In the green industry, having valued, trusted partners can be the difference between success and failure. While many lawn care business owners turn to their distributors for help and advice, it’s also helpful to connect with the manufacturers behind the products they use on their customers’ lawns every day. Chris Derrick, field sales agronomist for Koch Turf & Ornamental (Koch), spends much of his time connecting with distributors and the lawn care professionals who sell and apply the company’s enhanced efficiency fertilizers (EEFs).
“In my role at Koch, I support all sales functions, including speaking with distributor sales reps and the people who are actually out in the field using our technologies,” Derrick says. “Actually, I think it was my background in fertilizer use and research that got me hired in the first place. And now, I’m out in the field, using that knowledge to help our customers get better results.”
Derrick currently lives in Birmingham, AL with his wife Lauren and their four-month-old son, Caleb. Because of his love for chemistry, Derrick originally planned on being a pharmacist, but eventually earned a bachelor’s degree in horticulture from Auburn University. He chose to pursue his master’s degree in agronomy there as well.
“My parents loved gardening, and I always worked with them in the ever-changing landscape around our house,” Derrick recalls. “During my undergrad years at Auburn, I worked for a landscaping company with a wide variety of clients, including athletic fields. The sports field maintenance and turfgrass management industries led me down the path to where I am today.”
During his time in Auburn’s graduate agronomy program, Derrick was part of a student group who helped the school’s athletic department maintain 15 acres of natural turf sports fields on campus. The group performed the cultural practices, fertilizer and chemical applications required to both keep the fields looking their best and provide athletes with a safer playing surface.
“In fact, while in graduate school, I assisted with research on POLYON® controlled-release fertilizer, which features Reactive Layers Coating technology for a more consistent nitrogen release.” Derrick says. “Little did I know that I’d be selling POLYON and helping end users get the best results years later.”
After graduate school, Derrick went on to become the landscape superintendent at the Country Club of Birmingham for three years. From there, he spent another three years as the assistant golf course superintendent for FarmLinks Golf Club, the world’s first research and demonstration golf course. Now, he’s using what he learned from his landscape, sports field and golf course maintenance experiences on the job every day, but in a much different capacity.
As a part of his current role with Koch, Derrick travels to many locations where Koch’s customers host events, including seminars and industry conventions, where he often presents on the company’s enhanced efficiency fertilizers.
“It’s a part of my job to help lawn care businesses and other end users make better, more educated decisions about what fertilizer to purchase and how to apply it,” Derrick says. “By explaining how enhanced efficiency fertilizers work and the importance of knowing what’s in a bag of fertilizer, I try to help these guys get better performance at a better value. Not only can they improve customer satisfaction and word of mouth, but they can also reduce their input and labor expenses and improve their profitability.”
Derrick also supports technical needs out in the field, addressing customer concerns in person and assisting distributors and other sales reps with Koch’s tools, like the POLYGRAPH® computer program that analyzes multiple variables to determine how long POLYON will feed turf in a given situation.
“Providing support out in the field is one of the best ways I can demonstrate our commitment to our customers – and to their customers as well,” Derrick says. “While today’s technology makes it possible for me to answer questions from just about anywhere, there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.”
Derrick believes that today’s lawn care professionals have a much better understanding of fertilizers than their predecessors. However, there’s always a steady influx of new lawn care professionals who need help understanding all their fertilizer options and choosing the best ones for their businesses.
“We can all benefit from continuing education,” Derrick says. “The more education we can provide lawn care professionals, the more successful they’ll be when choosing a fertilizer and applying it. And that’s what I really want at the end of the day – I want to be able to help anyone who’s in charge of developing a fertilizer program get the best results and run a more profitable business. That’s when I know I’ve done my job well.”