Crush the Sprinkler Guild

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I suspected as much! What the lady at Home Depot called the “sprinkler repair cult” is an emerging guild seeking privileges and regulations from the government. That means a supply restriction, high prices, or another do-it-yourself project. But there is a way around it.

I first began to smell a rat when the automatic irrigation system on my front yard needed work, but had unusual struggles in trying to find a repair guy.

The first place I called informed me that they could accept no more clients. Clients? I just wanted a new sprinkler thing, for goodness sake. I don’t want to be a client; I want to be a customer. Is there no one who can put on a new sprayer or stick a screwdriver in there or whatever needs?

Nope, all full.

The next call was not returned.

The next call ended with the person on the line fearfully saying that they do landscaping but will have nothing to do with sprinklers or “automated irrigation systems.” Umm, ok.

The next call seemed more promising. The secretary said they had an opening on the schedule in three weeks. Three weeks? In that period of time, my yard will be the color of a brown paper bag.

The next call failed. And the next one. And the next. Finally I was back to the off-putting secretary. I made the appointment but the guy never came. Fortunately, in the meantime, a good rain came, and then at regular intervals for the whole season, and I was spared having to deal with this strangely maddening situation.

Why all the fuss? We aren’t talking brain surgery here. These are sprinklers, little spray nozzles connected to tubes connected to a water supply. Why was everyone so touchy about the subject?

Why did all the power seem to be in their hands, and none in mine? Must I crawl and beg?

Above all, I wonder why, with most all lawns in new subdivisions sporting these little things, why oh why are the people who repair them in such sort supply?

Little did I know that I had stumbled onto the real existence of a most peculiar thing in our otherwise highly competitive economy: a guild.

It had all the earmarks. If you want your nails buffed, there are thousand people in town who stand ready. If you want someone to make you dinner, you can take your picked among a thousand restaurants. If you want to buy a beer, you can barely go a block without bumping into a merchant who is glad to sell you one. None of that is true with sprinkler repair.

What does a guild do? It attempts to restrict service. And why? To keep the price as high as possible. And how? By admitting only specialists, or supposed specialists, to the ranks of service providers, usually through the creation of some strange but largely artificial system of exams or payments or whatever.

Guilds don’t last in a free market. No one can blame producers for trying to pull it off. But they must always deal with defectors. Even the prospects of defectors can cause people who might not otherwise defect turn and attempt to beat others to the punch.

There is just no keeping a producer clique together for long when profits are at stake.

There is also the problem that temporarily successful guilds face: high profits attract new entrants into the field. They must either join the guild or go their own way. This creates an economically unviable situation in a market setting that is always driving toward a market-clearing rate of return.

Further evidence of the existence of a sprinkler guild came from the checkout lady at the Home Depot. I was buying a sprinkler head and she said in passing that they didn’t used to carry these things, and the decision of the manufacturer to supply them in retail got some people mighty upset. She spoke of the sprinkler repair people as a cult that should be smashed!

Now, does this guild really exist or is it an informal arrangement among a handful of local suppliers? As best I can tell, here is the guild’s website. The Irrigation Association is active in:

  • Providing a voice for the industry on public policy issues related to standards, conservation and water-use on local, national and international levels
  • Acting as a source of technical and public policy information within the industry
  • Raising awareness of the benefits of professional irrigation services
  • Offering professional training and certification
  • Uniting irrigation professionals, including irrigation equipment manufacturers, distributors and dealers, irrigation system designers, contractors, educators, researchers, and technicians from the public and private sectors.

Catch that? Certification. Unity. Standards! Public policy. These are all dangerous words, that come down to the same result: high prices and bad service.

Why should anyone become certified? “Prestige and credibility among peers and customers”; “professional advancement opportunities”; “Enhances the professional image of the industry — your industry.”

I thought I needed a sprinkler repairman but these people want me to hire a Certified Landscape Irrigation Manager, a CLIM. How do you become a CLIM? Well you have to send in $400 plus a rsum that includes an “overview summary of how you plan to meet program criteria:

Two examples of project development to include:

  • System design objective
  • System budget estimate
  • Water source development
  • System design drawings: hydraulic, electrical, detail drawings, pump station

Project specifications:

  • General specification
  • Installation specification
  • Material specification
  • Pump station

Two system audits or evaluations to include:

AUDIT

  • System performance (uniformity)
  • Base schedule
  • Recommendations for improvement

EVALUATION

  • System performance (uniformity)
  • Hydraulic analysis
  • Electrical analysis
  • Grounding
  • Water source
  • Product performance
  • Recommendations for improvement

Two construction and/or construction management projects:

  • Site visit reports
  • Drawing of record
  • Final irrigation schedule
  • Punch lists

Of course they are working with government, federal, state, and local. They want restrictions of every sort. They want their own Turf and Landscape Irrigation Best Management Practices or BMP to be the law of the land. You can read more about this here.

How hip-deep are these people in government? It’s hard to say. But I’m guessing that local developers, landscapers, builders, and others are intimidated by all these and are reluctant to challenge their monopoly.

So thank goodness for hardware stores! They are working to bust up this vicious little guild, to the benefit of the consumer and everyone else. It means having to stick your fingers in mud and read instruction manuals and the like but sometimes the defense of liberty requires that you get your hands a little dirty.

Jeffrey Tucker [send him mail] is editorial vice president of www.Mises.org.

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