Filling special niches

The LaurelRock Co. has grown by adding services, such as organic plant health care, that customers demand.

October 12, 2011
Kristen Hampshire
Industry News

Keep an eye on the market and an open mind. That’s what inspires new, niche services at The LaurelRock Co., where a fine gardening program, irrigation program and organic plant healthcare fulfill clients’ demand for attention to detail and eco-conscious landscaping.

The fine gardening program was born after Burt DeMarche, president of the Wilton, Conn.-based firm, heard clients say, “It’s nice to have my own gardener.” He noticed master gardeners in the area who would take on a handful of estate clients and manage their properties full time.

“We said, we should be doing that in-house and that can set us apart from the competition,” DeMarche says. That was seven years ago, and since then the service has evolved from deadheading, hand-pruning and constant garden care to include maintaining water features.

The key to selling fine gardening is educating clients about what the service brings to their properties – and that the specialty service requires talented workers, which LaurelRock has on staff. The fine gardening program is powered by three two-man crews, and they become fixtures on the property.

“The fine gardening program really allows a lot more time in front of clients, so a lot of conversation occurs instead of being like a salesperson,” DeMarche says of the opportunities fine gardening provides for suggesting other services the company offers. “It’s a different approach to client relations and that has helped us get additional work beyond the maintenance contracts.”

Listening to clients’ feedback while tending to landscape detail-work has prompted other service upstarts. For one: organic turf healthcare, a “transitional program” hybrid between synthetic and 100-percent organic lawn care. It appeals to clients who are tempted by the organic services but not so sure about seeing weeds crop up here and there as their properties “adjust” to all-natural practices.

“Clients who choose a 100-percent organic program have to be very tolerant and willing to put up with weeds, especially the first few years – a lot of people like the idea of organic, but they want their lawn to do ‘better’ than that,” DeMarche says, likening the switch to organic from a synthetic program to taking a lawn off of drugs. There’s a detox period, and the turf just won’t look perfect.

Clients who want the benefit of a friendlier program (and the peace of mind) but aren’t ready to watch weeds sprout can get the best of both organic and synthetic worlds. LaurelRock’s organic turf healthcare provides topdressing and spot-treating to knock down weeds, and a preemergent to prevent crabgrass.

“The ones in this transition program are enjoying it, and they feel like they are doing something better for the Earth and, at the same time, having all of their needs met,” DeMarche says.    

Satisfying clients’ needs so they don’t look for the service elsewhere is the whole point. Plus, customers’ properties are like a billboard for LaurelRock, so paying close attention to all the details is critical for maintaining the firm’s reputation as a polished, high-quality player in the market.

“Know your market well and what the needs are in your area, and then try to find your niche,” DeMarche says.

Best practices:

  • Specialize without spreading yourself thin. It’s one thing to choose a few specialty services that meet market needs – and it’s another to adopt every single service a customer in your area would possibly want. “There is a balance of not trying to be everything to everyone,” DeMarche says. Make sure you have a knowledge base of every service so you can deliver.  
  • Listen to the market. What services are not being offered? What services are other companies providing that you could do better? Where can you fill a niche? Ask yourself these questions as you determine services to add to your company’s menu.
  • Seek knowledgeable partners. You can’t be a specialist in everything. But you can align yourself with professionals so you can bring new services in-house without hiring a full-time worker. For instance, DeMarche partnered with a licensed irrigation contractor so LaurelRock could offer its irrigation program, which includes programming adjustments throughout the season to cater to specific plants’ water requirements and environmental changes.