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Posted:  20 Dec 2011 22:29  
I have been running my interior scaping business on my own for about a year now and I'm doing great. I'm actually getting to the point where I need to hire someone.  I just have no idea what an average tech salary in this industry would be?? Any input?
Posted:  22 Dec 2011 17:34  
Good luck getting anyone to comment on that, unless they are anon!  That's what we'd call a market-sensitive trade secret...

Posted:  31 Dec 2011 01:03  
I'll answer this one. First, keep in mind that most techs work because they need the money, not because it's fun or because they're bored sitting at home. 

I talk to a lot of interiorscapers and the starting wage for a tech runs anywhere from $9 to $16 per hour, depending on the cost of living, if they are full-time or part-time and if they have any experience.  Most are paid $10-$12 per hour to start. 

Better yet, go through this exercise (you may want to include any teenagers you have at home, it's a good exercise for them, too.)  Figure out what it would cost for someone to live in a SAFE neighborhood and pay all their bills for one month, living a modest lifestyle.  Include the average rent for a 1 bedroom apartment, groceries, utilities, car payments, gas, clothing, doctor visits, etc.  Then calculate what that person would need to make per hour if they were working 40 hours a week in order to meet those expenses.  Remember this is a MODEST but SAFE lifestyle--you don't want to become the equivalent of a slum lord!

This is a starting wage and their wages should go up if they show excellent work and progress in their productivity and/or the amount of responsibility they take on, or if the cost of living increases.  I believe that raises should be earned, not given just because you hung on for another year.

If you are able to pay a modest living wage you'll be able to attract and keep a better caliber of employee.  You may be able to pay someone part-time a little less, but they will leave if they find something that pays better.

If you can't afford to pay this much you may need to re-think how you run your business and how you price your services--a topic for another discussion.  Or you may be able to offer perks such as insurance and a company vehicle to make up the difference.  And yes, even part-time employees may need health insurance.

In my opinion techs work hard and most give their employers 110%.  They should earn enough to at least be able to support themselves.  And many are supporting their families, too.
-Kathy Fediw
Posted:  31 Dec 2011 17:16  
Kathy's comments are admirable and ideally we should strive to reach those goals.  But in 2012, in a large metropolitan area, one person (let alone a family) living in a one-bedroom apartment and paying all their own bills could NEVER survive on what a tech gets paid!  And most interiorscape companies couldn't afford to pay them what it would take to do that.  In my experience, the vast majority of techs ARE people who are looking for a side-job or something to keep them busy in retirement or as a second income to help with the household bills, NOT as a primary job for a primary breadwinner!  That's going back over 30 years in this biz, and I know a lot of techs who have worked for other companies who would validate that.

Posted:  31 Dec 2011 17:42  
BTW, I'm all in favor of raising the level of pay along with the level of professionalism of all employees.  It gets harder and harder to do this all the time with certain companies blowing up the price structure by taking on accounts at cost on spec, hoping to whack them later on once they're hooked.  That's always been a problem, but it used to originate from the lower rungs of the biz, people who generally didn't stay in it for the long haul and the damage would eventually be mitigated by their failure.  Now, we're looking at predatory pricing by large companies who can stand to take less for a lot longer and still hang on.  That's problematical in a marketplace where office space has a higher vacancy rate than at any time in memory.  So if you want to point a finger in the direction of the entities who are helping to depress wages for techs and others in our industry sector, you now know where to point.

Posted:  02 Jan 2012 21:46  
Clem, I talk to hundreds of techs all over the country and I stand by my statement that most techs are indeed working because they must and need the money, not because they want to keep busy.  Many are trying to support not only themselves but their families, too.  Thirty years ago the majority may have been "bored housewives" or retirees but times have changed.  Most housewives and retirees working today are doing it because they can't make ends meet on their income, not because they need something to do with their spare time--they have none! 

And yes, many do work second jobs in order to make ends meet, whether working as a tech is their primary or secondary job.  Believe me, they would much prefer not to have to work a 50-60+ hour work week just to put food on the table.

Irregardless of their circumstances techs should be able to earn a modest living wage and be paid what they are worth and thankfully many of them do.  Well-managed companies, many who use 2 week service on the majority of their accounts are able to pay their techs a living wage and do it, including in large cities such as New York.  Looks like we may need to agree to disagree on this one, Clem.
Posted:  03 Jan 2012 03:17  
If I put our company's accounts on two-week service, there would be one less tech working.  Is that really the solution?

My informed opinion, based on having managed dozens of techs over my 27-plus years with this company, is that many are temporary techs, between jobs or looking for something better in the industry, and do tech work because they have the skill set to do so, versus taking a job in an industry where they must start at the absolute bottom and all that entails.  In the past, many were younger people eager to make their way in the industry, but ultimately hoping to get a better position either within the company or someplace else in the industry.

That's not to say that these folks are working for "mad money"...the retirees who have worked for us have only wanted to make enough money to supplement Social Security without jeopardizing their benefits.  The "bored housewives" have indeed wished to supplement their household incomes doing tech work because it allowed them the scheduling flexibility to be home when they needed to be and still make what they considered decent pay compared with taking a job in a more regimented business.

If you like, I'll gladly engage in your math problem and work the numbers out based on the northern New Jersey area's costs of living today, and I'm pretty confident that the numbers will bear me out on my assertion that a tech cannot be a sole provider nor a primary breadwinner in this day and age, and it's not likely to change anytime soon...in fact, it may even get worse as time goes on and the price structure of our industry is further undermined. 

Believe me when I say that I take NO joy in telling this story, but it is indeed factual.

Posted:  03 Jan 2012 05:06  
For instance...

A search online turns up these facts:

1. Median apartment rental cost for a one-bedroom apartment in New Jersey as a whole is $1,305.00 per month.
2. A studio apartment in Somerville, NJ (central/north) costs around $900 - $1,000 per month; a one-bedroom goes for around $1,100 - $1,250 a month.
3. Gasoline costs between $3.059 - $3.259 per gallon of regular unleaded in the same part of the state.
4. Utility costs range between $300 - $400 per month for gas and electric, plus around $100 - $200 for phone/cable/internet service.
5. The average monthly grocery bill for a family of two runs between $240 - $400 per month.
6. The average annual auto insurance premium for New Jersey residents was $2,459 in 2009.  You cannot legally drive in NJ if your vehicle is not insured.

That adds up to around $25,500 a year for just the expenses listed above.  If you pay a tech $12.00 an hour for a 40-hour week, that computes to $24,960 a year before taxes, and even if your income at that level results in no federal tax liability, you still have to pay Social Security/Medicare/State Unemployment and Disability withholding that would probably put you into the red.  At $15.00 an hour, you might have enough money left over to buy a set of new tires or do other necessary maintenance to that car to keep it running and getting you to work, but not much wiggle room for much else.

So, it really depends on where you live and work and just HOW "modest" a lifestyle we're going to let our techs enjoy...

Posted:  03 Jan 2012 15:14  
Our techs are paid $12/$17 + 2weeks paid vacation + health benefits.
They are all professional techs and have been doing it for many years.
Posted:  03 Jan 2012 16:50  
My personal view is that if you can't afford to pay your staff a decent wage, then you shouldn't be in business.  Either charge more for your services, or pack it all in.

In Newfoundland, the wages in this industry are low, although there are a very few landscpaing companies who will pay decently ($15+/hr).  Horticulture isn't taken seriously here as a trade; we have no horticulture school, and the university offers only a handful of botany courses.  Peoples' view of "growing plants" in this province is that anyone can do it, and that's a huge contributing factor to the low wages.

That's partly why I got into interior plantscaping; I needed the extra money.  It's very difficult to get clients, but the few I do have are worth it.  Granted, I'm a one man show earning 100% of the profits and don't have to share the wealth with employees, but if I had an employee, I'd make damn sure they're being paid a decent wage.

I'd like to know from from other on here how they handle a situation where a tech feels underpaid.  If you disagree with them, do you explain why you disagree?  Do you worry the tech's feelings of being underpaid will permeate the rest of the staff?  Do they ultimately quit, or develop a bad attitude and you fire them?  Do you tell them that if they do x, y, and z, then they would earn a better wage?

What if you can't afford to pay more and the tech is right?  Do you throw them a perk?  A larger xmas bonus?  Show them the books and explain why you can't afford to pay more?
Posted:  05 Jan 2012 02:27  
An employee who feels underpaid always has the option to seek alternative employment elsewhere...isn't that how businesses in a given industry arrive at what's a fair market wage for a particular job?  Minimum wage laws protect the interests of wage-earners in low-skilled or unskilled jobs, but what about semi-skilled or "differently-skilled" positions like interior hort tech?  Many are not formally educated in horticulture, and so cannot reasonably expect to find well-paid positions in the green industry without first gaining experience by DOING.  That's the main reason why techs earn relatively low wages and often seek advancement to supervisory or management or sales positions, or become entrepreneurs (hopefully once they have amassed a significant body of qualifications to do so) and start their own companies.  Or they go on to something completely different.  Techs are valuable employees, but so are line cooks at fast food restaurants (just ask a store manager who has lost a reliable cook), and they don't earn nearly as much as our techs do.

Posted:  11 Jan 2012 02:26   Last Edited By: The_Plant_Lady 
I've been a tech/PCO for over 18 years now. I like the work, true, but it's that paycheck that keeps me coming in every day. I have an AS in Ornamental Hort. I haven't had a pay raise in over 8 years. Yes, there are options but in the current economic climate they are a tad harder to implement then they would have been a few years ago.

If you want to hire and keep good qualified people, pay them as if you value their contribution to your company or you'll find yourself hiring people green behind the ears but not in the fingertips. The more qualified employees will keep moving on to better pastures or going out on their own and taking some of your clientele with them.
Posted:  11 Jan 2012 03:31  
Would that our clients could read this discussion when they are preparing budgets for next year and getting ready to try (again) to hammer us into accepting NO RATE INCREASE...AGAIN...I think that's about the same thing as a tech getting NO RAISE for 8 years, right?  So, who's the bad guy?  Should your boss eat the lost revenue, accept NO INCREASE in rates...AGAIN...and also give you the raise that you feel you're entitled to receive every year?  Perhaps it would be helpful if we could send our techs into the negotiations over annual rates and let them explain how costs go up for EVERYBODY and NOBODY is exempt...clients seem to think they should be exempt from increases, yet they probably raise THEIR prices for their products and services all the time!

Owners and managers want a rising tide that lifts all boats.  In the economic times we live in, that's not always possible.  Employees don't know the half of it.  If they did, they'd probably fear for their jobs once they saw how razor-thin margins are these days.

Posted:  11 Jan 2012 03:59  
Clem you have NO clue when it comes to MY situation so don't make assumptions for everyone.
Posted:  11 Jan 2012 17:38  
I got a little insight into the thinking of a low-end grower yesterday.  Let me start this by saying that this poinsettia grower does an excellent job of growing, despite his following remark.

I lost a sizeable Christmas decorating job this year that I had been doing for at least 8 years, due to an under-pricer.  When I was discussing this with the grower/wholesaler, I said that the difference was in the indirect costs not being considered in the pricing.  It was a florist who got the job.  The grower speculated, "Well, their facility was probably already paid for, so they did not have to include it in their mark-up."  I was stunned that a man who had been in business for at least 20 years said such a thing.

It shows how naive even bright people can be.  I guess he figured that his facility would never need repairs, replacement, or expansion.  We won't even talk about the administrative costs, or heating and electrical costs.  Strange logic to me.  Of course, all of these factors determine pricing and profitability, thus wages that can be afforded.

Posted:  12 Jan 2012 02:39  
My comments were designed to illustrate the fact that most techs and other employees have NO idea what their employer's costs are on a daily basis, and so believe that every time a new account signs on, huge piles of cash are deposited in the owner's bank account, that sort of logic.  And that's the rampant view of many employees these days, because the government and media would have us believe that The Rich pay no taxes.  If you simplify things enough, only the simpletons will believe it.


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