New dimensions

Supplement - Hardscape Guide

This landscape firm isn't stopping with just a pen and paper to make a pitch.


Using 3-D software has helped Sonoran Landesign’s clients get a better understanding of designed projects that will eventually be in their yard. Photo: Sonoran  Landesign In this tough economy, anything a company can do to distinguish itself from the competition is welcomed, even if it means some expense. For Sonoran Landesign, the implementation of a new 3-D software program for sales pitches was perfect for that little bit of edge the company sought.

“It has definitely separated us from the competition, many of whom are still doing hand-drawn plans,” says Travis McFarlin, general manager. “Things are brutal right now, especially for those middle-of-the-road projects. There is so much competition over those jobs, but this gives us the necessary competitive edge.”

For more than two years, Sonoran Landesign has used Structure Studios’ 3-D software VizTerra. It allows landscapers to draw their site plan in 2-D and then transform the drawing into an interactive, 3-D walk-through scenario.

“In the past, an estimated 30 to 40 percent of my clients have had an especially hard time looking at and understanding the plan, even though I’m pretty good at sketching,” McFarlin says. “So once they’re able to get into that third dimension, it’s a huge help. It’s that ‘aha!’ moment for a lot of clients and they get a better feel for the whole layout spatially.”

Before committing to the design change or software, there are specifics to consider.

“The most important thing, initially, is upfront costs – how much the program costs; what product does it give you,” McFarlin says. “The second thing would be the interface on it – how user friendly is it? If it takes your drafter seven hours to do one (drawing), it’s probably not going to be a money maker.”

McFarlin says the 3-D software adds about 35 to 40 percent to the design time. And Sonoran Landesign pays $100 a month, with a pay-as-you go deal, so it’s not locked into a long-term contract.

One thing to be cognizant of, he says, is that customers understand the 3-D image might not look exactly like the final product. For example, the finish of the materials may be different.

“I always have our designers preface upfront they’re showing the pictures but it’s just for visualization and to get a feel for it. It’s not exact,” he says. “And then base all of the materials off the CAD plan, which is accurate.”

McFarlin says he has no plans to stop using the program, even if the economy improves and competition is not as fierce. The software has been highly effective in giving potential customers, who are still on the fence, that extra little push. And that’s something the company appreciates in good times or bad.

Landesign is making a point to market this technology’s availability to their potential clients. “I have all my designers pitching it when they initially speak with a prospective client,” says McFarlin. “I’m also going to be putting some of the 3-D shots on our website to let people know we have this program available.”

The inexpensive cost of the software allows the company to use the program with no extra charge for customers.

McFarlin says the economy has forced the company to work harder at bringing home sales pitches, and using the software has been an extra help.

“It actually gets the client in the backyard and gives them an emotional tie to the potential project,” he says. “That’s just the push we need. It’s a difficult time right now and we’ll use anything we can to get that extra edge, so this has been a great tool.”

Seeing is believing
Hardscape companies rely on the artistic talent and listening skills of designers to transform customers’ ideas into a full rendering of a project. Before the customer gives the go-ahead to start building, it’s important they understand every design element of their project.

Erin Koch, senior landscape designer at LandArt Cos. in Wausau, Wis., says you need to have other materials to present clients than just the flat images. Here are some of her tips:

Use color. “Most of my drawings, 90 percent, are color rendered with markers, which helps because right away that gives some description to the plant materials and pavers,” she says.

Rely on photos. Along with her drawing, Koch shows the customer photos of previous projects and pamphlets with the materials she is recommending.

Add a spatial element. Say Koch is talking patios with a customer in her office, she will tell the customer the room is 12 by 12. Do they want something of a comparable size? Bigger? Smaller?

Show live examples. LandArt has indoor and outdoor display areas and its own nursery. Koch can show customers completed projects and let them touch stones and plants she’s recommending. If you don’t have that ability, use the next best thing. “If you have a certain reputation with past clients that like their job, like their new outdoor room, we set up an appointment or ask them if we can visit the spot to show it to the potential clients,” she says.

The authors are a frequent contributor and associate editor at Lawn & Landscape.