Friday, November 16, 2012

Crush the Sprinkler Guild

from Jeffery Tucker's Bourbon for Breakfast (Chapter 6)

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 I had unusual struggles in trying to find a repair

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 it 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 pick 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, to 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
  • 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

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 résumé 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

Project specifications:

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

Two system audits or evaluations to include:


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


• 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.

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