Sunday, December 21, 2014

Brooke N. Bates

The author is a freelance writer based in Cleveland


Save yourself the trip


Mapping software eliminates driving from property to property to measure sites, saving you time and money.

December 15, 2014

An overflowing pipeline of leads can be a beacon of growth, but it can also be overwhelming. Bidding drains landscape contractors’ time and resources – without even guaranteeing work.

The time and labor costs of estimating add up. Just ask Nate Harmon, who physically measured several hundred leads for his family’s company, Harmon & Sons Lawn Care Specialists, after each home and garden show.

“I would have days that were just packed,” says Harmon, operations director of the company in Layton, Utah. “I’d have 200 to 300 bids, and it would take several days. Sometimes, it would take two or three trucks going out to measure all day.”

From travel time to tedious manual measuring, estimating can slow down contractors. To reclaim lost time, Harmon started using mapping software six years ago to bid fertilization, weed and pest control services. By leveraging mapping software to virtually measure prospective properties, contractors can save time and money.

“It used to take me almost a whole day to measure a huge HOA with 100 houses, and now it takes me an hour. I do it all with just a click,” Harmon says, citing his record of 287 bids in one day. “When I look back at the amount of money we were spending to measure, with fuel and wage costs, we’re saving all of that now.”

Here’s how contractors can take advantage of mapping software – and understand its limitations – to accelerate growth.

See the benefits, big and small.

While mapping software can measure any size property, contractors with large commercial clients or geographically dispersed projects realize benefits on a large scale.

For example, Global Industrial Services, a large facility services provider headquartered in Syosset, N.Y., recently adopted mapping software to measure properties. It self-performs grounds maintenance, along with janitorial and snow management services, to more than 5,000 locations throughout the northeast. With large multi-location clients, it may estimate services for 1,000 locations at once.

“It’s just impossible to send somebody out to effectively measure those areas,” says Lee Trachtman, vice president of business development. “Their time could be spent better elsewhere; that’s why we use mapping software. For us, it’s about being able to get to those locations without having somebody actually travel. It’s certainly a lot easier, given our amount of sites and their geographic reach.”

The software also benefits smaller companies – especially when limited manpower is stretched between time-consuming estimates. Five years ago, the owner of McCabe’s Nursery & Landscape Construction physically mapped properties to bid landscape construction and maintenance services around Temecula, Calif. Then the company bought mapping software.

“The owner’s time is the most valuable,” says Melissa McCabe Navaroli, managing director. “The marginal cost difference of having him out there measuring for two hours then taking three to five hours to draw it into CAD, versus having a perfectly scaled satellite image, is huge.”

Get it right the first time.

Speed isn’t the only advantage of mapping software; accuracy is key. “No matter how well someone measures by hand, there’s an element of human error,” Navaroli says. “Properties aren’t always square, so you get the wrong angle and wind up having to put in 50 percent more concrete than you estimated. We were losing money because of it. Now, we can hand a drawing to the construction or maintenance division with more confidence in the accuracy.”

The software helps Navaroli figure exact measurements and square footages for construction and maintenance projects by relying on recent satellite footage, with additional tools to gauge slopes and shady areas.

Accuracy upfront lays a foundation for projects to succeed beyond initial estimates.

“It expedites the execution, too, because if the plan is more accurate, there are fewer change orders during the job,” she says. “It means the construction crew can build faster because they’re building off of something accurate.”

Add a personal touch.

When Harmon & Sons began using mapping software, Harmon trained his team to generate estimates instantly when customers called. But it didn’t always work that way. Although they could calculate square footage, they couldn’t always diagnose lawn issues remotely.

“The problem is: I can measure their lawn, but I cannot tell them exactly which weed is which, if they have a fungus or if they have bugs, because I’m not physically on their lawn,” Harmon says. “Before, I could because I was there already measuring it.”

Harmon realized that mapping software couldn’t generate every detail. While some issues can be deciphered over the phone, and trucks are equipped with products to treat any problem, Harmon sends someone to physically inspect about one of every 12 lawns mapped with software.

Common software limitations force contractors back into the field.

“Some of the satellite views can be outdated,” Trachtman says. “Properties do change, and you don’t get as granular a view as you would if you were there. Some angles might be blocked because of the limitations of these overheads.”

Software may not show every line or edge. Areas of new development are especially tricky, often requiring physical visits because satellites can’t keep up with construction progress.

At McCabe’s, mapping software is a supplemental tool to prepare for collaborative client meetings – not a replacement for face-to-face interaction. In fact, the software helps determine who to send, making time in the field more efficient. “Now we can pre-check properties before we meet with customers,” Navaroli says. “It helps us geographically and demographically target the right sales rep to send.”

The software prepares sales reps with a property picture to help clients visualize projects in the context of their yards. By understanding the limitations of technology to integrate mapping software into their landscaping toolboxes, contractors can accelerate growth. Harmon has doubled its work volume since adopting the software in 2008.

“We have increased quite a bit, and a lot of it is due to being able to measure people’s houses quickly (and) accurately, and answer their questions fast instead of putting them off for a few days,” Harmon says.

“When people are looking for a quote, they don’t want to wait. Whoever can get it to them the fastest is probably going to get the work.”

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