s a cheap thing that makes the expensive things work better. Heck how much are you paying for dummy dye just to turn you and everything else blue!
You’ve seen lots of aspects of the green industry. What’s your advice to a young person who wants to succeed?
I learned from the school of hard knocks. Get yourself educated to whatever level you can afford. Work in the business and educate yourself at the same time. Ask questions, work hard, ask for more hours. In a way you should be willing to work for free because you’re getting an invaluable education on something. Invest two hours a week to learn more stuff. Tell your boss, “Hey, I really want to learn how to spray. Can you show me how?
Eventually that will get you the next leg up in the business. Thinking about what you want to do next and trying to get yourself to the point where you can take that job – even if you aren’t qualified for it or if you’re scared to death to do it – is key. Put yourself in the position to win by doing the hard work that no one else wants to do.
What do you do to decompress?
Fishing is my passion. It’s my place of solitude but it’s also helped me build a ton of friendships. It’s calming and it really helped bring back stability in my life. My best friend and I fish a lot and we give each other endless grief. We also bet: biggest fish, most fish…just jawing at each other the whole time. It’s not the normal Duncan most people see. It’s hard to have a bad time fishing!
I’m pretty lucky. I get to use agronomy to help my friends solve problems. To me it’s an easy job because I have the best products to sell and all the tools I need. How cool is that?
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